If you’re a CSA member—new or longtime—you may be visiting your farm regularly to pick up your CSA box or once in a while for a volunteer work day or some other event. Another great way for CSA members and nonmembers alike to spend time at a nearby farm is to reserve a seat at a white-tablecloth, multicourse dinner—in a field or barn—to dine on food grown or produced by local farms, accompanied by wine that might also be local. Below you’ll find a sampling of farm dinner series around the country, plus some other farm-related adventures.
Part of the draw of on-farm dinners is the culinary aspect, which often features well-known local chefs planning menus and preparing the food. The meal ticket might be spendy—prices vary from about $75 to over $200—but a portion of the price may benefit a farm-related nonprofit or a program providing reduced-cost CSA shares. The evening also usually includes a tour of the host farm.
In Connecticut, Dinners at the Farm will celebrate its 10th year this summer with 10 dinners at Barberry Hill Farm in Madison and White Gate Farm in East Lyme. The organization estimates it has fed 10,000 guests, donated $150,000 to various agricultural and humanitarian nonprofits, and purchased more than $200,000 worth of food and wine from more than 25 Connecticut farms, wineries, and other producers.
In Sherwood, Oregon (south of Portland), Our Table is a farmer/producer cooperative offering vegetables, fruit, meats, fish, and more for a CSA and an on-farm grocery. It will host three dinners this summer, and its Our Table in the Field dinners have been recognized by USA Today and Travel + Leisure as one of the best venues for on-farm dining. Dinners are set up in various locations across the 50-acre farm, each dinner featuring a local winery or brewery.
For exceptional meals in extraordinary locations, there’s Outstanding in the Field, which describes itself as a roving culinary adventure. Since 1999 a small traveling crew has been setting up dinner tables and feeding thousands of people at rural farms and urban gardens, on mountaintops and in sea caves, and on islands and ranches. A local chef and farmer work with the traveling crew. Online tickets sometimes sell out in minutes, even at a price tag of $200 plus. Locations for 2016 range from sea caves in Santa Cruz, California, to a ranch in Wyoming and a winery in Japan.
Oregon-based Plate & Pitchfork has 12 dinners scheduled this summer at local farms and wineries, but its most unusual event is an annual fully equipped, guided, and catered three-day raft adventure in Hell’s Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America. Participants are promised Class III and IV whitewater experiences, dramatic scenery, wildlife viewing, and fishing opportunities in addition to exceptional meals featuring Oregon-sourced food and wine. A portion of Plate & Pitchfork 2016 proceeds will go to two nonprofit groups, Oregon Tilth and Farmers Ending Hunger.
There are other wonderful ways to connect with farms that don’t involve white tablecloth dinners. In southern Wisconsin, FairShare CSA Coalition will hold its 10th annual Bike the Barns fundraiser bicycle tour along low-traffic roads in the southern Wisconsin countryside on September 18 and its hillier route fundraiser ride through the Driftless Region west of Madison on June 26. Proceeds from both events benefit FairShare and its Partner Shares program, which helps low-income families purchase local, organic vegetables through coalition member farms. The popular rides—capped at 150 riders for June and 550 for September—draw local and out-of-state riders alike and include stops at several farms, snacks, a catered lunch, and an after-party with live music, beer, and more food. Details and registration for both events are available on FairShare’s website: https://www.csacoalition.org/events/bike-the-barns/ and https://www.csacoalition.org/events/bike-the-barns-driftless/
For those who might prefer a less sweaty adventure than rafting or cycling, numerous culinary adventures are on offer at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Vermont, a historic 1,400-acre farm operated as an education-focused nonprofit. Pasture to Palate: A Farmstead Cheesemaking Journey is scheduled for May 24–26. The cost is $450, plus discounted lodging at the onsite Inn at Shelburne Farms. The dairy barns, pastures, and cheesemaking facility serve as the classroom during the three days that include farm-to-table meals and Vermont artisanal cheese tastings as well as guided wine, hard cider, and craft beer pairings. Other events on the Shelburne Farms calendar this summer include several Farm to Medicine Cabinet Plant Walks and a full-day Fermentation Workshop with fermentation expert Sandor Katz.
Farm dinners, farm tours (see our blog post on this topic), on-farm workshops, volunteering to help out at your CSA farm or a nearby community garden—what food and farm adventures are calling to you this spring?
About the author: This week’s blog post come from Martha Wagner, a Portland, Oregon-based food writer, gardener, and passionate advocate for sustainable living, wellness, and organic agriculture.
Featured photo at the top of the post shows an Our Table in the Field dinner; picture by Portland photographer Shawn Linehan.