It has been a dream to host a formal dinner on our farm. It was an idea discussed long ago which finally came to fruition. The farm, though young, is out of infancy - somewhere in adolescence and ready for more formal entertaining. The Spring Clean-ups, Fall Festivals, all dress rehearsals for Saturday night's dinner in the field of Katchkie Farm.
What a production - with the Farm and the NYC based GP teams devoting weeks to concentrating on the hundreds of details: From dinner menu to equipment logistics; marketing tickets to media outreach; service steps to setting up outside; readying the fields to running a farm -all with the intent of creating a perfect dining scenario in a location with neither floor, kitchen, running water nor light.
It was a remarkable experience. The day was perfect. All hands converged on the farm, some Friday, with the backbone of the crew arriving Saturday morning. Dishes were unwrapped, tables with crisp linens were placed, gardens were weeded, clean up around the farm continued (while the truck and farm stand crew rolled out at 7 am to open the weekly farm stand in Delmar).
With every passing hour, another piece fell into place. The culinary team was ensconced in a nearby host kitchen (The Red Barn) by 10 am cooking from scratch with all local ingredients, ready at 3 pm to move to the field kitchen at the farm. (Talk about a new understanding of the phrase 'field kitchen')
The farm tractor plied another trade - party set up, with Farmer Bob expertly delivering equipment to its required spot.
Gradually, the elegant pair of dinner tables took shape, graced by bouquets of our farm flowers and touches of glassware and fine china. The Field House was set for cocktails. Wine was chilled, hors d'oeuvres plated as we prepared to greet our first arrivals.
As guests sat at the tables there was an emerging sense of community as 130 diners ate together as one large family. It was inspiring to hear the speakers each talk about his or her connection to local food, each finding their way along a different path.
There are several highlights I am digesting, each different and meaningful. I think this is what is so unique about the evening - that it touched so many powerful chords simultaneously and harmoniously.
It was a great pleasure to have 6 farms represented at the table - and the connection between them resembles a brotherhood absent from typical commercial life. Their shared passion, hardships, wisdom and camaraderie have forged a community wewitness with great respect. It is a daily way of life so different from our urban lives, yet built on the same fundamentals of respect for individuals, the land and the work.
From a purely professional perspective as a caterer, serving a perfectly cooked meal to 130 people simultaneously is no small feat when you consider the absence of electric power, running water and any form of shelter. And the service staff was not the seasoned city cater-waiter, but a local 'farm team' - what they lacked in polish they made up with passion. There was pride in their service, which enhanced the experience for diners and servers alike.
The speakers were delightful. It fell upon our neighboring farmer Jean-Paul Courtens/Roxbury Farm, to give a little taste of what the land that was to become Katchkie Farm was like before 2006. It was with a smile that he recalled warning us NOT to buy this property. It was, gently stated, a swamp. Three years of hard and thoughtful work, we were all witness to the fruitful efforts of Bob Walker, Katchkie Farm Manager. Before we grew vegetables, he grew the farm.
Was it chutzpah or intuition that led us to make plans that did not include a foul weather scenario? It was meant to be - as we planned our meal on one of the rare perfect evenings of this consistently rainy summer.
And while we were all celebrating the local growers, it was Farmer Bob who toasted the Chefs, for taking the raw ingredients into which the farmer pours so much love, and transforming it into such incredibly tasting meal. The circle is complete - the chef and diners laud the grower, who salutes the team that cooks. It is a symbiotic relationship and the mutual discovery feeds both passions.
As with any gathering of like-minded individuals, there were multiple discoveries of one or two degrees of separation between people. A farmer and a guest reconnected after decades - they had gone to grade school together. Another woman discovered a gentleman who was her close cousin's best friend. Under a star-lit sky, with a full moon on the wane, this kind of thing happened again and again.
A farm is a magical place where all kinds of things can grow. The evening was a dream come true for us. So many divergent groups of individuals converged around a shared love of food, support for eating locally, the desire to connect to the source of our food with a sense of adventure and curiosity.
There were no less than 3 generations at the table; some old enough to remember when eating local was not a movement, but all there was to eat. The youngest generation ran through the fields and the children's garden, completely at ease with what the middle generation is struggling to reconnect with - farm fresh meals, simply cooked, shared with family and strangers who become friends. Ideas sprouted, friendships bloomed, and the seeds were sown for the next gathering.
(many thanks to Johannes Courtens for the wonderful photographs)