After six consecutive sold out annual events beginning in 2009 it is no wonder why so many people are asking, “When is G.A.L.A.’s Farm to Table this year?” The answer is, the Farm to Table has been tabled.
Last year, just like those that came before, G.A.L.A. provided 120 guests an evening of locally procured and lovingly prepared foods, fellowship, and fun among rough-hewn timbers, antique sleighs, and carriages that color an historic Barn at Moody Mountain Farm, back dropped by the beautiful Ossipee Mountains. In just six short years this event developed a remarkably positive reputation and marked a seasonal transition for many G.A.L.A. members and local foodie fans. So why the break?
“Pulling off this event takes such an astounding amount of time and energy,” says G.A.L.A. Executive Director, Josh Arnold, “that unless we take a year off there is literally not room to really step back and reflect on impact and how the event meets our mission and goals.”
But that’s easier said then done and a little historical context can go a long way. When the idea to organize a Farm to Table dinner began G.A.L.A.’s primary intension was to help expand markets for local farms by creating an event where members of the agricultural and culinary communities could come together around the same table to share notes, build relationships, and hash out the barriers that prevent restaurants, caterers, and supermarkets from sourcing more local foods. G.A.L.A. learned a lot that first year, most notably that . .
this desired dialog would not happen as “organically” as they planned. So, year two they were more proactive about getting the “right people” around the table by offering free or reduced admission for farmers, chefs, restaurant and grocery store owners. Yet even with these incentives and added outreach it was still primarily the local-food enthusiasts and G.A.L.A. fans that were showing up. The experience at these first two events was enriching and memorable for guests, but lacked the broader food system ramifications G.A.L.A. was hoping for, so back to the drawing board it was.
The goals for years three and four goals were simplified- cater to the local foodies and G.A.L.A. fans by hosting a mission-aligned fundraising event, a dinner that leads by example, tantalizing taste buds enough to inspire creativity in kitchen, be it home or commercial. G.A.L.A. strived to demonstrate what is possible with using local foods, while raising important funds to reinvest back into its ongoing sustainable community building efforts. The event continued to grow in popularity and by year four sold out in 48 hours!
“During years three and four the focus shifted more to raising money for our year-round community gardening and sustainability efforts where we felt we had the most impact,” reflect Josh, “So to do so we ramped up the caliber of the dining experience and raised ticket prices accordingly, and once again success came with lots of learning. G.A.L.A. is committed to walking the talk, but this heightened focus on fundraising presented some challenges. For starters, what was it really saying to the agricultural community when we would ask for in-kind donation of produce and other ingredients? And furthermore, what were saying by making our annual event cost-prohibitive to so many of our loyal G.A.L.A. members? Just the process of asking these questions was fruitful for our volunteer planning committee and influenced the following year’s event.”
The last two years, years five and six, were different in two particular ways. Firstly, unless a grower or producer insisted on donating, G.A.L.A. committed to buying all of the locally sourced ingredients at a fair market value, a move that almost doubled expenses but according to G.A.L.A. was “unquestionably” the right thing to do. Secondly, in order to make this shift while also reaching the necessary fundraising goals, G.A.L.A. introduced sponsorship opportunities for local businesses while keeping admission ticket prices at $75. These shifts, along with compelling and inspiring keynote speakers, immensely talented chefs, an unbeatable atmosphere, in-kind donations of catering supplies, tables, venue, auction/raffle items valuing upwards of $20k, and dedicated volunteers who collectively donated more than 500 hours of their time, are what defined the last two years of this highly anticipated Farm to Table event.
So, what now? Will there be a Farm to Table next year? “Well, the short answer is that luckily there are plenty of Farm to Table dinners sprouting up all over New England, and many right here in the greater Carroll County organized by groups like Slow Food Carroll County, Slow Food Saco Valley, The Community School, and plenty of similar events on the Seacoast, so the local foodies are not without options,” says Josh. “But as for G.A.L.A., we’ll continue ask some of the hard questions and try to find the best way to balance our fundraising goals with our broader mission of supporting sustainable, thriving communities, of which vibrant agriculture is at the heart.” G.A.L.A. invites others to join them in brushing up on some of the conversations and efforts like the New England Food Vision, a recent collaborative and research-based effort that outlines what it would take for New England to produce at least half the region’s food, and most importantly, where no one goes hungry.
This last stipulation resonates strongly with Josh and speaks to his concerns about who is being left out of the dominant “local foods movement”. Putting the Farm to Table on the back burner allows G.A.L.A. the chance to get out of tunnel-vision planning mode so they can ask some of the bigger-picture questions about where and how the organization can find the most leverage in establishing a more sustainable, equitable, and healthy food system. Is it more community and food pantry gardens through Sustain-A-Raisers? Is it cooperative marketing and distribution methods? What about simply education and outreach? Or is it advocacy for responsive farm and food policies that will make the difference? If these questions excite you, G.A.L.A. is all ears.
Without rubbing it in too much, the herbed roasted pumpkin with burrata and sage butter mushroom skewers will be missed, maybe as much as the creamy tomato herb bisque or apple smoked and roasted chicken, or for the dessert lovers, the goat cheese and honey cheescakes and maple pumpkin ice cream. Many will miss the fellowship this year, pulling their chair up to the locally milled, white pine farm tables with their live edge winding down the 80’ length of the barn where the sounds of clinking glasses and jubilant conversation billows out onto the fields of Pork Hill. Others will miss the G.A.L.A. updates and volunteer awards, and the opportunity to contribute to such a positive and important organization.
“Let’s not get carried away here,” Josh reminds us. “G.A.L.A. isn’t going anywhere and there are always ways to support our year-round sustainability work or get involved with our monthly Re-skill-ience workshops, contra dances, study circles, and Sustain-A-Raisers. We’re just hitting the pause button on this one particular event that has become so popular, calm down,” he chuckles. “This year particularly, our energy has been focused on supporting a G.A.L.A. Cycling Team that will participate in the inaugural Northeast Climate Ride, 320 miles from Bar Harbor to Boston over the course of five days in September. The team is still looking for sponsors and donors, proceeds of which go to G.A.L.A.’s local programming.”
If you still need to fulfill your Farm to Table fix, mark your calendar and look into the upcoming Community School Farmers’ Table Gourmet Dinner on Saturday, Sept 19th and the Heirloom Harvest Barn Dinner, Sunday, September 20th, because for now G.A.L.A.’s Farm to Table have been tabled.