TALK TO LOCAL chefs about what inspires them, and you’re bound to hear how they are “blessed by the bounty of the Pacific Northwest.” They want to talk about their relationship with farmers, and how they are committed to farm-to-table ideals. But what about a farmer who says he’s devoted to the idea of “table to farm”?
This farm exists in Redmond, and it has a culinary director, and a motto that changes yearly. It’s called Ecolibrium (a play on the Swedish Ekologisk, which directly translates to “ecological”), and it’s run by Alex Meizlish.
If you’re headed north on Interstate 405, Ecolibrium is a straight shot to the east, off the Northeast 124th Street exit. Hang a left at the sign for South 47 Farm, and drive past flocks of chickens, fruit trees, a few acres maintained by The Herbfarm, and you’ll finally pull up in front of a bright-green shipping container emblazoned with “Ecolibrium.”
The farm is bordered by a walnut grove to the west, a driving range to the north and Highway 202. The fact that cars often idle next to the fields is something Meizlish says is necessary to his vision.
“I think it’s this insidious thing where we don’t see farming. People need to be near it. People need to be backed up in traffic, staring at farmland. Once we lose the story of food, that’s where we see the issues that we see with health-related diseases,” Meizlish says during a recent overcast morning at the farm.
The motto for the farm (this season) is, “Farm. Cook. Connect.”
“I want at any moment those three things to be happening,” Meizlish says.
Of course, as a farm, it’s natural for farming to happen. Meizlish has a small staff of people who help in the growing of the food. Meizlish is passionate about the organic, human-scale farming popularized by Jean-Martin Fortier, author of the book “The Market Gardener.”
There are no tractors at Ecolibrium, but Meizlish says it’s not about eschewing technology; instead, it’s about keeping a light footprint, and getting the most out of the land.
“It starts with the soil. A lot of that is maintaining soil health, and a lot of that is not disturbing the soil,” he says.
In addition to supplying food to restaurants around the city, Ecolibrium has a dedicated greenhouse for the Barking Frog restaurant in Woodinville and manages the plot, called Sprouting Farm, for Homegrown sandwich shops. This is where the “farm” portion of Ecolibrium’s motto turns to “connect.”
With Barking Frog, it deepens the opportunity for chefs there to get creative, as they have a custom growing relationship. The Barking Frog wants green tomatoes? No problem. Tomato vines, even? They’ll get them.
“Their creativity starts here,” Meizlish says, as he gestures to his field. “It starts at the whole plant, and that to me is powerful.”
Same goes for his relationship with Homegrown. Every other week during the peak growing season — 15 days in all — staff members from different shops come out to Ecolibrium for a farm day.
They talk about sustainable agriculture and what’s going on in the Sprouting Farm beds, then the Homegrown staff will do some work harvesting or weeding. Meizlish even has a section on the company’s internal website where the staff can ask him questions about farming.
At the end of the Homegrown farm days, they sit in the walnut grove on the west side of Ecolibrium’s property, next to an outdoor kitchen, and are treated to a meal cooked by the farm’s culinary director, Kyle Bopes. This is the “food” portion of the farm’s motto.
Before working at Ecolibrium, Bopes was sous chef at Ravenna’s JuneBaby. In addition to cooking lunch for the Homegrown crew, Bopes holds cooking classes; caters wedding and winery events; and, along with Meizlish, hosts the summerlong Under the Walnuts series, where guest chefs are invited to play around with “what happens when you remove the four walls of a restaurant.”
Chefs for this year have included Pioneer Square D&E chef Ben Davison, Bobby Moore from Barking Frog, Danny Conkling from Sitka & Spruce and Kristen Schumacher from Heirloom Cookshop. Dinners take place on Sundays through the middle of October and attract food lovers from across the region.
“We live in fractured times. People are moving into camps, but I truly believe in the power of breaking bread,” Meizlish says. “When people are eating and enjoying food, that stuff goes away; Trump and Bernie supporters can sit together. I don’t know what it is, and I almost don’t want to intellectualize it, but I know the power of the table.”
Before the dinner, attendees walk through the field, learning about the practices and what is grown. It’s not farming per se, but it’s all within the Ecolibrium purview.
You can eat the fruits of Ecolibrium’s labor at spots like Barking Frog and Homegrown, of course, but also at Edouardo Jordan’s trio of restaurants in Ravenna (JuneBaby, Salare and Lucinda Grain Bar), Sitka & Spruce (until it closes at the end of the year), Marmite and L’Oursin. Otherwise, book a ticket to eat under the walnuts, and spend some time connecting with Ecolibrium.