Farm dining brings customers close to the source
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 hometowns and whether anyone has been to such an event before.
This group is gathered at Volante Farms in Needham for the first Dinner in the Field of the year, one in a series the farm hosts during the growing season. The series is in its third year.
Farms in Concord, Groton, Newton, and Weston are among the locations across the area that offer such summertime feasts. Some offer dinner right out in a field, where guests dine while watching the sun set; others set up under tents or in barns or greenhouses.
Some farms prepare the food, and others bring in chefs just for these dinners, which can be delivered on plates, served buffet-style or family-style, or some combination. Some have wine pairings or cash bars. Some are large, accommodating up to 180 people, and others are small, with 50.
While each farm’s dinner is distinctive, one common thread is the desire to highlight their fresh produce and collaboration with local vendors, giving guests a more intimate connection with the source of their food. They also give farmers and chefs the opportunity to be a little creative.
At Volante Farms, resident chef Todd Heberlein says the summer dinner is “one of the best events we do all year long.”
This night, the tables are spread with white tablecloths and burlap runners; mason jars filled with freshly picked flowers serve as decoration. A menu at each place outlines the dishes and drinks that diners can expect that evening (the dinner has a beer versus wine theme, and there are pairings for each course), and servers soon come around with bamboo plates (all the plates, utensils, and glasses used are compostable) carrying beet gnocchi, an “amuse-bouche’’ to kick off the meal.
Heberlein takes the microphone, proclaims his love for beets, and explains each component of the dish and how it’s made, and then the guests dig in, enjoying the bounty right there at its source.
Three savory courses follow, and then dessert. Each course is made with home-grown produce and products from local vendors, such as miniature English muffins specially made for the event by Stone & Skillet, and meats from New England Charcuterie.
Produce is incorporated in numerous ways, from the herbed water to pineapple sage jelly and pickled rhubarb that went with pork bacon, and a bowl of mixed lettuces that was part of the salad course. Fresh produce was even found in the dessert, in the form of a dark-chocolate zucchini cake.
Heberlein says the dinners are “a great way to bust out, get creative, and have fun.” He adds that 90 percent of the farm’s 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 said; he had them save the shells, which he used to make a stock for the pasta.
Most important, he said, the dinners are a way to showcase the farm’s produce and celebrate the harvest. There are 35 to 40 varieties of vegetables being grown in Volante Farms’ three fields.
Meanwhile, at Newton Community Farm, on Nahanton Street in Newton Centre, a farm dinner has been produced annually for the last eight years, and is “a way for people to spend time at the farm and really celebrate the farm,” explains Craig Greiner, who serves as a spokesman for the nonprofit operation.
This year’s dinner was held Tuesday, and honored Sam and Margaret Fogel, avid gardeners who have been active at the farm and are always happy to help others, according to Greiner. Jon Orren, who teaches culinary arts at Newton South High School, cooked everything for the event with help from his students. The fee for the meal covered the food as well as contributed to Newton Community Farm’s education program.
At Verrill Farm in Concord, the dinners are casual, buffet-style events — the dishes are arrayed on a wagon — and include a tour of the property.
Jennifer Verrill Faddoul said the family gets inspiration from what’s in the fields, and holds the dinners because they just “really love cooking.” They use beef from the farm in addition to produce. The dinners are held under a tent, and guests dine at picnic tables to the music of a classical guitarist.
Verrill Farm is also the site of the Stone Soup Dinner, an event hosted by Concord’s Agricultural Committee. The benefit gathering accommodates 350 guests, and local farms and food establishments donate their supplies for the meal. Proceeds go to help young farmers.
Gibbet Hill Farm in Groton has been hosting farm dinners for about seven years. They are held in the Barn at Gibbet Hill, but start with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on a deck and include a tour of the farm.
Chef Tom Fosnot develops the menu, based on the harvest. It is usually posted three to four weeks in advance. The dinners are “really a celebration of our harvest, a chance to highlight/showcase all the harvested crops, and to share our philosophy on sustainability,” says Amy Severino, marketing director at Gibbet Hill.
Land’s Sake in Weston hosts a dinner each fall that executive director Ed Barker calls “a year-end celebration of the harvest season,” and also serves as a fund-raiser for the nonprofit community farm.
On the large side, the dinner accommodates 180 guests and is a plated affair, served held under a tent. This year, a local sustainable caterer, Forklift Catering, will be doing the cooking.
In addition to the harvest dinner, Land’s Sake also has a bimonthly supper club series. These BYOB dinners are held in the barn of the Josiah Smith Tavern, also in Weston, and are prepared by chefs from across Greater Boston.