Food producers featured in the Central Wisconsin Farm Fresh Atlas were honored in a special way during the eighth annual farmer tribute dinner at the Rothschild Pavilion.
Over 100 community members, farmers and their families enjoyed food, activities, live music and dancing during the celebration hosted by Central Rivers Farmshed on Nov. 14. The event marked the end of the growing season and commemorates the efforts made by the local food community throughout the year.
Dinner was ‘comfort food’ themed and catered by Urban Street Bistro of Wausau using ingredients grown by the farmers. Ticket revenues paid the full price of farmers’ meals, and further support was provided by the event sponsor, Wholistic Home Solutions of Amherst.
Taylor Christiansen, committee chair of the event and volunteer coordinator of Farmshed, said the event is about thanking farmers for their contributions to the community. The area farm atlas has grown from less than 20 farms to over 60, she said, and the event is a testament to the expanding local food movement.
“It’s truly a thank you to the farmers,” Christiansen said. “I like seeing the different people that have been involved with Farmshed over the years all in one place.”
Students from the University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point have a long history of working with area farmers and collaborating with Farmshed, said Christiansen, who is also a recent graduate of UWSP. A student group formerly hosted a separate dinner for farmers, but coordinators eventually merged the events. Students for Sustainability members now volunteer at the dinner and provide home made apple cider for attendees.
Mike Schretenthaller, senior and president of the group, said he was excited to update the community on how the group has changed, as well as talking about events and gatherings. Most of all, he looked forward to the food, fun and the chance to say, “thanks.”
“Farmers that grow the food that feeds our community deserve a good strong thank you and what better way to do that then to have a tribute dinner,” he said. “Community members are able to meet face to face with the people that grow and produce the food we eat, and when you can source your food that well it really makes you feel good and proud.”
He said many of the attendees had their first interaction with the club during the dinner, and he’s hoping to build farmer-club relationships. The most recent club outing included trips to area farms, something he hopes to see more.
“Hopefully we will be able to meet some new farmers interested in what we are doing,” Schretenthaller said. “Expanding our local food contacts is something that excites me most.”
Tana Route, senior biology major and garden coordinator of the group, said the club’s fresh-pressed cider came from apples harvested at Cornoyer orchard and the home of associate lecturer of physics, Bill Jenkins. The club offered cider free of charge but accepted donations and promoted the club throughout the night.
Route has been an officer of the group since her sophomore year and said the event is an important celebration. She said the nature of the event speaks to the strength of the area’s food lovers.
“It’s not just that the community is there. It’s that we appreciate it,” she said. “They bring food into our community, which is a big thing.”
Talking with farmers and their families over dinner, she said, was a great way to get to know people with a wealth of knowledge. She encourages people to attend, even if they don’t have an agriculture background.
“If you’re interested in learning a certain skill, there’s almost for certain going to be someone there who is into that,” she said. “You’ll be sitting at a table with a bunch of people who are probably pretty involved.”
The night included a silent auction with donated items and experiential packages from area businesses and farms. Proceeds from the auction went to Farmshed, but Christainsen said the objective was to promote contributors and link individuals. One of the experiential packages auctioned, for example, was a birding and brunch outing on a farm.
“It’s very much so about connecting people, rather than just having things,” Christiansen said.
One focus of this year’s event was to emphasize the tribute component. Attendees shared stories, notes, photos and videos thanking the farmers.
“It’s really comforting that people not only support but look forward to an event that supports local food,” Christiansen said. “It’s overall just a really fun event.”