BY VICKY BROWN
August 20, 2014
Saturday evening I had the privilege of attending “The Whale Wins on the Prairie” at Willowood Farm, a fundraising dinner for the Friends of Ebey’s.
I was excited to go because one of my friends and fellow farmers, Georgie Smith, was hosting the event at the remarkable historic Willowood Farm on Ebey’s Prairie.
I was thrilled to go because the renowned Chef Renee Erickson was orchestrating the cuisine.
I was anxious to go because many of our Little Brown Farm dairy products would be served to many people who have never tried our goods.
I was nervous to go because I felt I didn’t fit in. I felt I was an outsider, a farmer dining with guests who donated $200 a plate, some driving vehicles worth more than our barn.
When I arrived early I was set at ease; Georgie was still in farm clothes, still doing chores. There were crews bustling about, preparing for the meal service, grilling the food to be served, chilling the wines, setting the stage. Guests would arrive in less than an hour and Georgie, with a delightful smudge of fertile soil on her nose, was still feeding her very old horse.
As she went to prepare to welcome the guests, I got to wander the farm with which I’m so blissfully familiar—enjoying the farm dogs and the sweeping vistas.
A group of volunteers from the Coupeville Lions arrived and began traffic and parking coordination. Their friendly faces and joy at being a supporting part of such an event was contagious.
From the parking lot we went on a tour of the delightfully marked fields.
The tour I was on was led by the passionate and knowledgeable Adam Kendrick, Willowood’s field manager.
It ended with a stop in front of the Willowood’s farmstead home. The family home where Georgie grew up and her parents, Renee and Bill Smith live, was built in 1896.
In front of the rose garden and the white picket fence, Georgie spoke to us. She explained the connection of the Prairie and her family, dating back 5 generations. Listening to Georgie’s words, watching guests hanging on her every syllable, seeing the pride in her parents’ faces I realized this was so much more than a fundraiser, or a fine dinner, or even a community gathering. I was witnessing the Smith family’s very personal and tender love letter to Whidbey Island.
As Georgie’s voice cracked and she wiped away the uninvited tears, we listened with humility and gratitude. We laughed as she told the stories of a mean old Aunt who MADE people take off their shoes before entering her home (that is what earned her the nickname “mean”). She took us back, inviting us to imagine Ebey’s Prairie any time within the last 120 years, reminding us that except for the power lines and the cell phones a community gathering would have looked much the same.
I missed several of the hors d’oeuvres being served; I was too distracted by the realization that I was at a barn raising. Not the kind that may have raised the Historic Smith Barn in 1880, but the 2014 style. In reality Friends of Ebey’s is more about maintaining the historic buildings and protecting and educating about the Prairie than raising barns. However, it was the same as I imagine the barn-raising families felt when they watched the good work they did go into use and then feasted after the work.
I certainly wasn’t alone feeling the connection of the evening. “Aside from the amazing food,” Sarah Richards of Lavender Wind Farm said, “one of the best parts was sitting with previously unknown people and leaving with new friends.”
Every seat was full and the atmosphere was as joyful as I imagine the meal at the end of the barn-raising in 1880. Music filled the barn as Nathaniel Talbot entertained, adding the perfect note to complete the delightful atmosphere.
This love letter could not be complete with just Georgie’s poignant speech. It took many other committed people that feel the same way to make it more of a symphony than a letter.
I am so grateful to photographer Audra Mulkern who donated her time, skill and images.
Chef Renee Erickson, who donated her time, orchestrated the most divine and most local meal I’ve ever had prepared for me.
Renee’s remarkable team, including the Chef de Cuisine at Boat Street Cafe, Jay Guerrero.
The Coupeville Lions, who successfully kept all the paint on the right cars and the vehicles out of the fields of the produce.
Ebey’s Prairie neighbors who helped Georgie to prepare for this wonderful event with equipment and time.
So many farmers and purveyors including: 3 Sisters, Penn Cove Shellfish, Rosehip Farm, bayleaf, Lavender Wind Farm, Little Brown Farm, Ebb Tide Produce, Mile Post 19 and of course Willowood Farm—that provided the ingredients for the meal and the wine for the delightful pairings.
Finally, to the group responsible for the coordination of so many moving parts to pull this memorable night together—the Friends of Ebey’s.
If you were unable to attend this dinner, I encourage you to support them however you can. You can donate right from their website or mail in a check. This unique, fertile and exquisite land is worth protecting. The families that are maintaining it are hard-working, dedicated stewards. The community that lives or visits here could not be the same without it. Ebey’s Prairie is truly one of Whidbey’s crowning jewels. I hope you will come, visit and let the symphony of love letters surround you.
Authors note: For those of you who were hoping for a play by play of the incredible meal, I’m sorry. It was simply too good. I tried writing that blog (including some of the pics above and more), but it simply felt mean to show you what you missed. The food, as expected, was divine. I was introduced to agretti – and ooh, I like it!
Here is the menu… and you can get instructions for preparation of some of the items in Renee Erickson’s new book: “A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus: Menus and Stories.”
I hope you will get to enjoy some of Renee Erickson’s fabulous culinary treats at one of her restaurants. Soon you’ll be able to buy her cookbook and recreate some of the flavors at home. So many of the ingredients for this meal were sourced from Whidbey, you can get most of them at Coupeville and Bayview Farmers Markets or even at bayleaf in Coupeville or 3 Sisters shop all week long.
Vicky Brown, Chief Milkmaid at the Little Brown Farm, puts her passions on the page writing about food, agriculture and the tender web of community.
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