The Squeaky Bean has been growing almost since the day it opened in lower Highland in 2009 — growing vegetables, that is. What started with a tiny herb garden behind the Bean's original location at West 33rd Avenue and Tejon Street has blossomed into a three-acre farm and education center on the Warren Tech High School campus in Lakewood. Fresh, seasonal produce has become such an integral part of the restaurant's culinary theme that partners Johnny Ballen and Josh Olsen recently amended the name of the eatery to the Squeaky Bean Farm & Table and added a regular farm-dinner series that will allow guests to enjoy meals prepared amid the vegetable beds and greenhouses at Warren Tech.
When the Squeaky Bean moved to its current home in LoDo in 2012, Olsen also launched Bean Acre, a leased plot of land in Lakewood that he farmed until last year, when he partnered with Warren Tech to reclaim horticultural grounds on the vocational high school's campus that had sat unused for more than a decade. After renovating two greenhouses on the site and using organic, sustainable methods to abate weeds and build soil, Olsen and Warren Tech students and teachers are now ushering in a second growing season and already producing radishes, greens, herbs and other early-season vegetables.
The farm isn't just a production facility for the restaurant's produce, though; it's also a working indoor-outdoor classroom where culinary and S2TEM (Science, Sustainability, Technology, Education and Math) students learn about soil composition, organic and sustainable farming, insect and weed identification, engineering, mathematics and other fields. Special-needs students in the Jeffco Transition Services program also study vegetable gardening and farming here. In addition to planting, farming and harvesting, Warren Tech students are currently building a laboratory from the ground up on the acreage that will serve as a research facility for the school.
Olsen explains that growing produce begins with building good soil from compost and, most important, worm castings. "Worms are the most important part of good soil," he explains, adding that once you have good soil, you can grow produce with more nutritional value, which can be tasted on the plate.
The Bean team presented an early-season dinner this past Sunday as a test run to demonstrate the variety and quality of produce already being harvested. Dishes included a charred-kale-andtomato (pulled that day from vines in the greenhouse) salad with feta cheese from Broken Shovel Farm in Henderson paired with a roasted-green-tomato Virgin Mary. Fresh arugula, breakfast radishes, fennel and strawberries also made appearances on various plates.
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Squeaky Bean co-owner Johnny Ballen notes that while alcoholic beverages can't be served on the high-school grounds, bar manager Jack Bethel has come up with an ingenious solution to highlighting seasonal ingredients while pairing beverages with dishes from executive chef Chris MacGillivray. For each dinner, Bethel will create mocktails using ingredients sourced from the farm.
The dinner season officially kicks off on May 15, with additional events on July 17, September 18, October 16 and November 13. Tickets for each dinner are $60, except the September 18 dinner, which will be a fundraiser for Warren Tech and will cost $85 per person.
With the increase in square footage and yield this year, Olsen and his team plan to sell additional produce at the Union Station Farmers' Market and to other restaurants, including Bar Dough, where former Bean head chef Max MacKissock is a partner and executive chef.
Keep reading for more photos of the Warren Tech farm and the food and drinks from the Squeaky Bean's March farm dinner.