The shade of the overhanging oak tree kept the temperature perfect, as a quiet breeze passed through the yard. A decorative table was dressed with pink and yellow snapdragons in small crystal bowls set on an ivory white tablecloth, adorned with blue china and fine silver.
Large platters of sumptuous fresh Florida dishes were passed around, family style. The setting was perfect, the food seemed extra delicious; the discussion was relaxed, and the children were having fun as they excused themselves to a nearby tree swing.
Does this experience sound like something you might like?
Then it is time you try a Farm to Table Dinner.
King Family Farm
So, what is a Farm to Table dining experience? Basically, it means enjoying a meal that includes fresh ingredients sourced directly from a farm, your garden, the farmer’s market or the sea. Most importantly, it is about sharing a meal and some special time with family and/or friends while celebrating Florida’s fresh bounty. And most often, it is served outdoors.
And just about any location works: under the evening stars, beneath a canopy of pine trees, or palms, or in an open field, on a beach or even dockside. Anywhere can be enjoyed with the right menu, and the right people!
Fresh Florida backyard peaches
After experiencing a magical Farm to Table event at Southwest Florida’s Worden Farm, I became hooked on the concept. It was part of Outstanding in the Field, a non-profit organization that travels throughout the United States hosting large dinners while highlighting local farms and sustainable practices. You may have experienced such an event or witnessed various photos of lovely serpentine tables traversing through rows of crops, vineyards, or under shady trees celebrating the area’s local bounty.
And why not Florida? For almost nine months of the year we have stunning weather. Even when warm weather becomes a challenge, you can modify the time frame with a morning brunch or an evening hors d’oeuvres party.
Farm to Table Event, King Family Farm
And there’s good reason to consider farm fresh food. As most of us become increasingly health conscious we want to incorporate fresh ingredients into our diet – understanding where our food comes from and the farm practices used.
While it’s nice to team with a local farmer, or even attend a local Farm to Table Event, you can also create one very easily in your own backyard.
The key is to get fresh food directly from the farm, your garden, the farmer’s market or a local seafood shop or even a grocery store that sources local food.
If you want to create your own event don’t worry or complicate it. And consider keeping it small. With positive intent, help from others, and a goal to have fun, you will be well on your way.
Just follow these basic steps:
Choose the Location and Time of Day
Choose where you want to have your outdoor event. Shady backyards are ideal for a Farm to Table event. But other options include a porch, a nearby park, a neighboring farm, a friend’s yard, church grounds, a pool, dock side near the water, a beach, a river or lake. Next, decide whether you want it to be a brunch, lunch or dinner as this will help you settle on the menu.
Set the table
Think about your outdoor setting. Make it inviting. This is your chance to dress a table nicely. Essentially, the idea is to imagine you are transporting your dining room to the outdoors. Use a special tablecloth and even consider using fine china. Or even pick up fancy disposable dinner wear available at party shops. If you want to create a theme or celebrate a special event, this is your chance.
Fresh Florida Magnolias make beautiful centerpieces
Be creative. Use cloth napkins, votives, and flowers. There are so many Florida flowers in season now – magnolias, gardenias, bougainvilleas – here again you can keep it both local and seasonal. Create attractive, petite floral arrangements – no higher than eye level, so that guests can see and chat comfortably with one another.
Set the Menu
Since you are going farm fresh, your menu will include seasonal produce. Take a trip to the farmer’s market for inspiration. Try to plan your meal around what is fresh that day making your trip an enjoyable scavenger hunt. Purchase what appeals to you and plan your menu around your favorites. The farmer’s market attendants, or even the farmer, will help you with ideas. I always ask them how they prepare items and I am constantly amazed at how simple the recommended preparations are. Be mindful that “less is more” for this event and “keep it simple.”
For my seafood stop, I ask my fishmonger what is fresh off the boat or what fish is in season. And if you aren’t a seafood fan, there are local butchers who often source from nearby farms when possible.
The Farmer’s Market is ideal for planning a menu
Spread the joy by enlisting others to join in the fun. My friend Nicole had an Authentic Florida dinner party outdoors and encouraged everyone to bring fresh Florida ingredients. Here was the menu:
Guacamole w/fresh Florida tomatoes
Tomato, basil & mozzarella skewers w/balsamic glaze
Florida Shrimp Orzo Salad
Grilled skirt steak with Chimichurri sauce
Rosemary Roasted new potatoes
Carrots with cumin, orange & garlic glaze
Green papaya, cumin & raisin couscous
Green salad w/strawberries, toasted walnuts, red onion. (Dressing: balsamic, orange blossom honey & olive oil.)
Florida Strawberry pie
Florida Key Lime pie
Be prepared to make suggestions to guests who are trying to figure out how they can participate. They may need your prompting. Some prefer to bring a sliced tomato or salad dish, bread or wine while others may be more adventurous with new recipes.
More Sample Menu Ideas
One of my passions is to create fresh dishes from Florida and I always get ideas from chefs, writers and other bloggers.
Here are some of my favorite sample menus, many of which I feature on Authentic Florida:
Florida Lobster Mac N’ Cheese can be made ahead of time
Florida Lobster Mac & Cheese (can make ahead, and freeze)
Fresh Florida Kale Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
Florida Roasted Corn, Tomato & Basil Salad
Florida Grouper Filets on the BBQ
Fresh Florida Fruit Crostata
Florida Blue Crab Quiche
Fresh Seasonal Fruit
Florida Orange Juice
Hire a Professional
To really treat yourself, try working with a professional. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Most local chefs love creating Farm to Table events and often partner with farms that offer on site dining experiences. You may even want to put a group together and share the costs.
I make it a practice to follow local farms on social media for their events. Many have jumped on the Farm to Table bandwagon and have regular seasonal dinners.
And here’s another idea. Call your local vocational school or a culinary school to get names of seasoned students who are interested in working as private chefs. You may even know a farmer who is willing to host a farm to table dinner. Or even a chef who is willing to test out new local recipes.
Many farms host Farm to Table events throughout Florida
Florida Farm to Table Recipe Books
Here are a few recipe books that have given me ideas for my dinners:
Both by Brandon, Farmand & McPherson
By Eric and Sandra Jacobs
Remember perfection is not the goal. It’s about being outside in the loving presence of family and friends.
You owe it to yourself. Farm fresh, from Florida. It doesn’t get any better.
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