Apple orchards often struggle with keeping up the “buzz” when apples aren’t en vogue like they are at this time of year. Some farm market and orchard owners are turning to farm-to-table dinners to not only showcase the produce they grow but also get some traction during those off times.
Once such grower is Andy Sietsema of Sietsema Orchard in Ada, MI. His dinners have been so successful he has started turning people away! It’s a good problem to have for Sietsema, who started the dinners three years ago as a way to bring people together and bring more awareness of local food.
“It’s a cool concept and is turning more people on to the orchard,” he says.
Sietsema recently partnered with Saburba, a local eatery and caterer, to provide the five-course menu and organize the RSVPs for each of the orchard’s dinners. He has also worked with other chefs and restaurants to provide the dining experience. His cider-tasting room also has a commercial kitchen which can be used for food preparation, and he tries to have as much locally-sourced food as he can.
Sietsema says working with local sous chefs can also be a good idea because they may be interested in getting their name out as a chef. But, he encourages anyone interested in starting these dinners to make sure whoever prepares and creates the meals works well with what your farm/orchard is about.
He typically charges around $50 to $60 a plate. The events are BYOB. Although, he does offer Sietsema Orchard hard cider and a private-label wine.
“At our price point, they want a nice wine, or a (hard) cider or two,” he says.
He typically holds dinners from May until the end of September or October with the exception of a specialty dinner or two, and the dinners are often outside during the spring and summer, but can be inside if inclement weather happens. And of course, in the case of his sold-out Valentine’s Day dinner, eating outside in February in Michigan just not going to happen.
He typically has 26 to 30 people at each dinner, and it’s a mix of regulars and new attendees. He says the sweet spot would be around 38 people.
Here’s a few tips from Sietsema if you’re interested in starting a farm-to-table dinner:
- Don’t be afraid to charge too much.
- Talk with the caterer or chef ahead of time to make sure there is an agreement in place of expectations for the dinner and how much you’ll pay, where preparation will be, etc.
- RSVPs are better if the orchard can control them, and know that some people are going to reserve and cancel on you.
- Don’t do too many – keep it special.
- Charge in advance
- Aim for that higher mark clientele.
- If you’re bringing in alcohol, it is technically a private party. Make sure your orchard is properly licensed for whatever you do.
A farm-to-table dinner can be a great way to increase the reach for your farm and orchard. Getting people to your farm and allowing them to see your orchard in a different light can beneficial.
“It’s more brand-building and awareness,” Sietsema says.