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Bonnaroots: Bonnaroo's Farm-to-Table Dinner

At Bonnaroo, an annual, seated, farm-to-table feast brings Nashville’s refugee farmers into the fold.

Written By:  Jennifer Justus

Photographers:  The Tennessean

Think of dinner at Bonnaroo, and slices of late-night pizza might come to mind. Food trucks, too, pair well with a rock show, given their funky hotdogs piled with kimchi and a pop of sunny-side egg. Or, maybe when you think of food at Bonnaroo, you just think about granola bars. That’s a fair choice, too.

But, for the past couple years, Bonnaroo also has hosted a farm-to-table dinner worthy of the pages of Food & Wine. Under the shade of a fabric-draped pergola set within Planet Roo, the nonprofit area of the festival, diners come together for a multi-course meal. It’s an opportunity to sit down with an actual plate (and sustainable wooden utensils) to share food and conversation.

Even better, the “Bonnaroots” dinners are truly farm to table. They benefit a good cause, while also using locally grown produce from refugee farmers in Nashville, as well as several other Tennessee farms. Proceeds from Bonnaroots tickets go to Oxfam, a group that works in various ways to fight poverty.(Bonnaroots dinners on June 8 and 9 are already sold out).

“It is an amazing opportunity to connect to a compelling vision and to share what we are doing with a larger community of people,” Lauren Bailey, Growing Together program manager, says.

Bailey works with about 10 refugee farmers who are a part of Growing Together, a program operated by The Nashville Food Project. The farmers arrived here with agrarian backgrounds from their native Burma and Bhutan. They now grow food on a field behind a church off Haywood Lane and sell their wares at the Richland Park Farmers’ Market and through Nashville Grown, an online food co-op. Growing Together helps expand the farmers’ opportunities and access to land, seeds, and training.

So, how did the refugee farmers end up selling their produce to Bonnaroo?

The Bonnaroots dinners are organized by Eat for Equity, a group from Minneapolis that supports nonprofit causes by holding community dinners. Lately, they have been doing more work with immigrants and refugees at their home base, too. Emily Torgrimson, co-founder of Eat for Equity, says “food is a language all of us speak.”
Early in 2016, Torgrimson contacted Growing Together and Nashville Grown to hear what the gardens in Tennessee produce in early June in order to sketch out a menu.

Then, during the week of Bonnaroo, Alan Powell of Nashville Grown, along with the help of locals like David Crisler, get produce from Growing Together and other local farmers and deliver it in a refrigerated truck to Manchester. Torgrimson and team went to work under the cover of a small network of tents. They stashed produce and pies in refrigerated cases like you’d find in a bodega with “Cold Beer” emblazoned across the top. They set up mise en place on folding tables for chopping vegetables, mixing up batches of pimento cheese within earshot of bands rocking out at the “That Tent” stage. 

As diners arrived, they were offered Lagunitas beer or sodas made from herbs, like lemon verbena and mint grown onsite at the Bonnaroo Learning Garden. They checked in at the Eat for Equity booth and picked up a plate from the group’s collection of donated china with patterns one might find familiar from an aunt or grandmother’s home. Then, they found their place at a long table near the Solar Stage.

As the boom of kick drums ricocheted across the grounds and crowds cheered in the distance, the courses at the Bonnaroots dinner began to roll out. Pickled cauliflower and carrots were served with Sequatchie Cove Farm cheese with pimento, Benton’s aged ham, and baskets of grilled bread. A salad arrived next, dotted and striped with edible flowers and watermelon radish, herbs, and the cool crunch of cucumber. Family-style plates passed piled with BBQ Sea Island peas over Parmesan grits with buttermilk slaw and pulled pork. And, finally, the pies from the refrigerated cases made it to the table. Buttermilk versions made with Cruze Farm milk were topped with berries from Mountain Meadows Farm in Anderson County, Tennessee.

As Torgrimson took to the Solar Stage to explain courses and talk about the work of the refugee farmers, diners were given an opportunity to appreciate the farmers' efforts as they ate. Meanwhile back in Nashville, the farmers harvested another batch of produce that would be headed to farmers’ market the following morning.

And the beat, as they say, went on.

>>> bonnaroo extras

At Bonnaroo 2017, learn about the importance of culinary instruction at the Seed Life Skills “how-to” demonstrations in Planet Roo. Founder Chef Hugh Acheson will teach a cooking class out of the Planet Roo Academy, and will participate in an interview with Oxfam from the Solar Stage to discuss food policy and education.

 

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