Valley eateries serve up local dishes for Bounty Week
Farms and restaurants up and down the Snoqualmie Valley have pitched in to provide and prepare food for Bounty Week, a celebration of locally grown food in the Valley.
Fifteen restaurants, including five in Fall City, Snoqualmie and North Bend, are featuring dishes using Snoqualmie Valley produce from April 19-25.
The Snoqualmie Valley Farmers Cooperative partnered with the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust to promote Bounty Week. The SVFC is still in its infancy, having informally started a few years ago. It hired its first paid staff person in the summer of 2015 and currently relies on grant funding to operate, SVFC Manager Hannah Cavendish-Palmer said.
“This year it has really taken structure,” Ryan Lichttenegger, owner of Steel Wheel Farm in Fall City, said of the SVFC programs.
Steel Wheel Farm is one of eight SVFC farms that provided food for Bounty Week. Lichttenegger leases the land on which he grows 50 different crops and raises pigs for pork production.
While Steel Wheel Farm currently sells its produce to a few restaurants in Issaquah and others around the Eastside and Seattle, it lost its super-local restaurant customers when Fall City Roadhouse and Fall City Bistro changed chefs.
“We don’t disappear, the chefs do, and we have to rekindle that relationship,” Lichttenegger said. His produce is back in the valley for Bounty Week, and he said it is very gratifying to see his produce eaten locally.
“I like the idea that chefs are using our products to create elegant dishes and educate customers” on how to prepare them deliciously, he said. “It feels good to have them eat our food.”
The customers at local restaurants share that good feeling when they order dishes with local ingredients, North Bend Bar & Grill general manager Liz Vollbrecht said.
“They enjoy knowing that their food is locally grown,” Vollbrecht said. “It’s nice knowing it’s come from down the road and it’s fresh, rather than being flown in from Chile or California.”
North Bend Bar & Grill has been serving up a grilled flank steak dish as part of the Bounty Week menu. It includes a vegetable blend of green beans, zucchini and summer squash from the Valley.
It is likely that Goose and Gander Farm provided some of the squash in that steak dish. It provided squash and English cucumbers for Bounty Week, Goose and Gander co-owner Meredith Molli said.
Goose and Gander Farm allows SVFC to use its facilities to package boxes of produce for delivery. The boxes, called Community Supported Agriculture boxes, have become a large part of many Snoqualmie Valley farmers’ incomes.
“CSA boxes are our most steady stream of income,” Cavendish-Palmer said.
Cavendish-Palmer has been searching for markets to sell SVFC food but has run into some obstacles. The co-op has a gentlemen’s agreement not to sell products at any markets where its members are selling, Cavendish-Palmer said. They do not want to compete with their member farms.
SVFC has not had any luck breaking in to large groceries yet. Microsoft in Redmond and EvergreenHealth hospital in Kirkland have expressed interest in using SVFC produce in their cafeterias but have told the co-op they need to sell to them through Charlie’s Produce, a large West Coast produce distributor. Cavendish-Palmer has attempted to initiate talks with Charlie’s Produce but has been unsuccessful so far.
Cavendish-Palmer hopes that in coming years the roughly 20 SVFC farms can organize better before the growing season and decide who will grow what. It is something that strong, decades-old co-ops do, Cavendish-Palmer said. When the farms are more unified, they will have a better chance of getting large buyers for SVFC products.
For now, the co-op remains a loose organization of farms ranging in size from less than 1 acre to around 80 acres in active production. They’ll continue getting help from grants and organizations like the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, which has helped the fledgling co-op grow.
“We are helping the community come together to launch (the co-op) and help it transition as it becomes completely locally owned” and funded, said Jennifer McKeown, the Snoqualmie program manager at Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.
Despite some setbacks, there are signs of progress for the SVFC. They have recently been making plans to provide produce about twice per month to the Riverview and Monroe school districts through a USDA Farm-to-School grant.
CSA boxes containing all the ingredients for a Thanksgiving dinner are on the Cavendish-Palmer’s plate for this fall.
The young co-op is still looking for more markets to sell Snoqualmie Valley food.
“We sort of need that next leap,” Cavendish-Palmer said.