Equal parts farmers, gardeners, cooks and foodies, Boulder's Culinary Gardeners share a passion about gardening, not just for their green thumbs' sake, but also for their plates. They're growing food for their tables and, in times of surplus, to share with family and friends. In late September 2008, 20 or so members of the group gathered at the home of Frank Hodge in east Boulder County, Colo. Hodge himself may be the penultimate example of the Culinary Gardeners in action. He lives on two acres of land, one acre of which is an organic, sustainably managed food garden: 60 fruit trees, 23 varieties of tomato, 8 kinds of peppers, plus corn, potatoes, squash and an apiary. "These days I don't shop at the grocery store at all," he says. "I like knowing where my food comes from."
It's a sentiment echoed by everyone in attendance. They're here to foster a more intimate connection to this land and the bounty it provides. They come together once a month for potluck dinners, to share their harvest, and to swap seeds and gardening tips. As each attendee brings forth his offering, the crowd "oohs" and "aahs" at the vibrant colors, bold flavors, and the implied love and care that made it all possible. On this night, there's Vietnamese cilantro, edamame, squash chips, Quadrato and Poblano peppers, apples, and Chianti Rose and Georgia Streak tomatoes.
Some members are culinary professionals, such as Jules Wells, a private chef who uses the produce from his gardens for clients, and Eric Skokan, the chef and co-owner of Black Cat Restaurant in Boulder. Skokan features a series of "Dirt Dinners" at his restaurant, in which all of the produce comes from his home garden in north Boulder. Most of the Culinary Gardeners, though, are largely self-taught, but they're no less knowledgeable or passionate about their gardens or their cooking. "This is the epitome of the locavore movement," says Skokan. "It's the epicenter of what's going on in the garden. There's a fervor to grow great food and share it in the community."
That fervor is in part responsible for the group's newest development, the Incubator. This year, the gardeners leased 10 acres of agricultural land from Boulder County Open Space to use as one big collective expansion garden. "Many of these people are a new crop of agricultural entrepreneurs," Skokan says. While some may go on to supply farmers' markets, CSAs and high-end restaurants, it's clear that all of them will supply something much closer to home: Their own dinner plates.
Story and recipe by Peter Bronski, a food writer in Boulder, Colo.