Cultivating Community at Odla

A Field Notes Series

By Izabela Jaroszynski

Odla might sit smack in the centre of urban Saskatoon but its focus is definitely rural.

"Our tagline is that we are farm-driven," says Executive Chef Scott Dicks.

Along with general manager Lacey Sellinger, Scott co-owns the restaurant with farmers Arlie and Brett LaRoche.

From left to right: Scott Dicks, Arlie LaRoche, Brett LaRoche and Lacey Sellinger

From left to right: Scott Dicks, Arlie LaRoche, Brett LaRoche and Lacey Sellinger

The LaRoches tend to the holistically managed Farm One Forty just 15 minutes outside of Saskatoon and provide many of the ingredients that find their way onto the menu at Odla.

The rest of the ingredients come from a network of about 50 local suppliers — a community of trusted farmers, foragers and gardeners that Scott has cultivated.

"We really want to let our gardeners, farmers, local suppliers and artisans dictate what's available to us."
Scott Dicks

Tomatoes, for example, are only served when they are available seasonally in Saskatchewan and are never supplemented with, say, those brought on a truck — what Scott called "fridge tomatoes" — from a different country. And if a farmer shows up with a beautiful crop of chives or beets, you better believe the seasoned chef will be incorporating them into his menu.

"They just drop stuff off for us every few week and we get what we get and we do what we can with it," Scott says. "The main focus is always delicious."

This is the very essence of the farm-to-table movement, where the freshness of ingredients and the local nature of the supplier is valued over the consistency of products. Rather than purchase ingredients from a large supplier who sources them internationally and always has them available, farm-direct restaurants work with small, local suppliers and are at the mercy of availability and seasonality. This isn't always easy.

"We do it the hard way for better or worse," Scott says. "The better is the quality of the food and the worse is how hard it is and how much money we don't make."

Scott says he does a lot of preserving, pickling and canning for the winter months when local availability is at a low.

In Swedish "Odla" means to farm, to cultivate, to grow. A motto that is ingrained in every part of the restaurant.

It is seen in the quality of the ingredients and the commitment to supporting local suppliers. But it is also seen in the growing community of like-minded consumers that rally around the farm-direct philosophy.

When a customer enjoys a meal and learns where the ingredients came from, they are more likely to support that farm by buying direct.

"That wasn't at the forefront when we started but that's been one of the most satisfying things for me, forging these relationships," Scott says.

Recently, Odla featured a gnocchi dish with a lambs quarter & pea shoot pesto and goat feta. To show you how farm-direct works, we traced the ingredients in this dish back to their source.

Goat feta came from Red Barn Dairy in Saskatoon.

Potatoes used to make the gnocchi were delivered by Steve from Mole Mountain Farm, a small local supplier.

Eggs used in the gnocchi came from Prairie Sunrise.

The greens in the dish came from a few sources.

Lambs quarter, a wild edible plant, came from Steve at Mole Mountain Farm.

The chives are from Myrtle's Garden; the greens and onions from Spring Water Garden; and the garlic scapes are from Spruce Haven Organics.

The pea shoots come from Nook and Cranny.

The shallots are from Our Farm YXE.

"And mint, we have growing on our patio," Scott says.

Odla is located in Saskatoon at 801 C Broadway Avenue. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays.