Soup is good food

For more information on the Living Lands Agrarian Network events visit
Wendy Van Wagner is a food blogger and cofounder of the In the Kitchen cooking school. For more information, visit
For more information on the Living Lands Agrarian Network events, visit

The South Yuba River Citizens League’s Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, now in its 10th year, offers an annual chance for filmmakers to present environmentally themed works to engaged audiences and activists.

It’s also really tasty.

As a Nevada City native, I’ve watched as the festival has grown over the last several years, attracting thousands of attendees for a weekend devoted to films, parties and merriment. This year’s event featured more than 115 films as well as a presentation from Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman.

But one of the biggest draws, perhaps, was the soup lunch hosted by the Living Lands Agrarian Network, a local nonprofit community resource devoted to training and educating farmers as well as providing resources and support for those looking to start their own farm.

For the past two years, the LLAN has teamed with SYRCL to host a soup lunch fundraiser in an effort to raise awareness about sustainable farming. This year the group hunkered down to feed approximately 300 people over the span of two hours. I joined LLAN as a volunteer along with my husband Tim. As Tim peeled garlic, chopped onions and made his way through 20 pounds of bright, orange butternut-squash flesh, I prepared a broccoli cheddar soup using roasted carrots and parsnips. While Tim’s dish bore his signature flavors—a handful of smoked jalapeño peppers added at the end—my final culinary notes included stone-ground mustard and extra butter.

Soups finished, we packed up pots of the hot meal along with loaves of fresh bread and drove our beat-up truck to downtown Nevada City where a bevy of volunteers was already waiting to serve up bowls outside of the APPLE Center—the Alliance for a Post-Petroleum Local Economy.

The APPLE Center is, unfortunately, scheduled to close later this month due to a lack of funding. This weekend, however, the center remained open and filled with a hungry crowd lining up for soup. The scene was not unlike that at a soup kitchen—except that the hungry queue here was composed of people decked in bright Patagonia jackets, asymmetrical layered natural-fiber clothing and sturdy shoes. And, like true environmentalists, many arrived ready with their own bowls and utensils in hand.

Throughout lunch, chatter, laughter and the slurpy sounds of gastronomical enjoyment grew as the line swelled and more diners turned out to nosh on the likes of beet borscht, turkey vegetable, my broccoli cheddar and not one but two varieties of butternut squash.

At the end of the meal, I grabbed a bowl and sat down with some friends to take it all in. The chance to see this many people basking in the sun, satiated by the simple pleasure that a bowl of soup delivers reminded me, once again, of one of the many reasons I love my hometown and its efforts to save the environment and help others in a fun, fulfilling—not to mention stomach-filling—way.