Ask Eartha: Enjoy a harvest dinner
September 16, 2016
What is a harvest dinner, and what is the history behind the celebration? How can I take part here in Summit County?
— Amy, Blue River
Harvest festivals have ancient roots, dating back to Pagan times. Traditionally, harvest festivals coincide with the end of the harvest season, although the timing often varies depending on climate and crop types. In North America, the most widely celebrated harvest festival is Thanksgiving. In other areas of the world, most harvest festivals coincide with the Harvest Moon — the full moon closest to the autumn equinox. These festivals have historically been a time to celebrate not only the bounty of the season, but also the reprieve from long days spent laboring in the fields. Until the 20th century, most farmers celebrated the end of the harvest with what was called a "harvest supper," and all workers who helped in the fields were invited to the large dinner.
At the turn of the 20th century, most U.S. farms produced food that was eaten only 50 miles away, and eating out of season wasn't an option. Once Americans began moving away from more rural areas, these local food sources became few and far between. With the development of the interstate system, food items could be transported across the country any time of year. The agricultural system has also changed, evolving into a large industry that favors the efficiency of massive fields planted with a single crop, rather than one focused on supporting smaller, family-owned farms. In addition, the love of convenience caused processed foods to gain popularity, and the disconnection between farm and food became more firmly established. Instead of a farm, the grocery store is now our preferred location to purchase food, and once inside, seasons cease to exist.
There is, however, an effort underway working to restore seasonality to our plates: the farm-to-table movement. Proponents of farm-to-table believe that eating seasonally and locally is healthiest and most sustainable for both our bodies and our agricultural system. The movement has become so popular that there is even a term for people who eat only foods that were produced and grown locally: a locavore. Farm-to-table emphasizes quality over convenience; thus, the ingredients preferred are only the freshest, most organic and most seasonal varieties available. This healthy eating trend has gained popularity through increased exposure of current food production systems that emphasize generating profits over producing healthy, sustainable foods.
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Why is local food better for people and planet? The definition of a local food requires that it be shipped less than 400 miles from its source. Of course, decreasing shipping distances means that fewer greenhouse gas emissions are emitted during transportation. Furthermore, less transportation also means better air quality. In addition, foods that are shipped far from the farm are often picked prior to ripening, which can prevent certain types of fruits and vegetables from achieving their full nutritional content. Who would argue that we shouldn't strive to get the most nutritional value in the foods we eat?
Today, harvest dinners largely share the values of the farm-to-table movement. These dinners often tout the benefits of locally produced foods and feature seasonal produce from local farms. One key difference is that these meals typically serve as fundraisers for organizations whose missions promote the importance of locally, seasonally produced foods.
If you are interested in attending a local harvest dinner, High Country Conservation Center will be hosting its eighth annual Harvest Dinner at Vinny's Euro American Restaurant in Frisco on Wednesday, Sept. 21. This dinner gives each participant the opportunity to experience the ultimate farm-to-table experience. The meal celebrates local, seasonal food by offering four courses created by Chef Vinny Monarcha, each made with ingredients donated by farms in Colorado. This year's dinner will feature beef and eggs from Vail Meat Company, salmon from Eagle Smoked Salmon, and greens and veggies grown right here in Summit County by community gardeners and the Summit CSA. The dinner costs $55 per adult and $25 per child. To make reservations, call (970) 668-5703 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Stewards hope to see you at the Harvest Dinner at Vinny's, and wish that your next meal is both healthy and local.