A farm-to-table event is a natural addition to any group itinerary, as the execution of one—like most meetings—relies on teamwork and communication.
Farmers join with local chefs who then connect with meeting planners to facilitate these events that showcase fresh and delicious food and promote networking and camaraderie.
“Conversation is the most important aspect of a farm-to-table event—it’s about making connections,” said Wanda Patsche, a farmer and blogger from southern Minnesota. “Allow attendees to ask questions of the farmers either by having conversation-starters at the table or allowing a short Q&A after the meal.”
Planners interested in hosting a special farm-focused meal will find that area CVBs, restaurants, caterers and outfits like Outstanding In the Field (OITF), a company that travels the country “setting tables at the source of ingredients,” are all helpful resources.
According to Eden Reilly, OITF’s general manager, the company has connections across the country with local farms and regional chefs, and groups are welcome to either get tickets to a planned event or call to arrange a private one.
“Our approach is about simplicity and community—we’re the roadies, the farmers are the rock stars,” she said. “Our goal is to put the spotlight on them and educate our guests about what it takes to put good food on the plate. We purposely keep the table very spare so the focus is on the food, the beautiful natural setting and the people gathered. If you’re lucky, you might sit next to the farmer or one of the other local purveyors who provided ingredients for the guest chef’s menu.”
The farm-to-table movement is at full pace throughout the Midwest, where planners with the time and the budget should strongly consider one of these events for an off-site meal function.
“For most attendees, it’ll be a very unique experience they won’t soon forget,” Patsche said. “Farm-to-table events easily rise to the top for pure enjoyment and satisfaction.”
On the Farm
Throughout the Midwest, there are many farms near or in meetings-friendly destinations that will host a group gathering.
A few representative options are Chicago-based City Farm; Valley Center, Kan.-based Elderslie Farm near Wichita; Thaxton’s Organic Garlic in Hudson, Ohio, not far from Cleveland; and Raymond, Neb.-based Branched Oak Farm near Lincoln.
And the list goes on and on.
In Champaign, Ill., Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery hosts group events on its patio or, in case of inclement weather, in the barn dining room.
“We tailor menus to the group’s interests and offer ingredients that are in peak season of freshness,” said Leslie Cooperband, co-owner of the farm. “We like to offer menus that incorporate our cheeses, goat-milk gelato and other dairy products. We also have a farm garden and work with other local, sustainable farms to source most of our ingredients.”
In-between meal courses, groups are encouraged to either take a guided tour or wander freely around the farm, and Cooperband added that a cooking demonstration or a lesson in jam-making or pickling can also be arranged.
Fresh eggs, whey-fed pork, grass-fed cheeses and ice cream, and seasonal veggies, including heirloom tomatoes, green beans and rainbow carrots, are among the items groups may find on their plates at Zionsville, Ind.-based Traders Point Creamery (TPC).
“The natural beauty of our farm, the serene atmosphere and the fresh beautiful food help cultivate connection and creativity within a group,” said Gail Alden, TPC’s director of marketing and events. “We can host a wide variety of events, from casual picnic-style gatherings or business buffets to elegant cocktail and dinner parties.”
The organic dairy farm has several wonderful spaces for group meals, including The Roost, a private event room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the garden, barns and pastures, and the Red Barn, a historic 1870s structure with natural light that accommodates up to 250 people.
“Groups that host meetings or events here often like to include a tour before or after their gathering,” Alden said. “It’s a lovely way to enjoy the full farmstead experience, from the pasture to the plate.”