Wednesday September 12, 2012
EGREMONT -- One of a gardener's greatest pleasures is standing in the garden on a warm August afternoon and picking a tomato, warm from the sun, and biting into its deep red flesh, juice spurting out of it. It is equaled for some by the sweet crunch of the first peas in spring. These edible moments are at the core of the local food movement. Restaurants these days are proud to inform diners where the food on the menu came from.
The internationally known organization Outstanding in the Field takes dining back to the fields. Its mission is "to reconnect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it." It travels around North Amer ica, organizing dinners that take place in the actual fields of the farmers whose food is being prepared by local chefs for the meal.
On Saturday, OITF will bring its expertise to the Berkshires to facilitate a dinner prepared by Red Lion Inn Executive Chef Brian Alberg on the Indian Line Farm in South Egremont.
"This is such a beautiful place," said Indian Line farmer and proprietor Elizabeth Keen, "and we fell in love with it our first year. I love to share that."
Brian Alberg feels that the chefs in the Berkshires are a unique group, working together to bring attention to the Berk shires as a food destination.
"I've always been intrigued by the chefs that participated in OITF," he said. "OITF isn't doing anything different really, but it's on a national level and sends the message that the Berkshires is doing big things."
In fact, the $225 tickets to Saturday's dinner sold out in four hours, and most went to people outside the Berkshires, according to Angela Cardinali of Berk shire Farm & Table, a group devoted to bringing wider attention to the Berkshire food scene.
Indian Line Farm holds a special place in farm history: it is the first Community-Supported Agri culture farm in North Amer ica, founded in 1986. In the early 1990s, the CSA moved to Housatonic, and very little farming took place on the land until Keen and her husband Al Thorp began farming it in 1997.
They purchased the farm in a cooperative arrangement with the Community Land Trust and the Nature Conservancy. Local farmers helped them plow and open up the ground in the beginning, and they received support from the Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farm Training, which allowed them to "talk things out with experienced farmers," according to Keen.
"We felt very supported, not totally nutso," she said.
By 2000, the farm was back as a full-fledged CSA, and it now has 140 members. The OITF event inspired Keen to move Indian Line Farm's annual potluck dinner for members out into the field.
Originally from Columbia County, Alberg returned to the Berkshires in 2004 after working in restaurants in New York. He said here, in the Berkshires, chefs are "offering quality and attention to detail in its original setting."
"You can't get this stuff in New York," he said. "The green markets there have food from here."
His favorite food to prepare? Whatever's in season. Right now, he's "a big sweet corn fan, but it'll all change come au tumn," he said.
Chefs and farmers here talk regularly, discussing what grows well for the farmer, what the chef yearns to cook. Chefs can impact what farmers raise.
"For three years, I've been buying local organic eggs," Alberg explained, "but I wanted small eggs and got the farmer to raise bantams, which produce these small, blue eggs. They're beautiful."
For this event, he will prepare food from some 12 local farms -- from goat, lamb and chicken to potatoes, corn and pea shoots, finishing with melon and local honey. Wednesday September 12, 2012
Those of us not lucky enough to sit down to dinner at Indian Line Farm can follow the event live (or nearly) on Twitter
Black Queen Angus goat chorizo with pickled Indian Line Cabbage
Joshua Farms deviled eggs
Farm Girl gumballs with alder smoked sea salt
Melon house-cured Serrano-style ham with Berkshire wildflower raw honey
Lila's Mountain lamb sausage
Indian Line celery root, turnip
Pea Shoot salad with smoked almond pesto
Thai basil Punsit Valley grilled chicken ahighs with Foggy River coal-roasted potatoes
Zehr Farm mushroom and Howden Farm sweet corn conserve
Kinderhook Creek sheep cheese
BMB Chocolate Bread