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Feasts of the Field 

click to enlarge Photo by Laura Pensiero. Fettuccine with asparagus pesto from Gigi Hudson Valley. Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Gigi Market offers Agriturismo Dinners at Greig Farm in Red Hook.
  • Photo by Laura Pensiero. Fettuccine with asparagus pesto from Gigi Hudson Valley. Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Gigi Market offers Agriturismo Dinners at Greig Farm in Red Hook.

On certain weekends this summer, expect to find Hudson Valley farm fields humming with conversation as diners gather to share in food, community, and charitable causes. “We bring together chefs, farmers, consumers, in one space, to see that we’re all connected,” says Jesica Clark, farmer and president of the board of directors of Phillies Bridge Farm Project (PBFP), the host of the July 28 Meal in the Field. PBFP offers community supported agriculture (CSA) and education outreach programs, including a partnership with Family of Woodstock for at-risk families. Over 20 farms will contribute ingredients for the benefit at the New Paltz farm, catered by six local eateries, including the Village Tearoom Restaurant and Bakeshop.

Like PBFP, the Poughkeepsie Farm Project (PFP) holds outreach programs and is also a CSA. A Seat at the Table, PFP’s July 21 benefit dinner, will be prepared by Ed Kowalski of Lola Cafe and Catering/Crave, preceded by cocktails and tours of Vassar Farm. “Farmland is an important and precious resource,” says Susan Grove, executive director of PFP. “Local agriculture can’t happen without support, and it’s hard to build that support if people are disconnected from the sources of their food.”

“Children are more likely to try a vegetable introduced to them by the local farmer than a plastic package,” says Laura Pensiero, owner of Gigi Hudson Valley. Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Gigi Market offers Agriturismo Dinners at Greig Farm in Red Hook. “We’re only going to serve local ingredients at their peak on that given day. Whatever is best dictates the menu,” explains Pensiero. “Food in its prime should be appreciated when nature meant for it to be enjoyed.”

Genuinely fresh fare can be tantalizing. “It’s a sensory experience,” explains Anna Hammond, executive director of the Sylvia Center (TSC), an organization that teaches children health-consciousness and nutrition. The Farm to Table Dinner, a benefit for TSC, will be held on August 4 at Katchkie Farm in Kinderhook. Chefs from 16 local markets will prepare the evening’s banquet, beginning with cocktails in the Children’s Garden before moving to the buffet in the field. “Food is our common language,” Hammond says. “It’s a starting point for any conversation.”

That conversation may lead to a dance. On July 7, Rondout Valley Growers Association will host the annual Summer Fun Fundraiser at Kelder’s Farm in Kerhonkson. The barn dance will be accompanied by the Shoe String Band, while more than 10 local merchants provide the barbecue.

“You choose to meet your farmer and support your community,” says Tessa Edick, founder of Friends of the Farmer and Hootenanny!, a July 27 pig roast with chef David Burke, where all ingredients are sourced within five miles of the event’s location, Copake Country Club. “Buying local means we support the farmers, workers, and growers in our area, and in turn, their families,” Pensiero says. “The farmer is the real celebrity,” adds Edick. “What would we do without our farmer?”

Pine Island was forced to confront that possibility when Hurricane Irene ravaged Scheuermann Farm and Greenhouses. While many farms reported some crop and economic losses, at Scheuermann, “the entire area was under water, and only navigable by boat,” explains Black Dirt Feast Co-chair Peter Lyons Hall. A strong start of the season has aided the recovery process, and the Feast will be held at Scheuermann on August 7. Nine chefs, including Erik Johansen of Iron Forge Inn, will cater the six-course event, while the Chamber Strings Orchestra of Warwick Valley High School and the Jon Werking Trio serenade diners.

Despite troubles in the past year, these farms host the benefits selflessly, focusing on the future. Select funds raised at Black Dirt Feast are distributed to a scholarship for students pursuing degrees in agriculture or the culinary arts. Hootenanny! hosts a similar scholarship, in the hope of encouraging more youth to turn to farming. “We can learn from farmers and farming families, because without food, there is no future,” Hall says. “When you know where your food comes from, you can have confidence that your family will be able to sustain itself.”

Agriturismo Dinners at Greig Farm Red Hook. Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Through October. $32 adults, $10 children. (845) 758-1999.

A Seat at the Table, Poughkeepsie Farm Project Field, Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve, Poughkeepsie. July 21, 3:30pm. $150. (845) 516-1100.

Black Dirt Feast, Scheuermann Farms & Greenhouses, Warwick. August 7, 6pm. $100. (845) 258-1000.

Hootenanny! Copake Country Club, Copake Lake. July 27, 6pm. $150.
(518) 325-9437.

Meal in the Field, Phillies Bridge Farm, New Paltz. July 28, 5:30pm. $65 adults, $15 children. (845) 256-9108.

Farm to Table Dinner, Katchkie Farm, Kinderhook. August 4, 5pm. $125. (212) 337-6090.

Summer Fun Festival Barn Dance & Local Food Barbecue, Kelder’s Farm, Kerhonkson. July 7, 5pm. $30 adults, $10 children. (845) 626-1532.

Speaking of...

  • The picnic gets an upgrade when local farms host benefit banquets in their fields this summer.

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