Until recently, Portland's escalating love affair with locally grown food was a bit puzzling. Sure, it's nice to learn that the mushrooms traveled a shorter distance to the restaurant than I did. And yes, in the wake of the unsettling news about rancid frozen pot pies, it is a relief to know that my funky neighborhood organic bakery is both cleaner and more responsible than ConAgra.
Still, the whole business of local chefs touting menus built around crops from nearby small farms seemed fringy, maybe even a little precious. Before, that is, the intriguing five-minute clip from a film-in-progress titled Ingredients popped up online.
Finally, the light bulb is on over my head. (Yes, it's an energy-saving light bulb, and yes, I'll recycle the old one.) This isn't just about lower-mileage radishes and catchy menu copy. It's about more healthful food, preservation of land, and smarter agricultural methods. (Listen up, you poison-pie makers.) It's not a stretch to say it is also about better lives and workdays for growers, chefs, and consumers. While it might not be uppermost in the minds of Portlanders browsing their neighborhoods' busy farmer's markets, it is also true that the local-food thing attracts a growing number of cash-carrying tourists.
Some background: The Ingredients project, filming one growing season at a time through a year, got rolling last spring when a couple of local foodists were inspired to document the soil-to-bistro journey of some seriously good vegetables, fruit, and meat.
They are Brian Kimmel, a Portland shooter who's looked through his award-winning lens at hundreds of cooking shows across the country, and Debra Sohm Lawson, founder of the Farmer-Chef Connection and former director of the Food & Farms Market Connections program at the conservation group Ecotrust in Portland. The talented Hawaii-based filmmaker Robert Bates is in on this, too.
Say project notes from the filmmakers:More and more, people want to know who grows their food and where it comes from. Nationally, no place is better known for cultivating this philosophy and these foodways than Oregon. Portland is now positioned at the leading edge of this local food movement and serves as the geographic center of this story. Ingredients is a documentary film for people who are looking for a better connection both to the food they eat and the place in which they live.
What their description doesn't reveal – but the clip definitely does – is the wonderful human interest value and humor found in this sustainable circle. Chef Greg Higgins of the popular Portland restaurant that bears his name endearingly admits that he's not sure what makes the local-food movement so hot here. Maybe just because it's fashionable? Or 'cause it's fresher? In any event: "It just seems right." (He also offers the perfect shorthand for describing healthy victuals: "Fish have heads.")
Watch the clip to the very end to catch a superb ending line by farmer Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm, who looks and sounds like Central Casting found her for the role.
The 60-minute Ingredients, is expected to air on Oregon Public Broadcasting next year. A 90-minute version of the film is also being produced. The $375,000 or so budgeted to make it is being covered by grants, tourism-industry dough, and a growing number of private donors (many of them un-wealthy) who feel strongly enough about the subject to pony up sizable checks. I asked one Portland couple (retired; un-showy lifestyle) why they chose to support the film. They emailed this answer:Ingredients epitomizes what we feel about how best to feed ourselves and to support the best in food production and distribution as a local, non-corporate, nutritionally and taste-aware process. The concepts have wide – and we think profound--implications for a wiser and healthier community.
Well said. When all restaurant fish has heads, maybe we'll all sound that smart.