TRAVERSE CITY — Garden fresh cuisine is all the rage now in northern Michigan, and TC Community Garden members are helping to lead the trend with their second annual Garden 2 Table dinner series offered this summer.
“We want to show people how wonderfully delicious locally grown food can be and highlight our gardeners who put their blood and sweat into growing these crops,” said Kimberly Conaghan, executive director of TC Community Garden located at Historic Barns Park.
On July 18 and Aug. 8, the non-profit will host four-course dinners that showcase vegetables and fruits from the garden — rhubarb and strawberries are like to show up in the first — and locally-sourced meat.
Ingredients used outside the garden are sourced within a 100-mile radius. The dinners will be prepared by the owners of S2S Sugar to Salt, a Traverse City restaurant that celebrated its two-year anniversary last month.
“It’s an indirect way to show the impact of a community garden in our city,” said Stephanie Wiitala, who co-owns S2S Sugar to Salt with boyfriend and chef Jonathan Dayton. “This is a true garden to table dinner, because we don’t print the menu until an hour before the event. The spirit of the dinner is truly intact because of that.”
Sixty tickets are sold for each event, and organizers line up several tables to make one long table in the garden, giving it a romantic and Italian feel.
“When you get there there’s a beautiful table set up. You’ve got all of your closest friends that have joined you, and instead of harvesting food that evening you get to sit down and enjoy all of the garden fresh ingredients,” Wiitala said.
She and Dayton prepare the dinner in the restaurant kitchen located a half-mile from the garden. Afterwards they high-tail it over to the garden to serve and talk with guests.
“The people that attend this dinner are getting something that’s not ever duplicated again,” Wiitala said. “Because we chose to be a locally driven restaurant and catering business, this dinner is what we believe in.”
Local wine also will be served with the meal.
The TC Community Garden sits on 1.5 acres of land and offers 85 plots for rent on an annual basis. It costs $25 a year to be a member, and $100 a year to license a 12-by-30-foot plot. Not all members have to help garden, Conaghan said.
“Folks can become a member at any time they want, whether or not they want to license a plot with us,” she said.
The garden currently has 150 members and the nonprofit uses their fees to invest back into the garden and host educational classes about gardening. Funds collected at the Garden 2 Table dinners go right back to the garden, said Zach Millican, president of the TC Community Garden board.
“Everything that we raise for the dinner goes back to the garden to pay for the garden and infrastructure for the year,” he said.
Last year, the organization was able to build a shaded area and a children’s garden with membership fees and funds raised at the Garden 2 Table dinners.
“We’re a membership-driven organization. It allows us to continue to buy soil and buy equipment. It helps us pay for programming,” Miller said. “All funds go back to the garden. More so than money, it’s about bringing the community together.”
Tickets for the Garden 2 Table dinners are $75 for non-members and $50 for members. Fewer than 20 seats remain for the July 18 event. Order online at eventbrite.com.