alembic garden

On Tuesday, April 7 at 6pm, the Red Vic movie house hosts a benefit for Pie Ranch, the farm and urban youth education center that also runs the popular Mission Pie. On the bill is a showing of the documentary King Corn the story of two hapless city guys who enter the world of Midwestern commodity farmers by leasing and growing a single acre of Iowa corn. King Corn will be followed by a 12-minute video exploring Pie Ranch and the farm-to-school education programs that it’s established with students from San Francisco’s Mission High.

Popcorn grown at Pie Ranch will be available, of course, along with local brews from Magnolia Brewery and wine from Sutton Cellars. Beer in hand, you’ll also be able to tour the newly planted kitchen garden of The Alembic next door. Snacks will come from The Alembic, including some using herbs and vegetables harvested right behind the restaurant.

Eight years ago, the Red Vic’s staff took their smoke breaks in a weedy backyard growing nothing but clumps of wild fennel. Then theater volunteer Lee Pickett, looking for a space to garden, started trucking in better soil and digging in plants. Now, sneaky patches of mint push up around flowering perennials, bees hum from flower to flower, and a heavily laden lemon tree seems to call out for a hammock and a tall glass of iced tea.

The most recent addition to this secret garden is a collection of some two dozen donated wine barrels filled to their brims with organic soil and compost. Planted in February, the barrels are already nourishing a collection of robust edibles: red radishes shouldering out of the dirt, peppery arugula, spring onions, thumbelina carrots, tarragon, sorrel, oregano, sage, and more, all cared for by Pie Ranch intern (and Mission High student) Francisco Figueroa.

While production levels are limited by the amount of space and sunlight available, Alembic chef Jordan Grosser is already smitten by the harvest growing right outside his door. “I come out here every day,” to check out the progress of the plants, he admits, adding that later in the summer he hopes to do a special dinner featuring their garden produce in every course.

Bar manager (and cocktail alchemist) Daniel Hyatt agrees. Already, Hyatt is infusing honey with the garden’s lavender for the gin-based Bee’s Knees, and livening up the gin, lime, and celery juice of the Southern Exposure with lots of freshly snipped mint. Says Hyatt, “The accessibility is what makes it great, to be able to come out and find some inspiration growing in a wine barrel.”

Tickets for the benefit are $20-$100.

alembic garden

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