Our agricultural forefathers would probably be baffled by an increasingly common scene around Boulder County in the summer months: well-dressed, well-educated folks from the city paying top dollar to sit outside, in a field, sometimes in thunderstorms or howling winds, to eat dinner. With strangers, no less! The Lyons Farmette, an agricultural education center, working farm, and events venue in Lyons was host to many such farm dinners this summer, and their wild success is testament to the fact that strangers become friends after a belly-warming meal in an idyllic setting.
During the 2012 season, Farmette farm dinner offerings included meals from Meadowlark (lovingly prepared in a bus-cum-kitchen named Bella), creations from the chefs of Boulder restaurants like Salt and Black Cat, and wood-fired pizza from Crust’s mobile oven. Ranging from $39-$75 per person, almost all of the farm dinners are BYOB. The dinner offerings are gleaned from the fields of the Farmette or other local farms, and meat and dairy products are Colorado proud, as well.
On a warm autumn night in September, I pedaled over to the Farmette to have dinner with Betsy and Mike–who run the Farmette–and about 30 others from up and down the Front Range. Our chef was Eric Skokan of Black Cat Bistro and Bramble and Hare. Before dinner, I had a chance to catch up with Eric, who began his day in the fields of his own farm. Threatened by the season’s first hard frost, Skokan and his crew pulled lots of tasty veggies off vines and out of the ground. “It was big, I mean really big,” Skokan said of that morning’s harvest.
One would think that manning two successful Boulder eateries and growing food and livestock on his own farm would keep Skokan more than adequately busy–and exhausted–however, spending time cooking and communing with us at the Farmette seemed to be exactly what Skokan wanted to be doing that evening. In the restaurants, said Skokan, “I tend to be really focused, with tunnel vision for the plates, so it’s hard to have a meaningful conversation. Out here, I can see everything that’s going on because I’m right there. That allows us to take care of people the way we like to.”
Skokan’s sentiment echoes the idea that the food at a farm dinner–while integral to the concept–usually becomes secondary to the experience. Betsy Burton of the Farmette witnesses it week after week. “Seems that people are very inspired by the time they leave…by everything–the food, the conversation, the community. You have to love that.”
My evening followed suit. While the food was memorable (have you ever eaten pork from a Mulefoot pig? You must.), the compa
ny is what kept me warm. By the end of the evening, I was much clearer on the concept of turbulence (new pilot friend), understood how grueling it is to audition for PhD in music programs (new classical pianist friend), and had a career contact at the local hospital (new RN friend). We all walked to our cars and bikes together
after dinner, foil doggie bags full of that incredible pork in hand, and said we hoped to see each other around town. Or at a class at the Farmette (everything fr
om autumn soil preparation to herbal skin care to fermentation basics). Or at another farm dinner–it’s hard to not want to go to more, at different farms, for different fare, with other friends.
As I pedaled towards home, I thought about how lucky we all were to have enjoyed such delicious food and warm companionship at the Farmette that evening–and also what a strange world we live in where the concept of eating food in the very places that it’s grown is a novelty rather than the norm. I decided that the notion of sitting at a table in the middle of a restaurant, with one other person, eyes trained to our plates and not allowed to wander, was sometimes too isolating. Thank goodness for the farm dinners, then, that bring us–and our food–together.
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