These days, it's rare when a restaurant doesn't source locally. But at the Squeaky Bean, which I recently reviewed, sourcing locally means more than knowing the farmer: it means being the farmer. And soon, it will mean paying the lessons forward, as the restaurant partners with Warren Tech Career and Technical High School in Jefferson County. See also: The Squeaky Bean Could Be Too Much Fun
For years, the Squeaky Bean has maintained two plots: one behind the original Highland location dedicated to herbs, and a larger farm in Lakewood producing everything from beets to borage flowers. Both are overseen by partner Josh Olsen, aka Bean Thumb, who works closely with farmhand James Douglas and executive chef Theo Adley.
Starting this winter, however, Olsen plans to move the operation to Warren Tech, where the three-acre farm will yield much more than tomatoes, kale and cucumbers for the restaurant. "Basically, we're helping students build an agricultural farm on their property," says Olsen, who learned of the underutilized facilities through his brother Nate Olsen, a STEM teacher at the school.
Olsen is already making use of greenhouses that were built by the school but have been neglected for years, and has planted peach, plum and apricot trees. This winter, crops will be planted to reflect the needs of both the restaurant and the school's existing culinary program. The partnership is still in the early stages -- Olsen had just returned from a meeting the day I caught up with him -- but he mentions everything from the possibility of a new agricultural class to community gardens to "getting Theo over to the culinary program." The farm is expected to run like a CSA, with produce divided among the restaurant and other shareholders, including faculty, students and their families.
"One of the main goals of this property is ... to bring in revenue for STEM and environmental science," says Olsen, who adds that the new agricultural program should eventually "reduce/sustain their budgets."
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Here's hoping that everything comes up roses -- or at least radishes.