In Portland, Ore. discerning vegans are meeting loyal locavores at a vegan prix fixe restaurant called Farm Spirit. From within an unassuming brick building in Southeast Portland, the restaurant serves modern, delicately-plated plant-based fare from ingredients 95 percent sourced within 105 miles. “We want to make food that leaves people feeling light. We want to make food that is wholesome, made with local ingredients,” says owner and chef Aaron Adams.

This restricted bioregion — which spans from Southwestern Washington to Central Oregon — has a long growing season and mild winters. It provides a wealth of both foraged ingredients, such as coveted Oregon white truffles from Doug Fir forests, and black trumpets from the coast, as well as unexpected farmed produce like citrus from propagation houses, and estate-milled olive oil. Solely relying on the bounty of such a small area requires the fruits and vegetables included in Farm Spirit’s “Cascadian Tasting Menu” to either be in season or preserved. In winter, Farm Spirit resourcefully relies on brassicas, root vegetables, and their delightful cache of dried, fermented, and canned goods from the summer’s bounty.

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Adams opened Farm Spirit in 2015 in a narrow space with seating for only 14 people at a chef’s counter. To accommodate popular demand, In January 2019 he moved the restaurant into a larger 1,000-square-foot space with room to seat 28 guests. Seats are procured by online reservation only, and the face-to-face “Chef’s Counter” tasting experience is often sold out weeks in advance. In keeping with the philosophy of using nearby resources, the new Farm Spirit restaurant also uses handmade pottery and decor from Portland artists.

Adams went vegan when he moved to Portland in 2005, finding that his morals were more in line with a plant-based lifestyle.“I had a big epiphany about how I wanted to comport myself and what my ethical boundaries were. One of those was not participating in the economy of animal agriculture,” he says. Excluding animal products from the menu not only avoids cruelty to animals, but it also lessens the environmental impact of his restaurant. It reduces the need for land dedicated to grazing and growing livestock feed and doesn’t contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions of the meat and dairy industry.

Using local ingredients also moderates Farm Spirit’s carbon footprint by limiting the fossil fuels used in transportation. Another great benefit; by buying nearby produce Farm Spirit is feeding the local economy and strengthening the farming community.

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The few supplies that don’t come from within a 105-mile radius include Kosher salt, evaporated cane juice, vanilla, and chocolate. Rather than focusing a plate on these non-local ingredients, Adams uses them as flavoring accents. He prefers to create a dessert with black garlic rather than chocolate. Diners will find many unexpected dishes like this at Farm Spirit, including carrot jerky, nixtamalized purple barley tortillas, filbert (hazelnut) yogurt, and a fermented sunflower crumble. Farm Spirit also offers beer and cider flights, along with natural wine pairings to go with each course.

A unique feature of this conscientious restaurant is a menu of nonalcoholic beverages for fine diners who abstain, but don’t want to miss out on the flavor pairing experience. The temperance menu includes fresh in-house juices, herbal teas, and attentively-crafted probiotic water kefir, kombucha, and shrubs. So that all might enjoy the unique horticultural cuisine of Farm Spirit, with advanced notice they can prepare gluten-free, nut-free, and other allergen-free tasting courses.

The former Farm Spirit space will become a fermentation lab, appropriately named Fermentor. This will house vegetable and fruit preservation processes, the brewing of beverages, and bread making, which Adams considers a form of fermentation. “We’ll be opening that up as a new little cafe with grab-and-go soon. It will have all sorts of yummy products that have some sort of fermentation involved in them,” Adams reveals.

Fine Vegan Dining

Farms Spirit is Adams’s second successful restaurant, and there is little doubt that the inventive fermentations in his newest project will allure the health-focused foodie culture of Portland. As Adams says, “I always feel better when I have a certain amount of fermentation in my diet.”

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