Yearly staff retreats to Georgie's Willowood Farm on Ebey Praire, Whidbey Island have become something of a Sea Creatures tradition for good reason.
There is the obvious: Willowood Farm is beautiful. Verdant green fields overlook the Puget Sound. The air is sweet and clean, smelling at once of the earth and the sea. A fairy tale white horse named 'Whitey' saunters. Farm equipment chugs about deliberately. A handsome cedar barn is witness to all. Willowood is pastoral perfection.
Sampling Willowood's bounty is also a draw. Georgie's lettuces, tender yet toothsome, are sublime. Her Rockwell Beans, a local heirloom bean developed on Whidbey Island in the 1800s, are hearty and flavorful--as delicious as they are rare. Georgie's summer garlic cure is a wonder to see and smell. Willowood's produce finds its way on to plates at Whale, Walrus, Barnacle, and Boat because it is incredible. Enjoying it fresh on the farm only adds to its appeal.
But beyond the obvious pulls--beyond the idyllic setting, beyond the amazing produce--are the relationships. For instance, the relationship between farm and restaurant, Georgie writes:
At the end of every season...I take my farm crew to have a meal at one of the restaurants we’ve been selling to that year...This is one of my favorite things to do--for many reasons. I think the main one is to see how the vegetables we produce at Willowood Farm are prepared and presented...For us as farmers to see our product in 'all its glory'...is really an amazing and proud moment...It might be something as simple as seeing our Pink Beauty radishes, a variety we pick twice a week from March until November, literally thousands of pounds of these radishes, presented beautifully with caviar and butter, like Chef Bobby at the Walrus recently did. Now this is really incredible to us. By the end of the season we are sick to death of looking at those darn radishes--but look what Bobby did with them! Astounding!
It is no different for the servers and cooks visiting Willowood--seeing where the food Sea Creatures prepares and serves comes from is inspiring. "Being able to see the steps a farm takes to bring produce to Walrus, is a visceral experience that makes me proud to serve the dishes we have..." explains Marley from the Walrus.
Truly, understanding the work and skill that goes into growing incredible radishes, or anything else, creates a richer experience for cooks plating the radishes and the servers serving them, and in turn, the guests eating them. Georgie writes:
Having restaurant staff to the farm, and showing them where the food is grown, how it is grown, is an exciting way for us to close the loop on the “farm to table” cycle. I love talking about the farm, the things we can do here, and even the struggles we have. In general, so many people in our society are so very disconnected from where their food comes from. They have no clue to how the very thing that keeps them alive every day is grown and produced. So anytime I can share just a slice of that story with people who are then spreading the word about local food, like the staff at the Whale, Walrus, Boat and Barnacle--well, I think that is a HUGELY important thing to do. Every head of lettuce has a story of the people who grew it, quite literally. Where did the variety come from? Is it an heirloom grown for hundreds of years, or developed recently...? Did we have to seed it three times because the mice ate them and then it got too hot in the greenhouse and all the starts fried? Is it Field Manager Adam’s favorite lettuce to wrap up and eat when he is so busy tractor cultivating for weeds that he won’t take a break for lunch? When a meal can incorporate these elements into it--when a story can be shared of not just the flavors, but of how the food came to be and of the people that grew it--I think it makes a meal resonate beyond just its flavors with the pleasures of human connections. It is the satisfaction of a crop well grown and a meal lovingly made and all the people along the line.
It is these relationships that draw us to Willowood year after year. These relationships enable us to place restaurant work into a larger picture and to share this picture with guests. Kat from Walrus says it best, "I think it's pretty rad that we as a team visit the places that contribute to our success in this industry. These retreats are the heart of our Sea Creatures family, a time to celebrate this industry and the cool humans that come together to make it happen."