For the last four years, Local First has celebrated Durango’s local food scene by bringing people together under one tent for a multicourse Harvest Dinner fundaraiser each September. This year, as a result of you-know-what, the event is going to be a bit different.
“We tried to think of ways to still support the farmers and the restaurants – especially knowing that they’ve been hard hit by these new circumstances. And what we came up with was this adapted, expanded version of the harvest dinner,” said Emily Bell, community programs director with Local First.
This time around, Local First will host Eat Local Month. Every Friday from Sept. 25 through Oct. 16, participants will be able to pick up a meal at a local restaurant, meet the chefs who curated the food and then head elsewhere to eat it. Each meal includes an appetizer, entree, dessert and a paired cocktail, representing three restaurants and a bar.
Much like their in-person predecessors, in which the chefs would speak to diners about the foods they would be eating, this year’s dinners have an educational component. After picking up their meals, participants will be able to connect to a webinar featuring more information about the food as well as several themed presentations about the local food culture. The themes are food waste, local agriculture, creative cooking and mental health.
Fifty tickets will be sold for each week, and they cost $75 each or $250 for all four dinners. Participating restaurants, bars and eateries include Backcountry Gourmet, Bookcase and Barber, Dandelion Café, Eat Zawadi, Manna, Ore House, PRIMI Pasta & Wine Bar, Union Social House and Zia Taqueria.
“I think it’s one of the best opportunities to both support this amazing work that all the local restaurants have done to connect with local farmers in this time and support them to make sure that we are able to continue to have this incredible food world in Durango,” Bell said.
Blaine Bailey, a local chef, will speak during the mental health webinar as the director of In the Weeds, a local nonprofit support group for people in the restaurant and hospitality industries. He said the cancellation of food events this year has created a need for them not just for the community, but for those within the industry as well.
“These events – the Wine Experience, Taste of Durango, the Harvest Dinner, (SASO’s Chef Showcase) – all these events were awesome to look forward to. ... You’re making your menu every day, and these events were a good change of pace to get those creative juices out. You’re not just cooking for the Texans, you know, you’re cooking for the locals and getting to make something fun and showcase what’s going on what you’re able to do,” he said.
The participating local business also benefit in a material way this year. While food for the Harvest Dinners is usually donated, restaurants and farms, many of which are still recovering from the toll pandemic-induced shutdowns took on their sales, are being reimbursed for their food costs.
“Even though we did have a good summer, we still don’t know what’s coming ahead for the restaurants – if we’re gonna have another shutdown again or if the winter season is going to be much slower with Snowdown canceling,” Bailey said.
In addition to local farms and restaurants, each of the four dinners will benefit a local nonprofit as well as Local First’s efforts to promote local food purchasing.
Tickets for the dinners can be purchased online at local-first.org/eatlocalmonth.