ABOVE: Executive Chef at Lifestyle Culinary Arts Chef Andrea Mollenaur (center) directs young volunteers in preparing and serving the salad course at Farm Discovery at Live Earth's benefit dinner Saturday. (Johanna Miller/Register-Pajaronian)
WATSONVILLE — A towering field of flowers greeted guests to Farm Discovery at Live Earth Farm’s benefit dinner, “Sow and Grow: Fall Feast in the Fields” on Saturday.
The flowers, according to Farm Discovery’s Executive Director Jessica Ridgeway, had been planted earlier in the year with the event in mind.
“It’s also good for the soil to rotate crops,” Ridgeway said.
Education is the primary aim of Farm Discovery at Live Earth, an organization which brings hundreds of schoolchildren of varying ages — primarily from the Pajaro Valley — to the farm every year to learn about food, health and the environment.
Rows of flowers thrive at Live Earth Farm. (Johanna Miller/Register-Pajaronian)
Saturday’s benefit dinner is an event that is held every year to raise money for the organization. Ridgeway, along with Live Earth Farm founder Thomas Broz, welcomed guests and thanked them for their support.
“Every day I drive by this farm and am astounded,” Broz said. “There is real transformation that happens here.”
The Steelhouse Stringband serenaded guests, while appetizers were provided by Chef Cori Goudge-Ayers of Persephone restaurant. Wine from various local wineries, beer from Discretion Brewery and cocktails from Venus Spirits were offered.
The main focus of the event was, of course, the dinner — designed by Andrea Mollenaur, executive chef at Lifestyle Culinary Arts. Salad plates and a main course consisting of roasted tomato and fennel chicken drumsticks over braised veggies were served. Desserts included early grey tea ice cream from Penny Ice Creamery and Buttercup Cakes & Farmhouse Frosting cupcakes.
But what stood out about this year’s event were the speakers.
Caitlin Brune, CEO of Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust, recounted to the crowd her experience growing up in Baltimore, Md. and how the small patch of community garden her father tended introduced to her to the truth about food.
“It left a deep impression that has stayed with me,” Brune said. “Imagine if every child had an experience like that. I believe we’d have much more understanding, compassionate generations.”
First grade teacher Ruth Camburn has been bringing her students to Live Earth Farm for the past eight years. She said programs like Farm Discovery are crucial to help children understand the world in a different way.
“Some students don’t always thrive in the classroom,” Camburn said. “But when I bring them here, they are all on equal footing. They see the magic. They understand why it is important to protect places like this.”
The Steelhouse Stringband performs for guests at Live Earth Farm on Saturday. (Johanna Miller/Register-Pajaronian)
High schoolers from the area volunteered at “Sow and Grow” by helping with set up and serving guests both the appetizers and dinner. A silent and live auction were eventually held, with items donated by various local groups and individuals.
Toward the end of the live auction, Broz ran up to the mic with a last-minute edition: a fresh pie from Gizdich Ranch donated by attendee Nita Gizdich. In the spirit of fundraising, the pie ended up being sold for $140.
“That should be the best pie you’ve ever eaten,” joked auctioneer Gavin Comstock.
On the day following the event, Farm Discovery announced online that “Sow and Grow” was the organization’s “biggest and most successful” fundraising event to date.
“By supporting Farm Discovery, you are helping these kids connect with our farming heritage,” Camburn said. “You are changing lives."