Two days after the weekend, and I am still digesting the experience of dinner in the field at Katchkie Farm. It was much more than just a dinner as there was so much effort and activity leading up to it and the unexpected drama as the cocktail hour approached. And the process of unwinding and putting things back into place is never simple.
The work began several weeks ago, preparing the farm to receive 160 guests. Cover crops, burn pile plans, mowing, putting the farm 'toys' in their place -- tinkering with the visual landmarks like a host would do in getting one's home ready -- all become items on the farmer's to-do list. Taking out the torches, cleaning the giant grill, moving the mobile chicken coop (so the chickens aren't in the middle of the party), finding the parking ropes and cones; all the stuff that comes out for party time, is another ritual. All this gets done while the farm kicks into high gear as the season is in full swing. Harvest for the city, harvest for the CSA, harvest for the farmers markets and now -- harvest for the chef's cooking list too. It's the ultimate experience in fresh food.
The first of us arrive on Friday, each with our own short list. Mine included stocking up on our favorite locally brewed vodka -- CORE -- made from apple cider at Golden Harvest Farms; checking in with Chris at The Red Barn, who not only invited our chefs to use her kitchen space, but also provided us with the worlds most sinful homemade potato chips; scooting over to Samascott Orchards for 2 flats of the most amazing, fat blueberries I have ever tasted; and picking up the season's very first corn from our neighbors at Roxbury Farm.
And while checking items off of the Saturday Dinner Party List, we plan a small pre-party dinner at the farmhouse as a sort of unofficial kick off for the big meal. For that, a trip to the Chatham Coop and its Friday farmer's market as well as a visit to Our Daily Bread for irresistible desserts and bread. Dinner for Friday night had mushroomed from a small handful (5 or 6) to a multi-generational bash as we were joined by a posse of teens, led by my daughter, with a giant tent to be pitched in the woods that would hold them all.
Sunset was nothing less than brilliant, with the pond reflecting the most vibrant shades of pink and crimson. While some caught a quick swim, others found their knives and cutting boards, while a few thankfully ducked into the fields for herbs and vegetables. I took it upon myself to stand behind my camera and memorialize what was transpiring. It was a delicious, hilarious, stimulating and enlightening evening as 18 of us shifted from city to farm time. The tent sleepers wandered off around midnight, the dishwasher was loaded; people and animals stuffed and tired -- all drifted off to sleep.
Early morning Saturday, the farm was cloaked in fog while the teenagers in the tent emerged and immediately plunged into the pond. Did they even sleep? The farm crew was charged with harvesting all the garlic and welcomed the dozen extra hands. The farm truck rolled out early to Delmar where our weekly spot at the farmers market awaited. More co-workers arrived and busied themselves with the task of laying out and setting two tables, each at least 60 feet long. The chefs converted the spotless washroom into a spotless farm kitchen, the grills were fired up and the meal was taking shape. One would think we did this every week - it was smooth and organized. And the skies were blue.
Now imagine looking off into the distance and seeing storm clouds gathering. We know they are heading to us, there is no tent, it is 30 minutes till the official start time and cocktails, and everything is on the tables -- glassware, napkins, menus, plates and flowers. Farmer Bob flies to the local hardware store and returns instantly with spools of plastic. Teams of helping hands flank the tables and they are covered before the torrential rain hits. Not more than 5 minutes later, it stops and we assess the damage -- a few soaked cloths, wet seats, a few shattered glasses and a very wet group of volunteer servers. Someone wins the wet t-shirt contest. We recover and reset. But of course, Mother Nature refused to let us off that easily. 20 minutes later, as guests began to arrive, the drill was repeated. Rain clouds, rolls of plastic, coordinated effort -- tables covered again (a little more expertly this time!) and another magnificent downpour. But this was the final rain of the evening (till the wee hours) and now, the guests and our staff, were ready to celebrate our temporary triumph over nature and our gathering.
It was a perfect night -- from tours of the children's garden, to the music and treats from the pizza oven, to the gathering at the dinner tables for a local meal that would long be remembered. The farm is the new Mecca, for country and city folks. A place where strangers became family as we all sat around the communal tables sharing stories and ourselves. Some faces were familiar, others first time friends -- but now forever bonded by the experience of eating off the land and sharing the bounty of the season. And our cause celebre - to raise funds for The Sylvia Center and the Columbia Land Conservancy, was successful.
The evening flew by; the sun set behind the majestic Catskill Mountains and the sky was flooded with stars. Guests left, the crew broke down in the dark (a technical term, not an emotional state) and headed home. A few die-hards gathered under the field house with a keg of beer, a few half full bottles of wine and some blueberries. We were treated to a magnificent lightening show as we unwound and savored the new memories of a successful dinner reliving menu highlights, conversations and making notes for next year. In the wee hours of the night, it poured -- a decent agricultural rain.
By morning, with the exception of a large garbage pile and a stack of party equipment under a small tent, the farm looked like a farm again. The chickens laid their eggs and a final breakfast meal of was prepared for a small group. Hopefully, Farmer Bob was able to find a few quiet Sunday hours. It is his favorite day -- "No crew" -- solitude and perhaps reflection. Write the game plan for the following week, which at Katchkie Farm, is always filled with the promise of the unexpected adventures. Like a downpour on a table set for 160 that becomes a memory we will be reminiscing about for many months to come.