WINTERS — With the sun sinking behind the rural horizon, attendees of the Dinner on the Farm appeared more than thrilled to be counted as contributors to a local nonprofit.
The Center for Land-Based Learning held the dinner at its headquarters on Putah Creek on Saturday. The evening featured produce from farmers in the surrounding area. It served as the nonprofit’s last quarterly fundraising dinner of 2012.
The farm-to-table experience was supported by Chipotle Mexican Grill, which operates more than 1,300 “fast casual” restaurants and advertises sustainable, farm-grown ingredients. In 2012, Chipotle expects to use 10 million pounds of local produce.
Nicole Rogers, marketing strategist for Chipotle in the Sacramento region, said when the partnership between Chipotle and the Center for Land-Based Learning began, it became immediately apparent that the center’s purpose aligned with the restaurant chain’s mission.
“You can have food that’s fast, but you don’t have to do so at the expense of the land, people or animals,” Rogers said. “You can do things on a large scale supplied by small farmers.”
Food for Saturday’s dinner was prepared by Chipotle’s culinary team, which includes Nate Appleman, a James Beard Rising Star Award winner, who was recognized as best new chef by Food & Wine Magazine and is the Food Network’s “Chopped: All-Stars” champion.
The evening began with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Sacramento’s Ruhstaller beer filled jars full of their local brew as traditional Mexican tastes were offered to attendees, including tamal with sea urchin, radish and jalapeño and chicharrones with lime and chile de arbol.
After mingling, everyone sat down to a six-course dinner. The dishes came out family-style to the patrons, who shared in conversation and laughter as they indulged in spicy sweet potato crepas, tender pork shoulder and other flavorful offerings.
Appleman described the menu as not exactly authentic to Mexico’s cuisine, but rather, “what you would find on a farm by Putah Creek.” The chef from New York remarked that at one time he lived in California, and finds that its produce rivals that found anywhere in the world.
Proceeds from the dinner’s $100 tickets will finance the Center for Land-Based Learning and its educational outreach, such as the FARMS Leadership Program, which introduces high school students to sustainable agriculture. The California Farm Academy, a mentor program for beginning farmers, is the group’s latest initiative.
Mary Kimball, the center’s executive director, said these programs are intended to create and nurture the next generation of farmers to feed an ever-expanding world population.
“We need every part of the agricultural system,” Kimball said. “The small farmers, the medium-sized farmers and the large ones — we need them all.”
The nonprofit’s dedication to teaching young people about agriculture, Kimball added, is just as much about having people learn to support the farming that exists already in Yolo County.
“Agriculture is the most important part of the economy in Yolo County,” she said. “We should do what we can to bolster it by buying locally from farmers that we know, and farmers that are trying to make a go of it right here.”
As a restaurant chain that relies on farm-grown ingredients, Chipotle is understandably concerned that the average American farmer is pushing age 60.
In light of this, Rogers expressed how essential it is to embrace programs that inspire young people to pursue a future in agriculture:
“(The Center for Land-Based Learning) recognizes that we have a $4 billion agriculture industry in the seven counties that surround us,” she said. “We are not going to have enough farmers in that pipeline. They’re trying to close that gap, which is important for Chipotle — that’s where we get our food.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] or 530-747-8052.