These may be the most welcome words ever read in this blog: Spring is just around the bend. A harsh winter soon will yield to warm temperatures and the subsequent bounty from gardens.
For event planners, that means fresh crops and ingredients for the ever-growing farm-to-table initiative.
Executive Chef Chris Moore of the Knoxville Convention Center let us dig into one of his passions and ask about how to offer farm-to-table events and the overall impact of using products from regional farms.
Moore’s first piece of advice is to find a planning partner who is knowledgeable about area farms, the growing seasons and availability of homegrown products. This step is essential for planners to determine how much locally grown food is needed for an event, who can meet demand and what is available at various times.
Moore also advised planners to be realistic about when an event can be completely farm-to-table driven and when that isn’t feasible. A gathering of 1,500 people at a convention presents more challenges than a group of 50 at a buffet. Due to market availability and limited growing seasons for particular items, a planner likely can’t fill the menu with locally sourced foods when large numbers of people are in attendance.
Planners can, however, find ways to get local ingredients onto the menu in some capacity. The greater Knoxville area has an abundance of restaurants and suppliers that embrace farm-to-table and locally sourced food.
Examples of restaurants/venues, caterers and suppliers are The Plaid Apron, The Grill at Highlands Row, Sweet P’s Barbeque & Soul House, The Tomato Head, Holly’s Eventful Dining, Benton’s, Cruze Farm and multiple farmers’ markets, including Market Square, which opens May 2.
The Convention Center follows this practice with its in-house food and beverage department, Savor … Knoxville Catering, which uses primarily local products purchased within 90 miles of the facility. Some herbs and produce used in the Convention Center’s catering department also are grown on-site in functional landscaping and a grow room.
Moore also noted that a farm-to-table event creates an attraction within the event that is appealing to attendees, who often become very enthusiastic about supporting local farmers and businesses.
The farm-to-table food experience is growing in Knoxville – and across the United States – because, according to Moore, dedicated people are working to promote it as a viable option.
“People are finally getting to the point where it’s becoming a priority,” Moore said. “It’s closer than it has ever been to breaking into the mainstream.”
Among those helping to promote this movement is CAC Beardsley Community Farm, a nonprofit farm in Knoxville that donates more than 10,000 pounds of produce a year to local food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters with the help of volunteers.
Karina Costa, program assistant for Beardsley Community Farm, said the group “strives to reduce hunger in the neediest communities in Knoxville, but we also provide nutrition education in the form of free field trips and classroom visits.”
Beardsley Community Farm is a beneficiary of local events, such as Raise the Roots, an important fundraiser for the farm that features a vegetarian supper that is all locally sourced with most of the produce grown at the farm.
Moore advised planners to put out the message that an event will place an emphasis on locally sourced food to increase its appeal.
He also said to ask this question when crafting the menu: “How close to its natural source can we provide your meal?”
Misha Testerman is an intern at Moxley Carmichael and a dedicated foodie.