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Feeding a Crowd on a Local Food Budget

By Abbey Smith

Rushing is an excuse to do the wrong thing. An excuse to blow the local food budget. My friend Tre Cates from nRhythm first told me this, and his voice sounds in my mind when I feel myself saying. “Just get it done.” Think of all we allow in the name of efficiency: single use napkins, single use cups, grabbing cheap food at a drive through. But at what cost is this efficiency and ease for the user, gained? 

In July, facing a four-day Jefferson Center Ecological Monitoring and Land Planning course hosted at our home, Springs Ranch, I was so very tempted to make feeding our participants lunch each day as easy as possible on me. I find feeding crowds a time when efficiency wins, because unlike many of my neighbors in Surprise Valley, I am not used to feeding many mouths at a meal so I want to just “get it done” because it is a lot of work. But our context is that we value nutrient-dense, local, food prepared and shared with love. So I got to work.

I didn’t realize how easy it could be to feed a lot of people, and stay within our local food budget and bull’s eye diet. What I am learning is our local food year is about asking a few simple questions before taking an action. They are:

  • Is this as local and responsibly sourced as possible?
  • If it is not, what can I replace it with that is? 

In other words a little creativity (which is more fun anyway) is all it takes. And it was, surprisingly, better on our budget. We didn’t buy one single-use item, which kept costs lower. We cooked “family style,” making big stews and other dishes that are easily shared.  Read on for an exciting item by item break down of the menu budget (There! It really happened. You just read the word “exciting” and “budget” in the same sentence.).

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Thinking back to my time at Be Love Farm in May, I reflected on how they fed the Savory Institute team of 13 people plus everyone working on the farm. The spring Savory Institute team meeting was held at Be Love Farm this year. They served a big salad of sunflower microgreens, lettuce and other greens dressed in olive oil from the farm and vinegar, and a big pot of beans. Each day the other menu items changed. They served pecans and cheese from the farm regularly too. Inspired by their method, I crafted the following menu, with a lot of help from my daughter Maezy who baked all the desserts:

    • Snacks: 
      • Burroughs Family Farm almonds
      • Be Love Farm cheese (one of the course participants was from Be Love Farm, so we placed an order for goods from their farm and he brought them up)
      •  Cherries (from our friend Amanda Holding’s tree in Cedarville)
      •  Springs Ranch mint tea, black tea (store bought), Springs Ranch water, coffee (store bought)
      •  Cream from Shakefork Community Farm (again, purchasing from an attendee farm)
      •  Honey from Springs Ranch

 

  • Lunches:

 

    • Thursday: Elk (from Springs Ranch) Stew with Modoc County potatoes and Bidwell Canyon Farm carrots, Springs Ranch beef bone broth, mixed greens salad with greens from Be Love Farm, Shakefork Community Farm and the Springs Ranch garden. Dressing: Springs Ranch honey, Soul Food Farm olive oil, spices. Dessert: Shakefork Community Farm Strawberry tarts (gluten free).
    • Friday: All produce from Shakefork Community Farm and Be Love Farm: Ratatouille, Cucumber and tomato salad, Triple 3 Ranch ham (Jason and Sarah Diven in Lake City). Dessert: Springs Ranch honey and vanilla pudding with Be Love Farm peaches.
    • Saturday: All produce from Shakefork Community Farm and Be Love Farm: Ham hocks (using the ham bone from the day prior) and beans (a gift from our friends in Chile who visited us for a month this summer), green salad with dressing.  Dessert: Cave kid cookies, Maezy’s specialty, (gluten free) made with staples already in our pantry.

It was wonderful to break mid-day with everyone and enjoy a family style meal on the lawn at Springs Ranch. Maezy let us in a gratitude circle (also learned from Be Love Farm) each day prior to the meal. It was a beautiful time together with old friends and new. 

Here is what we spent on food for the four days. There were three full lunches and snacks each day for 12 to 14 people. 

Item Source Cost

Elk meat, bone broth, potatoes, carrots, dessert dry ingredients Springs Ranch pantry $0
Ham Triple 3 Ranch $43
Veggies, fruit, pecans, cheese Be Love Farm $133
Strawberries, veggies, cream, milk Shakefork Community Farm $50
Coffee, tea Holiday Market, Alturas $50
Microgreens, salad flowers, Swiss Chard Modoc Harvest Food Hub $17
Beans Gift from Chilean friends $0
Springs Ranch honey Springs Ranch $0
Cherries Amanda Holding’s tree in Cedarville $0
Almonds Burroughs Family Farm $25
Mint tea Springs Ranch  $ 0