See how neighbors banded together to learn how to grow everything they planned to eat
Photo by Thomas J. Story; written by Margo True
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The ultimate block party
Not a whole lot grows in foggy, windy Morro Bay, a quiet surfing outpost on California’s Central Coast. But when Sunset launched a grow-your-own block party contest last spring, 8 families in the town’s Beach Tract neighborhood entered right away, wanting to show that great food could come from their soil. The 15 adults (and 16 kids ages 3 to 11), who named themselves Team Beach Tractors, had limited gardening experience and tiny yards—but that didn’t stop them from putting their collective green thumb up against 9 other worthy teams from all over the West.
Using Sunset’s backyard farming book, The One-Block Feast (Ten Speed Press, 2011; $25), as a guide, they started planting. They milked goats and made cheese, kept meat chickens and egg-layers, raised oysters, fished for rock cod, and grew wheat and barley for beer; they even made salt.
Last August, the Tractors threw a party on a borrowed yacht that cruised around Morro Bay (the children had a separate feast, which they grew and cooked themselves). While the team could claim to have grown a dinner—with the exception of a few ingredients—they also came away with something else: In an era when hardly any of us know our neighbors’ names, around the Beach Tract, no one was a stranger.
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Growing the menu
The Beach Tractors chose recipes and then decided who would raise which ingredients. Monthly meetings, a group website, and flurries of emails helped keep the project on track.
The Tractors grew nearly 50 different crops.
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John Diodati, the team’s leader, borrowed one to raise, but she was dry; he finally succeeded with a 4-H goat (Bella, pictured.
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From left, Christi Hale, Christine Johnson, and Amy Burton haul up oysters that the team raised from 1/2-inch “seeds” to cocktail size, in mesh bags floating in the bay, over the course of 4 months.
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Edible front lawn
The Diodatis added corn to their “beer garden” of barley, hops, and sugar beets.
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Yes, they will yield sugar—theoretically. These did not.
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One of the kids filters ocean water; 7 gallons were carefully boiled down to yield 3 cups of crystals.
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The 9 laying hens produced plenty of eggs throughout the summer.
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Throwing the party
After a whirlwind summer of goat milking, cheesemaking, and oyster harvesting, the Beach Tractors brought everything they’d grown to the table.
In late August, the team threw their harvest party on a borrowed yacht in Morro Bay.
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The menu featured two homemade beers: What beer with orange peel, coriander, and chamomile (pictured); and Lemon ginger beer. Party guests also sipped local Peachy Canyon and Chronic Cellars wines.
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The Beach Tractors’ oysters were dainty and firm, with a briny-sweet snap, and served with two salsas.
The chicken was served with honey wheat rolls, goat-cheese frittata, summer garden salad, and succotash, all made by the Beach Tractors.
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The team picked berries all summer from pre-established vines and hoarded them in the freezer for dessert. The pavlova recipe comes from Tractor Gibsey Beckett, whose mother made it while living in Australia—where pavlova is considered a national treasure.