Some dinners are farm fresh because you went and picked up the ingredients at the farm that very morning. And other dinners are farm fresh because they are literally hosted at a farm. That’s the idea behind Outstanding in the Field, an initiative launched by artist Jim Denevan in 1999 when he brought a table out to a Santa Cruz farm field. Denevan, who is known for his large-scale sand drawings, is also passionate about creating community and conversation.
His Outstanding in the Field dinners, which are full white-tablecloth spreads with meals crafted by top chefs, have been held at 230 farms, ranches, dairies, urban gardens and vineyards across North America and around the world. There was even one in a sea cave. Sometimes you get to stretch the definition of “farm fresh.” Who doesn’t want to eat in a sea cave, after all?
Ultimately, it’s about getting people to eat differently, connect with each other and with the person who’s producing their food, all while getting to eat outdoors. By the end of this year OITF will have hosted events in all 50 states around the country. Yes, even in Alaska. In fact, over the last 15 years, more than 65,000 people have gotten to live an outdoor eating experience, a kind of nomadic, farm restaurant pop-up.
“It’s been quite a ride,” says Denevan. “There have been times I really wondered what we were doing … Like when the bus broke down in the Yukon as we were returning from Alaska. Or the time we set our table in a New Orleans greenhouse a year after Katrina with less than 10 paying guests. But every time I meet a new farmer, see the fabulous work they do and taste the incredible meals great chefs create with that bounty, I’m inspired to keep going.”
And as he keeps going, so do the dinners. Next year the plan is to do an international tour as well.
Want to attend an Outstanding in the Field dinner? You can check out the full schedule here.
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Image: Outstanding in the Field/Ilana Freddye