Much of the food on our plates starts in the soil. That’s easy to forget, especially if much of what you buy comes in boxes, cans and jars. Even the big bargain bag of chips -- so many steps removed from the natural world -- depends on corn or potatoes that spring up out of the dirt. Three upcoming events connect us to the simple yet significant fact. They’ll do it from three very different perspectives.
RIPE, Sept. 24-26, is a new family focused festival at the Cleveland Botanical Garden that’s bringing the local food movement a little closer to home. In addition to putting farmers and the restaurant chefs that support them in the spotlight, it aims to educate visitors about how doable and pleasurable it is to grow your own food. The brainchild of Kari Moore, founder of FarmShare Ohio and leader of the Northern Ohio Slow Food group, and Doug Katz of fire food and drink, this is the first time for this event. Expect good things to eat; a marketplace of area vendors selling, jams, honey, herbs and green products; cooking demos; and all kinds of how-to sessions on a variety of topics from canning to composting. Complete program, tickets and more information available here. Five-course Harvest Moon preview dinner on Thursday.
Ben Bebenroth will be one of the cooks for that feast. He’s the man behind the Plated Landscape dinner series and partner in Spice of Life Catering. A self-described “woods stomper” who’s been camping and finding forest edibles since he was a boy, the chef has decided to share some of his stalking expertise. He’s the instructor and guide for a course in food foraging sponsored by the Continuing Education department of Case Western Reserve University. Foraging, according to a recent article I read, is the next big thing in the foodie universe. Bebenroth's three expedition series, September 22nd, 29th and October 6th, from 10 a.m.–1 p.m., is open to the public and costs $75. Modern day hunter-gathers will scour the meadows and forests of the School’s 389-acre University Farm in Chagrin Falls and get some instruction on what to do with their harvest. I hope to be among them. To register, call 216-368-2090.
A benefit dinner for R.E.A.P. is scheduled for Oct. 3 at Dante Restaurant in Tremont. The acronym stands for The Refugee Empowerment Agricultural Program. It is part of a larger collaborative effort involving the Ohio City Fresh Food Collaborative, which operates a 6-acre farm at West 24th Street and Bridge Avenue, Refugee Response, the Ohio City Near West Development Corporation and Great Lakes Brewing Company. The farm, on formerly vacant land behind an apartment complex, is an amazing and spirit-lifting sight. The training initiative employs 15 immigrants: They’re getting a fresh start in their new home, and the community gets fresh locally grown food. Chef Dante Boccuzzi will incorporate vegetables they’ve raised into the meal. Grazing stations serve from 6-9 p.m., but show up at 4:30, and you can board a Lolly Trolley for a tour of the farm with wine and cheese. Tickets are $100, $75 for dinner only and can be obtained by calling the Refugee Response office, 216-236-3877, or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Seating is limited. Chef, who has a generous heart and a philanthropic bent, is doing more than raising money for the group. He’s offering one of the refugees the opportunity to build career skills by working with him in the restaurant’s kitchen. It's a chance that could change a life.