This summer I grew Roma tomatoes for the first time. The process was more complicated than I thought: I had to go to McGuckin to buy soil, a garden trowel, tomato cages, and four baby tomato plants; I had to find a plot to plant my tomatoes, which involved knocking on the door of neighbors I had never met before; I had to water my plants every day; and, when I discovered that the tomato leaves were being eaten by bugs, I had to make a homemade insect repellent to protect my precious plants. I spent more time and energy on my tomatoes than I expected, but it was a great experience that gave me a small glimpse into the world of gardening and farming.
Growing and harvesting my tomatoes allowed me to appreciate how much love and dedication goes into produce. As a result of grocery stores and farmer’s markets making purchasing produce convenient and easy, we as consumers don’t consider the time it takes for a fruit or vegetable to grow from seed to fully ripened product.
This awakening led me to begin to dream of a locally sourced, garden-to-plate dinner with friends. I decided to make a meal featuring my Roma tomatoes and other ingredients that my neighbors shared from their own gardens. I scheduled my dinner party for a Friday night, invited six of my close friends to join, and spent the days leading up to the party harvesting the produce.
On Tuesday, I drove to Niwot to my friend Joelle’s house. She has a beautifully lush garden and shared her produce with me. She gave me beefsteak tomatoes, red onions, basil, broccoli, yellow squash, and zucchini.
On Wednesday, I drove to the house of two strangers named Valerie and Linda. I should explain– The week prior, I posted on the social media platform Nextdoor about my locally-sourced dinner idea. I asked my neighbors if anyone would be willing to contribute some of their garden produce and I got so many replies! I made plans to go to their gardens.
My first stop on Wednesday was to Valerie’s house. She led me to her backyard, where she had huge collard greens and sage plants she let me pick from. After stopping at Valerie’s house, I went to visit Linda. Her garden was full of all types of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. I picked cherry tomatoes, salad greens, green beans, thyme, rhubarb, and edible flowers. She also had blackberry bushes and encouraged me to help myself to thick, ripe blackberries.
I was truly touched by the generosity of my neighbors, especially considering that I was basically a stranger to them. Before I left her garden, Linda cut me an assortment of flowers for a bouquet to display at the party.
My quest to collect produce was not over. On Thursday, the day before the big night, I went to my neighbor Kate’s house. She was another who responded to my Nextdoor post and graciously let me pick some of her Thai basil.
By the day of my big dinner party, my fridge was brimming with the eclectic, brightly-colored vegetables; there were infinite shades of green, warm orange and reds, and pops of color from the edible flowers. A few hours out, I added to my already full stockpile and picked my Roma tomatoes that I had so lovingly watched ripen all summer. I also cut off a cayenne pepper that I had been growing inside my apartment, happy to put it to good use. Lastly, I took out a jar full of oregano that my mom had given me from her garden.
Once I knew the ingredients I’d be working with, my menu came together easily, almost seeming to form itself like some kind of magic. With three hours until my friends were going to come over, I began cooking.
The table was set with four dishes laid out to be enjoyed.
The first dish was a pizza. I made a homemade crust and topped it with basil pesto, Roma tomatoes, red onions, green onions, mozzarella, prosciutto, and oregano. I then drizzled it with a balsamic reduction I made.
The second dish was a summer salad made of salad greens, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, green onions, and edible flowers. I tossed it with goat cheese, nuts, and a lemon, thyme, and honey dressing.
The last savory plate featured collard greens, chopped green beans, and broccoli. I sauteed them in olive oil, soy sauce, sage, honey, and garlic. I topped it with sesame seeds and dried chili flakes.
Since a meal such as this would obviously be incomplete without a dessert, I made a slow-cooked rhubarb and apple crumble and served it with a side of vanilla ice cream. It was the perfect ending to our meal, and the perfect ending to my summer of growth– both in regards to produce and community.
My dinner party reinforced my appreciation for the power of community. It provides support, strength, and long-lasting memories. The meal was filling in more ways than one. Not only was my stomach full, but my heart was full from the new experiences I had, the neighbors I met, and the feeling of closeness to my friends who were able to enjoy my meal with me. Yes, I was full indeed.