More than fresh, local food is on the plate when Jonesborough, Tennessee, hosts its annual farm-to-table dinner. The event takes weeks of planning and combined resources, talents and ideas from several volunteers. Two dinners have raised more than $10,000 for the local farmers’ market.
Jonesborough, the oldest town in Tennessee, snuggled into the lap of the Appalachian Mountains, is known for hosting the National Storytelling Festival. Strewn along Main Street are stepped-gable buildings, historic churches, and other architectural gems that are home to an eclectic mix of eateries and shops. Until a few years ago, though, something was missing; or so thought Curtis Buchanan, longtime Jonesborough resident and noted Windsor chair maker.
“There were a lot of local farmers and producers, even talented bakers and craftspeople. We wanted to give them a place to sell their products and create an awareness of locally grown foods,” Childress says. With seed money from Jonesborough residents and avid gardeners, Dr. and Mrs. Samuel Thatcher, Childress helped organize the farmers’ market; it became a reality in 2008 with eight vendors. By 2015, that number had grown to more than 50 weekly vendors.
For three years, the Jonesborough Farmers’ Market hosted a potluck meal for its growers, but Herman and Beverly Jenkins, owners of the Main Street Cafe, had a greater vision. They’d read an article about Outstanding in the Field, a roving restaurant that prepares farm-to-table dinners outside — in the field so to speak.
“We wanted to do that, but do it downtown,” says Herman Jenkins.
With the help of the Jenkins’ daughter, Breelyn, the Cafe’s catering director, and her husband, Alex Bomba, the Cafe’s chef, a plan began to take root — create a dinner from locally sourced ingredients, sell tickets for a dinner to be held in the middle of Main Street, then donate the proceeds to the farmers’ market.
Months in advance, organizers talked with growers to see what would be in season so Chef Bomba could plan the menu, and Breelyn and other volunteers could work on the logistics.
Since an elegant harvest table — large enough to seat 100 guests — would extend down a major thoroughfare usually teeming with traffic and pedestrians, getting approval from the town fathers had to be top priority. “We’ve always been supportive of local events,” says Town Administrator Bob Browning. “They just make our town a better place.” The streets had to be shut down for hours. Special approval was needed to serve beer and wine. It took some effort, but it all came together.
This was no simple, outdoor meal. It was a sophisticated affair that would have proven challenging in a grand banquet hall. The Jenkins and Bomba families, a volunteer wait staff, and farmers’ market growers and volunteers pulled it off. Chef Bomba managed to create a sumptuous, five-course meal with all the ingredients — not including the risotto and wine — coming from local producers. Even the 48 centerpieces were created from locally sourced flowers.