When the new Squeaky Bean finally opens next week in LoDo, much of what will appear on your plate will come directly from Squeaky Acre, a one-acre farm in Lakewood that's growing the majority of vegetables that executive chef Max Mackissock, his kitchen crew and the rest of the Bean bunch have tended to for the last several months.
The land, which is leased, is overseen by Bean partner Josh Olsen, who says that once the vegetables are harvested, they'll be placed in tubs with water, sorted, cleaned, stored in a cold storage shed that doubles as a walk-in and transported to the restaurant for use. And while the farm is still maturing, there's a wealth of bounty, including squashes, seven varieties of trellised heirloom tomatoes, peas, collard greens and Swiss chard, beets, watermelon radishes, kale, herbs and beds of edible flowers, all of which are organically grown and watered using a fertigation system.
"We've always wanted to grow our own vegetables, and this provided the perfect opportunity to make that happen," says Olsen, who, along with several other members of the Bean team, including sous chef Blake Edmunds, were at the farm yesterday leveling soil, weeding and seeding. "We're using 100 percent of what we have here at the Bean, and our goal is to be at least 80 percent sustainable," adds Olsen, noting, too, that the Bean continues to pluck the majority of its fresh herbs from a garden that resides behind the retired Squeaky Bean in Highland.
"We have herbs on the farm, too -- chives, basil and tarragon -- but we're using those mainly to flavor the tomatoes," explains Olsen. And the companion planting also includes borage to alleviate pesky pests like aphids and add nutrients to the soil. The process of planting, he admits, is laborious: "To get ready for seeding, we do a heavy weed pull, spread manure, till the soil, rake it, even it out and then seed and water it. It's hard work, but everyone who's involved is super-excited about what we're doing."
Future plans for the farm, adds Olsen, include chickens, which will supply the restaurant with eggs, and in a few years, once the lease has expired, Olsen and the Bean team hope to purchase their own farm, where they'll also grow fruit frees. "The plan is to keep this for two years until we can buy a farm of our own, and then we'll start all over again," he says.
Yesterday, I spent some time on the farm with Olsen and Edmunds, and while I barely got my hands dirty, I did manage to capture some photos of the farm.
Winter squash. There's nothing better than fresh peas, and I can't wait to taste them at the Squeaky Bean. The tomato plants, of which there are dozens, are just beginning to produce fruit. Edible Johnny Jump Ups, which grow like weeds, says Olson. Borage, which keeps the bugs at bay. The farm has two varieties of beets: Detroit Red and Chioggia. Watermelon radishes. Ronde de Nice summer squash. Lacinato kale, an heirloom variety that dates back to the late eighteenth century. Olsen and Edmunds preparing to seed. The Clean Seeder. Olsen and Edmunds near one of the rows of tomato plants.