Although most of the events associated with Alberta Open Farm Days last weekend took place outside of Edmonton, there were still several opportunities to engage with agriculture within the city. Cindy recapped her visit to Horse Hill Berry Farm and Reclaim Urban Farm, while Mack and I were fortunate enough to be invited as guests to attend a dinner at the site of the Northlands Urban Farm.
Northlands Urban Farm
Lactuca, a local food producer, began as a backyard project, supplying restaurants and consumers at the 124 Grand Market. In 2014, in partnership with Northlands, Lactuca expanded their operations to a one acre site at 112 Avenue and 79 Street (about a 15 minute walk from the Stadium LRT station). This year, in conjunction with Alberta Open Farm Days, Northlands hosted a series of events to introduce the public to the urban farm, including tours, honey harvest demonstrations and cheese making workshops. The day concluded with the farm-to-table dinner.
It was a beautiful evening for an al fresco supper, and thankfully, given the dinner would have us traipsing through the gardens, it had been blessedly dry that weekend. Five food stations had been set up around the perimeter of the farm, and guests were invited to visit each on our own time to sample a total of eight dishes.
At the farm
Short of a brief welcome and introduction of the chefs involved, nothing more formal took place. I recognize that the staff had just led several farm tours earlier that day, but I assume a majority of those attending the dinner hadn’t been a part of them. Because of this, I thought it was a missed opportunity for Northlands to provide more information about their relationship with Lactuca, Northlands’ philosophy on local food, or, in the context of the meal we were about to enjoy, highlights of the Alberta products they had utilized.
This last point was particularly glaring when we visited the stations. It became painfully obvious that while some thought had been put into creating the diverse menu, many of the frontline staff serving the food and drink didn’t have the same awareness of the focus on local. They couldn’t answer questions about the products used, and weren’t confident on where they had been sourced. I’m optimistic that because this shift has been fairly recent (for example, the Northlands food truck, 1879, has committed to using 75% local ingredients, just hit the streets in July), staff engagement can only improve from here.
It is difficult to manage food quality in those makeshift outdoor kitchens, so as expected, some dishes were better than others. Our runaway favourite was the seared pickerel, with roasted cauliflower and broccoli, honey glazed carrots, crispy onions, bee pollen and corn shoots. The fish had been perfectly prepared, and the accompanying vegetables minimally cooked to emphasize their fresh quality.
Similarly, the DIY salad featured the breadth of our harvest bounty, including, of course, Lactuca’s own greens and vegetables.
DIY salad platter
The hay-smoked chicken had promise, but was just too salty. The same could be said of the braised bacon, especially when coupled with a gouda crisp.
Hay smoked chicken
The marinated flank steak was more successful, served with salsa verde. But Mack remarked that the corn should have been left alone; its natural sweetness really didn’t need to be masked by mayo.
Braised bacon and marinated flank steak
I did enjoy the duo of desserts. The first was a smoked almond ice cream topped with grilled peaches, lavender and a lemon cake cookie.
Smoked almond ice cream with grilled peaches
The second was a mixed berry tart with maple sauce and Chantilly cream. I could have easily had another; it was summer in two bites.
Mixed berry tart
I can appreciate that this was the first such dinner organized by Northlands, and if they decide to host it again next year, improvements could be made. The increase in urban agriculture projects should be celebrated with events like these so that more Edmontonians can learn about the potential we have to supply food within city limits. Northlands has the unique opportunity to make farm-to-table suppers a more frequent, accessible experience. I look forward to what they may have in store for us next year.
Thanks again to Northlands for inviting us to be a part of their inaugural farm dinner.
Check out Linda’s recap of the evening here.