So you have a constant group of friends or customers that buy from your farm regularly (or maybe just a group of friends) and you want to host a farm-to-table dinner for them to both show off your bounties and to show them your appreciation.
From a money aspect, if you are hosting the party to bring in profit, you might find it does better than other things you are currently doing.
You want to make it the least amount of stress as possible and here is your how to guide. So read on, my fellow farmer friends.
How to Host the Perfect Farm-to-Table Dinner
1. Use Items You Already Have
If your farm is anything like mine, we have a ton of mason jars. This makes things easier because I can use the mason jars for a number of different ideas for the farm-to-table dinner, including cups to drink out of, vases for the flowers, and holders for the silverware and papers straws you can bet I am going to use.
Likewise, if you have picnic tables, use them. If it is fairly low-key and you don't have tables, borrow from somebody. If that is not an option either, consider doing your dinner picnic style with blankets on the ground. The key here is to show off your beautiful land and the delicious food you grow while spending time with people you care about, not making this a cookie cutter, straight from a magazine (yet totally doldrum) night.
2. Use Food from your Garden
Try and use food that is from your own garden or your personal collection. If you personally cannot grow the food yourself, reach out to local farmers. The goal of a farm-to-table dinner is to have local, seasonal food. I also like the idea of using items that are already canned. This is especially a great idea if you are hosting a winter dinner and local fruits and vegetables are a little more scarce.
A big key you are going to hear me say over and over though is don't make this a stressful time. Create your favorite recipe, grill out. If you feel best preparing a four-course dinner that is elaborate, go for it. If you are a burger and potatoes kind of person, the show off those yummy additions and create a DIY burger station dinner. Added bonus if you have ice cream afterward!
One thing to consider is the menu. With a farm-to-table meal, you want to have a recipe in mind given the season but don't set your limits on that one meal. If you put it in the books a month a head of time and the crops have a different agenda, this would be bad. Instead, let your guest know a day or two ahead what the menu will be.
3. Let the Kids Get Crafty
On the holidays when I was a kid my grandmother used to put out butcher paper and pull it across the kids' table until the table “runner” had gone from one end to another. Then she sat out a bucket with crayons in it and my sister and I would go to town, coloring. We had no clue and really didn't care, what the adults were up to.
I still do this for my kids and now for my nieces and nephews as well. I take it a bit further though and when we have family and friends over I let the girls make different crafts to help decorate the table. For example, one year we made place cards that had turkeys. The turkey's feathers were the girls' thumbprints. Another year we made turkeys out of Oreos and other candy items.
I shared the picture above because you could also add a picture of the people coming, sharing a fun memory with them that would also be a nice keepsake to take home.
4. Pick Some Great Tunes
If you are close friends with the people headed out to the farm, then picking tunes should be no problem. On the other hand, maybe you don't know them all that well on a musical level. If this is the case I recommend picking a combination of soothing music and more contemporary music. Having a nice mixture will help break things up.
Also, don't have it up too loud. You want your guests to be able to talk to one another.
5. Consider Your Crowd
If this is your first time hosting a farm-to-table dinner, I suggest going with a smaller number of friends/customers at the event. It is better to start small and work your way up. When it is small, consider this as an exclusive event for just your closest friends or your most valued customers. Making it small, warm, and inviting in the beginning can be just as nice as a large event. Make sure they know how much it means to you that they are there.
If you get to a point where you have larger events and find that you have a few extra chairs, why not bless someone who does good deeds in your community or invite someone that you believe will bring good conversation to your group?
6. Do It Legally
This is the less-than-fun part of hosting a party but one that is crucial that we get it right; after all, nobody wants to go to jail for feeding people. The easiest way to know if your event has any hoops that need to be jumped through is to talk to a lawyer.
If this seems too expensive, then ask someone who is already doing what you want to do. Talk to other farmers in the community and most would be happy to explain what you have to go through in order to host your dinner.
7. Remember Your Style When Creating the Event
This goes back to making it less stressful. Consider the image you want your farm to be.
I am a home economics teacher and my students have a catering business at the school. We are just starting out so if we have a bigger event, our plates don't all match but each item was donated to the school and has a special place in the communities' hearts because it is a part of who we are. One day we may have all matching plates and a dining room that resembles the restaurants my students are lucky enough to get to visit, but for now, we are proud of what we have.
Likewise, start with what you have, create the atmosphere you want and it may stay that way by your choice or as time goes on it will turn into something different. We are always evolving but the goal is to enjoy the here and now, matching plates or not.
8. Create Pizzaz
Especially if you are having a person pay to come to the dinner, you want to make sure they are getting their money's worth. For many customers, this trip to the farm is a chance to spend a few hours outside of the city. To see the stars.
Some different ways to give them the extra bang for their buck is to think outside the box. For my students, our pizzaz comes from the centerpieces that were made by their friends in the floral design class next door.
For the farm, there are many different ideas you could come up with. Some examples include taking them on a farm tour; after all, kids and adults alike typically love seeing animals in their natural habitat. This gives them a chance to really connect with your farm and what you do.
Explain to them how you prepared the fennel in the manner you did, why the carrot salad is so healthy, etcetera. This allows them to not just have an experience but to really bring that experience back to life. Maybe they go home with the recipe card that was at their name card and try to recreate it. Or they think about the pigs as they eat a piece of bacon that was raised on your farm.
Fireworks are a good way to bring pizzaz if you can add it to your budget and your area doesn't have a ban on these things. If you are hosting the event during the fall, consider having a hay ride or bonfire. S'mores are always a good idea- one of the few recipes that are perfect year round!
9. Bring Out the Locals
I mentioned this before but it's worth repeating, especially as your dinners get larger – bring in other farmers or artisans. This helps broaden both your network base and theirs, which is beneficial to everyone involved. This is one more way to create a community of people who think like-mindedly, allowing for more great ideas to flow and new friendships to be made.
Maybe there is a great cheese maker in your town, or maybe your neighbor is a rancher who makes fabulous steaks. These are good options if you want to collaborate with a farmer; however, there are some farmers who host dinners and know that recipe creation and cooking is not their area of expertise. In this instance, it is best to work with a local chef.
Here in Dallas, we have a great chef who is well known for his farm-to-table dinners. In order to keep costs down, you could also work with a chef-in-training who is interested in the local movement.
10. Planning is Key
Planning your party is essential to minimizing stress when hosting an event and each task must be given enough time. Having an agenda set out on a piece of paper really helps. It is also important to communicate with everyone involved, from the volunteers to the chefs and other businesses you bring on board for the event.
Just remember- you don't want to leave too much for the day or workers will be running around as guests are arriving. Set up earlier if possible.
Likewise, if you don't prepare for a proper takedown time you might get stressed having to tear down while needing to prepare for your CSA boxes during the following week or farmer's market trip, or well, you get the idea.
11. Don't Forget the Minute Details
There are little things people forget about that make a difference. Things such as parking space and access to fans. In Texas, it gets extra hot in the summer so keeping it cool during an outdoor event is important. For us super hot areas, it might also be best to host our events in the early spring and late fall when the days are warm but the nights are cooler. Not to mention the added benefit from the leaves changing colors to add a beautiful pop of color.
Another important aspect to consider is the bug (especially mosquito) population. Adding certain flowers or citronella candles would be a great way to accomplish this goal.
Thinking about the little things and the big things (the pizzaz) will make sure that the customers are happy with their experience.
12. Think About Your Drink
It seems wineries are popping up everywhere here lately. I have a favorite beverage from Tennessee (blackberry summer by Stonehaus Winery) and have noticed that Southern Illinois has a lot of beautiful vineyards as well. So it is no longer necessary to pick alcohol up from places that are thousands of miles away from you.
If alcohol does not play well with your farm's style then consider having several non-alcoholic options. Some good ideas include lemonade, tea (both sweet and unsweet) and even bottled water.
Mojitos, mock or otherwise, are a great idea if you have mint in your garden. Flavored water is really delicious as well.
Wrapping it Up
Having a farm-to-table dinner is one way to bring in extra resources while having a great time with people who share similar ideas about food as you. Make sure to have all your i's dotted and t's crossed. Start small and build your way up if you so desire.
Food and fellowship is one great way to create a community of people who care about their food and where it came from. Let me see your next farm-to-table dinner!