Driving through the rolling hills of Okanogan County, I found myself taken back by the deep blue waters of Lake Roosevelt. Never had I seen water so equally matched to the late afternoon summer sky. The sun beat down on the dry soils of this eastern Washington landscape casting a dusty moving shadow alongside my car as I took the turn up Pleasant Valley Road toward a small farm. Here I would spend a week, living a lifestyle far removed from the city, learning and exploring what it means to be connected to the landscape, to my food, and to a community of people also passionate about what it takes to live a sustainable way of life.
Putting aside our store bought food and urban sensibilities, eight other students and I attending the Quillisascut Farm school, quickly adjusted to a domestic reality. We were going back to our roots. Back to things our grandmothers did. We began unraveling back in time to butter churns, mortar and pestles, to the snap of a fresh ear of corn separating from its stalk, to the feel of the papery, sticky shells of ripe tomatillos on our finger tips, and to the taste of sun-ripened melons melt away in our mouths. Was this heaven? Looking up at the sun, with its porcelain, white light shining down on us in the garden would surely indicate so. But it was in our lackadaisical bliss we heard the farm owner say, "Be ready tomorrow morning at five behind the barn. We have a lamb to slaughter." And the reality of connecting ourselves to our food promptly set in.
We were spared, fortunately, watching the killing and subsequent last minutes of life that lamb went through to feed us, but we stood intently for almost two hours watching the delicate and skillful skinning and gutting of the animal. From it's first and last breath to our sigh after eating it after our last meal of the week, I know it was treated with respect and that all parts of it from the bones used to create stock, to the organs used in the sausage and pate, and to the tenderloin beautifully roasted with grape leaves that graced our plates, that it was in no way made useless. And I know that because I was there.
The rest of the week was spent making farmstead cheese (feta, chev, and ricotta), baking bread in a wood-fired brick oven, waking up early for farm chores (feeding and milking goats, feeding ducks, chickens, and pigs), and learning how to can and preserve food. We spent a good amount of our time in the kitchen cooking and preparing such things as applesauce cakes, fresh peach salsa, and cassoulet.
What I remember most about this experience will certainly be the food, but more than that a new perspective on food and living. As I left Quillisascut Farm, and pulled out some trail mix from Target that I ate on the way there, I felt the salt sting my lips and instantly missed the rich and flavorful taste of farm fresh food! It is a truly unique experience to eat food this way. It was truly unique to wake up early to the songs of the early morning birds with a hot cup of coffee in hand before setting off to work and then sitting down again to a late morning hearty breakfast. The pace on the farm was laborious but with hard work comes a tremendous sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
The rewards of knowing where food comes from and how it is prepared is something I will constantly jump for joy for! Because knowing and being present to this process not only is a wonderful and delicious way to eat, every moment is also spent in community with nature and people, a gift that is time and again tied to the act of eating locally. My moments spent digging in the dirt, preparing meals with my classmates, and eating together, left me with this sense of peace and momentum that I hope to carry back with me to the bustling city and to my continued drive to cook and deliver this type of living, eating, and knowing to those around me.