Take an organization such as the American Cancer Society of West Michigan, two passionate farmers from Lubbers Family Farm, a local Grand Rapids craft brewery and a talented sous chef from Mercy Health; blend them all together, and what do you get? One great farm to table benefit dinner bringing awareness throughout the community for sourcing local foods, eating healthier and the fight to conquer cancer.
The farm to table setting began with a long farm table adorned with quaint vintage dishes and goblets and centerpieces of fresh farm flowers that farmer Karen Lubber had freshly cut that day from her garden.
The bees were buzzing and the farmer’s heritage turkeys gobbling. The guest arrived to a very warm welcome by Karen and husband Jeff; owners and farmers of Lubbers Family Farm.
Karen shared her stories and passion for sustainable agriculture as she led the guests on a personal farm tour showcasing their creamery (Dancing Goat), bakery (Little Rooster Bread Company), farm store and their pesticide free crops. Getting up close to the Lubbers’ farm animals (they raise heritage chickens, turkeys and pigs) and learning how all their animals are humanely raised (many for grass fed meat) was a highlight and educational moment. Karen shared her personal story about their youngest daughter, diagnosed with brain cancer at the young age of 6. The family began extensive research into the origins of cancer, which led them, inevitably, to their food supply, along with other things over which they had no control. Karen and Jeff became increasingly alarmed by what was in their food, namely pesticides, herbicides, dyes, and preservatives (it is a very long list). They became equally alarmed by what was lacking nutritionally in the food they were consuming.
After all their diligent research they made a quick decision to raise their own food; Lubbers Family Farm was born. As family and friends began to taste their food, they asked for some for themselves. This was their “aha” moment when they decided to be full time farmers. Their adult daughter who, although having sustained brain damage and hearing loss from her cancer treatments, is very healthy today.
As the guests were being seated and introductions were being made, Chef Bryan Nader from Mercy Health shared with the group that the meal he had prepared for everyone was “Veg-centric”. He and his culinary team created 5 courses, all locally sourced by Creswick Farms, Visser Farms, Potter Orchards, The Little Rooster Bread Company, Luther Family Farm and Dancing Goat Creamery and of course Lubber Family Farms. Chef Nader was excited to introduce new flavors and recipe ideas to his captive audience for the evening.
That the vegetable was going to be the focal point of the evening was a great reminder to everyone about the importance of trying to consume 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily for a healthy diet. Chef Nader reiterated how sourcing local, seasonal ingredients provides the best flavors and maximizes the nutritional value due to their freshness; tomatoes, for example, can be bought at their peak of flavor when they’re grown in our backyard. Mercy Health is one of Grand Rapids large healthcare organizations that has committed to sourcing 90% of their fruits and vegetables from local West Michigan farms. And Mercy offers many nutritional classes and programs throughout the year. One non-profit they are heavily involved in is Cooking Matters – an MSU Extension that involves teaching and supporting kids and their nutrition thru classes and locally supported events.
Sipping on our fresh vegetable bloody mary gazpacho (made with in season West Michigan tomatoes), we met Kate Avery, Brewery Vivant’s Director of Sales & Marketing. She had the important role of choosing which of their craft beers to pair with each of the five courses for the evening. She nearly got a standing ovation when she announced just how many beers tastings there would be during the dinner! The Brewery is owned by Jason and Kris Spaulding, and it’s one of the reasons why Grand Rapids has been crowned “Beer City USA” in the last several years. So, if you’re told to go taste the beer in an old funeral home by an Eastown local….don’t hesitate! Brewery Vivant is the realization of years of dreaming and much discussion of what a great brewery can be. The core of Brewery Vivant can be found at the crossroads of three passions (stated on their website): 1) their love of the tradition and artistic approach of the Belgian & French styles of beers, 2) their devotion to using local sources for ingredients and running their business according to the three pillars of sustainability; Environmental Integrity, Social Equity, and Economic Viability; and 3) sharing the experience of how beer and food can be paired to uplift the enjoyment of both.
The menu was well thought out and plentiful! After the first course of the gazpacho, which paired nicely with Vivant Brewery’s Farm Hand (French Style Farmhouse Ale), the chef courageously served the group a smorgasbord of 3 fresh farm salads (hence the “veg-centric” theme) consisting of lots of greens, herbs, tomatoes, grilled carrots and roasted beets. Kate was tickled to explain the reasoning behind pairing the different salads with two of her favorite beers; Bon Papa (Farmhouse IPA) and Solitude (Abbey style Ale). We were stoked on those pairings which matched perfectly with the different flavors and textures of the salads.
The main course of the dinner was not just one type of taco but three! We experienced a chicken taco with many wonderful flavors of Anaheim Chilies, tomatillos and garlic. Second taco was a vegetarian theme of spicy sweet potato and black beans with an avocado aioli cream. Ending the taco trio was a delicious carne asada with ancho chilies, Guajillo chilies and chipotle peppers in adobo. Karen knocked it out of the farm field again, this time pairing the Triomphe (Belgian style Indian Pale Ale) with the main course. Right around the corner was our last course of the night – a chocolate chip stout cookie (pairing was INSIDE the cookie batter – Vivant Brewery’s Undertaker) with a heaping scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream sourced by Michigan’s MOO-ville creamery. Excellent ending.
West Michigan Farm to Table benefit dinner by the American Cancer Society was the first time this fundraiser has been offered. Their biggest event is their annual Relay for Life. Not only did the dinner bring awareness for sourcing locally from farms such as Lubbers Family Farm but it also started a great dialogue about ways our communities can donate to such important organizations as the American Cancer Society. What a great way to support the organization’s hard work and finish the fight against every type of cancer that affects every community. They are the largest private, not-for-profit funder of cancer research in the United States, investing more than $4 billion since 1946. Thanks in part to their contributions, more than 1.5 million lives have been saved in the US in the past two decades. The American Cancer Society West Michigan looks forward to their Farm To Table dinner becoming an annual event each September for years to come. Stay connected so you don’t miss out.
Everyone should be able to experience authentic food at its source, to know their farmer, to taste the terroir of real food from a real place. Lubbers Family Farm in West Michigan offers their farm acreage and beautiful setting for special events such as farm to table dinners and various educational workshops. Their farm store is open on Saturdays, 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. You will find fresh meats, breads, crackers, eggs, honey, syrup and cheeses along with good foods raised by other local small farms. Large amounts (whole, half or quarter of beef or pork) can be ordered through their annual newsletter. They also offer farm tours on the first Saturday of every month at 11 a.m. Every Saturday at 11:30 a.m., free rotating activities include milking a cow, feeding the pigs, gathering the eggs, and grooming a horse. Come out and support the Lubbers family and tell them Eat Local West Michigan said hello!