Celebrating Ben Towill’s Ride in the Country

A couple of months ago when I read online that a chef friend Ben Towill from NYC’s The Fat Radish was going to be biking across the country I emailed him right away. He was doing the 2 month-long trip with a photographer and friend, Patrick Dougherty, raising money for Just Food NYC and talking to people about food and community. I had actually just finished a bike tour from Vancouver, BC to Salem, OR and while I thought that the whole mission behind his trip was great, I also excited about joining them on the road for a day or two once they reached Oregon. I told Ben a little bit about the farm here in Salem, our crew and letUMeat, which we were just getting started with. As they crossed the country, I followed their journey through Instagram and the weekly blogs Ben was writing for the New York Times T Magazine. About a week before they reached Oregon, I heard from Ben, Pat and Ben’s girlfriend Kate Dougherty (who had joined the guys in Colorado). They wanted to come to the farm in Salem and write about it for their last post for the New York Times T Magazine!

We didn’t know what exactly would come of their visit and the article but we did know that they deserved a great day at the farm and an epic feast for having biked over 4500 miles to get here.

The morning of their arrival, I met the three of them down in West Salem on my own bicycle and showed them the way up to the farm. We were all excited to see each other and had lots of stories to share, but after I almost rode into the ditch a couple of times trying to chat and cycle at the same time, we decided to wait to talk more until we were stationary.

After meeting the crew, drinking a couple of cups of coffee and a snack of some farm eggs and English muffins, we took Ben, Kate and Pat out to walk around the farm. We collected that day’s eggs from the coop and walked through the gardens tasting beans, lettuces and herbs. We visited the 5 new piglets and showed them the cacao husks from Woodblock Chocolate in Portland that we were supplementing their diet with. We harvest zucchini for zucchini bread that Cory would make for dessert. We went and fed the sheep some spent grain from a local brewery, sat under the oak trees where they graze and talked about what Ben had Pat had seen across the country. They had been particularly disturbed by some of the sights they saw in Kansas: entire small towns centered around putrid smelling feedlots. Ben asked if we had seen any changes across the country over the years, any progress of more people moving towards better food and sourcing from smaller farms. We all agreed that we had, but there was still a long way to come.

Karl had seen another chef post a photo on Instagram of marinated sunflower buds that he wanted to try making, so we drove down the road to harvest some from next to a hazelnut orchard. On the way back, we stopped at a neighbor’s and picked a few peaches and then in our own driveway to pick blackberries. The rest of the afternoon was spent prepping for dinner, tasting some of home brewed beer and kombucha, drinking spritzes (Julia and I’s favorite), eating smoked lamb liver crostini (with the marinated sunflower buds) and chatting: about their adventures, the various projects around the farm, food and farms, our dreams with letUMeat…

We set the table out on the deck with some placemats from Julia’s grandfather and vases of flowers that Karl & Alex’s mom had planted when she visited in the spring. We brought out bottles of wine from our friends at Soter Vineyards and Brooks. Dinner was off the charts: a summer bounty salad with everything from the garden and albacore tuna conserva; homemade spinach cavatelli with our own lamb ragu. It tasted even better since we were able to share it with these people who had spent the day with us on the farm and really knew and appreciated everything that had gone into it.

Read Ben’s article for the NY Times T Magazine blog here. The recipe for the smoked lamb liver crostini and marinated sunflower buds is in there too!
Also, check out the A Ride in the Country website with more of Pat Dougherty’s epic photos.

Photo Credit: Patrick Dougherty

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