See how neighbors banded together to learn how to grow everything they planned to eat
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.
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.
John Diodati, the team’s leader, borrowed one to raise, but she was dry; he finally succeeded with a 4-H goat (Bella, pictured.
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.
One of the kids filters ocean water; 7 gallons were carefully boiled down to yield 3 cups of crystals.
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.
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.
The Beach Tractors’ oysters were dainty and firm, with a briny-sweet snap, and served with two salsas.
Recipes: Oysters on the Half-Shell with Chile, Cilantro, and Meyer Lemon Salsa | Oysters on the Half-Shell with Grilled Garden Salsa
The team also caught rock cod in the bay and made ceviche with it. Party guests scooped some into an oyster shell “dish.”
Greens did very well in the Tractors’ cool, foggy gardens, and so did Cornish Cross meat chickens. They come together in this
Recipe: Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic and Spicy Greens
The chicken was served with honey wheat rolls, goat-cheese frittata, summer garden salad, and succotash, all made by the Beach Tractors.
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.
Recipe: Pavlovas with Summer Berry Sauce