Community Ingredients

The Recorder. August 18, 2014. By Chris Curtis.

GREENFIELD — The bar of the Hope and Olive restaurant was strewn with vegetable scraps, knives, cutting boards and cooked chicken carcasses Sunday afternoon, as volunteers busily sliced, chopped and shredded the ingredients for a meal to feed hundreds.

The 10th annual Free Harvest Supper again drew hundreds to the Town Common and Court Square this year, with at least 850 diners served.

The restaurant at the corner of Hope and Olive streets has for years served as the heart of the operation, taking in the ingredients donated by area farms and businesses and turning out food for a multitude.

Restaurateurs Evelyn Wulfkuhle and brother and sister Maggie and Jim Zaccara took up Juanita Nelson’s idea a decade ago and began producing the meal out of the Bottle of Bread restaurant in Shelburne, until that business burned down. For the next year or two they used the Franklin County Community Development Center kitchen, before settling into the kitchen and dining room of their new enterprise.

With the restaurant closed for the day, the three owners, family, restaurant staff and other volunteers — a crowd of about 20 — sat at the bar, at tables or picked their way to and from the kitchen between boxes of raw produce and plastic coolers of chopped squash, eggs or meat Sunday morning.

Seated at the bar, Judy Zebrowski, 50, of Hinsdale, N.H., and Jayden Chapin, 13, of Bernardston, were among the row tasked with plucking meat from the bones of whole, cooked chickens, filling a bucket with the lightly steaming scraps.

Zebrowski said she had no idea what dish the chicken might be destined for and had come down for the day at the invitation of friends who work there.

Chapin said she volunteers regularly at the restaurant for the monthly soup and games night benefit, and last year chopped vegetables for the effort.

Seated next to her sister and with more family washing dishes in the back, Chapin was one of the extended Wilson clan on deck for the event.

Standing at the bar, chopping handfuls of kale in front of the draft beer taps, Rick Wilson, 65, of Turners Falls was well-attended by family.

“This is my oldest daughter down the end, and my grandchildren here, I have two grandchildren out back doing dishes,” Wilson said, pointing around the bar. Most also volunteer for the soup and games events, he said.

“It’s kind of like a monopoly on grandchildren. I have 13 grandchildren and I make sure they know the bottom line of taking care of the public, and I brought them all up to understand to give back to the community,” Wilson said. A former auto mechanic, Wilson works for the restaurant and wasn’t the only staffer volunteering a Sunday.

At the far end of the horse shoe bar, bartender Valery Griffin sliced cherry tomatoes with Jim Zaccara and Cathy Whitely’s son Henry, 10. His brother August, 7, and wearing two birthday hats, sliced squash with his mother at a front table.

Slicing eggplant for a shiitake and cabbage salad with miso and ginger in the kitchen, Maggie Zaccara said the preparation is now down to a science after a decade of growth. The restaurant takes in donations over about five days, processes what they can in advance, then finishes the job the day of the supper and transports the food to Court Square in a Foster’s Supermarket refrigerated truck. The menu is dependent on donations, but after 10 years she knows what to expect.

“People mostly just give us stuff that they have lots of, but you kind of know what’s available at this time of year, so you know that you’re going to get what you can get,” she said. Bad years for tomatoes or potatoes can squeeze the menu, but this was a good year for everything, she said.

“It’s easier every year because there’s a lot more volunteers, a lot more product and it just feels … there’s a lot of work in this but it’s really focused in one day,” Zaccara said. “It’s so much fun, everyone looks forward to it every year. All of our staff comes.”

Jim Zaccara sees symbiosis in the continued success of the supper, with farmers donating produce and benefitting from the cash donations from visitors. The money goes to the Center for Self Reliance to fund a food voucher program, the vouchers are spent at the farmers markets in the area and the farmers are reimbursed for the vouchers collected.

Zaccara sees this and the local nature of the produce as a model for a sustainable future, and also likes that people show up for the meal. “The whole reason for everyone being there is just to be together,” he said.

Supper is served

At the evening event, a line of hundreds wound around the Greenfield Town Common while hundreds more sat at tables set up in the street. Wulfkuhle handed bowls of salad from the inside of the Foster’s truck to the Zaccaras and other volunteers refilling the serving stations.

At the tables, Zebrowski and other kitchen volunteers were taking a break for dinner. Zebrowski still wasn’t sure what the chicken had gone into, but said the food was good. “It was fun, it was worth it,” she said of her five hours in the restaurant.

Seated on a bench and garden curb in front of the Town Hall, dog walking friends Sara Fishburn, Susan Tomkins, Sharon Ethier and Judith Fritz were all attending for the first time. All praised the food.

“We’re blessed to have so many great farms out here,” Fishburn said.

“I think it’s very good the community does this, the local farms get together like this, everybody in town gets to see their friends,” Ethier said. “It brings people together, that’s for sure.”