Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Last year, Fryeburg farmer John Weston decided he wanted to do something to give back to the community and to showcase food produced by local farms. So he threw a big community dinner made with ingredients from his farm and invited…everyone.
And it was free.
At the time, Weston shied away from giving me a pre-dinner interview because he was afraid he would be overwhelmed with people wanting a free meal. But the event went so well he’s decided to do it again this year.
The dinner is happening tonight, and the tables are set for 600 people. Why am I just writing about it now, you ask? Well, it’s way too late for any of you to try to score tickets. Weston and the partners who are helping him throw the event gave away all 600 tickets in just a week.
So why write about the dinner at all? I think it’s a great idea, and I hope by spreading the word maybe other communities will consider throwing their own events.
Weston said the main purpose behind the dinner is education, to drive home the concept of what farms in the Fryeburg area do and show what they are capable of producing.
“And you don’t have to have a fancy gourmet meal,” Weston said. “This is a very simple meal, but the idea of it is we can provide it free, with some help, and it was all basically produced right here.”
Here’s tonight’s menu:
Corn on the cob (1,200 ears) from Weston’s own farm, picked Monday and shucked this morning by the local girls’ soccer team and cross-country team after their morning practice. All the corn is boiled by the Oxford House Inn.
Potato salad made with potatoes from neighboring Green Thumb Farm (the same folks who grow potatoes for Cold River Vodka) and flavored with green peppers and herbs from Weston’s. The potato salad is prepared by folks from the Stone Mountain Arts Center.
“Picnic chicken,” barbecue chicken served cold and also prepared by the staff at Stone Mountain Arts Center.
Cherry tomato and cucumber salad from Weston’s Farm.
Vanilla ice cream topped with maple syrup from Weston’s Farm.
Iced tea and bottled water from Poland Spring.
Shaw’s Supermarket in North Conway, N.H. provides all the paper plates and other soft goods. The Fryeburg Fair provided 60 picnic tables.
Here's one of the buffet lines from last year:
Weston, who is often asked how he can pull this off financially, said they choose ingredients they normally have an abundance of this time of year.
“We plant extra for the dinner and that’s an expense there, but the idea is that it doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking,” he said. “The underlying theme is a farm can do these things.”
The idea of throwing a free dinner was first planted in Weston’s brain after Hurricane Irene, which hit the east coast in August 2011. Weston’s Farm, Green Thumb Farms, and other neighboring farms are right on the Saco River, and they all were flooded right at the time of year they have the most crops coming in.
“Because of food safety concerns, anything that came into contact with flood water we couldn’t use, so you had a lot of food all of a sudden that went to waste,” Weston recalled. “And for me in particular, it just made me realize the power of being able to have something that’s local, but also the aspect of when you don’t have it.”
If things go as well with the dinner this year as they did last year, there will be more in years to come. But Weston said they’ll probably skip next year and just throw the event every other year after that. He wants to keep things fresh, and doesn’t want to burn out all his volunteers.
“You don’t want to get to the point where you have to ask people to come,” he said. “You want it to be something they look forward to, and if you do it every year, it will lose a little bit of its luster.”
Meredith Goad has harvested oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, eaten reindeer in Finland and sipped hot chai in the Himalayas. She writes the weekly Soup to Nuts column and enjoys a good cocktail.
Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business before turning to journalism more than a decade ago. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs. A newcomer to Portland, she is an online content producer for the Press Herald.
Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or saxelrod [at] pressherald.com.
On Twitter: @susansaxelrod