The idea to host farm dinners through Farm to Fork Event Co. began in Ashland in 2010.
Chef Matthew Domingo and Erin Daugherty wanted to direct the locavore movement back to the people they call celebrities: local farmers, growers, ranchers, winemakers, bakers, cheesemakers and other artisan food producers.
Today, their company organizes farm dinners across the state, as well as food adventure trips, including a four-day rafting trip down the Rogue River in June.
On Aug. 17, the dining duo, who moved to Portland last year, return to Ashland to put on a farm dinner at Willow-Witt Ranch.
The menu will include dishes made from the ranch's pork and goat, paired with wines from Quady North.
Farm to Fork's goal is loftier than creating meet-and-greet dinners overlooking vegetable gardens, orchards and pastures. The company's founders are committed to building a stronger economy around healthful food production.
"Having farmers work directly with chefs to provide food that has integrity is good for the body, the economy and the future," says Domingo, an Oregon Culinary Institute graduate who worked at Portland's respected Park Kitchen before becoming Farm to Fork's director.
Three years into orchestrating successful events in which more than 4,000 people have paid to attend a feast in a field, the couple remain behind-the-scenes by choice.
Domingo and Daugherty didn't invent the concept of a roving al fresco farm dinner in which long tables are set up near postcard-perfect fields. But Farm to Fork is credited with being the first to take the concept statewide in Oregon, sell out every seat and pay suppliers the full cost of producing grass-fed lamb, pastured poultry and heirloom vegetables.
Says Susan Muller of Rogue Valley Brambles in Talent: "They directly support farmers by using all local ingredients, and those who attend the dinners are introduced to our turkey, duck or chicken through beautifully prepared dishes."
Better-known outfits such as Outstanding in the Field and Plate & Pitchfork can charge double the $95 Domingo and Daugherty ask for a multicourse meal that is paired with three glasses of wine.
Ticket revenue is used to pay suppliers, staff and for permits. A donation also is made to nonprofit programs that promote farm education and local food use in restaurants, markets and schools.
This June through September, the couple are organizing dinners at working farms in Ashland, Jacksonville, Bend, the Willamette Valley and Hood River. Within weeks of announcing the series in March through their website, www.farmtoforkevents.com, they sold out for the Cowhorn Vineyard dinner June 29.
Throughout the year, the couple meet with farmers and other food producers to monitor when an ingredient will reach its peak, and then they create their menu. They also visit the host farm months before the dinner to lay plans for an event that has all the complications of a wedding reception for 160 people.
It takes at least a full day to set up their portable kitchen, as well as the tables, chairs, linens, plates, glasses and utensils, and a day to clean up.
Despite their earnestness, a few times the couple and their team have had to move tables out of the path of a storm and into a barn.
Food adventure, indeed.