18th-Century English writer Samuel Johnson once said, “Agriculture not only gives riches to a nation, but the only riches she can call her own.”
There is a deep emotional and philosophical relationship between people and the cultivation of land. Civilization’s roots in farming and food systems run deep, from a long history of agrarian development to our modern days of fresh produce at our fingertips, whether at a grocery store or a click away on a smartphone. For all our technological advances, our connection to the soil remains relatively unchanged, and it is a relationship that 21 Acres celebrates.
In Woodinville stands a Tuscan-like villa amid acreage that’s as much a living classroom as it is a working farm. Founded in 2006 by Gretchen Garth, an advocate of sustainable agriculture and living systems, 21 Acres sought to be a community resource center for agronomy, culinary education, and a working example of best practices for overall sustainability. The production acreage is organic-certified; water conservation is maintained through an on-site treatment system; and for all its rustic charm, the bucolic-looking 21 Acres Center is a supercharged structure of sustainability with its LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Building Council.
That’s just what visitors aren’t likely to notice when they visit. What brings people to 21 Acres is the year-round Farm Market selling seasonal produce, fresh-made food, and specialty ingredients from local makers. The kitchen area of the Center is abuzz with two to three classes a week, teaching people how to make the most of what’s in season. Foraging classes take groups beyond the farm, with mycologists teaching how to find wild mushrooms, and venturing as far as seaside shores to harvest edible seaweed. Elegant multi course dinners are held throughout the year, featuring seasonal ingredients with an aspect of storytelling — last fall had a celebration of salmon, sourcing from native recipes and methods of preparation, with culinary and cultural experts on hand to explain the history and relationship of the Pacific Northwest’s bounty and its people.
A unique team of skilled individuals maintains the busy schedule, including farmers, engineers, and chefs. One of these people is Amanda Bullat, M.S., R.D.N., C.D., who, much like 21 Acres itself, works across multiple proficiencies. Along with being an educator and owning her own practice as a nutritionist, Bullat is 21 Acres’ Sustainable Food and Nutrition Education Coordinator.
She works with the farmers, familiarizing herself with what’s in season, and in constant discussion with the culinary team to source produce for classes, whose recipes adhere to the impressive standard of 90 percent local ingredients. On hand for all the classes, Bullat’s most likely to field questions like, “How do I learn to eat better?”
Perfectly suited to 21 Acres’ mission of education, she is engaging and approachable. She’s the first to admit she can’t keep a houseplant alive, but that shouldn’t prevent anyone from seeing the bigger picture. “Working on the farm, I have that much more respect for the food that comes from a farmers market,” she explains. “Even if growing your own food isn’t your thing or you don’t have the space for it, you can still be a part of that by participating in a farmers market.”
Motivation is a crucial step in being more in touch with food, and Bullat credits the hands-on approach of 21 Acres’ cooking and gardening programs. “To really get that hands-on experience, if somebody is a very tactile learner, just going and volunteering on the farm is awesome, “ she says.
For many, the concept of making a meal feels daunting, but cooking classes easily dispel concerns. “We have our youth cooking series, Cultivating Cooks, and we’ve also done an adult version of that — seeing people come back each week, they’re going, “Oh my gosh; I can do this!’ Embracing that engagement, they feel like there’s a community here for them to participate in a local food movement.”
Bullat describes parents who exclaim that prior to taking a class, “Oh my gosh; this kid wouldn’t eat a vegetable to save their life!’ And now they’re eating an entire plate of kale salad they just made.”
On a broader scale, Bullat describes 21 Acres as “mindful eating to the next level.” Flavors and the joy of something delicious are crucial to the body, and she invites the engagement of the mind when making food decisions. “Where was your food grown? Who grew it? How was it raised? What is that bigger picture from an environmental and economic standpoint besides it just being delicious on your plate?” she asks.
“What I try to do with folks, whether it’s in the class or in private sessions with people, I say, let’s bring it down to basics,” Bullat says of strengthening healthful habits. “Identify basic things that you need to eat every day in order for your body to feel its best. Going back to ingredients that are seasonal, honestly, that’s what people were doing 75 and 100 years ago.” And it doesn’t have to be a superfood smoothie; it can be as simple as a homemade sandwich.
“I was just explaining to this client, so what are the barriers you overcame to make this awesome sandwich to take to work with you? You did it once. You’ve got momentum; what can we do to make that happen again?”
Small, everyday choices, like a seed placed in soil and allowed to flourish, lead to greater mindfulness in how we eat and live. 21 Acres and its unique team of educators and specialists aren’t just cultivating delicious ingredients; they’re empowering us with the ability to grow from within.