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This Earth Day, dozens of Clark County residents learned how the foods they eat impact the planet on which they live.
To do so, they ate dishes prepared by local chefs with local produce, meats and cheeses. They stocked up on broccoli, squash, corn, melon, spinach, peas and cilantro seeds. And they heard from representatives from local farms and Waste Connections, who spoke about composting and farming.
At the root of the Grow Vancouver event on Monday was a simple message: a healthy food system equals a healthy planet.
A local food economy with small-scale producers creates more habitat for wildlife and reduces the carbon footprint left by large-scale agricultural practices that contribute to climate change, said Warren Neth, event organizer and member of Slow Food Southwest Washington.
"I grew up on a small farm in Clark County, and I've always been interested in finding ways to build consumer demand for Clark County grown foods," Neth said. "These events -- food challenges, local chefs working with local farmers -- builds those relationships between farmers, restaurants and general good food consumers."
During the Spring Food Challenge event at Clark College, chefs from three local venues — Mill Creek Pub in Battle Ground, Foody Blues BBQ and Clark College Food & Wine program — presented small-plate courses they prepared using produce from Clark County farms and local products purchased from New Seasons Market.
Edurne Garcia, chef and assistant coordinator for the Clark College Food & Wine program, used the ingredients to create a fritatta, green salad and sliced baguette topped with goat cheese and roasted beets.
Garcia used every ingredient provided and purchased only local cheese, bread and olive oil. Garcia is a proponent of using local foods and hopes to see more people turning their lawns into gardens.
"I think it's really, really important that people get close to their food source," she said.
Hector Hinogosa, co-owner of Foody Blues BBQ and Jo Foody Catering, took many of the same ingredients and created a plate with potato and cherry pepper pizza, pickled beets and braised greens. Using local food is nothing new for Hinogosa, who said the businesses make it a point to buy local whenever they can.
"I'm glad to see there's a lot of enthusiasm for local food," he said. "I think it's a good way to get away from the mega corporations and the processed foods."
Mill Creek Pub chef and kitchen manager Mychal Culver used the ingredients to create a soup, salad and breadstick meal. He purchased local ground chicken sausage and combined it with the potatoes and Swiss chard to create a "potato, sausage and heaven" soup. Culver used the greens, beets, apples and asparagus to create a Washington apple salad and apple cider vinaigrette.
"We thought with our stomachs and not our heads," he said.
Event attendees had a chance to sample all three plates and vote for a winner.
Battle Ground resident Jeanine Hill thought the event was a great way to taste local foods and promote local farmers and food.
"The more (event organizers) can get the message out, the better," she said. "Eat local and support our CSAs (community supported agriculture farms)."