Outstanding in the Field, an organization that holds dinners on farms and other currently hip locations, is traveling across the U.S., Canada, France and Bermuda for its annual tour.
Dinners on the farm have become popular in the last several years as the locavore movement has grown. A dinner of local foods cooked by local chefs and eaten as close to the source as possible is an enjoyable way to spend an evening. Outstanding in the Field seems to have been ahead of the curve on this trend. They’ve been holding these dinners since 1999. In that time, they've visited all 50 states and more than 15 countries.
The goal of Outstanding in the Field is "to get folks out to the places where the food comes from and honor the people whose good work brings nourishment to the table," says founder/chef Jim Denevan. "Our roving restaurant without walls may be located wherever good food comes from. There are no boundaries."
Their main venue is a field on a farm, but they also hold events on mountaintops, sea caves, old barns and other settings in keeping with their vision.
Their 2018 Tour began on May 5 in California and runs through Nov. 11. Tickets to these dinners on the farm aren’t inexpensive. Ticket prices ranged from $180 to $300 per person. The price includes a reception with wine and passed appetizers, four seated courses with wine pairings, all gratuities, producer discussions and a tour of the farm. The events are intended for adults, and they don’t recommend that children attend.
It's more than just a meal
But the food isn't the only reason to check out this dining trend. t's a way to connect in a natural setting with like-minded, food-loving people while also supporting local farmers.
On Oct. 6, Outstanding in the Field hosted their dinner at Mayflor Farms in Stockbridge, Georgia — located just 20 minutes south of Atlanta. Before arriving, I did some research on the farm itself. I knew that I would be treated to a delicious meal prepared with ingredients from Mayflor Farms, but beyond that I didn't know much else.
I was intrigued to learn why people would pay more than $200 for a meal served in the middle of a farm surrounded by people they didn't know.
When I arrived, I met Mayflor Chokshi (owner and namesake of the farm) and her business partner, Christopher Edwards, who run Mayflor Farms together. I was curious to learn why their farm was selected out of the many in the greater Atlanta area. I quickly learned why. From walking around the farm, I saw a variety of exotic vegetables you don't typically see on a southern farm.
"We grow the weird things. A lot of Asian produce, wing beans, loofah, hibiscus," Edwards told MNN. "If everyone has the same okra or kale, that’s saturation. But if I can introduce loofah, nobody has it."
For Chokshi though, it isn't just about standing out from the rest. It's about introducing new tastes to her customers. "Everything we do is education, and they love it especially our CSA [community supported agriculture] members. They get excited like ‘what’s in my bag? Oh my God...May, what is this?’"
The different dishes that night prepared by guest chef Joe Truex from Savannah definitely featured vegetables I had never heard of or eaten before.
Before dinner though, they led all the guests on a tour of the farm and discussed the different produce in season right now (which would end up on our plates later). After that, people picked up a plate and walked over towards Outstanding in the Field's signature element — the long communal table — and picked a seat. Dinner was served family style, and the table set up encourages conversation with those around you.
Each dish was incredibly delicious and uniquely different from one another. From an Asian-inspired dish of coconut curry shrimp to a traditional southern staple of grits, each course paired perfectly well together.
I found myself seated next to two women who were old college roommates and who had brought their significant others with them. (One couple traveled from Louisville, Kentucky, and this was their eighth event.) Also in our group was a couple who had driven down from Nashville, and another woman who became my kindred spirit for the night.
Slowly, we all fell into conversation with each other. We were all different ethnicities, ages and backgrounds from around the South, but the dishes brought us all together. What started out as polite niceties turned into laughter and fun. We all began to forget it was a blistering 90-degree day in October and just enjoyed each other's company. At the end, we ended up hugging and taking pictures to remember the occasion.
That's when I realized what makes Outstanding in the Field truly special.
It isn't just a meal it's fellowship. It's not just about the food or supporting local farmers. It's about bringing people together and realizing deep down inside we are all the same.
Editor's note: This article was originally written by Robin Shreeves in June 2011. It has been updated with new information, including this first-person account.