Down on the eco-farm: Organic produce is the star of young adult dinner in Petaluma

As David Retsky guided more than 100 people along the perimeter of County Line Harvest, his 28-acre farm in Petaluma, he offered up some simple instructions: Touch and taste anything.

And, of course, they did.

Participants at the Eco-Farm Dinner on Sept. 21 munched on sprigs of cilantro and devoured all kinds of lettuce for some light appetizers before sitting down to a family-style, seven-course vegetarian dinner made from the organic produce they sampled.

“I really wanted everyone to come out and walk the land,” Retsky said. “I wanted them to touch and taste, and breathe the air. There is so much more to learn out here than I could ever teach.”

The Jewish National Fund, Bay Area Tribe and Birthright Israel sponsored the event to help young adults make the connection between how crops are harvested and how they make their way to the farmers market, the local supermarket and the dinner table.

Sherri Morr, regional director of JNF, thought of the idea for the Eco-Farm Dinner nearly three years ago, about the same time Retsky, her nephew, started farming in Petaluma. She deemed the event a success.

“It was great to spend time on a farm and get out of the city,” she said. “This was an opportunity to educate about Israel and create social connections.”

While walking around the farm, people shouted out questions, dug their hands into the soil and sloshed in hidden, muddy puddles.

The tour ended with an uphill trek back to dry land where round tables decorated with votive candles and seasonal squash welcomed the group for dinner.

Heaping portions of polenta with Red Russian kale and smoked tomato sauce, roasted Chioggia beets with baby Walla Walla onions and goat cheese, and Panzanella grilled bread salad with baby fennel were served alongside other unique salads. Fresh coffee and grilled pound cake topped with balsamic strawberries and crème fraiche rounded out the menu.

“It’s exciting to be a part of the emerging Jewish food movement,” said Roni Ben-David, 28, of San Francisco. “It starts with realizing that food tastes better when it’s local and seasonal. As Jews, we take pleasure in our food and eat mindfully.”

In addition to the farm tour and dinner, two students — an Israeli woman and a Jordanian man — from the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel discussed with the crowd how the school also promotes dialogue and coexistence.

“When I came to the institute to study the environment, I really wasn’t ready to deal with coexistence,” said Hadas Kammon, who studied at the Arava Institute as an undergraduate in Israel.

“But we can’t ignore this issue. It was a challenging experience, but I learned that I have to recognize another person’s story.”

After the speakers, guests had the rest of the evening to mingle, taste wine from Israel and drink He’Brew beer before buses brought them back to San Francisco.

“I’d like to see other people come out and support the farm family,” Retsky said.

“Come cook meals here and enjoy the land. It’s another way of getting involved.”