By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau
Mary Mertz raised her hands to her face as she watched the party of 57 sit down at the long row of tables covered with white tablecloths set perfectly with china and glasses in the middle of her family’s corn field. A broad smile spread across her face.
“It’s a dream come true,” she said. “It’s what I always envisioned. Happy people in our corn field sitting down to a wonderful meal.”
For Mary, this “Feast of the Fields” was something she’d always wanted to do. On the afternoon of June 5, her vision became reality. She and husband, Bob, hosted this inaugural dinner at their River Creek Farms, east of Zeandale in Riley County.
While a bit on the warm side, a gentle southerly breeze tussled the tops of the corn nestled next to the Kansas River. Temperatures topped out at 90-degrees.
But no one complained. They were too busy sipping Kansas red and white wines, learning a bit about agriculture and looking forward to the upcoming culinary delights.
Betty Cunningham had driven two hours from Lenexa to dine in the country cornfield. Being a former farm girl from Hornell, N.Y., she’s lived in Kansas since 1954.
“I came here to eat some really good food from the farm and that’s the best,” Betty said. “Being back in the country and seeing corn fields and eating in one with good food and good people.”
Many of the urban guests voiced their pleasure with the quiet, country setting. They laughed, visited and looked forward to the upcoming feast.
About 5:30, appetizers were served in the form of lamb and pheasant. In addition to the lamb raised on the Mertz farm, pork and other locally grown foods followed throughout the evening. Manhattan chef, Scott Benjamin, and his staff prepared the food.
Yes, it was a long-awaited opportunity to raise interest in locally produced foods and a way to engage urban people in a rural setting. Husband, Bob, was ready and more than able to provide the guests a short history of the fourth-generation farm and present a short-course in Agriculture 101.
“We wanted to tell the story of what we do in a way that would connect with those unfamiliar with farming,” Mary explained. “We wanted to provide a new experience. Serving a dinner of local fare in a field where crops are growing seemed to be a great venue and the perfect way to bring it all together.”
The natural backdrop complete with farm machinery, crops, big round bales and field art helped fill the bill. Incidentally, the field art was an irrigation pivot system directly to the north of the dinner table. Bob had purposely positioned the tall water towers at this location as a point of interest for their guests.
Throughout the evening the Mertzs provided a running commentary for guests interested in learning more about their food and farming and ranching.
Many of the guests enjoyed the party so much they vowed to attend the next “Feast of the Fields.” And the Mertz family relishes the idea of Mary’s dream becoming a reality.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the turnout,” Mary said. “So many people, so much interest in coming to something like this and their willingness to come to dinner out in a corn field. I can’t think of a better setting.”