I don’t often eat in a greenhouse when there’s still snow on the ground. Nor do I often eat in a greenhouse while listening to some of my favorite tunes from Hall and Oates. (Click here if you want to hum along with me.) And, last but not least, I'm not often greeted by a man wearing a suit imprinted with vegetables. But then, this is the magic of Johnny Beans and Josh Olsen of The Squeaky Bean at Bean Acres.
Growing up in the middle of corn and soybean country might lead you to believe that I had lots of fresh veggies on my plate. Yes, there were farm stands that we often perused, but I only remember walking away with fresh corn, fresh apples, and bunches of gladiolus. Oh, yeah — sometimes we had fresh green beans, but that was about it. Somehow, though, when I ventured off to college, I ended up in the environmental program at Arizona State University, where I lasted one year before heading up to Fort Collins. At ASU, I took a gardening class where we each had our own irrigated plot in the middle of the desert and were able to grow whatever we wanted. I loved the feeling of getting out to an open space, the smell of the dirt and fresh air, the sun burning; and even though it is hard working in a garden all day, there’s a sense of accomplishment and peace. Way better than weeding a yard.
So it was with great excitement that I looked forward to the dinner at Bean Acres. I've had the pleasure of eating at The Squeaky Bean in LoDo, and though it was a few years ago, I still remember the fabulous experience I had there. I remember a dish of carrots prepared countless ways on one plate, which told me way back then that the chefs at Squeaky Bean took their food seriously. I had yet to find out just how serious they were. When they say farm to table, they mean from their own farm to their own table.
Bean Acres is a year-round farm and greenhouse operation in partnership with Warren Tech High School in Lakewood, Colorado. (Oh, how I would have loved attending a high school like this when I was younger.) Josh Olsen, co-founder of Squeaky Bean, expanded his operation in 2011 after not having enough room to grow his greens behind the old restaurant, and he developed Bean Acres, which now spans three acres and two 6,000-square-foot greenhouses, and grows more than 24 varieties of non-GMO vegetables, herbs, and fruit. Not only that, but they are nurturing human beans, too!
Students at Warren Tech are not only future farmers — or perhaps aspiring chefs — but they are also part of a program called S2TEM: science, sustainability, technology, education, and math. Their curriculum includes classes on vegetable and fruit preservation, restaurant farming, propagation, sustainable irrigation, and a slew of other topics. Culinary students also volunteer to help serve, clean up, plan, and cook, not because they have to but because they want to. At least that's what I observed. Additionally, Squeaky Bean helps provide fresh produce to other restaurants in the area and also has a stand at the Union Station Greenmarket. If there is any leftover produce or scrap, it is composted to be reused again in this cycle of “transFarmative” cuisine.
After touring Bean Acres and developing a healthy appetite, radish crostini were the perfect appetizer to start our dinner experience. The radishes, mild and crunchy, sat on a "frosting" of very fresh butter.
Mocktails were served with each course, and though we couldn't get the real thing — being on school property and all — Jack Bethel designed them with the same philosophy he applies to all his cocktails: There is a drink for every disposition. My favorite was a mixture of arugula, cilantro, and soda. Sounds odd, but Jack’s custom sodas should be bottled!
The family-style menu was veggie-centric, and the farm hopes to serve up more meals next spring. Johnny and Josh remind us to give thanks for the bounty each and every day. They not only support and help train students, but they also feed 3,000 homeless and hungry people every Thanksgiving. As if that weren’t enough, they support countless benefits and events each year. Transformative or transFarmative? Whatever you call it, they make my dreams come true!
After visiting Squeaky Bean, I felt compelled to conjure up my own radish sandwich. I've loved radishes since I was a child, and they’re the one veggie even my manservant eats. (It is, however, really weird that he picks them off his salad but heartily eats them on bread!)
My radish crostini sit on a bed of lemon-flavored goat cheese. They are fresh, but also rustic, savory, spicy, colorful, and, well... you get the picture. Since I quickly ate all of the breakfast radishes I was sent home with from Squeaky Bean, I found a watermelon radish and used that instead. Mint tastes extraordinary with the radishes, as does lemon.
To read more about Denver's eating and drinking scene, click here.