Social soup

Jen Castle and Blake Spalding are the visionaries behind Hell’s Backbone Grill, which is located in the picturesque Boulder, Utah.

Jen Castle and Blake Spalding are the visionaries behind Hell’s Backbone Grill, which is located in the picturesque Boulder, Utah.

Jen Castle and Blake Spalding, chef-owners of Hell’s Backbone Grill and Farm, will be keynote speakers for this semester’s Social Soup Lecture on March 29, noon-1 p.m. in the Gould Auditorium at the Marriott Library. The lecture, “Beyond Farm-to-Table: Community, Culture and Food,” will focus on the benefits, struggles and empowering experiences of owning and operating a farm-to-table restaurant.

Located in Boulder, Utah, the restaurant encompasses the farm-to-table spirit. Much of the produce served is harvested from the restaurant’s farm, and they owners buy grass-fed and finished meat from local ranchers. Serving only local, organic and seasonal foods, their commitments to environmental and social ethics echo throughout the business plan. Additionally, Boulder’s remote location provides an opportunity to engage the community with sustainable ethics for a more equitable food system.

“The farm-to-table movement is about creating a healthy connection from producer to consumer,” says Alizabeth Potucek, University of Utah’s Edible Campus Garden manager, “Eating is an amazing opportunity to impact our local economy, community and personal health. Knowing where our food comes from can be rare in our globalized food economy. The Hell’s Backbone Grill and Farm are great examples of creating a culture that supports healthy and sustainable food systems.”

The Hell’s Backbone Farm is located just three miles from the restaurant. Despite many challenges facing the no-kill, organic farm, it produces more than 18,000 pounds of produce a year. Instead of chemicals, the farm relies on companion planting and relocation to deter pests.

Social Soup 5

Want to learn what it is like to work on a farm? Volunteer with the Hell’s Backbone framers and earn a free meal.

Since the work requires many human labor hours, the owners have partnered with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms to provide “feed for weeds.” In exchange for working the land, they provide meals and an area for camping. Even the U’s Edible Campus Gardens’ stewards and volunteers have made the journey to work on the farm in exchange for a well-earned meal.

Aside from the restaurant’s many awards and high ratings, the owners and chefs, Castle and Spalding, are fascinating individuals. Spalding’s background includes activism for Greenpeace and Buddhist practice. Castle grew up learning to cook mass-quantities of food for her large family and has an extensive background in the restaurant business, including food studies abroad. Their backgrounds are reflected in their dishes and their philosophy as restaurateurs. The work is intensive but rewarding, and Spalding and Castle have worked hard since the restaurant was opened in 2000 to create a community around food, health and justice.

The Social Soup Lecture includes a free vegan meal.

This story can be found on the University of Utah Sustainability blog.