BOISE, Idaho — For one night a year, a neighborhood farm in northwest Boise turns into a respite for singles who are tired of the same old dating scene.
A poster board planted at the entrance of Earthly Delights Farm in late June advertised "Weed Dating," with a heart-stamped arrow guiding visitors to a sign-in table, where they were each assigned a number and invited to sample beer provided by a local brewer.
The farm is among a handful across the country offering an unconventional form of speed dating. Typically, speed daters meet at a bar or restaurant and switch conversational partners every few minutes, in hopes of finding someone compatible. With weed dating, this rapid-fire courtship takes place on the farm, with singles working together in the fields.
The payoff for their toil? A chance at romance.
Joe Peraino, 27, met his previous girlfriend while weed dating at the Boise farm last year. They were together for nine months and found that few others couples could top their account of how they met, said Peraino, who has since relocated to South Carolina.
"It's a pretty fun story, because it's not like a known thing, weed dating. A lot of people are like, `So, were you on a pot farm?'"
Casey O'Leary, 33, owns the Earthly Delights Farm and first heard of the idea from a farm in Vermont. Farms in states that include Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio have also advertised similar weed dating events. O'Leary organized her first weed dating last year for about 20 people, including some friends and interns on her farm.
More than 40 men and women showed up for this year's weed dating.
"I feel bad if we don't have the right people for the right people," O'Leary said before addressing the crowd. "We're all weirdos, in general, people, we're all weirdos right? So like, it's just a matter of if the right weirdos show up."
In her role as matchmaker, O'Leary shook a small tambourine to catch everyone's attention and reassured those who had already started to eye each another that everybody would be paired up with everybody over the course of the evening.
With ages ranging from early 20s to early 50s, O'Leary also provided a small disclaimer.
"Obviously, there are some matches that probably are not appropriate, age-wise, and that's OK," she said. "We're all adults, so just have a good time."
Here's how it works: Each of the ladies will be assigned to a specific row, with more instructions to follow after "we get you into the beds," O'Leary said, prompting nervous snickers that erupted into laughter as the tension eased. The women were given a crash course in how to identify a weed versus a vegetable or fruit, and then instructed to pass that information along to the men, who rotated from each bed every three minutes.
"Please don't pull out our crops. This is a working farm," O'Leary said before sending them off.
With the dating in full swing, O'Leary moved between the neat rows of lettuce, strawberries, eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. She said she likes the idea of helping gardeners and people with similar interests find each other. But seeing people weed her farm is also nice.
"I'm not a hookup coach, I'm a farmer," O'Leary said, her sinewy hands and dirt-incrusted fingernails proving her point.
Amy Johnson, 29, a Spanish elementary school teacher, heard about the event last year but couldn't make it.
"It's one of those life experiences that I might not always be able to get so why not take advantage of it this year?" Johnson said. "I'm not much into dating, like speed dating or like, online dating. But it's always fun to meet new people."
Weeding is actually one her favorite activities, she said, adding: "Last year I was joking that if I would have weeded with my ex-boyfriend, we probably would have never gotten together ... He was not a very good weeder."
Brian Cox, a 47-year-old artist and musician, came looking for a new way to meet people.
"The typical speed dating, it's just kind of awkward," Cox said. "But this is just beautiful, because it's like outside, it's very organic. Literally."
Joe DeGano, 46, a sales and marketing manager for a company that manufactures clutch components for motorcycles, said he was there "to meet chicks, to fall in love."
But for the more-reserved, the farm provided numbered mason jars that corresponded with the numbers assigned to each participant, just in case any of the weed daters were too shy to approach someone directly and wanted to instead leave a note.
That was how Peraino, an intern at the farm last year, communicated with a woman named Jenn at last year's event.
He described himself as somewhat shy, but at weed dating he found himself surrounded by people with similar interests. There were activists, gardeners, and outdoor enthusiasts.
"What I find is if you go to bars, you don't really know what people's interests are," he said. "You can't really walk into a bar and complain about climate change or peak oil without having people look at you weird. That would probably scare off a lot of people."
Jessie L. Bonner can be reached at www.twitter.com/jessiebonner