On a warm summer evening in August, 100 strangers gather in Rachael Jones’ backyard for dinner. While they may not know each other, they share the same passion.
You might say Jones’ dream was something right out of a Hollywood movie. A sort of “If you build it, they will come” kind of epiphany. Except, instead of a baseball diamond, she and husband Chris built a 100-foot long cedar table to accommodate 100 perfect strangers as they dined on really good food. According to Jones, the table was the vessel for their mission. Slow down, appreciate the open spaces, and fellowship with others. From chicken to craft beer, everything served at their monthly farm-to-table event is sourced within a 10-mile radius of the farm.
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In 2014, the couple packed up their two kids and headed 40 miles south of Chicago, trading suburbia for a five-acre farm in Grant Park, Illinois. With nothing more than the knowledge gleaned from windowsill gardens and small backyard experiments, Rachael became Farmer Jones and absorbed as much growing information as possible. Like most things, knowledge comes from experience. What to grow when, how to grow it, and when to harvest comprised a learning curve she was anxious to master.
“You think, ‘How hard can it be?’” Jones says. “You throw a few seeds in the ground and it grows.”
Success hinged upon her ability to partner with like-minded farmers and gourmet chefs who shared her desire to expose to others the pleasures of good food and a slower pace. Close partnership with The Cottage on Dixie, a restaurant in Homewood specializing in organic and locally grown fare, makes the dream possible, Jones says. Robert Burt, general manager and sommelier at the restaurant, coordinates the culinary staff at each event. Experienced chefs and up-and-coming talent, such as Sarah Gallagher from Stella Bear Foods and Michelle Laninga from The Rad Dish, will contribute their culinary expertise to the monthly events that include fresh produce and meats sourced from several farms including Happy Life Ranch, Gray Farms and Five Hands Farm.
When the team pulled off their first outdoor dining event in May 2015, Locavore Farm (meaning “one who eats locally”) was born. Word of mouth brought them 400 guests for another event in June and the rest was history. In addition to once-monthly dinners, they host wedding receptions and other celebrations. Jones is quick to point out that the farm isn’t “just a venue” as the food is always center stage and grown for each event.
Locavore Farm will kick off the season with Latin-inspired flare on May 20, when open flame grills and live music converge to offer another unique dining experience. Dine on the Land events will be held the third Thursday of every month, culminating with Friendsgiving in November, complete with fresh turkey and all the fixings. Beginning in June, the farm, in partnership with Kankakee County, will host a monthly event to commemorate the 150th birthday of Frank Lloyd Wright. Guests will tour nearby Bradley House, one of Wright’s first Prairie Style homes, and enjoy a period appropriate menu at the farm.
“Trying new foods is one of our favorite things to do and I’ve always dreamed of my own restaurant,” Jones says. “[Locavore Farm] represents everything we love and allows us to create food experiences and give our guests something to enjoy.”
For information or tickets, go to locavorefarm.com.
Heather Blackmore is a garden field editor for Country Gardens and Outdoor Living magazines. Her work has been featured on Good Morning America as well as in the Chicago Tribune, Chicagoland Gardening and Garden Guide magazines. A lifelong athlete, Heather is a former college rugby and volleyball player and enjoys weightlifting and an active lifestyle. When she’s not working in the garden, she and her husband enjoy attending their daughters’ many band, lacrosse and show choir events. Heather is also a long-time supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.