Free Chipotle and rattails: Sustainable food film series at Denver Botanic Gardens

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Chipotle Mexican Grill, Feed Denver and the Denver Botanic Gardens came together last night to host a screening of Locavore, the first movie in a sustainable food film series aimed at raising awareness of growing local, buying local -- and eating local. The film-goers were greeted by a table in Mitchell Hall laden with Chipotle snacks -- chicken tacos, meatless black bean tacos, generous portions of the homegrown chain's signature guacamole and fresh tortilla chips, as well as a festive rainbow of salsas. including fresh tomato and roasted poblano-corn.

Alex Sanchez, an eight-year veteran of theChipotle marketing team, was enthusiastic about Chipotle's involvement with the film series. "Chipotle tries in every possible way to be involved with the Botanic Gardens and promote food awareness," he said. "People thinking and learning about food systems -- we will be there."

The guacamole was one of the most popular snacks, and we asked Sanchez if there was a super-secret, sustainable ingredient that sent it flying off the table so quickly. "No secret ingredient," he chuckled. "It's just really fresh -- 48 avocados in each batch, we use great avocados, and it's made fresh every day, and sometimes twice a day."

We also asked Sanchez about Chipotle's almost cult-like status. "We want to change the way people eat fast food," he replied. "We create change and run a profitable business. And we are indeed very cult-ish."

The table next to Chipotle's was manned -- or wo-manned -- by the ladies of Feed Denver, a local non-profit that creates model farms in the city to teach people how to grow their own food and empowers economic independence in under-served areas. The table was decorated with a colorful display of fresh vegetables from Feed Denver's farms: bright yellow squash, round "eight-ball" zucchinis, heirloom San Marzano tomatoes, Hungarian hot peppers and a single Thai "pink egg" tomato. "It's our first one this year," said Ariel Chesnutt.

Chesnutt plucked one item from a pile of what looked like beans and explained that these were not beans, but instead radish seed pods or "rattails." They are crisp, spicy and can be used for sandwiches, salads, pickles or "just to eat," she said, popping one in her mouth. "I found the seeds on an heirloom seeds website."

Feed Denver is "all girls -- we are the feeders," noted Lisa Rogers, who was touting the group's upcoming summer/fall urban farming workshops at Sunnyside Farm (44th Avenue and Vallejo Street) and Swansea Farm (42nd Avenue and Steele Street), including classes on soil management, freestyle composting, weed identification and usage, aquaponics production, proper water usage and techniques for year-round growing. Tuition for each class is a $20 donation.

Locavore, a 2009 documentary directed and narrated by Jay Canode, provided more learning opportunities about grassroots farmers, and businesses and organizations that support the slow food movement. Although some of the points were a bit repetitive, the film was surprisingly upbeat and lacked the expected slew of disparaging comments about genetically modified organisms.

Rather than get into an organic-dirt-slinging contest over what's wrong with the food industry, Canode presented a strong case for why local was better. Some favorable points to ponder included enhanced flavor of small farm-grown vegetables and fruits, a higher nutritive value due to less processing and shipping, healthier water and soil than agribusiness mono-cropping, more money staying in the community, less waste from less packaging, and personal connections to farmers and food sources.

The film ended with tips on creating simplistic straw-mulch, cinderblock and window box gardens in urban areas, and encouraged viewers to participate in local community supported agriculture (CSAs) and to shop at local farmers markets. And then the Feed Denver ladies gave away their display of vegetables and herb bundles to whoever wanted them.

The tomatoes went fast.

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