A burnt orange sun sets over cornfields at Faith’s Farm in Bonfield, Illinois. Chickens peck the ground; a donkey brays. The farm is 87 miles southwest of Chicago and light-years from the convenience and whir of urban life, but on this late-July evening, it is a glimpse into the future. Servers in white chef’s jackets emerge from the farmhouse kitchen carrying plates of pork sliders, mustard brisket, and barbecue pork chops. And within view of the free-range pig pasture, 29 Chicagoans sit at tables adorned by fresh-cut wildflowers and pottery thrown by a local artist.
City Provisions, Cleetus Friedman’s new Chicago-based catering company, has bused the 29 attendees to Faith’s. They have been introduced to the farmer, given a tour, and served a five-course dinner made with the farm’s products and paired with offerings from a local brewery. When they’re done, they relax under the stars by the bonfire. "Farm dinners" such as this one are popping up around the country and represent the ultimate in locavore dining: a gourmet meal with farm animals as a backdrop. "Our goal is to show you why we are passionate about using local farms," says Friedman. "Because of the health and ecological benefits that it has and how that relates to our business."
Friedman is committed to a green philosophy—the dinners emphasize the importance of buying locally from purveyors who use environmentally friendly practices—and he enlists the help of various participants to drive home this point. Tonight, Jim Ebel of DuPage County’s Two Brothers Brewing Company explains the eco-friendly brewing process of the beers paired with each course. A local artist, Melissa Zeigler Monroe, discusses the earthen stoneware she made for the event. Kim Snyder, owner of Faith’s, describes the organic and humane practices she uses to raise and process her poultry, cows, and pigs. Pigs that are on everyone’s plate at tonight’s dinner.
True, dining mere steps from where the entrée lived may not be appetizing for everyone. But that’s the whole point: to uncover the mysteries surrounding the origins of what you eat. "My goal is to take people who don’t necessarily think this way and educate them," says Friedman. Indeed, everyone around the tables learns the health and ecological benefits of buying local, organic, and sustainable, and they’re learning while biting into tender, smoky pork chops paired with Friedman’s sinfully rich Gruyère mashed potatoes. Phrases like "farm-to-table" and "know your farmer" have invaded our culinary vernacular. What better way to understand them than by watching a farmer’s healthy pigs play happily in the mud under a perfect sunset and learning that they are drug-free and free-range? Then, of course, eating them.
City Provisions’ farm dinners are scheduled for September 20th and October 18th. Cost is $125 per person. Reservations are accepted at 773-235-2489 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit cityprovisions.com for information.
Illustration: Rod Hunting