A Farm-to-Table Affair: Wow Your Wedding Guests with Local, Seasonal and Sustainable Cuisine

Create a customized menu that reflects your tastes and values.
From: Fall/Winter 2014 edition

For many couples pouring their hearts (and budgets) into creating sophisticated, personalized weddings, clichéd reception food is out of the question. These brides and grooms are going for customized menus that reflect their tastes, their backgrounds and now, their values. Today, the question many couples ask isn’t just “Chicken or beef?”, it’s “Where and how was that chicken (or cow) raised?”

Eat Local
Sourcing ingredients from local growers isn’t brand-new—just ask any of the Minnesota farm-to-table restaurants enjoying broad recognition, big awards and growing legions of loyal diners. What’s new is the popularization of farm-to-table wedding catering and the idea of serving seasonal dishes crafted from fresh ingredients grown on local family farms. “When we started [in 2004] there was really no one else doing this kind of local, sustainable catering,” says Heidi Andermack, co-owner of Chowgirls Killer Catering in Minneapolis. “Now that’s changed. Couples have discovered that you can offer your guests a really incredible culinary adventure that comes from our own Minnesota backyard.”

For locally focused caterers, that backyard often consists of family farmers like Larry Schulz Organic Farm in Owatonna (eggs and poultry), Thousand Hills Cattle Company in Cannon Falls (beef), Castle Rock Organic Farms in Osseo, Wis. (dairy), or Riverbend Farm in Delano (produce). “The main reason we’re so into what we’re doing—the farm-to-table movement—is because we’re supporting local farmers,” says Missy Smith, executive director of Common Roots Catering in Minneapolis. “By developing relationships with these farmers, we’re getting better, fresher food that benefits the environment as well. Our couples come to us not only looking for really great food, but also because this is how they live their life, and it’s the quality of food they envision for their big day.”



Have It Your Way
Think farm-sourced only equals rustic? Think again. “A few years ago, everyone wanted to get married in barns,” says Smith. “We’re still seeing some of that rustic, casual approach but there’s also been a resurgence of modern and elegant. This food lends itself beautifully to both styles.”

Jodee McCallum, owner of Three Sons Signature Cuisine in Minneapolis, agrees. “The rustic perception comes in the décor, not the plate,” she says. “It’s not only local and sustainable, it can also be elegant and classic. It’s simply up to the couple how they choose to present it.”

In Season
Whether you’re hosting a picnic-inspired party or a formal sit-down dinner, Andermack recommends working closely with your caterer to learn where they source local ingredients. She also urges couples to choose items that are in season for the freshest, tastiest fare.

“Our most popular dish, the roasted vegetable platter, is based totally on what’s in season, so people will get really cool things they’ve never seen or tasted anywhere,” says Andermack. “It’s amazing how many people think they don’t like beets because of the canned beets that sat on their family’s table growing up, rather than these fresh-from-the-farm vegetables.”

Part of this seasonality means some flexibility may be required. For example, mini pies featuring Minnesota apples may not be possible for a May wedding, and asparagus in December is a no-go. But if you’re ready to embrace the seasons, your taste buds (and guests) will be rewarded, says Philip Dorwart, chef and owner of Create Catering in Minneapolis. “We have always focused on seasonality—so much so that in the late spring, summer and fall we are able to focus on micro-seasons, meaning that some produce is only at its peak for maybe a week or two.”



Pick Up the Tab
Because this type of catering often means managing relationships with a dozen or more individual farms rather than one large, conventional distributor (not to mention the additional labor dealing with the soil and occasional bugs that can arrive with picked-fresh produce), pricing may be higher than a traditional catering approach. “Because this kind of food isn’t done on a large scale, the ingredients themselves can be more expensive so that the farmers can meet their margins,” says Andermack. “That’s why we’re A-OK working with farmers who aren’t organic-certified but have organic practices. Certification is a very complex, expensive process, especially for these smaller farms.”

But don’t ditch your dreams of a farm-to-table feast if you don’t have a big budget. “We have clients all over the budget spectrum,” says Smith. “Just because it’s farm-to-table doesn’t mean it has to be out of your price range. With these ingredients, you’re really getting more bang for your bite anyway. Plus, we believe everyone deserves to have access to safe and delicious food.”

Even some hotels and event spaces are getting on board, mainly by featuring organic, locally sourced food in their catering packages. However, if featuring local fare at your reception is a priority, make it known before committing to a venue, recommends Sarah Trotter, wedding planner andowner of Lasting Impressions Weddings in Minnetonka. “Finding that vision early will help you execute it throughout the event, without being restricted by a particular venue’s requirements,” she says.

If you don’t have the option of sourcing your own caterer or are worried about your budget, don’t be afraid to talk to your venue about your wedding food wishes. “Odds are they’ll be excited to collaborate with someone who truly appreciates good food,” says Trotter.

A Moveable Feast
As wedding celebrations often spill into the late-night (or early-morning) hours, many couples are adding a midnight snack for party-hearty guests. But forget the processed cold cuts and trucked-in salty snacks, and opt instead for a delicious and unique treat from one of the area’s many food trucks focused on sustainable, locally sourced ingredients. 

Farm-to-table-focused food trucks like Hola Arepa, Gastrotruck, Chef Shack and Moral Omnivore source their meat and produce from local farms and co-ops, often even making their condiments from scratch. Most trucks are also licensed caterers and can serve their seasonal fare straight from the truck, bring in platters and even offer a more traditional—though usually less fancy—dinner service.

After the Honeymoon
For some couples, planning a seasonal wedding menu is an extension of established food and eating habits. For others, it’s a toe dip (or a cannonball) into the locavore pool, and the experience may inspire a desire to start their new life together on a path of health for each other, the community and the environment. Get started by joining a local food co-op, participating in a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program, shopping at a neighborhood farmers’ market or just making the switch to a couple of USDA-certified organic products at the local grocery store.

To learn what grows when, locate a farmers’ market or learn more about CSAs, visit Local Harvest (localharvest.org). When you know where your food comes from and how it’s grown, you’ll enhance your connection to your new home, your body and, ultimately, to each other. 

Make a Scene
Hotels and event centers can be beautiful, but there’s also something special about sharing food among the elements that make it all happen. For a venue with true farm-to-table flair, check out these wedding-ready barns, farms and orchards.
• Gale Woods Farm, Minnetrista
• Round Barn FarmRed Wing
• Hope Glen FarmCottage Grove
• Dellwood BarnDellwood
• Minnetonka OrchardsMinnetrista
• Mayowood Stone BarnRochester
• Maple Ridge FarmTaylors Falls
• Bruentrup Heritage FarmMaplewood

Dig In
Ready to sample some local flavor? Check out these farm-to-table-focused catering vendors.
Caterers
Chowgirls Killer Catering
Common Roots Catering
Create Catering
Fabulous Catering
Three Sons Signature Cuisine
Food trucks & catering
Hola Arepa
Moral Omnivore
Gastrotruck
Chef Shack
NateDogs

Credits: 
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Brooke Ringdahl Photography
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