It was no accident but, by sheer design, that James Collier, Kelly Landrieu and I, found ourselves at the Petaluma Seed Bank on our way to Anvil Ranch for Eat Retreat. Our stop set the tone and provided some fodder on what the weekend was all about. In our quest for super cool food stops along the way, we wound up in Petaluma. An un-named cheese stop proved a disappointment, as none of us reached for our cameras.
Just as we are leaving the picturesque downtown, I spot the Petaluma Seed Bank out of the corner of my eye. EUREKA – this is it. You don’t find stores like this just anywhere. James quickly pulls over. The Seed Bank is an extension of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co., that carries one of the largest selections of seeds (over 1,300) from the 19thcentury. The company has become a tool to promote and preserve our agricultural and culinary heritage. Back in 2000, Jere Gettle, the founder of Baker Creek began hosting festivals as a way to bring gardeners, homesteaders and natural food enthusiasts together to exchange thoughts and seeds, listen to speakers, and enjoy vendors, old-time music and much more.
It was only when Paul Wallace, the manager of the Seed Bank spots our three SLR cameras walk through the door, that it bacame clear our happenstance stop was fate. While Seed Bank may be on the edge of a sleepy town Petaluma, Sonoma County, its mission is a valuable one. It is also the thread for what all of us share at Eat Retreat, the core of what connects us. What he gives us is a seed. A little seed of purpose to our creativity.
Our friend Paul has deep reflective eyes, a craggy Irish accent and an infectious smile. He wants to know what the cameras are for. I explain that we are going to a retreat . . . I stumble a bit on my words. He leans in closer. How do you explain what Eat Retreat is to an outsider? He listens intently, hanging on my every word. His eyes grow so large with awe, that I think they might explode. “It’s a creative retreat for foodies”. Paul beams with excitement; as I explain, I can see he gets it. He is one of us. He too has something he would like to share with us; he is organizing the National Heirloom Exposition. It’s the first one. It will be like the world fair. There will be seeds, farmers, produce, plants, tools, lectures . . .he explains as he gestures over for a friend to come meet me.
Her name is Ginger Irwin; she is the artist and designer of the famed Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Calendar. She stares at my camera. He is speaking with immense enthusiasm. Hands are flying. Their festival. Our retreat. Music. Food. Getting people back to the land. Barbara gives me a gift, a calendar. They want to meet my friends. Both James and Kelly receive the same heartfelt welcome – “Where are you from? What will you be cooking?” We have met our kindred souls. We are the belles of the ball at The Seed Bank, all dolled up in our Nikon and Cannon gear.
We leave punch drunk. I feel as if I may have drank a cup of magic mushroom tea – the little circus man at the end of the song who chants red wine, red wine is now whispering eat treat, eat retreat. . . and this is how the rest of the weekend goes.
Each of us brought with us some of our most coveted culinary delights for a little “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”. Home distilled corn whiskey, black onyx coco powder, goats milk Carmel sauce, guanciale, heirloom rice, Harold McGee’s yogurt starter, heirloom coffee beans complete with a vintage 70’s air popped popcorn machine for roasting, yeast fermented fennel orange soda, and handmade ginger beer, Fumee de Sel aged in Chardonnay Oak Barrels, 100 year old aged balsamic, handmade limoncello, coveted family recipes, techniques and more.
What ensued when we all shared our “heirloom” goodies could be likened to a modern day Electric kool-aid acid test. Mike Lee’s time lapse video captures the essence of what happens when you hull up a few neo-homesteaders on a ranch with bourbon and pork. It made the air at the ranch a bit frenetic, in a sunny, country day sort of way. Creative juice was flowing, oozing like Cow Girl Creamery Tome, fresh off a Panini press.
Intended as creative retreat for food industry professionals, for many of us it was gentle re-set. Getting in touch with the thing that connects us to food, why we do what we do. The result serves as proof, proof that it is not just a trend but that there is profound shift in the way we think about food. Many of us write, cook, photograph in addition to other jobs. Yet still, we strive to find a way to eat well and live in harmony with our earth. We are a group of people who eat based on our values and beliefs. Eat Retreat was an amazing show of how seriously our generation takes their stewardship role and how much fun they are having with it.