Modern farming doesn't consist only of rising before the sun to milk cows, crouching awkwardly to drop tiny seeds into the soil or getting itchy making hay while the sun shines. These days, growers are also expected to create fetching tablescapes at farmers markets, have breezy conversations with chefs about varietals and terroir, and post glowing farm photos to Facebook and Instagram.
Some think the expectations placed upon food producers have become unreasonable.
Thirty-three-year-old Samantha duPont is one of them. "Marketing and visibility are so important," she says. "But farmers are not necessarily inclined to self-promote, nor have the time." DuPont's budding business, Roost Events, is designed to address that concern — and deliciously so.
Roost's concept is to coordinate and market family-style dinners that bring together growers, makers and eaters for convivial conversation, learning and flavor. Additional daytime events are in the works, too.
The idea for Roost hatched when duPont, who runs a vintage goods store on Etsy and has spent seven years as a grower on other people's farms, realized she wanted to expand her entrepreneurial pursuits. However, she and her partner don't currently own a piece of land. So duPont sought an opportunity to "support the ag community in another way," she says.
So far, Roost has promoted and hosted three dinners, all located at Shelburne's Bread & Butter Farm. It has the facilities to accommodate indoor and outdoor seating — a must, given Vermont's inconsistent weather.
DuPont has been a baker but is not a chef, so she has a cook on board for each event. Thus far, she has teamed up with Tessa Holmes, owner of Blossom Whole Food Kitchen and Catering in Hinesburg. The two met while working at Bread & Butter and are aligned in their belief in bringing people together around the table.
Like duPont, Holmes had reached the point of wanting to work for herself. "I've been a cooking professional for 18 years now," she says. "I want to do the kind of cooking I love the most." Through Blossom, she offers twice-weekly take-out meals, catering and personal-chef services. Holmes' passion is preparing vegetarian whole-foods dishes, but for Roost dinners she incorporates meat.
Bread & Butter is well-known for its CSA and Friday evening burger nights. Farm owners Corie Pierce and Chris Dorman are committed to sharing resources and incubating small businesses, such as Henry's Dairy and Blank Page coffee — the latter of which pops up at the Bread & Butter Farm store. This is also the site of Blossom's meal pickups; the shelves and coolers are filled with goods from various area producers.
One of those producers is Sobremesa of Marshfield. Owners Caitlin and Jason Elberson produce a line of fermented foods, including year-round items such as kimchi and curry kraut, and seasonal offerings such as rhubarb pickles, strawberry kombucha and wild ramp-sunflower pesto.
Sobremesa's flavorful ferments were the focus of the first Roost dinner, which cost $55 and took place mid-March. Guests arrived at the farm at 5:30 p.m., listened to the Elbersons talk about their operation, and sampled Sobremesa's wares alongside pork, roasted potatoes and fennel, bitter greens with kimchi dressing, and onion tart. Coffee, tea and a chocolate dessert completed the offerings.
During sugaring season, Meghan Stotko and Andy Paonessa from Heartwood Farm in South Albany came by to give a tapping demo and talk, and to eat a meal prepared with their syrup. More recently, Roost hosted a Basque dinner, which featured cider pairings from Shacksbury in Shoreham.
After hearing several mentions of Roost's cider-tasting dinner, Andrea Grayson, a Charlotte resident who works in social-change marketing, decided to attend. "I went alone. I didn't know anybody. [Yet] it felt like a warm, extended community," she recalls.
Events such as these "attract a certain kind of person," Grayson explains. "They have to be into the stories the producers have to tell; how people connect to the food and the land." She contrasts the comfortable vibe at Roost dinners with the fancier, pricier equivalent offered by groups such as Outstanding in the Field, founded in Santa Cruz, Calif., in 1999. With white tablecloths, wine glasses and big-name chefs, Outstanding dinners come with some sticker shock: Upcoming dinners in New England run $205 to $235 per person.
DuPont and Holmes intentionally avoid that sort of exclusivity. At $55 to $75, depending on the theme of the event and the availability of alcohol, Roost dinners fall into the "special occasion" category for many folks but are well outside of the once-in-a-lifetime realm.
"I want the food to be something everyone loves," says Holmes. "I want the whole experience to feel like you're going to a party. I want the food to be really, really good, and I want people to feel nourished and taken care of."
At the Basque dinner, that nourishment began with a spread of Spanish-inspired tapas and moved on to the egg dish known as tortilla española, grilled steak with spicy aioli, and a white bean and chard dish with a hearty Catalan-style sauce. Shacksbury put out a trio of ciders to sip alongside the plates.
"Tessa did an amazing job," Grayson says. "They had delicious food that didn't bump up against any of my [dietary] limitations. There was a really good sense of seasoning and flavor, and the dishes all fit together really well."
Grayson says she would attend another Roost event, and she may soon have that chance. Two new events are planned, duPont says: an outdoor yoga brunch on July 10 with food made by Holmes and beverages from Tomgirl Juice; and a banh mi picnic, date TBA, featuring Red Hen Baking bread, pâté made with chicken livers from Maple Wind Farm in Huntington, pork from Ardelia Farm & Co. in Irasburg and vegetables from the Intervale Community Farm.
Although duPont still works for other businesses besides her own, she hopes that, with time, she'll be able to dedicate more energy to Roost — fostering agricultural and culinary collaboration that helps to support farmers, artisans and chefs as she supports herself.