There are many ways we can engage and interact with consumers that farmers are not yet taking advantage of. It’s sometimes easier said than done to do a farm tour. Location, logistics, and potential biological contamination are all roadblocks for many small farms that would otherwise love to generate revenue with a farm tour.
Coordinating portable toilets, keeping an eye on children, and even making the farm safe enough to host a crowd all add time and cost to a farm that may not be able to support it. It might be too much of a hurdle for a farmer to do this alone, so I see a wide-open space where folks can build businesses around running events with farmers—events that can include food, liquor, hay rides, interactive demonstrations, etc.
So putting aside the onsite farm tours, I recently attended a farm event that opened my eyes to a whole new kind of farm experience—a “farmers’ bounty” dinner.
Nick and I were up in Connecticut visiting Trifecta Ecosystems for their first “farm-to-table” dinner, and came away quite impressed with many aspects of what transpired.
Trifecta Ecosystems, which houses a large aquaponic farm, needed to harvest a lot of catfish to make room for some new fingerlings. There are a few legal hurdles which prevented them from selling the fish at their farmers market, so unloading the fish required some creativity on their part. Selling fish in aquaponics isn’t as lucrative or as easy as it looks on paper. Most experienced aquaponic farms don’t even consider potential revenue from the fish in their projections, so making this a profit center can be a challenge.
Working with a restaurant that is legally allowed to process whole fish was one of the most frictionless options, so thus bred their first farm-to-table dinner. (Side note: We were hoping to avoid using the farm-to-table lingo in this book, as we all know how overplayed it is, but in this case it actually felt like a true farm-to-table experience).
Everything about the event was fantastic. Local farms sourced the whole menu. Yes, there was LOTS of catfish on the menu, but there were many other items, too. It being mid-winter in Connecticut, working with other local farms for ingredients rounded out the menu. The combination of indoor and outdoor farms coming together to create a well-balanced menu for an upscale crowd was eye-opening. It showed me that if they can pull this off during that time of year and in that climate, none of us has any excuses. Even with catfish being so heavily featured, it felt right. It gave everyone a sense of what it used to be like before we were born, when you ate only what was available locally and seasonally.
The best thing about the night lay in the details. The style of restaurant they chose was a BYOB, family-style restaurant. This meant that instead of the waitstaff bringing out each course to each person, they would put it all on a large table and allow people to serve themselves. No individual orders, no special requests—just lots of options for everyone to choose from at their leisure.
This worked out great. We were in conversation with new friends the entire night, so the lack of interruption by the waitstaff was appreciated. They must have put out 20 different entrees and apps, so it would have been a heavy burden on the waitstaff. Instead, a team of two seamlessly managed 50 guests, routinely and efficiently.
The $85 ticket price felt like a deal, and that’s coming from someone who can count on one hand the amount of times he’s spent more than $50 on a meal.
The event served many purposes. As it took place at year-end, the hosts seized the opportunity to reflect on the past year and tell their story to the guests. It was great to hear how far they have come, and the fantastic meal showcased it all. Food isn’t just about flavor. It is about the people you share it with. On this night, to be sharing a meal with the farmers themselves and the community that supports them was memorable. It makes me think of 100 other possibilities that can be built off this type of event.
Layering a subscription or delivery service into an experience that makes me feel that connected to a seasonal bounty is something worth striving for.