Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Barn dance at Pie Ranch

"First couple goes galloping down the middle and stops at the end!" announces Andy Wilson the caller on the music of the County Line Pickers. Down the middle goes the first couple hand in hand, laughing madly, skipping and galloping sideways while others are clapping. Laughing madly? The first couple is not even 13 years old - both ages combined. They are two little girls aged 6 respectively and they giggle so hard they gallop too far and catch up later with the line. The monthly barn dance at Pie Ranch is not only legendary -  it's a family event with no alcohol allowed and that doesn't prevent anybody from having a good ol' rollicking time.

Every third Saturday of the month, growing numbers of people converge to Pie Ranch for the Work Day & Barn Dance to get dirty and hit the dance floor. Yes it all starts in the fields - if you can volunteer your time and efforts at the work party at 2pm. Note the terminology: it's a party, not a chore. And it really is. 

Weeding the strawberry fields, cutting wood for the bread oven, collecting eggs in the chicken coop, you'll get to participate in the daily operation of a great educational farm that teaches Bay Area students about sustainable agriculture. Hey, you don't even have to end up with blisters on all your hands to feel good about the whole thing. Just enjoy a day out in the sun next to the ocean. 

All the harvested produce is sold either at Pie Ranch directly in the barn or through San Francisco's Mission Pie   a corner cafe and bakery that offers a menu based on seasonal produce from 7 different Bay Area farms including Pie Ranch. Check out their daily offering of fruit or savory pie, it's a rare find on Mission Street between 25th and 26th. As far as the eggs - well there's a new word for you. They are part of a community supported eggriculture (CSE) egg share program. Yes, "eggriculture." Sponsor the hens, crack the eggs at home. Neat for those of us who can't offer room and board to our feathery friends.

After the work part, you can tour the farm (there are lovely views stretching all the way to Ano Nuevo State Reserve from the ridge above the strawberry fields) or enjoy the surrounding beaches until 6 pm when the official potluck starts. Ah the potluck - the scary and exciting anticipation of unknown anonymous dishes on the table. Note that said dishes were perfectly labelled and we mostly knew what we were eating and whether it was vegetarian, vegan or other-friendly. Unconventional in an organized manner (appetizers on first tables, sweets at the end), the potluck beamed with community spirit all around and worked as a great introduction to other groups of people.

Some brought fresh goat cheese from Harley Farms in Pescadero. A woman made home-baked sourdough bread stuffed with fresh artichokes. Others whipped up deviled eggs with their chickens' eggs from Slide Ranch. One fixed a pasta salad. We prepared some chocolate-coconut British treats and a pork terrine. Dishes kept landing on the tables as people trickled in, car after car. On the practical side, we brought our own plates and so should you. Try eating a chili con carne a la barbaric!

As the potluck delighted stomachs, the place filled up and a contained beehive atmosphere settled in. They were waiting for something to happen: the dance. With picnic tables full, diners migrated to hay stacks, to makeshift tables  or just ate standing up. It was that popular. With our hungry children, we were glad we arrived at 6 pm so we didn't have to wait in line.

Was the food any good? Was there enough? Hell yeah, there was more than enough and we tasted some great stuff. Obviously, according on our timing in the line we missed a few dishes but on the whole we tasted 5 to 8 foods. Now the dance could steal the show. 

At 7 pm sharp, the barn door opened. Our girls ran inside. They were getting cold. We washed our dishes at the outdoors dish washing station, scrubbed our plates above the compost buckets, recycled what could be recycled, and joined them inside too. We paid our dues at the entrance table - $7 to $20 per adult on a sliding scale - and went in.

We didn't waste a moment and joined the line right away. Mr. Wilson was already half way through the first song's set of steps and moves. At the top of the line were the two 6-year-olds who skipped down the line with gusto when the signal came. We were beginners - we kept skipping beats to catch up with the music. After repeating sets 6 to 8 times we kinda got the hang of it. After 5 dances we were panting and steaming hot. This is physical! So to cool off, we stepped aside to listen to the County Line Pickers.

This group of country musicians includes Ken Clarkson on banjo, Jon Young and Nancy Vail on fiddle, Hide Kawatsure and Josh Lane on mandolin, Joni Davies on guitar and vocals, Jim Davies on bass   as well as friends who joined with their instruments all evening long. I honestly have no idea which songs were played. The only one I remember distinctly had people point at their partner twice saying "Sasha!" and then count to three in Russian before playing hand games, do-si-do-ing and swinging with their partner. If you want an idea of what the evening might have looked like, here is a YouTube video of a contra dance at Pie Ranch in July 2008. Clearly, there were fewer people then. 

We left at 8.30 pm but the party rocked on until 10 pm. As soon as we sat down in the car, we realized that all the dancing had used up all our energy. Our feet hurt. The kids conched right away. What a workout this is! As we headed home, new dancers were arriving. Some revelers were sneakingly drinking beers in the dark parking lot. Oh well. We loved that the party was alcohol-free but we didn't mind that some felt they needed a booster. Aside from weddings, it's really the first time I've seen a dance party with so many kids and the sobriety requirement is a good idea to avoid rowdy behaviors. However if a few drinkers want to enjoy a local brew (it's local & seasonal, right?), why not? The party was the best we've been to in a long time and we'll definitely return - hoping to get the moves right this time. Yeehaw!

Next Work Day & Barn Dance at Pie Ranch: April 17, 2010. Be there with your dancing shoes on. No barn dance experience needed. Trust me.

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