Flowers and Food Combine at Carpinteria’s Field-to-Vase Dinner
It was like something out of a spy movie. We met at precisely 4:45 p.m., chose our seats in a white, unmarked van in front of a local motel, and were shuttled to an undisclosed location: a greenhouse high above the breezy coastline and amidst a plethora of other such flower-growing, hydroponic hot houses. Although we were not sure the exact location of this private dinner, the details were to bloom right before our eyes.
Our shuttle joined others at the Van Wingerden’s MOBI Flowers in the hills of Carpinteria, a small beach town nesting between Ventura to the south and Santa Barbara to the north. Carpinteria, or “Carp” to the locals, is one of the largest producers of flowers in the entire United States, and 50 percent of all flowers in California come from the Carpinteria area.
Back in 1965, four Van Wingerden brothers moved from the Netherlands to Southern California after a few years of traveling through the area and attempting to find the perfect growing conditions to cultivate flowers. They bought 26 acres and built each family a home. In the ’60s, soil was primarily used as growing material for the flowers. Now, however, soil has been replaced by complex hydroponic systems, complete with warming blankets, thermostats, and lots of steam.
To walk into the greenhouse and be taken aback is a complete understatement. When one steps foot into the temperature-controlled home of thousands of gerbera daisy babies, the smell and moisture of moss and water overwhelms the senses. And, as far as the eye can see, there are beautiful explosions of long-petal orange, red, pink, and yellow daisies. In fact, the Van Wingerden family grows 90 percent of the gerbera daisies in the whole country.
This venue was just one of many locations participating in the Carpinteria Greenhouse and Nursery Tours, an annual free event where the public is encouraged to participate in a self-guided tour of the area’s most exquisite growing facilities. It was also the location of the first Field-to-Vase dinner, held the day before the tours, that consisted of a farm-to-table, multi-course meal.
Have you ever flipped through an issue of Better Homes and Gardens or Sunset magazines and opened to a page that featured a gorgeously set table smack in the middle of an open field of wildflowers? This type of picture is what I was reminded of as a curtain pulled to the side and revealed a long table, suitable for the 40 or so guests, covered in fine linen and topped with china, crystal, candelabras, and floral arrangements right in the middle of the gerbera growing grounds. Under my place card nested a menu in a politely folded linen napkin beside a box of olive oil and vinegar samples. My breath was taken away and my excitement grew as we were seated and poured our first of several glasses of wine from Margerum Wine Company (an event sponsor), a winery out of Los Olivos that sources grapes locally and cold ferments its wine in 100 percent stainless vats.
While waiting for the dinner bell to ring, guests enjoyed stuffed nasturtium ties with Cypress Garden Chevre and Global Gardens Lisbon Lemon Extra Virgin Olive Oil and cucumber sliders and borage flowers with Central Coast Creamery Big Rock Blue, Caliterranean Café Pesto, and Global Gardens Fig Balsamic Reduction presented by chef Theo Stephan, owner of Global Gardens and Caliterranean Café in Los Alamos. Our host, Kasey Cronquist, the CEO of the California Cut Flower Commission of Santa Barbara, which represents 225 flower farmers, welcomed us and told us about the cut flower industry in the area.
Our meal began with Amorous Avocado Soup with a gorgeous pansy garnish and a mixed salad with Johnny Jump Ups, home-cured Kalamata olives, house-roasted savory walnuts, and blood orange balsamic. The main course of a tender beef meatball layered with tomatoes and topped with burrata, marinated vegetables, toasted kale, and focaccia strips was served just before the dessert of Ani’s Olive Oil Strawberry Ice Cream and “dream dust” EVOO cookies.
Next year’s Greenhouse and Nursery Tours will be held on April 14, 2015. It’s a great opportunity to not only see the most beautiful flowers anywhere but to support the incredible efforts of our local agricultural community.