As the courageous, local, urban farmer toiled thanklessly in dire, drought stricken conditions, a lone, gentleman, cowboy, flamenco guitarist materialized like an apparition in the midst of the field to ease his burden. Either that, or having a good friend playing guitar in the field is a helluva great start to what ended up being a summer picnic extraordinaire with Farmer Luke Girling at his organic certified, urban farmstead, Cyclops Farms, in Oceanside.
Luke and Cyclops Farms may not be as beleaguered as the opening passage might lead you to believe, but it does sounds way more enchanting than what Water Bill dinners are really about.
And here’s where it gets interesting. Luke is a farmer. Working the earth and moving dirt in copious amounts is in his soul, behind his ears and under his fingernails. Between working his farm and farmstand, delivering to his restaurant and chef clients all over the county and satisfying the inevitable bureaucracy that rules all that is good and healthy, Luke doesn’t have a whole lot of time to be gratuitously creative with his words or efforts. If you want to know what he really feels, just ask him. In fact, simply standing in his company for a minute or two will net you the same result.
Is Luke about sustainability at Cyclops Farms? For sure. Otherwise, why would he and wife Frances have gone through the mountains of paperwork and inspections to become and officially Organic Certified farm? They could just “say” they practice organic and sustainable techniques (as many others claim) and save themselves a ton of hassle and tens of thousands of dollars a year.
Does Luke stand for certain things like preservation of resources, bettering the world, supporting his local community and maybe, time permitting, making it to the not so distant Pacific Ocean for a surf session when he’s not working his farm (which is hardly ever)? Not only yes, but he could probably be the poster child for most of the feel good buzzwords that zip ad nauseum around the food universe at warp speed.
Wouldn’t it sound better to have a dinner series that focuses on these higher mission, dignified sounding, human race saving, world preserving concepts?
That’s where we may disagree. As far as I’m concerned…Nope and noper. I love the fact that Luke is calling his dinners exactly what they are – The Water Bill Dinners.
Being a farmer in today’s world, especially in the high rent and luxury lifestyle region of Southern California, presents many more challenges than it does rewards. Add to the mix that San Diego, in spite of the Pacific Ocean being almost spitting distance from Cyclops Farms, is a desert region, with most of our water being imported at high cost from surrounding areas and states, and you’ve got a recipe for hardship that makes even a backyard garden seem like a luxurious waste of precious resources, much less a full blown farm.
Suffice it to say, since Luke works his land primarily by himself, Cyclops Farms’ biggest expense is water. There are no magical underground aquifers containing millions of years worth of sparkling, naturally filtered rainwater to be leisurely tapped as needed for irrigation around these parts…only sand and granite. Thus, the Water Bill dinners…designed to entertain the local community, showcase local chefs, but, most importantly, pay the water bill each month, enabling the cycle of life, food and fun to continue.
The latest Water Bill pop-up dinner was the third in the series. Past events have featured the ubiquitous Davin Waite, Executive Chef and owner of the Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub and rising star, Willy Eick, Executive Chef and partner of 608, newest player and a rapidly growing, popular eatery in the Oceanside dining scene.
Local favorite, Daniel Pundik, Executive Chef of Local Taphouse and Kitchen was the conductor of this latest Water Bill evening’s meal and festivities. Picture a leisurely summer picnic with 40 or so of your neighbors and friends enjoying gourmet, so far out of the box that even the box wasn’t invited, delicacies, featuring produce picked feet from where you’re eating, fish caught in the ocean just over your shoulder and charcuterie made just down the street. Salivate, chew, swallow and repeat.
Paired with local microbrew beer and regional wines provided by another staple fixture in the local industry, Chris Lobo of Native Wines, this is a backyard popup extravaganza with a noticeable lack of fanfare and fanciness that, nevertheless, evokes feelings of elegance and a “do good” feeling of affecting change on the most important level there is…one person, one farm, one chef, one restaurant, one neighborhood at a time.
Amidst the soft tunes of flamenco guitar wafting from the field, the Cyclops Farms Water Bill dinners are a prime example of “If you grow it, they will come.”
Here’s the Rundown on Cyclops Farms Water Bill Dinners:
With the Pacific Coast located just over a mile away, even in the heat of the summer, the coastal breeze provides air conditioned-like temperatures under the shade of the hand built awnings where the dinners take place at Cyclops Farms. The farm is located at 1443 Avocado Rd. in Oceanside, and is largely closed to the public except for their weekly farmer’s stand on Saturday’s from 8:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m where some of the most luscious fruits and vegetables in North County can be had at farm direct prices.
The dinners are casual events, open air, paper plates, picnic tables, but there’s a je ne sais quoi, an air of specialness, that entices some to treat it as a special occasion. And, frankly, it is. Even for a veteran of food events, this one is unique, honest and damn fine…the kind of thing where you feel like a family member and an honored guest all at the same time.
I can’t think of anything that was served that wasn’t local, eggs, peppers, fruits, charcuterie, even the local bluefin caught by fisherman Shawn Aulby the day before. We’re lucky to have access to all that is fresh and holy here in SoCal and that is also what is special about the Oceanside food scene – the chefs here know how to extract every bit of flavor and potential out of the food in the most artistic way possible. Daniel Pundik of Local Taphouse and Kitchen has been a favorite of mine and most of Oceanside’s residents for the last couple of years and he amazed with items ranging from Huevos Diablo spicy deviled eggs to Shishito relleno grilled peppers and a strawberry, goat cheese cannoli, that, of course, he learned from his Jewish grandmother.
He also brought his sous chefs and servers from the restaurant to ensure that all was served promptly.
Cost/How to be in the know:
The only way to sign up for these dinners is in person at the Cyclops Farm Saturday morning farm stand. Ask Luke for the sign up sheet when you get there. It’s first come, first served – the earlier you sign up, the more likely you are to make it in to the dinner. Right now, there is room for about 40 guests at each dinner. I’m sure if the water prices go up, there may be room for more. But, this is a true not for profit event – it’s for a specific reason – watering the food you eat. It’s a special occasion and I hope, I hope, I hope it remains so. At the current rate of $75 per person, it’s a steal. If the water bill goes up, I’d say raise the price and keep the riff- raff out… I’m on the list – are you? Cheers, my friends!
1443 Avocado Rd.
Oceanside, CA 92054