By Stephanie Oelsligle Jordan, Local Food Project Manager
I once came across a birthday or anniversary card that said something like this: “I love it when you whisper those 3 little words in my ear…..Let’s Eat Out!” It’s true. Making dinner has become something we all love and hate at the same time, and the complexity surrounding it is likely multiplied by how many jobs/children/after-school activities/deadlines you have. Even as a trained chef, I find myself at times guiltily turning to easy, processed food from a box (i.e. mac & cheese!) for my two boys on any given weeknight.
More truths: the demand for prepared food has become stronger, and the quality of some prepared foods has become very questionable. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone were around to cook you healthy dinners, made from ingredients that came from local, organic farmers in Solano County? Well, that is exactly what has been happening for the past 4 weeks. In mid-August, I began working on a pilot program with Cultivate Community Food Co-op – funded by Solano Department of Public Health – which I’ve been calling “Community Supported Dinners.” These dinners are much like what we envisioned within our original Community Food Center model – homemade meals made by local chefs from local ingredients.
The main purpose of this 6-week pilot is to test costs, logistics and other factors involved, which will provide us with information to fine tune the vision. Greg Morrison (Board Treasurer of the Co-op, and on our USDA Local Food Advisory Board) has organized a distribution plan to get raw food products from the farms to me in the commercial kitchen at Vallejo’s Dan Foley Cultural Center. Deliveries come Monday and Tuesday mornings, and by Tuesday afternoon, my assistant Veronica Bearce and I have meat or vegetarian dinners cooked, cooled, boxed, labeled and ready to get delivered to folks in Benicia and Vallejo. Speaking of Veronica, she is also the chef-owner of Veronica’s Veggies, which specializes in vegan food.
The participants for this project are largely Co-op members (sorry – it’s not open to the public yet!), who also have the option to purchase raw ingredients directly from the farms through an online ordering system. Feedback from the farmers has been positive, because they can get direct-to-consumer sales without having to stand at a farmers market or utilize other resources to get their products to people. Fresh produce for the project comes from Eatwell Farm (Dixon) and Lockewood Acres (Vacaville). Meat products are sourced from Tara Firma Farms (Petaluma), and fish is sourced from Real Good Fish, which supports sustainable fishermen/women up and down the California coast. While I have been ordering products based on consumer counts, I am more interested in knowing whether people would sign up in advance for dinners (similar to how a CSA operates). Would you pre-pay for, say, two months of dinners every Tuesday? I promise I won’t make mac & cheese.
Menus thus far:
Aug. 14: Caribbean Chicken / Black Beans with Sofrito + Coconut Quinoa with Cilantro + Roasted Seasonal Veggies
Aug. 21: Indian Spiced Lamb Meatballs / Indian Spiced Eggplant + Tzatziki Sauce + Chickpea-Tomato Salad with Feta Cheese + Whole Wheat Pita
Aug. 28: Spanish Paella with Chicken & Pork Linguica / Paella with Roasted Peppers & Onions + Lemon-Garlic Aioli + Fig Salad with Mixed Greens, Walnuts, Goat Cheese
Sept. 5: Mustard-Glazed Salmon atop Cannellini Bean & Tomato Ragu + House-made Focaccia + Classic Greek Salad
Special Thanks to Eatwell Farm, Lockewood Acres, Tara Firma Farm, and Real Good Fish for assisting with this project!