Farm to Brunch: Touring Seattle Tilth

logoEarly this June I visited Seattle Tilth’s farm incubator in Auburn with Marilyn Mercer, Elizabeth Hall, Mandela Turner, and Crystal Kitchin, Macrina’s brunch team. We were especially excited to visit the farm – Macrina is one of the lucky few establishments that buys freshly grown vegetables from Seattle Tilth for our weekly rotating brunch menus.

Seattle Tilth started in 1978 with its Urban Agriculture Center in Wallingford. The Tilth Association began as an alternative agriculture movement with the aim of supporting and promoting biologically sound and socially equitable agriculture in the Pacific Northwest. While the parent association disbanded in 1984, Seattle Tilth has continued to grow and thrive with a stated mission today to inspire and educate people to safeguard our natural resources while building an equitable and sustainable local food system. They teach people to grow food organically while taking care of the environment through a wide variety of classes, programs, and community events. There are classes for both kids and adults, many of them located in Seattle’s most diverse and densely populated urban neighborhoods. They’re an amazing resource for organic gardening education in the region.

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One of their newer programs is the farm incubator.  Matthew McDermott, the director of Seattle Tilth Farm Works, and Chris Iberle, the Food Hub Manager, led us on our tour of their forty-acre site in Auburn. They call it “The Red Barn Farm.”  While we walked through the fields of young starts, Matthew filled us in on the history of the land. Originally owned by former Seattle Supersonics Greg Ballard, who bought the land for a kid’s basketball camp, it was later donated to Seattle Parks and Recreation. They make it available to Seattle Tilth Farm Works as part of their Parks Urban Food Systems program.

The program provides farm business training and support to immigrants, refugees and people with limited resources in South King County. Each year they add ten new farmers to their training program that runs from February to June, reserving ten spots for returning farmers. Their aim is to help new farmers get into small farming, teaching them not just the elements of organic farming through hands-on experience, but also business planning, operations, and marketing. Matthew explains that the average age of an American small farmer is 60 years old. They hope to lower that through their program.

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Each of the twenty farmers tends a quarter-acre parcel, growing vegetables for Seattle Tilth’s CSA subscription program that provides subscribers with a weekly box full of fresh, delicious produce from June through October. The farm also supplies the fresh produce for their Good Food Bag program, which helps supply healthy organic vegetables to qualifying limited-resource families. We saw peas, radishes, onions, garlic, corn, squash, and pole-beans. In addition to the open fields they have 13 100-foot hoop houses, most of them planted with tomatoes. Due to the low snow pack this year and the possibility of a drought they mandated a water irrigation system. To supplement their water supply, they have a large cistern that collects rainwater. At the end of our tour, we stopped by the cleaning station where the farmers wash and trim their veggies, weighing their daily harvest and logging it onto the weekly production board.

French Toast

It feels good to be a part of a program that is training young farmers in the best practices for sustainable and environmentally sensitive farming. Moreover, their produce is simply delicious. Visit one of our Macrina cafe locations over the weekend and try something off of our rotating brunch menu to see for yourself.

Leslie Mackie

Giuseppe

Giuseppe and MattOur Giuseppe bread is an interpretation of the classic Italian loaf. Years ago, while Leslie was having dinner at a pizzeria in Rome, she noticed the bread being served at a nearby table. Intrigued, she asked to try some and was amazed at how good it was. In fact, it was the best bread that she had ever tasted. After learning the name of the baker, she and her traveling companion spent the next morning searching for Panficio Arnese. By the time they finally found the bakery, the owner and head baker, Giuseppe, had finished baking for the day, but welcomed them into his bakery. They spent a few hours talking about his bread, which he made with little equipment, no refrigeration and an oven that was fueled by hazelnut shells. After Giuseppe offered her some of his freshly baked bread, Leslie was literally speechless. He seemed to be surprised by her admiration, insisting that it was “only bread!”

When Macrina co-owner Matt Galvin met Leslie in 2006, one of the first things that she talked about was Giuseppe and his bread.  Matt decided that he had to taste the bread that had influenced Leslie so strongly. On a recent trip to Rome, he sought out Giuseppe’s bakery, which was not an easy feat. Between the winding streets and the rather interesting way that the buildings in Rome are numbered, (residential and business addresses are numbered differently), Matt had to guess where the bakery was. When he saw that the street in front of one of the storefronts was covered in flour, Matt knew that he had found the right place. More than 20 years after Leslie had visited the bakery, Giuseppe was still there making the breads and pizzas that have made him a local favorite. When Matt related the story of Leslie’s Giuseppe bread to him, he had quite a chuckle over it. After Matt enjoyed some of Giuseppe’s delicious bread, he understood why it had such a profound impact on Leslie.

The Giuseppe loaf is a staple at our cafes, and is usually available. Of course, you can always guarantee that there will be one waiting by calling ahead!

Inspiration through Unity: How a Bakery and Winery broke bread

Tim and Kelly Hightower

Tim and Kelly Hightower

One thing you will notice in all of our breads is the care and inspiration baked into each item. A favorite of these inspired bread stories is the Hightower Cellars Bread Starter, a sourdough bread starter made with skins from Sauvignon grapes and developed with our  dear friends Tim and Kelly Hightower.

In the mid 1990s, while keeping their day jobs, Tim and Kelly Hightower pursued their passion of winemaking. In Woodinville, WA, the couple’s research and determination proved successful with their inaugural release of 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon. Soon after, they moved to Benton City in Eastern Washington where they purchased acres of prime vineyard land.

Hightower's vineyards.

Hightower’s vineyards.

Macrina’s friendship with Hightower Cellars began years ago when Leslie visited their beautiful winery perched within the Red Mountain appellation hills near the Yakima Valley, three hours east of Seattle.

In 2010, these passionate, gifted winemakers proposed to Leslie a pretty quirky idea, offering cabernet sauvignon wine grapes to be used as a sour bread starter. Sourdough starters can be developed from the natural yeast found on grape skins, adding leavening and delicious flavor.

A few dashes here and there of this and that, and soon we pulled our Pane Francese from the oven. This is an Italian version of a crusty baguette: batonlike, with a light, porous crumb and a crisp, caramel-brown crust. Our Pane Francese is a beautiful, tasty creation with a story rooted in a genuine, heartfelt bond between artisan industries.

From a simple meeting sprang the creation of a bread that the Hightowers could use for tasting and Macrina could offer in our cafes. We think you, and your guests, would love the pairing of these two artisanal favorites this holiday season. Now that you know the story behind the bread, and the wine, we hope you will enjoy both at your table.

The Feast Of St. Macrina

Anyone who has ever visited a predominantly Catholic country has likely experienced store closures due to a feast day of the town’s patron saint.  Looking at the calendar of Catholic Feast days, one may quickly be impressed by the sheer number of them. February 1st alone has 67. When one considers that there are more saints than days of the year and that there is a ranking system to assign how Feast days are celebrated, it can get confusing. Many Feast days involve processions through the streets, feasts and festivals to remember the saint of honor. Depending on the importance of the saint, businesses in the whole town may close for the day. Lesser-known saints may simply have their name mentioned during Mass.

There are only a few days you’ll find our bakery and café closed for a feast, Saint Macrina’s Feast Day is one of them. Though technically her feast day is July 19th, we will be closing at noon on Tuesday, July 17th, for our own company feast to celebrate our great staff, their families and our community here at Macrina. We will resume our normal business hours on July 18th.  Learn a little more about how our company was named on our history page.