Last year, Will and I hosted our wedding in our backyard. It was intended to be simple, not to drive us crazy, and to jive with our busy lives. Still, it occupied every spare moment. From interior painting to sangria tasting to prettying up straw bales to cutting cloth napkins from old bed sheets, it was a whirlwind of Pinterest searching, errand running, decision making, and detail priming. Every. Spare. Moment.
As exhausted as we were (finishing sangrias ‘til 2 a.m. the night before), there was a little brain-magic that happened as we spied on our guests gathering in the backyard before it began. Suddenly and without warning, it all became worth it. A little like birthing a child, I suppose. All that stress, all that work, all that pain, and it was suddenly worth it. (Forgive me birth mamas. Childbirth and event planning are, at best, loosely relatable.) Point is, the hardship fades into the background and you realize that something very special has happened that makes all that work suddenly worth it.
I suspect many events are like that: the planning, the headache, the stress, the heartache, the lists, the minor and major freak-outs, the sleepless nights, the backache, the pleas for it to just—for God’s sake—be over already. And then. The smiles. The laughter. The joy. The relief. (I once read that people somehow stave off death until after major holidays and events. Perhaps we are evolutionarily wired for ensuring that we all come together, even for one last hurrah.)
Last fall, the Northwest Washington Chefs Collaborative gathered around southern delicacies of pork, red beans and rice, grits, and biscuits at Chef Gabriel’s dining room table. A simple monthly meeting of this young group was hijacked by their building excitement as they got a collective bee in their bonnet to host an event to celebrate local farms and local food. The conversation and initial planning was electrifying. From its genesis over grits, this group spent the next nine months planning, procuring, and preparing the Field-to-Flame feast on August 30.
The chefs included our very own Will Annett, owner/chef of Pizza’zza; Mataio Gillis owner/chef of Ciao Thyme; Patrick Durgan, executive chef at Western Washington University; Josh Silverman, former chef/owner of Dashi Noodle Bar and Nimbus; Gabriel Claycamp of Jack Mountain Meats; Arlene Mantha, chef/owner of twofifty flora; and Crave Catering. Artisan beverages were prepared by Sara Sutherland, owner of the Electric Beet Juice Company and Sustainable Connections Food and Farming Program Manager; Onyx Coffee; and Boundary Bay Brewery.
Consider for a moment that these are folks who have full-time (plus some) jobs running and building businesses, managing programs, and in Sara’s case, both. To make an event like this happen, they stepped away from busy restaurants, personal commitments to family and friends, and myriad other responsibilities. They overcame obstacle after obstacle all in the name of good, local food. And for this, I just want to take a moment to give tribute to their work and dedication.
No event goes off without a hitch. There is always something that tries the patience of even the most serene and seasoned event planner. But these guys faced more than their fair share of turmoil. For starters, after all the promotional materials had been posted and printed, the original event site fell through. Fortunately, the beautiful site at Boxx Berry Farm was available on short notice.
Despite planning their menus well in advance to allow plenty of time to make connections with local growers and ensure that everything was in place for the big day, they ran into multiple sourcing issues due to our unusually warm summer, farmer relocations, meat processor recalls, and other unforeseen complications. Despite these issues, they kept the meal 100% locally sourced. 100%, folks. That's a huge accomplishment and took hours of dedication to a singular purpose.
These struggles are enough in and of themselves, but add the worst wind-storm in a decade and multiple power outages the day before the event, and you have a prescription for crazy making, for sure.
But here’s the thing. No one lost their marbles. As far as I could tell, no one even blinked and not a single feather was ruffled. And this isn’t just the view of a guest who can’t see the chaos of the kitchen from her comfy seat. I was in the kitchen all weekend helping with prep and clean-up. There were no tears (as far as I could see). No one threw up their hands and walked out when we lost power. No break-downs when it didn’t come back on. No tantrums when they found out we could only run off a single generator at the farm. This was a kitchen full of cool cucumbers, I tell you. And here’s the kicker – they were all smiling. I kid you not. Even at the end of the day and after only a one and a half hour nap that served as a substitute for a full night’s rest, they were pleasant and smiling.
And all those volunteers who generously gave their time on the day of and in the days leading up to the event, I bow to you as well. You left your homes and responsibilities to join others in a feast to celebrate the thing that brings us together time and time again—our food. Thank you.
In simple celebration for the bounty our little corner of the world provides, this event was a tremendous success that goes well beyond the actual dollar amount raised and speaks to the connections made between people, connections between those growing our food, those cooking our food, and those eating our food. So, I pay simple homage to this amazing group of growers, producers, chefs, and the fine folks at Sustainable Connections. Without you, our hearts and bellies wouldn’t be filled with the bounty of this incredible slice of land we call home.
Thank you for everything you do!
Do you see that? That's Will's father's day gift and physical proof that there is no faster way to a child’s heart than through pizza.
They too know this natural law over at Common Threads Farm. They know that in order to get a child to fall in love with growing, preparing, and eating real food, you have to focus the education around easy to like favorites. And what’s everyone’s favorite? Pizza, of course.
Last week we had the rare privilege of hosting Common Thread’s Camp Pizza as they ate their way through Fairhaven while learning the intricacies of making a great pie. From sprouting of the first seed to the finished, hot-from-the-oven slice, Camp Pizza walks kids through the story of their pizza by giving them hands-on and tastebuds-on experience growing, harvesting, preparing and eating their very own pies. As a part of this adventure, they field-tripped it (literally for one scrapped up little camper we Band-aided) from their home base at WWU’s Outback Farm to our Fairhaven location, then to the Wednesday Farmers Market and onto Drizzle for an olive oil tasting.
Fully cementing their ambitions of pizza tossing fame, Will showed these youngins how to correctly toss pizza dough, spread it lovingly with sauce, load toppings for the perfect ratio of toppings to crust, and guide the creation carefully toward the flame to ensure our signature crust crispness.
And these kids are smart cookies. They were asking fabulous questions, like “Do you make your own cheese?” and “Do you grind the flour you use for your dough?” Wow! These are kids who’ve learned a thing or two about food.
And I’ll tell you, they were certainly happy campers when they left. Look at those faces.
To top it off, we got these beautiful thank you cards a little later. High praise indeed: “I love, love, love your pizza” and “Thank you for the best pizza ever!”
Common Threads, it looks like we won over another small band of influential kids in the fight for real, locally grown, delicious food.
Looking to grow a good eater or two? Check out Common Threads’ summer camps.
Copyright © 2015 Pizzazza, All rights reserved.
Are you going to Field-to-Flame on August 30? It’s all the buzz. Everyone’s talking. It’s the must-attend event of the summer.
“Wait. What exactly is Field-to-Flame?” you ask. A story of romance on the farm? A tale of zucchini gone bad? An epic farm-to-kitchen fire? A historical drama about an agricultural coup? What could it be? Pray, tell.
I guess it could be all of those things, or none of them. You’ll have to show up to this can’t-miss event to find out.
“Enough already,” you say. "Stop being coy."
Okay, okay. The Field-to-Flame Brunch is a creative food adventure masterminded by our local Chef’s Collaborative and in celebration of our local bounty. It is the local food event of the year; you won’t want to miss it. Promise. Here’s why.
Seven of Bellingham’s best chefs:
18 of Whatcom's best farmers, fishers and food producers:
Pretty impressive list, eh? These talented folks will come together on Sunday, August 30 from 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to prepare you and your guests a seven-course, 100% local brunch at beautifully rustic 2 Sisters Barn in Ferndale.
This is a fund-raising event, folks. Proceeds will go to Sustainable Connections Food to Bank On program. You can buy single early bird tickets for $75 (or groups of single tickets, of course, if you want to bring your sweetheart, or say, your mom), or host your favorite eight friends and family and purchase an entire table for a $50 discount. Trust me, it will be a meal to remember and well worth the money on its own, but you get the bonus of knowing that you’re growing Whatcom County farmers with your donation.
If we weren’t in the kitchen that day preparing your brunch, we’d certainly be the first ones standing in line for tickets (okay, I guess we click now, not stand). So instead, we’ve got something else for you. Pizza’zza is hosting an entire table of eight. We’ll fill two of those chairs with one lucky (and industrious) employee and their guest, and we’ll fill the other six with Pizza’zza devotees. Right now I expect that you’re asking yourself, “I certainly qualify as a Pizza’zza devotee. How do I score myself a couple of tickets?” I’m glad you asked, dear valued Pizza’zza customer. We’re running a contest to raffle off three pairs of two tickets. Stay tuned to the blog here, and we’ll announce the details next week.
Pizza’zza is a small, local, family-owned business. That means we live where we do business. Our kids go to the same schools and play in the same parks your kids do. It means we’ll run into you at the farmers market and Boulevard Park. You’ll get to know us, and we’ll get to know you. And because we live here, we care about our community. There are hundreds of businesses like us in Whatcom County. There are hundreds who are decidedly not like us and the other local businesses here.
When you spend your dollar with us, significantly more of your money is returned to the community. When you visit a chain restaurant (not naming names here), much less stays in our community. (Studies on exactly how much vary depending on location; click these links for a nice summary of the research and reasons to buy from locally owned businesses.) When you buy a pie from us, that’s your money that goes to other local businesses and farms (Skagit River Ranch, Fairhaven Flour Mill, and on and on), local taxes (read: schools, fire, police, etc.), donations to local service organizations and non-profits (Common Threads Farm, Food to Bank On, etc.), and employee wages (and all the places those wages go).
When you visit that unnamed pizza chain, most of your money leaves our community. It goes to pay out-of-state accountants, purchase goods and services from other large out-of-state chain retailers and distributors, and make charitable contributions outside of our community. (On average, nonprofits receive 250% more support from small businesses than large businesses).
This narrative isn’t just about the personal vote you cast with your personal (local?) checking account though. It’s also a tale of the choices the businesses you support make. When you visit that unnamed chain restaurant (pick your villain here), where are they casting their vote? More likely than not, it is far afield of Whatcom County.
"... an average of 35% of our total food purchases come from local farms and producers in Whatcom and
When you buy from one of Whatcom County’s own, your money is going to support other local businesses. To belabor this point (because it’s important), consider that here at Pizza’zza, an average of 35% of our total food purchases come from local farms and producers in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. For us, that means $62,550 dollars reinvested in our local farms and producers in the past year.
And this brings us to Sustainable Connections. We are a proud business member of Sustainable Connections because they work thoughtfully, effectively and tirelessly to ensure that Whatcom County has a vibrant economy. And that helps all of us. Most of you are likely familiar with Sustainable Connections on some level. At the very least, their own market research suggests you are familiar with the Think Local – Buy Local – Be Local campaign. They do much more though: Sustainable Business Development, Green Building and Smart Growth, Food and Farming, Energy Efficiency & Renewables, and Think Local First.
Obviously, the one that is nearest and dearest to our pizza-loving hearts is the Food and Farming program. In fact, Will is an active participant in the Chef’s Collaborative, and we are supporters of Food to Bank On, all activities of Sustainable Connections Food and Farming program. (The specifics of our involvement with these programs is a story for another blog day, so stay tuned!)
Mind you, I’m not here to lecture (although it is a quality I possess in spades; just ask our kids). You spend your hard-earned cash how you wish. My purpose is to share with you our thoughts, ideals, and values and why we do what we do. As you do, we work hard for our little slice of the pie, and we want our money out there working hard to support our neighbors and the places we enjoy spending time. We’re lucky to call Whatcom County home and are proud to do our part to help it thrive.
Kids are where it’s at. They are beautifully, comically impressionable. You can convince them of anything. If you tell them that purple monkeys live on the moon and make nightly visits to paint the backdrop of their dreams, they believe you. You can even convince them you are a super hero. Listen carefully, and you’ll hear our kids call Will, “Ironman.” (Although I do suspect they are clever enough at this age to have caught on.) But wait a minute, you say. These are our impressionable youth, we shouldn’t be making up fanciful stories for our amusement and at their expense. And for this, I will say, you are absolutely, 100% correct. Just remember Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny though. Ouch.
Point is, kids are primed for learning. And not just facts and figures; they are developing an ethos for life. It’s why parents around the world steep their children in their culture, values, and religious tenets. We attempt to shape their deepest held values to guide them safely into adulthood. It's our job.
So what does all this have to do with pizza anyway? You've probably already figured out that one of our deepest held values here at Pizza’zza is to provide you with great food, cooked with care, and sourced locally and sustainably. As I've written about here before, we believe that this ethic begins with children. If you teach children about good food and connect them with were it comes from, they will grow into adults who are good eaters, good stewards, and maybe even, good cooks. And that’s all well and good for us and our kids, and you and your kids, but what about all the other kids out there?
Fortunately Bellingham is lucky enough to have Common Threads Farm whose mission it is to make sure kids get a proper introduction to food. Eloquently, and in their own words: “At Common Threads, we grow good people, healthy food, and strong communities through hands-on, seed-to-table educational experiences.” More specifically, Common Threads provides garden and food education in many of Bellingham’s schools as well as operates on-farm summer camps, like Camp Pizza (sign us up!).
We at Pizza’zza think this is a pretty cool and important thing to do. So important that Pizza’zza was the first sponsor of Common Thread’s new business sponsorship program. The money donated by local businesses goes to ensure that no school is denied access to food and gardening education because of inability to pay. This new business sponsorship program ensures equity of access to food and gardening education for school children, regardless of the incomes of the folks in their neighborhood or which school they happen to attend. (If your business wants to get in on the action, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Our involvement goes beyond simple monetary contributions; Will donates his time to Common Threads Farm by serving on their board of directors. Yes, we love Common Threads that much. You see, Will and I are children of the 80s. Neon. Tight-rolled jeans. (Come on, admit it, you were once rad like that too.) Tang. Remember Tang? And Pringles. And Cheez Whiz. And L’eggo my Eggo. That was packaged-food heaven, and we grew up eating a lot of it. It was only in adulthood that we started to shift our eating and recognize real food’s profound connection to health, and it wasn’t until we had our own little plot of earth to dig in that we began to learn to grow our food. So, we thought, what would happen if we gave kids a short-cut, and they were raised on healthy, whole foods, and better yet, learned to grow and prepare those foods too? Would they grow into good eaters and develop skills that would last a lifetime?
We think so. Common Threads thinks so. We’re all betting that connecting our kids to where their food comes from, and building their skills for growing and cooking it, not only creates healthier kids, but makes for a more self-reliant, resilient future. Common Threads Farm helps us get there, and all we have to do is tell our kids the truth about food and let them get their hands dirty.