Liz Kellar

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September 8, 2010
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Living Lands to host 'Dinner in the Field'

When Brian and Mary Ekiss bought their home off Lewis Road in Nevada City in 2008, they continued restoring the property, which had been a farm in the 1860s.

Taking some of the acreage back to its agrarian roots was a natural decision - but choosing to partner with farmer Leo Chapman of Living Lands Agrarian Network was a leap of faith that has proved amply rewarding.

Harmony Valley Farm is hosting a fundraising dinner, featuring New Moon chef Peter Selaya, that will also serve to showcase both the farm and the network.

The "Dinner in the Field" starts at 5:30 p.m. Thursday; tickets cost $100 per person and proceeds will benefit Living Lands, which promotes organic farming, provides internship and journeyman opportunities, leads educational workshops and feeds local low-income families with farm shares.

"We had this land that's very sunny, that's got a really nice exposure, and it looked like it used to be ag land," Brian Ekiss said.

Worried about the fire danger from the overgrown half-acre, the couple first contemplated working the garden themselves, then discussed leasing the land out.

But after "asking around" at the farmers market, they met Chapman.

"He already knew about the property," Brian Ekiss said. "He met us out here and turned over a shovel of earth - and the rest is history."

Living Lands' unique model of farming involves collaborative partnerships between farmers and local landowners. Under this model, landowners offer a portion of their acreage to be used by farmers in the network.

The landowner benefits by having a portion of their land transformed into an ecological farm, while farmers benefit by gaining access to local land on which to apply their skills and grow a local farm business.

The partnership is a shared vision, with "nothing formal in place other than a friendship and a handshake," Mary Ekiss said.

"You have that feeling of launching off into something new," Brian Ekiss said. "You say, 'We're going to trust this person, we're going to get along, we're going to be willing to let people come on the property.' You do give up a little bit of privacy, but the rewards are worth the risk."

"This land was so appropriate for growing food," Mary Ekiss explained. "To be able to be part of that is a humbling experience. When we go to BriarPatch, our food is there. When we go to the farmers market, our food is there. What a tremendous gift to be able to share all that."

Harmony Valley Farm was a natural choice to host a fundraising dinner, Mary Ekiss said.

"It was planned as a children's farm, an experience farm, for people to come and get a sense of what gardening can be," she said. "It was planned to be beautiful ... and this dinner gives it a chance to fulfill that."

Selaya will lead the Living Lands farmers in the preparation of a gourmet feast featuring ingredients from their farms, including grass-fed lamb, pork and seasonal organic vegetables. Dinner will be served just a few feet from where some of the ingredients were grown.

Local fine wine, appetizers, dinner and dessert are included in the $100 cost, and there also will be a silent auction and other fundraising activities.

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail or call (530) 477-4229.

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The Union Updated Sep 8, 2010 12:40AM Published Sep 8, 2010 12:35AM Copyright 2010 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.