Farm Dinners Serve Up Local Food, Ambiance

July 14, 2011

Bonny Wolf

At farm dinners, people eat local food with the farmers who cultivated it.
Farm dinners happen at St. Brigid's Farm in Maryland rain or shine. They serve multicourse meals in the field.

The locavore movement, which favors locally produced food, has inspired many people to get in touch with their inner farmer. That's easy during the harvest season, when farms across the country invite their neighbors over for dinner.

"Farm to fork" takes on a whole new meaning during dinner in the middle of a pasture, with cows.

From spring through fall, there are numerous neighborhood farms where a professional chef will serve an elegant multicourse meal of local foods grown by the farmer, who sits at the table alongside the guests.

One New Hampshire farm features a dinner with meat from pigs, pasture-fed and raised under pure sunshine. There's a hayride, too.

In Minnesota, a family-friendly farm dinner includes live bluegrass music, a bonfire and overnight camping. All of the tableware is compostable. Midwest farmland is also celebrated at dinner among the fruits and vegetables in the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Most dinners start with cocktails and a farm tour. Then the chefs and farmers talk about each course as it's served. Dinners are organized by the farmers or put together by farm dinner companies.

Meals in the Meadows, organized by the Farm Institute, started about 10 years ago, before "sustainable" was a common vocabulary word. The idea is to connect eaters with the people who cook and grow their food. Now that even bean sprouts can be contaminated, people want to go to the source.

One pioneer is surfer/artist/chef Jim Denevan. His company, called Outstanding in the Field, served 10,000 diners across North America in 2010. Outstanding sets up its signature single, long, white cloth-covered table at sites like a natural cave on a Bay Area beach below a soaring cliff, serving fish from local waters. At the other extreme? Dinner at a rooftop farm in Queens.

Some farm dinners are under tents, but most are under the sky. Judy Gifford of St. Brigid's Farm in Maryland says sitting out in the open at one long table is part of the magic. Of course, there is always weather. For the first St. Brigid's Farm dinner, it poured. So they moved into the new barn and used tiki torches as lights and empty water troughs for wine and beer. Gifford says it was great.

These experiences do not come cheap. Outstanding in the Field charges at least $200 per person for a seat at the communal table. Most farm dinners are $100 and up. Many farms donate all or a portion of their proceeds, while the companies are run for profit.

Why do people go? Well, if you grow it, cook it and serve it, they will come.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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