Food in a field: Farm dinners connect community to food, farmers
HARWOOD, N.D. – Farm-to-table dining became a table-on-the-farm experience on a warm, sunshiny August evening here.
The pasta was prepared Italian style, but it was North Dakota-grown, and the setting was undeniably Midwestern.
More than 100 guests gathered in the middle of a field here at Peterson Farms Seed to dine on a five-course meal and learn about food made from crops grown in the Flickertail State.
The long U-shaped line of tables with white linens situated in front of rows of crops like soybeans, corn, sugar beets and slouchy sunflowers, let guests know it was a banquet in a field.
Connecting people with food and farmers
CommonGround North Dakota, a national movement of farm women working to help dispel myths about farming and food safety and rebuild trust in farm families, hosted its first-ever Banquet in a Field to connect people with food and the farmers who grow it in order to promote a better understanding of agriculture.
“I’ve always loved the idea because I’m a North Dakota farmer’s daughter and connected so much to the ingredients that we grow in North Dakota that I always had a passion to try to connect people back to what’s in the crops in the field,” says CommonGround volunteer coordinator Katie Pinke, who helped organize Banquet in a Field. “For most of my life, I wanted to say ‘That can of baked beans? We grow those beans. That can of Bud Light you’re drinking? We grow that barley.’ I think that people want to know where their food comes from and they want that connection.”
Events like Banquet in a Field have grown in popularity in the last few years, first starting in states like New York and California and now cropping up in many cities across the U.S.
Besides Banquet in a Field, a few other local farms have or will host similar-type dinners.
In late July, Forager Farm in Windsor, N.D., hosted Outstanding in the Field, a nationwide traveling “culinary adventure” where attendees tour a farm and then dine together on local food.
Probstfield Farm in Moorhead will host a sold-out Sunday Supper at the Farm on Sept. 7, and like other farm dinners, it includes local food prepared by chefs.
Julie Peterson, who hosted Banquet in a Field with her husband, Carl Peterson, first considered the idea of a farm supper when she saw a magazine photo of a dinner in an alfalfa field. She knew a similar event in North Dakota could lead to more conversations about agriculture.
Many people, Peterson says, are interested in agriculture and food but don’t know where to start – maybe they don’t know a farmer.
At Banquet in a Field, appetizer stations situated by rows of crops encouraged people to sample snacks like edamame salad and corn fritters while talking with local farmers who grow the crops.
“Let’s not just serve food in the field, let’s connect them to what the crop actually looks like while it’s growing,” Peterson says. “I think most people are yearning for their roots, and many of their roots are based in farming, in agriculture but they’re one and two generations removed.”
‘Renaissance of getting to know the farmers’
Craig Hertsgaard, a fifth-generation farmer in Kindred, N.D., discussed sugar beets and soybeans with interested guests, explaining how they grow, what happens at a processing plant and where they’re shipped.
The information’s second nature to farmers like Hertsgaard, but there were no silly questions. He wanted to help people better understand the local agricultural community.
“We spend very little time talking to our next-door neighbors in Fargo about what we do. We assume that everyone in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo understands what we’re doing because they drive by it on the roads all day,” he says.
Hertsgaard says it’s more common for him to give a farm tour to someone from Louisiana or another country than it is for him to chat with a local resident.
Pinke hopes events like Banquet in a Field can change that.
“We have this amazing asset right in our own backyard, yet we get in our routine and we never drive out to visit our farmers,” she says. “I think there’s a renaissance of getting to know the farmers.”
Meeting farmers has been a personal endeavor for Tony and Sarah Nasello, the evening’s chefs and owners of Sarello’s Restaurant & Wine Lounge in Moorhead.
The couple set out this summer, along with their 9-year-old son, Giovanni, to visit a new place in North Dakota every weekend.
“We really wanted to know more about what drives our state,” says Sarah Nasello, who writes a weekly column in The Forum. “We drive around the state and look at all these places and wonder ‘What is life like out here?’ ”
Although they typically don’t cater, the Nasellos made an exception for the farm dinner, preparing everything from homemade flax seed crackers to gazpacho to amaretto peaches and cream shortcake.
They had some help, too. Volunteers from local Future Farmers of America chapters served the food while members of North Dakota State University’s BBQ Bootcamp grilled the beef tenderloin.
“It was really intentional to put people who are outside of the farming world smack dab in the middle of it with farmers all around who represented every crop that was there who could tell them exactly what they’re doing on their farm, exactly how that plant is grown, what it means and answer some of the questions we face these days with our food sources,” Nasello says. “Farmers tell you as much as you want to know.”
CommonGround anticipates planning another Banquet in Field, and they’d like to expand the event to include others across the state, Pinke says.
The inaugural event was free to guests due to sponsorship from the North Dakota Soybean Council, North Dakota Corn Growers Association, Peterson Farms Seed, North Dakota Soybean Council, North Dakota Lamb and Wool Producers and the North Dakota Beef Commission and Napoleon Livestock.
“What better way to grow community and relationships in our growing state than to connect them back to the land and where their food comes from,” Pinke says. “There’s something about sharing bread and sharing food that you know came from the land and sharing that food experience where you feel a connection to the person who grew it. Farmers, they’re proud of what they do.”