For several hours during a recent pleasant evening, a farm in Ottawa County had the ambiance of a Five Star restaurant.
The guests sipped wine and sampled hors d’oeuvres before dinner while the music of a classical guitarist wafted over the fields.
The first courses offered were a salad of fresh field greens with cranberries, peaches, bleu cheese and apples topped with a maple vinaigrette dressing and a chilled soup of garbanzo beans, basil and leeks. The entrée was pan-roasted chicken breasts with blue potato gratin and peas. For dessert, diners enjoyed lemon shortcake with raspberries and Chantilly cream.
The menu reflected the work of Kurt and Corinna Bench, owners of Shared Legacy Farms who operate a Community Supported Agriculture program at their farm near Elmore.
To date, about 350 households are CSA members.
The dinner, which the Bench’s dubbed Field to Table, offered those enrolled in the CSA a chance to see the farm and enjoy a meal featuring its organically-grown produce.
“We wanted to create an event on our farm where our CSA members could come out and not only eat a top-notch meal made with produce straight off our fields, but also walk our vegetable beds and experience our farm first-hand in a truly first-class kind of way,” Kurt said.
The Bench’s hired a local chef, Edward Logan, to prepare the meal.
“We knew chef Ed from Terra (State Community College) and knew that he would do some creative stuff that would make our produce shine,” Bench said.
Corinna said the setting - in the midst of the 10-plus-acre farm – made the culinary experience more vivid.
“Seated at my table, watching the stunning sunset, then seeing the winter squash and cabbages and tomatoes growing just yards away from me, the meal took on another level. We were eating this food that had a story behind it,” she said. “Many of our customers had never made the drive out here. It was something we wanted them to see.”
Shared Legacy holds several family events during the year, including a pesto fest, tomato canning workshop, hayrides and bonfire/pumpkin hunt, but the dinner was an idea the Bench’s had been considering for a couple of years.
It was time to try something more elegant, Corinna said. Another dinner will be planned for next year.
This past spring was a turning point for Kurt as he decided to leave a full-time job off the farm and focus on the CSA, which he and his wife started in 2008 with only 12 enrolled customers.
Since then, membership has doubled each year.
“That was a big leap of faith for us,” Corinna said. “He used to work in the fields until 11 or 12 at night with a head lamp, then get up at 5 a.m. to go to his full-time job.”
Members will be offered the first opportunity to re-enroll with Shared Legacy Farms for the 2014 season, she said. Enrollment for the general public will be offered starting on Oct. 21.
LocalHarvest, a clearing house of information about Community Supported Agriculture, says there are about 4,000 CSA farms in its nation-wide database.
“There is an important concept woven into the CSA model that takes the concept beyond the usual commercial transaction, That is the notion of shared risk: In most CSAs, members pay up front for the whole season and the farmers do their best to provide an abundant box of produce each week. If things are slim, members are not typically reimbursed. The result is a feeling of `we’re in this together,’ “ the LocalHarvest website says.
Corinna said Share Legacy Farms suffered a significant loss in yields this summer due to flooding conditions in July but most customers have been understanding.
“All in all we had a very good year considering we had a rough patch there for about three weeks,” she said.
More information is available at www.SharedLegacyFarms.com.