Event for D.C. farmers’ markets raises $350,000

AFP Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Nov. 25, 2014) — The Wenks had been farming in the Pennsylvania town that shares their name, Wenksville, for seven generations when Ben Wenk decided to add a new venue to the mix: Selling at the farmers’ markets.
After several “box truck disasters” and a few collapsed market tents, Wenk landed his family’s Three Springs Fruit Farm spots at seven farmers markets in the Washington, D.C., area — and the speaker slot at the biggest fundraiser of the year for the biggest family of farmers markets in the city.
“Being a younger man on an older farm has allowed me to put my youthful energy into some new enterprises that haven’t been explored for generations,” Wenk told an audience of nearly 400 people at FreshFarm Markets’ annual Farmland Feast on Nov. 10.
The event raised $350,000, the most it’s raised over a 12-year history, in one evening to supply a quarter of the nonprofit’s budget for the 13 farmers markets it runs. The funds also will support educational courses and special events in 2015.
To date, the Feasts had raised more than $2 million for the nonprofit to put on producer-only farmers markets at places like the White House, where farmers not only provide local products but also interact with national policymakers. Emceed by The Washington Post’s food editor, Joe Yonan, the Farmland Feast guest list reads as a who’s-who list from D.C.’s rising food-and-farms world, as well as deep-pocketed supporters.
But Ann Yonkers, co-founder and co-executive director of FreshFarm Markets, said having farmers like Wenk at the event was one of the biggest highlights of the evening. A grant from the Farvue Foundation allowed more than 30 farmers to attend the dinner, tickets for which started at $300 per person. It also paid for hotel rooms for farmers who made the trek into the city.
“Having the farmers there gave the night such great energy,” Yonkers said. “It was also important for them to meet and talk with each other, as well as with FreshFarm Market supporters, in a different setting.”
Michelle Nowak, farm manager at The Farm at Our House in Brookeville, Md., said she was thankful for the opportunity to attend the event with her husband.
Nowak, who grows organic vegetables on the land owned by a job-training center for at-risk teenage boys, said it’s not every day she has an excuse to dress up for a night out.
For $125, guests not attending the dinner could mingle at a cocktail party beforehand that included a silent auction and offerings from local bartenders and chefs.
More than 30 local chefs, mixologists, sommeliers and pastry chefs collaborated on menus that highlighted local and seasonal products. Tarver King, chef at The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm, displayed hors d’oeuvres on pieces of wood to make guests feel like they were foraging for the snacks, which included small orbs filled with squash juice.
Creative cocktails took advantage of local distillers and in-season products like quince, which was featured on the event’s invitation this year.
Crates of local or collectors-edition wines went for hundreds of dollars at the cocktail portion of the event, alongside local products or food experiences that had been donated by the food community.
Following the speech by Wenk during dinner and a quick appearance from one of local food’s most eloquent supporters, Baltimore chef Spike Gjerde, dinner conversations were drowned out by the voice of the auctioneer — and the sound of lots of money being raised.
The chance to cook dinner with New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman went to two different bidders at about $10,000 apiece. Weeklong stays at food-centric resorts went for twice that much.
The bidding culminated with the auctioneer asking guests to chip in just a bit more for the cause. Dozens of bid cards went up, adding $100 or $150 each to the mounting pot of contributions by the end of the evening.
In all, the 12th annual event raised $20,000 more than it had in the previous year and will allow the farmer-centric markets to continue to grow in the year to come.
“The Farmland Feast has always been a showcase of the best of local food and farming,” Yonkers said. “This year, it truly felt like a confirmation that this transformation is no longer a dream but is very real and is actually happening.”