Tennessee National Marina’s pavilion field, donned with string lights and linen-covered tables, welcomed guests to enjoy a night of local and fresh foods and wines for Saturday’s Farm to Table event hosted by Loudon Rotary Club.
The meal has marked the end of summer for the past four years.
“This is our second year of hosting it,” Russ Newman, club member, said. “We took it over originally from the Loudon Merchants and Property Owners Association when they knew that they couldn’t continue it and their organization was dissolving.
“We’d had a previous fundraiser that we had operated for year, the Fiddlers Convention, we used to have that in downtown Loudon,” he added. “Over the years, it had started declining in attendance and the whole funding structure was a little more difficult. We had a little harder time making money doing that, so we were looking for an opportunity for a new fundraiser to support the charities basically that we support through our organization. That’s how we ended up landing on the Farm to Table program.”
Newman said the underlying purpose is to solidify the relationship between the community and local food producers.
“Basically, it’s an effort to get the community to support local, not just farmers, but local producers,” Newman said. “They could be restaurants, farms, obviously, other local groups that produce a consumable product, like a beverage or food or something like that. So we try to get everything that we serve from some local business that is in the business of providing that. It obviously helps our organization, but it promotes those businesses here locally.”
Patti Wells, who ignited the first Farm to Table, pointed to Loudon’s businesses as a reason for the event’s success.
“Farm to Table was relatively new, and I just felt like it was an event that would work in the Loudon area, and it was,” she said. “It was very successful. The interest of dining, having fabulous food, great wines to match, to pair with each meal. It was new to the community. It would be something fun to do.”
Farm to Table made sure attendees were well-fed as volunteer servers brought out a three-course meal alongside amuse-bouche, intermezzo and dessert, all prepared and provided by local companies and chefs, such as Sweetwater Valley Farms, Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams, Tennessee Valley Winery, Monterey Mushrooms, Ginger’s Crispy Cookies and Dripping Springs Distillery.
Kimberly Rice, Tennessee National chef, explained Farm to Table is the prime time for local foods to be in the spotlight.
“Any kind of Farm to Table uses fresh, quality ingredients,” Rice said. “They always have it at this time of the month so the produce and certain things are at the ripest time of the year, weather permitting. That’s why it’s always in August.”
Newman highlighted the importance of putting local providers on a pedestal.
“It’s part of tourism and economic development, supporting those initiatives in this community,” he said. “Obviously, if businesses don’t get support from the community then they’re not going to be viable for very long, so it’s really the purpose of it.”
Beyond the unique dishes placed in front of guests, such as prosciutto ham paired with cantaloupe and smoked tenderloin with Gouda cheese grits, an underlying theme of community fellowship held throughout the event.
“Another idea behind Farm to Table is to get to know your neighbors, too,” Wells said. “So you know, you’re meeting other people in your community and fellowship.”
In years past, the Loudon County Courthouse was the dinner’s setting. However, after the courthouse fire in April, the club was forced to hunt for a new venue.
Ty Ross, club president, weighed in on the importance of “helpers” in a world that sees tragedy each day.
“I was reminded this week when the president gave the executive order to put the flags at half-staff because of the events in El Paso and Dayton,” he said. “You know, tragedies happen and bad things happen, and I was riding in the car as I do every morning and taking my 12-year-old to Fort Loudoun Middle School, and he asks questions. He wants to know, ‘Dad, why is this happening? And what are we going to do about it?’ I told him, I said, I gave him something Mr. Rogers said a long time ago, said, ‘Yes, bad things do happen, but when bad things happen, what you will find when you look around is people helping.’ Mr. Rogers always says look for the helpers. A bad thing happened in our community just a few months ago when the courthouse burned, and that’s where this event is traditionally held. This is the fourth time we’ve held this, and it’s traditionally on the courthouse square. That’s unavailable this year, so what to do? What we found were a lot of helpers. ... When we were trying to decide whether to do this or not, we had a great community partner, Tennessee National, raise their hand and offer to help.”
Ross also looked to the club’s will to help others in times of need.
“You’ve got to wonder, where are these good people?” he said. “They’re in our civic clubs, like Rotary. That makes up the fabric of our country and our society. Rotary is an international organization of people dedicated to service. If you’re looking for the goodwill of strong people, look no further than your local Rotary Club.”
All funds from Farm to Table will benefit Food4Kids, leadership programs for high school students, clean water projects in Africa, BackPack program, Kids First Child Advocacy Center of the Ninth Judicial District, Iva’s Place and Good Samaritan Center of Loudon County.