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09.26.07

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Complete Cycle

In which our writer phones up restaurants looking for one that composts because she thinks it's fun.

By Gianna de Persiis Vona


Just for fun, I decided to cold-call restaurants out of the phone book until I find one that composts. After all, if I can fill a one-gallon bucket every single day with food scraps, how much must a restaurant produce?

"Why should I compost? It will just breakdown in the landfills anyway, so what's the difference?" I have heard this pathetic excuse from people who refuse to compost so many times that I long ago lost count. No matter how many times I hear it, I never get over the stab of irritation that inevitably makes me snap something unattractive like, "Been to any landfills lately, Einstein? You actually believe that your food scraps compost? And how exactly, in this compressed and smothering environment, do you expect anything to breakdown?"

In response to my small act of guerilla investigative journalism, I receive a series of no's, which finally end with a miraculous "Yes," at the French Garden Restaurant in Sebastopol. Restaurant owners Joan Marler and Dan Smith compost the scraps from their kitchen at their nearby 30-acre organic farm, and it is this morsel of information that leads me not just to a composting restaurant, but to an organic garden, a way of life and a small community hospital struggling for survival.

Marler tells me that the reason she and Smith have the restaurant is because of the farm. It is the farm that drives their menu, their passion and their dream. "This is our way of manifesting our values in terms of how to live and be earth stewards, supporting local economy and eating locally," she says. "And how not to support this whole megabusiness of food that's coming from all over the world. The whole point is: what sustains life?" Their farm provides, almost exclusively, the fruits and vegetables used in the restaurant. Everything is fresh picked and delivered straight to the restaurant's kitchen, down to the flowers on the tables. Even the butter is churned fresh from local organic cream.

Marler and Smith are actively committed not only to growing and serving their own food, but to using the restaurant space as a positive place of interaction for the community. The last Wednesday of every month, the French Garden sponsors a free documentary series on peace, justice and sustainability; the first Sunday of every month there is an open mic for poets; and the last Sunday, up come the chairs, tables and carpets—and in come the band and the folk dancing.

I meet Smith at the restaurant, and he walks me through the bustling kitchen. The kitchen overflows with produce—tomatoes, lettuces, onions, herbs, multicolored peppers, chives, garlic, berries, apples, pears—all of it brought in fresh from the farm. Buckets of freshly pulled carrots wait to be washed, heirloom tomatoes are lined up on trays, fresh-made sauces and tapenades are in the cooler and edible flowers await. I am surrounded by a priceless array of organic food, and am struck momentarily by an almost overwhelming case of kitchen envy that dissolves into admiration when Smith shows me where the kitchen scraps are collected into trash bags. These scraps are taken back up to the farm, mixed in with composted duck manure, and then turned back into the ground to feed the farm so that, as Smith puts it, the cycle is complete.

Along with running the farm and the restaurant, Smith is director of business and strategic development for Palm Drive Hospital, a volunteer position of utmost importance for this hospital, which is all too often teetering at the brink of extinction. He and Marler have, on more than one occasion, been personally responsible for helping to provide the funding necessary to keep Palm Drive open and functioning. Smith insists, "A hospital isn't just a corner store. You don't just let your hospital close!" To this end, the French Garden will host a fundraiser for Palm Drive Hospital on Sept. 30, providing the entire banquet free of charge, which means that 100 percent of the ticket price goes directly to saving the hospital.

As I drive home, it occurs to me that there must be something more to people who compost. On the surface, composting may seem like a small thing. After all, what is a little decomposition compared to the perilous nature of existence? But the facts are irrefutable, and once again I have been shown proof that composting is, indeed, indicative of so much more.


For fresh grown eats, call the French Garden at 707.824.2060; for a list of weekly events, visit www.frenchgardenrestaurant.com; for more information on the Palm Drive fundraiser, call 707.823.8312.


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