HAVANA, N.D. — Welcoming people from all walks of life and introducing them (or furthering their knowledge of) family farms can be a fantastic notion — especially for learning where food comes from and how it gets to the table.
While the "farm to table" lifestyle is embraced on restaurant menus across the country these days, and new practices are followed to ensure soil health and conservationism, the Breker farm in southeastern North Dakota is truly living that idea — and spreading the word to others through its Farm to Table Dinners, including the latest sold-out dinners held Aug. 28-29.
The farm, located outside Havana, N.D., boasts stunning views surrounded by prairie farms and fields, providing a unique opportunity for farming families and those not involved with agriculture alike to learn a little more about what goes into their food through a five-course meal.
"Well, obviously North Dakota is a huge farming population," says Joe Breker, owner and operator of Coteau des Prairie Lodge. "We are as rural as states get and we've got a great agriculture tradition. But you don't have to get too many generations — in fact, one generation — away from the farm to lose track of what you eat and how it's produced and how it's taken care of."
Featuring locally produced, grown or raised ingredients and expertly paired beverages, the Coteau des Prairie Lodge's Farm to Table Dinners are a big effort, but the reward is worth it.
"There's a lot of work that goes into planning these events," says Phillip Breker, director of marketing events for the lodge. "We do other dinners, beer dinners and wine dinners, where most of the food comes off the chef's truck from the restaurant. But in this case, we go to the work of creating a menu based on ingredients that will be available to us this season."
With a couple dozen different sources for ingredients — including beef raised on the Brekers' land and edamame from soybeans harvested just that morning from the family's own fields — guests can see and taste exactly where their fresh food comes from.
"I think today there's such a disconnect between the typical consumer and the farmer raising the food," Phillip says. "There's a lot of misinformation out there about where your food comes from and it's so good for people to have the chance to come out on a farm — especially a family farm — so they can connect on a human level with the people who are producing that food. And they can see that there's people's livelihood and families behind the food they eat and that the people who are producing that food really care about the food they're making. It's important to them."
Beyond using local ingredients for the dinner, the team at the lodge treated guests to presentations on soil and water conservation practices and a new-to-North America crop used in some of the dishes. Joe, who has taken it upon himself to dedicate his farm to conservation practices throughout his career, says healthy food starts in the soil.
"One of the things that we highlight (at the Breker farm) is that I've been involved in conservation agriculture for 40 years," he says. "When I started farming, I thought we should do a better job on our farm on conserving the soil and making it more productive, so for 40 years I've done no-till farm, and I've used cover-crops to enhance soil biology and organic matter. We've had very good results in being able to turn our soil around, and now they're starting to be able to prove that a healthy soil makes healthy food. It's an interesting conversation to have, too, with people to ensure them there are ways to grow healthier food."
Phillip, who grew up on the Breker farm, has seen the measures his dad has taken to continue to preserve soil health and sustainability.
"In the beginning when (Joe) started no-till farming, there wasn't much known about it," Phillip says. "He started in the early days. Since then, it's become a practice that's become widely adopted across the country and more is known about it. Over time he's implemented more practices like strip-tilling, cover crops, grazing rotation onto fields with livestock, dual cropping — there's lots of opportunities that have opened up because of the research and the people who have adopted the methods."