Gathering Around a Locavore Table: Tips for the best food event you can throw!

13 Sep

Today’s post is from Annie Levay-Krausse, writer of The Land of Peapodriot, a blog “Focused on seasonally, organically, locally and ethically sourced dishes; this blog is interspersed with posts on gardening, seed saving, soap making and Food Ethics.” She’s also the founder of SOLE of Buffalo, “a burgeoning food movement that connects people with Seasonal, Organic, Local and Ethical resources and information.”  She’s sharing her wealth of experience in planning great food-based events with us today.  These are the hot locavore tips, folks!

Congratulations! You took on NOFA-NY’s Locavore Challenge and are so excited about it that you’re planning a local food get-together.  Maybe it’s one of the Harvest Dinners–and you think you have a great chance at winning one of the prizes–maybe it’s a community event, a potluck, or an extra-special meal you’re planning on hosting for friends (like that all-one-ingredient party mentioned in Sunday’s Long Read).  Local food lovers are all starting to talk about these events and so should you!  They give you the opportunity to connect with a community of people who come from all walks of life but agree that food should be experiential and exciting and engaging and local.

potluck2

If you are eager to host an event this September, take the time to plan. It doesn’t have to cost you anything, but it will take time and patience to do it well. There are so many ways to make your event a success. These ten tips are ones I’ve developed over the last 12 years of hosting my International Dinners and a couple end-of-challenge potlucks, and will help eliminate the majority of your headaches, whether your party is four or one hundred and four.

  • Location: Pick a location that can handle changeable weather. It’s the end of September and New York is known for anything and everything weather. Snow squalls, thundershowers, 90 degrees and sultry, windy and icy cold? We’ve seen weather that can make your toes curl, and wouldn’t you know? It always seems to make an appearance just as your party gets started. So choose a place where you and your guests can dine in comfort. If it’s not your home, make sure you get permission and secure it on a calendar. A tailgater and potluck and baby shower happening in one location? Yes, and I’ve been there because I didn’t plan ahead. If it’s in a park, you will need a permit, which are inexpensive and very easy to secure.
  • Invitations: Paper invitations are quite lovely, but also consider your audience and the way you’re gathering information.  Either follow up with an e-mail or send an online invitation to start off.  This is an easy way to keep track of the head count. If you’re hosting a potluck, have the guests indicate which dish they’ll be bringing. This is a great way for both you and your guests to see what is being offered and what is still needed. It’s also a fantastic way of quickly answering questions, offering suggestions, and often can include a map and directions.
  • Food safety: Food can spoil fast. Consider chafers for hot foods and ice for cold foods. If you’re hosting a potluck, encourage your guests to bring dishes that do not need either. Otherwise, make sure you have enough space set aside in your kitchen, an oven or microwave, and plenty of refrigerator space.
  • Prep Ahead: Encourage your guests to prepare their dishes before they arrive so you don’t have to worry about providing cooking space.
  • Sharing: Have each of your guests bring enough of a dish for at least eight servings.  Request that they write a label with the name of the food and its ingredients so be set up with the food.  This is also a great way to have people display local-food pride!  They can label when something is a generations-old recipe, or when the main ingredients are organic and local!  Ask guests to bring more side dishes than desserts, and be sure at least one of the guests brings a salad.  For smaller parties, not everyone needs to bring a filling food.  Some extra-special pickles, condiments or sauces that complement the other dishes are quite welcome, and ensure that people leave feeling (slightly) less over-full.
  • Setting Up: Get an estimate at least three days before the party. Plan to rent, borrow, or ask guests to bring a few extra chairs and maybe even tables for your larger gatherings.
locavore spread staff inservice

Getting set up at a recent NOFA-NY staff potluck. A collection of dishes that we could serve at room temperature, and our collection of serving utensils at the end. We also boiled a big pot of water and enjoyed corn on the cob fresh from a staff member’s organic farm!

  • Serving and Layout: You can bet most of your guests will not remember to bring a serving spoon to go with their dish, I almost never remember and I’m always asking the host. Keep extras on hand. Organize the food layout with a definite beginning and ending. Set the plates, napkins and utensils at one end of the table near the food, so guests know where to line up. Start with the main dishes, then sides, then breads, and finally desserts. I recommend keeping beverages and glasses on a separate table.  If possible, set up a traffic flow that allows people to move down both sides of a table and still access the majority of foods.  If you’re serving a sit-down meal or a more intimate gathering, maybe keep a table to the side where extra dishes are to be kept.

image_10

  • Glassware, Plates, and Silverware: Consider biodegradable and recyclable. Don’t forget you will need napkins, plates, spoons and forks. Guests tend to fill up whatever size plate they have, be it small or large. Go with a smaller plate (8 to 9 inches) so guests don’t overfill and waste food. They can always go back for seconds if they are hungry for more. [Editor’s two cents: We have a set of real plates that we use for NOFA-NY monthly staff potlucks and the occasional field day where we’ll serve food.  Our collection is entirely from thrift stores, which usually have very good prices on lightweight but durable sets of dishes and cutlery.  This is a worthwhile small investment for anyone who wants to regularly host meals, no last-minute trip to the store for biodegradable plates, which are probably more expensive than second-hand dishes after a few parties.  Cloth napkins also add an element of luxury to a meal, but that really depends on the size of your party.]SAMSUNG
  • Beverages and ice chests: So many others would ask their guests to bring a beverage along with their dish, but I can assure you, that’s a nightmare! Unless that’s their offering to the event, be sure to have water, teas, coffee on hand, and plenty of ice. All the other “stuff” can be an extra bonus. You do not want to have nothing but Kool-Aid like drinks because everyone left their organic ice tea or juices they made on their kitchen counter at home.
  • Cleanup: No one wants to clean up after a party, much less a big dinner, but it’s just as important as the prep was. Have plenty of trashcans and recycling bins available during the event, and plan some time at the end of the event to allow for cleanup. Make it a group effort. The fastest “cleaner-upper” could earn a prize of some sort, besides your adoration. [Editor’s tip: If someone is a last-minute guest or someone you know won’t have time to bring an edible contribution, they’ll probably welcome the chance to contribute by being the clean-up captain]

cleanplates

Editor’s Ideas: While filling bellies is the main activity at an event like this, and though conversations will naturally flow once people sit together, don’t waste the potential of your event to really get people talking and building great locavore-positive moments.  Since this week’s theme is all about sharing stories, making friends and building community, perhaps you’ll think about a way to have people engage around locavorism at your event.  

  • As the host, make sure you introduce people with similar interests or roles within the food world.
  • Have some conversation-starters ready in case you need to break the ice.
  • Think of a quick introduction activity (could be as simple as having extra-large nametags and asking people to write their name AND their favorite September local food).
  • Print out some Locavore Challenge worksheets or interesting short articles on our food system and place them on tables, just in case people need a prop to start conversation.
  • Set up a photo-taking spot with some props and a backdrop (a bedsheet or some streamers will do).  Or do like Think Local Geneseo is doing with a laminated sign and dry-erase markers, where people write why they’re locavores.

Enjoy your Locavore party!  Thanks for being an example of local eating in your community!

Advertisements

One Response to “Gathering Around a Locavore Table: Tips for the best food event you can throw!”

  1. Maddy Smith September 16, 2013 at 11:18 pm #

    This is great! Very helpful.

Share Your Thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: