An organic dinner of farm raised ingredients. A table full of jovial guests and local wine. A summer night to appreciate good food and where it comes from. There's a lot of talk about farm-to-table, and most of us living in high paced atmospheres have a tendency to romanticize pastoral images of happy cows and organic tomato plants. "If only I could be a farmer," we think, forgetting the hardships that go into devoting a life to agricultural production. But part of having a better appreciation for what we eat, means having a better connection to where it comes from, and at the simplest level, that means eating there.
That's the idea behind Plate & Pitchfork, an Oregon based business that helps people have a better understanding of food and where it comes from, by serving it to them in the same place that it's sourced. Hosting farm dinners, Plate & Pitchfork founder Erika Polmar puts consumers and purveyors together, in the ultimate farm-to-table experience.
As we met for coffee (locally roasted of course) it was clear that Polmar is passionate about what she does. She's a believer in good food, and the multiple benefits that come from local food: social, environmental, health, economic, gastronomic. Not only does she organize these farm dinners, she also works with four local food-focused nonprofits in the Portland area to ensure that everyone has access to fresh ingredients and that they know where it's coming from. Farmers Ending Hunger, Oregon Tilth's Organic Education Center, Foodworks Farm and the Sauvie Island Center all benefit from Plate & Pitchfork, allowing them to reinvest in the community.
With no formal training, her food background is merely personal. Once in product marketing and development for tech companies, a season of winery work during harvest eventually put her in a place where things made sense. She relates a story of standing in a field, hazelnut orchard and vines on the other, and thinking to herself "this feels good."
She took that feeling and ran with it, putting the puzzle pieces together and eventually founding Plate & Pitchfork to celebrate the food grown in her Pacific Northwest backyard. Nowadays, she's immersed in the world of food, coordinating with chefs, farmers and wine makers, an industry that according to Polmar is very welcoming. "Everyone is so open and collaborative, it didn't matter that I didn't know anything about food."
Making the connection between what we eat and where are our food comes from seems like a simple task, but most of us have a severe disconnect to what we put in our bodies. Consider this: In 1930, 20 percent of Americans owed their livelihoods to farming, nowadays it's closer to two percent. It's no surprise that we're disconnected. But why is getting the general public to focus on good food such a difficult thing?
"I think food has gotten a little too precious," Polmar says, implying that often in the food world we have our expectations set too high and in turn push people away from the main task at hand: good, simple food for everyone. As she puts it, there's kale and quinoa on one hand and a McDonald's burger on the other but nothing in between. "There's nothing bad about pulling beans out of the freezer," says Polmar.
"Food has become such a topic of discussion, but none of us are that educated about it." But it's something we all deal with, and when it comes to the complicated world of politics, it plays a role as a common denominator; everyone has to eat.
Taking the idea of education, Polmar puts her guests not only at the hands of professionals, but also in a setting that is conducive to conversation. From farmers to chefs, they're all there to engage guests in a meaningful way, which in turn sparks an educational component. "You meet all these people that are experts... instead of having the person next to you say 'oh well I read about that in the New York Times.'"
There's no one upping at Plate & Pitchfork, no ego, the thing that often gives the higher end food industry, and the locavore movement as a whole, a bad rap. "Everyone comes down a notch," says Polmar, "there's something about the community breaking bread together."
Polmar has an all encompassing attitude, knowing fully well that multi course meals in an idyllic setting aren't accessible to everyone. But that's not necessarily her end goal. One of the main instigators behind launching Plate & Pitchfork was Polmar reading a statistic about how few high school students knew where their food came from.
"If we can get mom and dad to our dinners then we are creating the next generation of diners," says Polmar. And if she can do that, then she's being successful. "Paper profit doesn't mean a damn thing to me," says Polmar. A positive effect on her community however, does, and that's what she hopes Plate & Pitchfork will continue to do.
Check out the Plate & Pitchfork schedule and sign up for your own farm dinner here.
Images: Plate & Pitchfork
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