It’s 6 p.m. and the sun is still shining on fields of young corn. Tables arranged in front of the crops start filling up with people. Many have come in pairs and the first to sit engage in quiet conversations.
As newcomers arrive, introductions are made, and soon whole table conversations are happening as if everyone already knows one another. There’s talk of food and gardening and where everyone’s from and whether anyone has been to such an event before.
This group is gathered at Volante Farms in Needham for the summer’s first Dinner in the Field, a series of events the farm hosts during the growing season.
Farms in Cohasset, Newton Centre, Concord, Weston, and Groton are among other local farms that offer summer-time feasts. Some offer dinner right out in the field, where you can dine while watching the sun set; others set up under tents or in barns or greenhouses.
Some farms have their own chefs and others bring in chefs just for these dinners, which can be plated, buffet-style, family-style, or some combination of those styles. They could have wine pairings or cash bars. Some are large, accommodating up to 180 people, and others are small, with 50. The cost ranges from about $50 to almost $200.
While each farm’s dinner is distinctive, the common thread is the desire to highlight their fresh produce and collaboration with local vendors, to give guests a more intimate experience with the farm and a connection to the food and the farmers, and to give farmers and chefs the opportunity to be a little creative.
At Holly Hill Farm in Cohasset, farm director Cindy Prentice says they have the dinners “because they’re in demand and they’re fun.” She says people enjoy connecting farm to table.
The farm is certified organic and has a focus on education, so the dinner is partly a fund-raiser to support its outreach programs.
Prentice notes that they go for “farm chic,” with mismatched linens and plates, recycled jelly jars, and farm bouquets. The dinners are relaxed, casual, and fun, and are prepared by local chefs: The upcoming dinner on Saturday will be prepared by Sam Cabral-Curtis of the Corner Stop in Cohasset.
While many farms post dinner menus beforehand, Prentice says Holly Hill usually does not: “It’s better that way — as anticipation builds.”
In November, the dinner moves into the greenhouse, which is heated with a wood stove and decorated with twinkling lights.
Meanwhile, at Volante Farms, chef Todd Heberlein says the dinners are “one of the best events we do all year long.”
Heberlein says the dinners are “a great way to bust out, get creative, and have fun.” He adds that 90 percent of the staff get involved with the dinners and put in a lot of overtime in the days leading up to the main event. Employees from the ice cream stand pitched in by shelling peas for the pasta dish; Heberlein had them save the shells, which he used to make a cooking stock for the pasta.
Most important, he said, the dinners are a way to showcase the farm’s produce and celebrate the harvest.