Despite new location, Bounty of the County continues to burst at the seams | TheUnion.com

Despite new location, Bounty of the County continues to burst at the seams

Lorraine Jewett
Special to The Union

With a new venue and new format, the sixth annual Bounty of the County farm-to-fork event drew a bigger-than-expected crowd of more than 600 guests Thursday night.

"Organic farms are the wave of the future," said John Voter, as he enjoyed a meat pasty and apple pie. "It's so great we have farm-to-fork restaurants in this little town and this grand event. It's amazing."

The affair was a toast to local agriculture, and featured tastings prepared by chefs from 12 local restaurants. Craft beer and regional wines were available for purchase, and attendees enthusiastically created their own special pairings of food and libations.

Elizabeth Poston marveled at the size of the crowd as she enjoyed her first Bounty of the County event.

"I'd heard great things about it, and it's impressively well-attended," she said. "I love the food here. With all the new restaurants, it's a testament to the direction we're going as a county. We're building a culinary community."

Two dozen local farms and ranches provided their bounty of produce and protein, which expert chefs whipped into delectable delights. Chefs had more ingredients to choose from this year because the event was held in August at the height of the growing season, rather than in October as in previous years.

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Wild Eye Pub, which opened in Grass Valley just two months ago, was one of several new restaurants serving their specialties. Co-owner Beth Moore personally added fresh, edible flowers to each bowl of her vichyssoise.

"We made it all vegan and gluten-free, so everyone can enjoy it," she said, "but those who want to can add all-natural bacon or organic sour cream.

"We're here because we want to connect with the community, and show that our restaurant supports local, sustainable agriculture."

There was no "Best Chef" competition at the event this year, which organizers said ensured that all chefs were de facto winners. Also absent were the traditional silent auction and vendors.

New venue filled

The Grass Valley Veterans Memorial Building, although spacious, was nonetheless elbow-to-elbow with guests and several complained about the noise level. There was also some grumbling when several restaurants ran out of tastings.

"We sold out with 500 pre-sale tickets, but more than that showed up tonight," said Bounty of the County Project Coordinator Jamie O'Donnell, referring to the long line that stretched from the building's entrance and wound down the South Auburn Street sidewalk as the event began. "We probably have 650 people here because we didn't want to turn anyone away.

"Next year, we'll announce the scheduled date earlier so people can plan ahead. And we will plan for additional capacity. We'll create additional space for all our guests and restaurants, so we can all continue to support local farms."

Affordable opportunity

This year's theme was "A Culinary Revival," with a nod to long-time, family-friendly recipes. The annual gala is reasonably-priced, said organizers, thanks in part to hundreds of hours donated by enthusiastic volunteers.

"There is a segment of our county that doesn't dine out much and can't afford the dinners with white linens at $100-plus per seat," said Kwong Chew, president of the nonprofit agriculture advocacy group Nevada County Grown that sponsors the event. "At $25 for eight tastings, this event is a readily accessible. The public enjoys an affordable social event, restaurants and farms get publicity and build commerce relationships, and volunteers get to chase our passions. We all win."

Once the numbers are crunched, Chew said he hopes Thursday night's event turns a modest profit that can be funneled back into Nevada County Grown programs. The organization promotes the local farmscape, which includes area farms, ranches, consumers, restaurants, groceries, retailers, and even art studios — anyone and anything connected to local agriculture.

Nevada County Grown also sponsored a new agritourism event last month: A Farm Trail Weekend during which more than 300 guests enjoyed self-guided tours of 12 unique local farms and ranches.

An integral part of Nevada County Grown's mission is encouraging Nevada County residents to eat fresh, locally-sourced food. In the U.S., fruits and vegetables are shipped an average of 1,600 miles before they reach a grocery store or restaurant, and even more time elapses before that produce is in the hands or mouths of consumers. All that time reduces the nutrients and taste of the food, and often requires the addition of more preservatives.

Spreading the love

Mark Sheffer, whose Bitney Springs Farm provided ingredients to Thursday's night bounty, said the event was as much about sharing knowledge as sharing delicious food.

"People need to be aware of who is stewarding and protecting our lands," said Sheffer. "The only way to do that is get out and know your local farmers. Otherwise, you don't know the impact of what you're buying and eating."

In addition to Wild Eye Pub, participating restaurants included BriarPatch Food Co-op, Diego's, Durga's Divine Café, Emily's Catering and Cakes, Lake Wildwood's Oak Clubhouse, The Stone House, Summer Thyme's Bakery & Deli, Meze, Thirsty Barrel Taphouse & Grille, Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Company, and Brew Bakers Café.

Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. She can be reached at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.

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