If you want to explain to state legislators the value in supporting local farmers, why not let them sample their bounty?
That was Westbrook farmers John and Bonnie Hall’s rationale behind the plan to hold the Middlesex County Farm Bureau’s first-ever Legislators Dinner in February. While the Farm Bureau’s members had met with legislators annually over breakfast, this was to be a new event, intended to provide a forum for discussing agricultural issues while also allowing legislators to sample the products of local farms.
The first challenge was to find a restaurant owner and/or chef willing to fulfill their vision of a five-course meal that would use only local farm products as the ingredients. The local farm products used in the meal—meat, kielbasa, cheese, greens, herbs, beer, and wine—would be those donated by Farm Bureau members. Matt and Tracy Carroll, owners of Ivoryton’s Blue Hound Cookery restaurant, stepped up to embrace the project.
“They were amazing. We said we would like a five-course meal and told them that we would provide the produce and other ingredients. We said, ‘We grow the food and you put it together,’” recalled Bonnie Hall.
The five-course meal menu was created by Kitchen Manager Evan Barrett and Chef James Sullivan Xander Hougrand, Jeff Freaney, and Matt Carroll. The first course, for example, was kielbasa and chicken gumbo, with kielbasa from animals raised on the Halls’ Maple Breeze Farm and the chicken from farmer Wayne Spakowski’s farm. The salad course included local greens with arugula pesto vinaigrette and pecan-crusted cranberry-orange cow’s mile cheese. And the third course included beef ravioli, with the beef coming again from Maple Breeze Farm.
Bonnie Hall said the menu listed the source of each of the local ingredients in each course.
“It was our first-ever night to showcase the bounty of Middlesex County farms,” said Bonnie Hall. “John [Hall] wanted the legislators to appreciate what Connecticut farms produce.”
The dinner also provided an opportunity for the farmers of the Middlesex County Farm Bureau to talk with the legislators about mandate relief. Just like area towns and school districts that plead for relief from expensive legislative mandates, farmers talked with the legislators about legislative and regulatory mandates that make their businesses more costly to run.
Hall mentioned one new mandate as an example, the new requirement that maple syrup be produced in a commercial kitchen, If it isn’t, a special label must be affixed to the product. In a syrup making process that already requires an extended boiling time, this additional requirement and cost seems unnecessary to Hall.
At the dinner, the farmers discussed agricultural issues important to Middlesex County farmers over dessert.
“Some of the concerns are a continued stand-alone Connecticut Department of Agriculture, continued funding for the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, and protection of the Community Investment Act,” said Bonnie Hall.
With the success of this inaugural legislators dinner showcasing local farm products, Hall expects this to be the first of many annual meals.