Dinner series highlights locally-grown foods prepared by area chefs

Teresa Callen, left, a chef from Live, prepares food during a Farm to Table dinner party hosted by Swallowtail Farm in November.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer/File
Published: Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 28, 2012 at 1:05 p.m.

In an age of preservatives, "pink slime" and pre-cooked meals, Swallowtail Farm wants to make you dinner.


If you go

What: Farm to Table dinner series
When: 4 to 9 p.m. Jan. 5
Where: Swallowtail Farm, 17603 NW 276th Lane, Alachua
Tickets: $75 per person. Proceeds go toward building a greenhouse. To purchase tickets, visit swallowtailcsa.com


Upcoming dinners

Schedule for upcoming Farm to Table dinners:
Feb. 16: Chase Rossi from The Top restaurant
March 23: Amanda Bisson and Jose Gonzalez from the two Jones restaurants
April 13: TBA
May 11: Patrick Jones, Gainesville Country Club
June 15: TBA

The Alachua group's Farm to Table seasonal dinner series, which begins Jan. 5, will feature four courses of local foods prepared by area chefs, served at a family-style harvest table.

Emily Eckhardt has farmed at Swallowtail for two seasons. She says the goal of the dinner series is to connect the farm with its surrounding community.

"It creates an opportunity for people to support the farm in a non-sweaty way," she says. "People are looking for a way to get further connected with the food culture here. It's such a beautiful space, and we're growing beautiful food."

Jane Nesbit, partner and landowner of Swallowtail Farm, says ticket sales for next month's dinner will be used to build a greenhouse, which is set to be complete before Jan. 5.

"People will see what their money has helped to fund," she says.

Eckhardt says dinner guests will first be treated to a snack, followed by a tour of the five-acre farm, before dinner is served. She says she hopes dinner guests leave with an appreciation for small-scale farming and the efforts of the farmers, as well as a personal connection with the land itself.

"It's easy to feel connected to this place," she says. "When people come here, they feel the energy we put into the place."

Leonardo's 706 Chef Mark Newman will prepare January's dinner. He says his restaurant has received food from Swallowtail twice a week for two years.

"It's a wonderful venue, they're great people and I have lots of fun doing this," he says.

In addition to Leonardo's 706, Swallowtail Farm sells food to several area restaurants, including The Top, The Jones Eastside and B-Side, Civilization, and Blue Highway Pizza. Their produce also can be found at local farmers markets, including the Union Street Farmers Market in downtown Gainesville on Wednesdays, the Tioga Monday Market, Thornebrook Shopping Village on Fridays, and the Haile Farmers Market on Saturdays.

Swallowtail Farm is based on community-supported agriculture (CSA), in which shareholders commit to supporting the farm for the entire season. In return for paying fees, shareholders receive vegetables, flowers, herbs and recipes every week. Swallowtail currently has 130 shareholders, up from 100 last year.

Noah Shitama started working at Swallowtail Farm in 2009. He says the benefits of CSA are numerous.

"Farmers are supported for their work and communities get to share in healthy, nutritious food," he said. "We feel very committed to the community we're feeding."

Shitama says one of the main consumer benefits of CSA is knowledge, both of how and where their food is grown and of the larger implications of our country's food production and distribution system.

"People's awareness of the unhealth of our current food system is growing. To be part of the solution to that problem is important," he says. "Your diet will change. Things will have totally different meaning once you know where your food is coming from."

Eckhardt says consumers also benefit from joining a CSA by learning about the seasonality and locality of food.

"It brings people down to earth," she says. "You can't always have what you want when you want it. People don't realize eggs are a seasonal food. Chickens aren't machines. It's something you lose sight of."

Eckhardt says she feels most grateful for her job when she hands a bag of food to a family with children.

"I think, ‘These kids are being raised on quality food.' It makes me feel good," she says. "It's really rewarding work. We use our bodies; we use our minds. We get to be outside. We're providing a beautiful service. The greatest reward is when people appreciate our work."

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