Farms are universally comforting. From a young age we latch onto the wholesome imagery of idyllic farm life in children’s books. Handsome barns, neatly tended rows of vegetables, quaint farmhouses and sunny orchards are projected onto us in the most innocent way. The very notion that life is bright and productive on a farm not too far away stirs a deep sense of rightness in the world. Knowing that food is growing and a farmer is happy makes us feel better.
But the reality is that farms aren’t perfect. They’re busy and frantic and wonderfully chaotic. Farms vary in size, products and scope, but one of the most marked commonalities is the daily grind of the work and uncertainty of farm life. Most farmers thrive on the bustle of volatile weather, equipment breakdowns and the general challenges of running a business. The farming lifestyle is set to the backdrop of some of the countryside's most scenic settings, yet at the end of the day, it doesn’t feel much like a children’s storybook.
The closest thing to the farms of our imaginations are farm-to-table events. These on-farm parties have been popping up across the country for several years now, and the trend doesn’t seem to be fading away. As a farmer, I think they create a valuable intersection. Separating people from their regular lives and enveloping them in a big farm embrace is just the forward momentum our food system is hungry for.
The farm-to-table movement is so important because it reconnects the community with the farmers and the land where their food is grown. In our nation’s struggling food model that sources products from across the country, and internationally, we need urgent reminders that the foods we love grow close to home. On any given Saturday or Sunday during summer and fall, we can dine at beautiful farms around southern Wisconsin.
Most of our local farm-to-table events are held on farms that produce some or all of the vegetables, fruit and meat served on restaurant menus around town. Chefs from some of the best local eateries are brought in to create exciting dishes that are paired with local beers and wine. Folks flock to the county to learn about the host farm and drink in the authenticity of our collective agricultural roots.
At the end of July, Madison Magazine hosted a Farm-To-Feast Beer Brunch at my family’s CSA, Vermont Valley Community Farm in Blue Mounds. With a top-tier production behind the event, all we needed to do was coordinate produce availability with the guest chef, work out a few logistical details and lead farm tours for the guests. Our entire farm crew attended the brunch and for one fine morning, we all got to relax and see the farm through the lens of idle enjoyment.
Back in our farm boots the morning after, we shared stories of the people we had met during the brunch on our farm. We talked about the conversations we had, including the proper way to make the best cold brew with Just Coffee, why One Barrel Brewing Co.’s Kolsch Ale and orange taste good together and how Chef David Heide of Liliana’s and Charlie’s on Main named his two restaurants.
What felt meaningful to me were the face-to-face connections I made with our CSA members in attendance and the guests who didn’t know anything about our farm prior to the event. Spending time talking about our farm, each other's personal lives and shared excitement for food was an invigorating experience. This is a true testament that on-farm entertainment events create direct connections between the farmer and the eater.
The farm-to-table event concept is where the impression of farm life meets the pastoral splendor in which farmers live. In this in-between space that is a reality for no one, we can come together and celebrate the food that was produced so lovingly—at its source. The farmers can sit at the head of the metaphorical table and show their dedicated audience why they feel so passionate about their trade. It all comes down to the food, the community and the beauty of our local farms.