If thoughts of gathering round the table with family for Thanksgiving send your blood pressure through the roof, consider dining with strangers, seriously. They can’t sling dirt, they don’t know you. And even if they did, you’ll likely never have to see them again. It’s a win, win. Agritainment, a national trend that gives people a taste of the rural life, might be the solution for the holidays. This was my first experience and it got me thinking that this type of venue may be perfect for people who don’t exactly enjoy family dinners.
My husband and I were invited to experience one of Locavore Farm’s Dine On The Land events. What a treat! This was business and pleasure for me as I was scouting the location for a potential magazine story. The invitation came from Rachael Jones, AKA Farmer Jones, the owner of the farm and mastermind of the farm-to-table monthly dinners that feature organically grown, pasture raised meats and produce sourced from farms operating within a 10-mile radius of her Grant Park, IL, homestead.
The September dinner was her harvest celebration and began with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. As part of our dinner package, we each received three wooden coins, with the option to purchase more if necessary, redeemable for a variety of locally brewed beers as well as an amazing bourbon lemonade that went down waaay too easily. It was the perfect thirst quencher on a warm September evening and the kind of drink that could sneak up on you if you weren’t careful. One drink before dinner was plenty for me, I still had to operate my camera!
The heavily tatted hipster wait crew added to the ambiance and I was instantly in people watching mode. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly and conversation flowed easily between perfect strangers.
Children burned off a little energy and enjoyed fishing in the pond (poles and worms were provided) and guests meandered around the property until the dinner bell rang.
Heavy rainfall the day before the event flooded the pasture where the dinners are usually served so we were moved to the barn. Festoon lights and oil lamps casted an amber glow as night fell. Dining across from us was a singer from the Lyric Opera of Chicago. She was fascinating and eager to share her story. As she spoke, I couldn’t help wondering about the acoustics of the aluminum barn and the effect it would have if she suddenly burst into song. I secretly wished she would.
As each course arrived, conversation lulled and we savored every bite. From the tender beef, to a salad whose taste was not hidden with too much dressing, to the chicken with farro, there wasn’t a bad bite to be had. And the coconut mousse was out of this world.
As dinner came to an end, the band tuned up on stage (Farmer Jones’ deck) and guests headed out to the bonfire for smores. It was a wonderful experience, which can’t always be said for family gatherings. Perhaps the only stress is wondering what you will have in common with total strangers. But think about it, each person is there because they love, or want to experience, slow food. Start with that and let the conversation grow organically. If you’re in a pinch for Thanksgiving, I highly recommend Farmer Jones and Locavore Farm who will be hosting their Thanksgiving dinner November 18. Look into other Thanksgiving farm-to-table events happening across the country. It might be your best holiday dinner yet!