Aren’t they lovely? Aren’t they wonderful? Introducing the finalists in our One-Block Party contest (part 1)
TEAM BEACH TRACTORS
Morro Bay, CA
The Beach Tractors. The Beach Tract, their neighborhood, is directly behind them.Eight families came together to form this team, and they’re not only creating a feast, they’re beautifying their neighborhood, too. John Diodati, an administrator for the County Public Works department by day and Head Tractor, explains:
“Historically a retirement community, most homes in Morro Bay are of modest size on very small lots. The elderly demographic, combined with the lack of reliable water (the town is almost 100% reliant on state water, with desalination used when state water is down) has made most homeowners abandon their gardens and cover their lots with rocks. The young families of the Beach Tract would like to demonstrate that not only can the long-neglected soil beneath these rocks be exposed to yield a bountiful harvest, but that there is also enough food resources within eyesight of our front doors to throw a lovely and memorable dinner party.”
Their entry included a detailed map of the neighborhood that pinpoints where fish harvesting will take place, using stand-up paddleboards (!) on the shore right across from the group’s row of houses. (Sounds as though this group might have a surfer or two.) Other plans: goat-raising, for milk to make cheese and butter; egg-laying chickens and chickens for meat, too; winemaking (the grapes will come from further inland); beekeeping, salt-making; and even audacious experiments with cornstarch (we’re looking forward to hearing more about that one). Team Beach Tractors is planning an entire kid’s garden, named El Jardin del Mar/Beach Garden—with signs in Spanish and English—and a whole multi-course menu for them, too, which they will cook themselves. “The children will have fun documenting the growing season using various media: photos, video interviews, original artwork and other creative ideas.” It almost makes us want to be kids again, just to join this team.
Left: The Burton kids clearing out the succulent garden to make room for veggies. Right: The Hale front yard is a perfect example of a Beach Tract home—rocks as far as the eye can see.
TEAM DANCES WITH LEGUMES
San Francisco Peninsula, CA
Oriental poppies (planted with clarkia) in the Weltons’ yard yield millions of poppy seeds for seasoning.And the flowers could be the reason this family’s honey has a spicy kick.
Maryanne Welton and her group of neighbors, friends and family from Los Altos, Palo Alto, Pescadero, Menlo Park, and Redwood City are sprinting right from the start line. Since learning that her team was a finalist last Friday, she says, “my husband and I hived three bee packages, built a new chicken coop, and weeded our wheat “field”.” Maryanne describes why she and her group wanted to enter this contest. “We were inspired by [Sunset’s] one-block feast article two years ago to connect through our gardens and kitchens over communal meals. … Between us we have bees, chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, and a cow (named Lucy). We raise a variety of herbs, berries, fruit, veggies and grains. We make cheese and bread; put up jam, salsa, chutney, olives and tomatoes; dry beans and fruits; ferment kraut, ale and mayonnaise; and save and exchange our seeds. …We’ve taught each other how to make cheese and can tomatoes, we’ve shared beekeeping tips and recipes, and because of your blog we now know how to harvest salt from the ocean. Besides typical home garden produce, we explore the unusual such as walking kale, chervil, and odd-looking winter squash.” And, judging from their entry, at least 3 kinds of beans.
Team Dances with Legumes are considering all sorts of other food projects, too, like making oil from sunflower seeds and wine from elderflowers. Their tentative menu reads like a tour of their gardens, with plants from all over the globe—everything from kaffir lime leaves to quinoa. It shows what’s possible when you have a hospitable climate and a creative, dedicated band of home growers.
TEAM FOOD COURT
Harvey’s daughter, Grace, with kale and ducks, in the family yard.“Last April I was sitting on my houseboat in Sausalito,” says team organizer Jennifer Harvey. “My garden consisted of 2 dead tomato vines, one container of basil that had gone to seed, and Meyer lemons I scavenged from the community landscaping in the center of the dock. A year later I’m 2 blocks from downtown Bellevue, on 1/2 acre with mature fruit and nut trees, grapes, berries, and 5 baby chicks in my laundry room until they are big enough to join our communal ducks outside. I have a big hole in the sod, with tiny sprouts peeking out, hoping it is almost summer. … I now find myself slightly terrified by all the possibilities—and no specific direction. Last week I was a woman wandering around the plots with a wheelbarrow, a shovel, and a daughter in a princess gown. Where was all this going?!”
Then Jennifer saw our contest, and within a short span of time has organized a gung-ho one-block team in her new neighborhood. They’ve named themselves in honor of the food at the mall just a few blocks away. “We want all the variety of a food court, but this block will be much more delicious. A salad bar, an ice cream place, pizza…The Food Court has it all.” They’re right across from Lake Washington, with its salmon and trout, and plan to bring in red meat for curing, milk for cheesemaking and the ice cream, and flour for homemade pasta. Kids will get in on the action, too (they’re planning to make chalk from eggshells!) Team Food Court is cooking up a tremendous-sounding feast.
TEAM ORGANIC DONORS
Anna Staton and Dylan and Emilio Kukic, watering the carrot seeds they’ve just finished planting.
Headed by Elizabeth Staton, a flower gardener turned edibles grower by her vegetable-loving 3-year-old, Team Organic Donors plans to give surplus produce to local food banks and join Colorado’s Plant a Row for the Hungry. Elizabeth and seemingly her entire family (grandparents, her sisters and their families, she and her husband and their two toddlers) and friends and their families are growing dozens of fruits and vegetables, plus lots of herbs—so many that the list she sent us reads like a farmers’ market sell sheet! One friend has backyard chickens, and another keeps bees. Elizabeth makes cheese (queso blanco and mozzarella so far), and has a batch of red wine vinegar on top of her fridge and homemade yogurt inside it. “This summer,” she says, “I’ll be ordering a Back to the Roots mushroom kit so we can grow our own fungi (the kids will adore it).” Her husband’s parents might even catch some trout for the dinner. We’re looking forward to a big, happy feast from Team Organic Donors.
TEAM SPECIAL SAUS
Left: Abby Peterson with her son Paul, planting a raised bed for summer.Right: Marin Halvorsen with a few of her family’s chickens (her mom, Whit, sewed the dress she is wearing).
These four young families in Sausalito love food and kitchen projects and “mucking about outside with our preschoolers,” says team leader Abby Peterson. They are, in her words:
“A radish-obsessed Shakespearean actressTwo stay-at-home moms with plenty of dirt under their nailsSeveral small preschoolers who love feeding grapes to chickensA solar consultant who makes his own pâté and salamiAn engineer who brews beer on the sideAnd a stay-at-home dad who is a great cook and a glassblower to boot”
Will we see homemade glasses on the tables, we wonder—we hope?
In addition to their gardens—some of which they’ve already planted—they’ll have homemade beer and eggs from their own chickens, and are thinking about bartering for some honey from a beekeeping friend. Although they don’t have a cow, they’ll buy local milk to make cheese. And they’ll try vinegar, too. Team Saus plans to pick wild plums and passionfruit and blackberries, and will be investigating local flour for baking. Their tentative menu is fresh, thoughtful, and fun, and features an old family recipe that looks like a great way to use up a backyard explosion of summer zucchini.
Tomorrow: profiles of our remaining 5 finalists.