There are some evenings out with friends that turn out absolutely, perfect. I experienced one such evening when invited to a farm-to-table dinner at St. Joseph’s Parish Hall in Farmington, Maine. Tickets were limited to 100 and they were sold out weeks in advance.
Farm-to-table has been a marketing tool in the food industry since Thomas Lipton used it to become a tea icon. Today, it has regained popularity. Putting aside what has become the often ostentatious restaurant versions of farm-to-table, we think of farmers working in fields and fishers crewing ships. We think of conversations with farmers at farmers markets. We anticipate healthy food and engaging company. Beyond the delicious, fresh foods, we envision a dinner detailed with rustic, country-style décor, perhaps, even involving candles.
The St. Joseph’s farm-to-table dinner did not disappoint. Upon entering, I was immediately entranced with the view of the perimeter of the hall adorned with anticipated country-styling, and autumn leaves highlighted with glistening white lights, which set a background for tables aligned in four rows down the length of the hall. Each length of tables had a burlap style runner down the center, on which were placed more leaves; carved, lighted pumpkins; bottles of fresh tomato juice, raw jersey milk, and cider.
Everyone would enjoy their dinner on white, rose-patterned china.
Local musicians played background music, as guests imbibed in conversation and appetizers consisting of goat’s milk mozzarella cheese, strawberries, grapes, crackers and lamb liver pâté. Dinner would be served family style.
Our meal was prepared by Chef Mike MacNeil and organized under Jen Taylor’s leadership. As pumpkins filled with pumpkin bisque; bowls of autumn cole slaw; and platters of meats raised on local farms arrived and were passed from neighbor to neighbor, I noted laughter and conversation that included ooooh’s and ahhhh’s, along with the standard “’would you please pass the mashed potatoes?” Frivolity reigned among diners and stayed through to the end of the meal. Theresa Overall, remarked on how happy everyone was as they enjoyed their food and shared from person to person. Her mother, Patricia Overall, visiting from Albuquerque, New Mexico, exclaimed she had never seen anything like it. Not only adults got into the high spirited meal. I spotted a little girl across the way, grinning from ear to ear as she sat on her daddy’s lap and settled into a generous slice of buttered bread.
(Photo credit: Lillian Lake) Jon Blanchard and daughter Abigail
The Catholic Rural Life Commission hosted event was the brainchild of Father Paul Dumais, who had newly arrived this past summer to lead the Farmington St. Joseph’s Parish congregation. I noted his genuine smile, as he mingled and chatted; shook hands and offered hugs. Soon he settled at the table where I sat with family and friends. Who says the universe doesn’t provide? My friends had told me that not only is he a priest and was raised in a farming family, but he is also a bread baker of some renown and had provided the bread for the meal. In chatting with him, I further learned of his expertise with buckwheat and ployes – French Canadian pancakes – and began forming a future column! I learned that many of his friends from the Presque Isle, Maine area were attending the dinner. You must know I made it a point to meet some of them and discovered one family is friends with my potato, farming-friend, Jim Gerritsen, President of OSGATA and one of my colleagues in developing the Maine GMO labeling law. I love when connections come together, proving that we are all connected and of one family.
While I enjoyed joyfully eating and partaking of the marvelous beverage options, I thought of how the terms “church supper” and “farm-to-table” differ. Church suppers, like farm-to-table, generally make us think of community members coming together to share food, drink, and conversation, but today they often do not get the turnout and anticipated excitement “farm-to-table” events create. I thought about how farmers eat farm-to-table every day and were the originators of the food movement. My interpretation is that while most of us outwardly acclaim the charm of a farm-to-table dinner and opportunity to celebrate farmers and fishers, we may not be able to as adequately express in words, our recognizing the resiliency and power of hard-working farmers and fishers. Within each of us there is this yearning to be as equally resilient and powerful. Through the power of food at a farm-to-table dinner, with those characteristics we are allowed to make acquaintance.