Back in the day, the completion of a fruitful harvest season called for a huge barn party. The beer flowed freely and spirits were high from the accomplishments of the growing season. Being able to provide for your family and community was always just cause for an epic annual celebration and last night’s FRESH dinner at Market Calgary was no different. The tables were set with simple place settings, accented with vegetables, and set communally so that everyone could visit and chat as if they had lived next door to one another for years. Friends, neighbours, community: We all took part in the harvest celebration and toasted Grow Calgary for a job well done this 2014 growing season.
Grow Calgary is a local organization that was spearheaded in 2013 by Paul Hughes; local father, food activist, visionary, and all around great guy. He believes that every Calgarian should have access to fresh local produce and has found out a way to provide it for thousands of needy Calgarians. Did you know that there are government land holdings and barren future transportation corridors within Calgary? They lie fallow until the planned roadways are built. In some cases they remain unused forever. Grow Calgary petitioned for the rights to use these parcels of land and, beginning with a small 4.5 Ha plot near Canada Olympic Park, Paul and his enthusiastic volunteers began growing produce for the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank. This year the harvest was enough to fill 540 hampers; the yield but a tip of the iceberg (lettuce!). Grow Calgary has requested the use another 254 Ha of land scattered throughout the city of Calgary. For Paul and Grow Calgary, the possibilities are endless and the goal to feed so many Calgarians is within reach.
Paul Hughes and Amanda Weightman
The 2014 FRESH Dinner at MARKET Calgary was truly THE dinner of the season. Final harvest at COP began around 10:30 am and the produce (green onions, garlic, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, beets, kale, and various greens) was on its way to the restaurant by 11:30. To ensure the produce arrived in a timely fashion, Calgary Police Services provided a two motorcycle escort for the length of 17th avenue. Upon arrival, the produce was scrubbed and prepped within hours to provide guests with the freshest dinner possible within the City of Calgary. 100% of the profits from the evening went to Grow Calgary; the restaurant space, service staff hours, and chef’s hours (including those of executive Chef Dave Bohati) were generously donated by the restaurant.
Upon arrival we were greeted with a frosty glass of Village Brewery’s Village Gardener Ale. The newest member of the Village Brewery family (and only available so far at FRESH Dinner) is a refreshing and delicious ale made with local malt and barley as well as several hop varieties grown in community gardens around Calgary. The starter vodka based cocktail also included beet juice, carrot juice, ginger, and honey from the hives at Grow Calgary.We were then treated to some freshly baked focaccia bread with garlic and green onions provided by Grow Calgary. The slightly smoked garlic butter was outstanding. Our salad, prepared by Chef Bohati, starred the freshest baby greens to be found within our city that night. They were accompanied by thinly sliced radish rounds, fresh roasted pumpkin seeds, cranberries, a kale and parsley purée drizzle with a buttermilk, preserved lemon and dill dressing.The main course should have been called the ‘Carrot Course’. Grow Calgary provided the potatoes and carrots in the gnocchi, the carrots in the carrot and cumin purée, the greens, and the parsnips which were made into crispy chips. Though MARKET is generally a ‘meat-centric’ restaurant, they truly succeeded in elevating the humble vegetable.
Our main dessert was also carrot themed: Carrot cake with caramel corn, carrot and fennel purée, and a perfect quenelle of cream cheese ice cream.
And the sweetest dish of all? This Grow Calgary honeycomb straight from the hives. It also was used as a natural sweetener for many of the dishes we ate that night.
I had the opportunity to sit next to some Grow Calgary volunteers and they were continuously amazed at how the chefs at MARKET had transformed their ordinary vegetables. I believe that they all then realized that the countless hours spent scratching in the soil, planting seed after seed, and weeding were definitely worth it in the end.
If you have a natural affinity for growing green things, Grow Calgary is always looking for volunteers. The growing season may be over but they will be looking for people with sunny windows to start seedlings soon. Please visit Grow Calgary to volunteer.