“Ten years ago, people weren’t talking about local, organic, sustainable,” says Erika Polmar, the organizer behind the Plate and Pitchfork series of farm dinners. “We held just three dinners the first year with about 45 people—mainly friends, family, and professional acquaintances. Now its hundreds of people who are genuinely interested and hungry for knowledge about where their food comes from.”
If you’re not familiar with the P&P experience, which marks its tenth anniversary this year, it goes something like this. Diners travel to a local farm where they meet the farmer, take a tour and learn about the farming practices. Everyone then takes their seats—usually it’s the first time the farmer has been off his feet all day—and breaks bread over a five-course dinner prepared by a local chef and featuring the produce grown right there on the farm. The experience has been known, on occasion, to be a transformative one.
“I see ‘A-ha’s happen all the time—those special moments when somebody gets it,” says Polmar. Non-eggplant eaters asking for eggplant recipes, vegetarians trying meat after listening to a farmer talk about his commitment to the animals he raises. To not partake would be disrespectful.
These conversions are just one of the positive changes that Plate and Pitchfork makes possible. Proceeds benefit local nonprofits such as this year’s recipients: Sauvie Island Center, Farmers Ending Hunger, Janus Youth Programs Village Gardens Program, and Oregon Tilth Organic Education Center.
Village Gardens, for instance, is an urban agriculture program for low-income residents living in North Portland. Individuals and families receive garden plots so they can grow their own food, and the programs also provide employment opportunities for adults and teens, after-school and summer activities for children, even a mobile market shuttle and a youth-run entrepreneurial business growing and marketing specialty salad mixes at local farmers markets.
“Reinvesting in my community—that’s the lynchpin,” says Polmar. “It’s not just about a fancy farm dinner and chefs who are passionate about the products. People turn off their cellphones. The week washes away from them. That moment when you create a space, people are present, engulfed by the beauty. You may come in a bad mood, but you won’t leave that way.”