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Farm dinners reunite consumers with the land

Common Ground

Although the farm-to-fork movement has been gaining steam with the growth of farmer’s markets and locally-sourced produce around the city, few people have direct access to the places where their food actually comes from. Trattoria Aroma hopes to bridge the gap between farmer and consumer through their seasonal farm dinners. For the past seven years, the restaurant has brought customers out to the Oles Family Farm in Alden to experience local farming first-hand.

The Aroma restaurant group has long believed in the importance of fresh, local produce. Restaurateur Dave Cosentino of Trattoria Aroma remembers how he felt the first time he visited Italy and tried freshly prepared dishes in the hills of Tuscany. “I was amazed at how different the food tasted. It struck me then that this is the way we should be eating,” says Cosentino. Everything came from the surrounding farms, and the difference in quality made a huge impact on him. Now, Trattoria Aroma has committed to spreading the love for locally sourced food with their customers through farm dinners. “The whole idea is to get people to understand organic local farming and what a difference that makes: what we eat, how we feel, and how it tastes,” says Cosentino. “It’s pretty mind-blowing what vegetables can taste like.”

The farm dinner idea first came about when Cosentino and a few others from Trattoria Aroma went on a chef’s farm tour and met the Oles family. “We hit it off with them and went back and proposed the idea of allowing us to bring customers out there for a dinner in the fields. We wanted to show [people] what their local farm movement was becoming,” says Cosentino of the partnership. Oles shared the same feelings, agreed to host the dinners, and the rest is history. “It’s been great ever since.”

The Oles Family Farm seemed like the perfect location for the farm dinners because it is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm that uses organic farming practices. As a CSA, the farm can sell crop shares to customers before the plants are even harvested. With the influx of cash before the harvest, the farm does not have to worry about vegetables going to waste; everything has already been paid for. Farmer Daniel Oles has even started to grow plants year-round in greenhouses and does not have to wait for summer or fall to pick the produce.

Still, Oles emphasizes the importance of seasonality and understands when flavors are at their peak. For instance, you won’t find any carrots growing here in the summer. “Sure, we can grow them, but they don’t taste as sweet as they do in the fall,” says Oles. Boxes of straight-off-the-vine seasonal vegetables are delivered to customers in the city on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The CSA model is not only lucrative for the farmer, but it also enables a relationship to form between the customer and the farmer, the type of relationship that Trattoria Aroma hopes to cultivate between its customers and the Oles family. Oles believes that knowing where your food comes from matters, a notion that Cosentino also believes in, and Oles strives to educate his customers about the plethora of seasonal vegetables available. To make the CSA boxes more user-friendly, recipe cards are included. Oles’ commitment to serving customers the best fresh produce is a goal that Trattoria Aroma also shares, and this principle has helped form a lasting partnership.

This year, Aroma has held four farm dinners, the last of which will be on Saturday, October 11th. An adventurous group of foodies will be shuttled thirty minutes from Trattoria Aroma in Williamsville to the Oles Family Farm in Alden to learn about agriculture from an expert. Visitors to the farm have the opportunity to learn first-hand about the farm’s seasonal offerings and the importance of organic farming practices. Oles provides a hands-on learning experience as well, walking the group around the farm to pick and taste different kinds of vegetables, including more obscure plants such as kohlrabi and fennel. As an added perk, guests can take a bag of vegetables to bring home. “The focus of these dinners is to educate people and to bring awareness to agriculture,” says Oles, a goal that Trattoria Aroma whole-heartedly supports.

After tromping across the farm, guests are treated to a meal prepared using vegetables and meats from the Oles Farm, bringing the evening full circle. Diners tuck in to a seven-course harvest-centric feast, and amidst the delicate china plates and spot-on wine pairings, you almost forget you are eating inside a barn. Calling these events “farm dinners” denotes austerity, though the evening is anything but. Trattoria Aroma is careful not to take any short-cuts in what could be instead a modest, no-frills farm-to-fork supper. The restaurant offers multiple farm dinners throughout the season in order to showcase the head chefs from each of Trattoria Aroma’s three restaurants, highlighting their own unique styles. No two farm dinners are the same.

The concept has been such a hit since Trattoria Aroma first started holding these events seven years ago, that the dinners have swelled from a small group of 30 people to a sizable crowd of 70, and each year, more farm dinners are added. The restaurant believes this trend will only continue. In fact, the restaurant has had to limit the number of guests in order to maintain the intimate atmosphere.

Despite the surging popularity of the locavore movement, Trattoria Aroma remains the only restaurant in Buffalo to offer such a unique dining experience, though this could change soon. Daniel Oles mentioned that a few other restaurants have already asked about hosting their own dinners at his farm. Farm dinners, at the Oles farm and others, are something to look for in the coming years.

For those of you who were not lucky enough to secure a ticket to any of Aroma’s farm dinners this year, don’t fret. Cosentino hinted that tickets for next year’s events may be available before the start of the holiday season, which would make a great present for your favorite foodie. Aroma hopes to hold four more dinners next year during the summer. Tickets are not cheap at $150 a pop, but the rare experience more than makes up for it, and with many farms less than 20 miles outside the city, farm dinners provide the perfect excuse to visit the agricultural side of the state.

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