Good food is the foundation of good living in my book. As such, I take it pretty seriously. Not only do I grow most of my food, but I do almost all of my cooking from scratch.
When you go to that level of effort to ensure food quality, I think you also deserve a great space to enjoy your meals. The pleasure of eating is further enhanced if your dining area is near where the food grows in the first place.
This is the fundamental idea behind farm to table dining. It's the bringing together of growing, preparing, and eating in ways that honor and enhance all three of those experiences. But, you don't have to have a whole big farm to do this. A small homestead will do!
If you want to create your own farm to table outdoor dining area at home, read on for tips and inspiration to help you make that happen.
The Criteria for “Farm to Table”
Farm to table has taken on a lot of new meanings of late. It can include things like restaurants buying direct from local farmers. It can also include schools working with local farms for freshly sourced food. However, at its core, farm to table means eating food grown and prepared on the farm where they were produced.
To create an authentic farm to table experience on your homestead, you will want to honor a few critical elements intended in that expression.
Start with a ‘Farm'
The thing you need for a farm to table dinner is… a farm! Luckily, homesteaders who grow their own food are farmers!
You may not be selling your stuff at the market, but just by the act of growing crops or raising animals, you have turned your home into a farm.
Add Locally Grown Crops
Not every single thing you cook has to be grown on your farm. However, you should aim to include a few items that you did produce on your farm.
Fortunately, this isn't hard to do. If you grow your own herbs, grow vegetables, keep chickens for eggs, maintain a dairy herd, have an edible landscape, or even grow sprouts on your counter, you have your own products to use.
Site Your Farm Table Outdoors
The ideal goal for an authentic farm to table experience is to enjoy the meal on a farm table, outdoors. It connects diners with the farm and the food, while just eating farm-grown food in other locations might not.
Permanent or Temporary Farm to Table Dining Area?
Now, for farms that only periodically host farm to table dinners, setting up folding tables in a field or a barn might work perfectly. Depending on the time of year and the weather, locations can be chosen to produce the peak experience of beauty, tranquility, and good food.
If you are doing this on the homestead though, you probably want to do it a lot. Maybe even every day that you have good weather! In that case, you may want to create a permanent outdoor dining area to make your farm to table experience a way of life.
In that case, you'll need to do a bit more work than just mowing down part of a field or tidying up an underutilized barn. You'll want to plan yourself a beautiful outdoor dining room to enjoy your farm to table meals!
5 Steps to Create an Outdoor Farm to Table Dining Area
If you have decided to create a permanent outdoor farm to table dining area on your homestead, here are some tips to get you started.
1. Choose a Location
Choose a location that is close to your kitchen to make transporting your meals outdoors easy. Alternatively, if you have space and resources, consider creating an outdoor kitchen as part of your farm to table dining area.
Consider a site that is already level or which you can level out, to create at least enough room for your table, chairs or benches, and space to stand or serve food.
2. Create a Design Plan
A farm to table dining area can be very basic or elaborate. If you want to create the feel of an outdoor room, then these are some of the things to focus on:
– Use Design Elements to Create a Sense of Enclosure
There are a lot of ways to make an open space feel more like a room. Plants are often the easiest way to do it. Fast growing trees or shrubs can be planted around your new dining area to add visual interest, mark the perimeter of the dining area, and also add fragrant aspects.
For example, elderberry shrubs grow quickly. They have a beautiful arched shape that adds drama and privacy. Plus, they have large, lace-like flower heads that give way to stunning purple berry clusters.
Other options like hazelnuts grown as shrubs, hydrangeas, or lilacs also make good choices. In winter, dark stemmed plants like red twig dogwood shrubs and arching blackberries add interest even when leaves fall.
– Add Entry Points
To give the sensation of entering an outdoor dining room, you need clear points of entry and exit. Arbors, planted pathways, arches, collections of pots, and other decorative elements can all be used to create the feeling of walking into a room.
– Focus on Flooring
All rooms need flooring. Outdoor flooring options are different than indoor options. But, planning what kind of flooring materials you need is just as essential as in your home.
Decking, flagstone, pavers, bricks, gravel, garden glass, corks, walkable herbs and ground covers, mulch, and more can all be used. Create defined edges around your flooring to help keep weeds in check and emphasis transitions from inside and outside the dining area.
Note: If you are using non-permeable flooring (e.g., concrete or pavers), make sure you plan for drainage. Flat areas will hold water if there's no place for it to go!
– Consider Color
Indoors, you might include a feature wall in a room to break up space. Or, you might create a sense of transition from one area of an open floor plan to another using different paint colors or materials. This concept works well in outdoor spaces as well.
You can bring in color using plants or decorative elements. For example, by grouping plants that have silver leaves near entry points and dark leaved plants directly around your table, you create a sense of moving from outside inward.
Using color on decorative details such as a painted privacy fence, all similar colored planter boxes, or different colored path and flooring materials also helps outdoor spaces feel “roomy.”
– Add Furniture and Furnishings
The table is the heart of an outdoor dining room. However similar to an indoor dining room, furniture and furnishings can make significant design impacts.
Adding a fireplace, chimney, or firepit to your design creates warmth. Adding a fountain, birdbath, or water feature brings a sense of calm. A well-placed bench or sideboard offer places for plates and mimic indoor dining.
– Add Shelter
If you plan to use your table for daytime dining, sun protection is essential. Arbors, umbrellas, and picnic style shelters can all offer protection to meet your needs. Tall trees with lots of leaf mass can also create shade.
– Add Lighting
Rope lights lining the dining area and pathways offer some illumination and prevent possible trip hazards by showing the boundaries of the dining area. Overhead light strands provide affordable, easy ways to illuminate the table. Lanterns offer good tabletop lighting even in the wind.
– Use Fabric
Things like throw pillows, outdoor rugs, curtains, and cloth shades can all bring a space together. These elements also bring the indoors out and allow you to put a very personal stamp on the area. Use real linens even for ordinary meals to make your dining experience elegant.
Make sure to plan storage to protect these items when not in use. Or, consider covers to keep cloth coverings nice even when not in use.
– Emphasize the Table
In an outdoor dining room, the table is the focus. Adding interesting details around and on the table can make it stand out.
Consider putting a planter box in the center of the table to grow fresh culinary herbs. Or, add herb planters around the table. Create a table display of rock, moss, or succulents in areas where plants would dry out.
3. Plan your Process
Depending on how simple or complex your design plan is, it may take you a weekend to months to pull off your design plan. Make a list of steps involved, materials needed, and any special equipment required.
Then, set your schedule for pick-up or deliveries of materials. Create a schedule for the execution of your plan details.
Be realistic about the work needed. But, also to keep you on track, consider planning a dinner with guests shortly after your completion date. This will help keep you on track for completion and give you something to look forward to.
4. Execute Your Plan
Now it's time for the hard work. According to your plan, you may have some leveling to do, a table to build, holes to dig, plants to insert, and more. However, that's the fun stuff. Doing the work yourself, taking pleasure in the experience, and building your skills as you go are all part of being a good homesteader.
If you run into challenges, take a break. Think it through. Ask a friend or family for their thoughts. If you still can't find the answer, do a little internet research to see how others have handled it.
Leveling a site, for example, is not as easy as it seems. Our eyes play tricks on us. We think something is level. But really, we are just standing crooked!
Using things like an A-Frame level comes in handy. Laying out a few 2 x 4 x 8's and setting a bubble level on the lumber can work well for smaller spaces. Or, if you want to get skilled, borrow a friend's laser level and learn how to use it.
5. Enjoy a Fabulous Farm to Table Dining Experience
Enjoy the pleasure of setting at a beautiful table in the outdoors. Add personal items, like framed pictures or homemade coasters, at individual place settings. Prepare simple dishes that you can make in advance. That way you can sit, relax, and experience a fantastic farm to table dinner with your favorite people.
I hope you have a fantastic farm to table dinner in your own farm to table outdoor dining area shortly!