See how neighbors banded together to learn how to grow everything they planned to eat
Written byPhoto by Thomas J. Story; written by Margo TrueMarch 5, 2012
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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.
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.
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.
Edible front lawn
The Diodatis added corn to their “beer garden” of barley, hops, and sugar beets.
Yes, they will yield sugar—theoretically. These did not.
One of the kids filters ocean water; 7 gallons were carefully boiled down to yield 3 cups of crystals.
The 9 laying hens produced plenty of eggs throughout the summer.
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.
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.
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.