Fork & Shovel: Speed Dating for Farmers and Chefs

All photos courtesy Jil Hale of Barndiva

Late Feb’s drear rain and wind did not stop a group of some 60 chefs and farmers from gathering at Healdsburg’s Barndiva on Tuesday, Feb. 23, for the second Fork & Shovel“Speed Dating” event. Unlike the whirl that singles might subject themselves to in order to find sex and love and shared towels, this speed dating event matched food providers with the chefs who adore—and need—them.

What co-founders Jil Hale (of Barndiva) and Randi Seidner (of the Slow Food Russian River convivia) remain somewhat surprised by is how difficult it has heretofore been to bring together these two interdependent groups. In establishing the website, they hope to bridge that gap and indeed, Hale reported to those gathered that there is interest from other foodsheds around the country in bringing this very idea to their own tables.

Terming itself an “Internet grange,” Fork & Shovel has  proprietary software that allows farmers and ranchers to post the details of their crop/harvest/livestock while allowing member chefs to order from that slate. Purveyors gain the relief of knowing that a set portion of their reap will be sold; chefs gain the relief of obtaining foodstuffs grown locally and often, organically or even biodynamically. It allows the local foodshed to flourish while allowing local restaurants to flourish while allowing local purveyors to flourish. It’s that kind of a win-win-win thing.

Canvas Ranch‘s Deborah Walton (with carrots) and Sonoma chef-restaurateur Sondra Bernstein (in striped shirt with her back to the camera), play out a short skit at F&S’ Speed Dating. “They made us do it,” Bernstein said, almost helplessly.

There certainly were no losers at Tuesday night’s slate of serious fun. In groups of five, farmers grouped near Barndiva’s bar. Each had 30 seconds to state their name, the name of their farm and what they specialize in. Gleason Ranch‘s Nancy Prebilich assured the chefs gathered that all they had to remember was the Honeymooner‘s line, “To the moon, Alice, to the moon!” in order to remember her family’s century-old-plus ranch. Tim and Karen Bates with their daughter Sophia, traveled down from Mendocino County and their Apple Farm to pitch their cider, juice and even blemished fruit (useful if it’s incorporated into something else). Others in attendance included Oliver’s Market general manager Tom Scott, farm market honcho Paula Downing, Carrie Brown of the Jimtown Store, chefs from Cyrus and Nick’s Cove, Matteo Granados, Ralph of Bistro Ralph and many more.

After the “dating” concluded, the schmoozing began. Guests had brought wine and dessert while Rosso Pizzeria provided a multitude of piping hot pies and bowls of cool salad. Amid slices and napkins, the real courting happened, with chefs telling purveyors what they wanted and purveyors considering the challenges of planting to order.

Fork & Shovel’s next order of business is to launch a series of Sunday suppers, possibly beginning as early as April, that would encourage diners to eat at F&S-affiliated restaurants as spring eases into its fullness. Expect to hear more about this innovative nonprofit. For a full list of Fork & Shovel producers, go here. for participating restaurants, here.

Sonoma County Library