The FARM Institute hosts Meals in the Meadow fundraiser

Watching a mid-July sunset, enjoying healthy gourmet food prepared by many of the Island’s best chefs, and dancing to Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish under the stars — all this amid acres of farmland and a handful of contented barnyard critters. This perfect Vineyard scenario will unfold next Saturday, July 17, as The FARM Institute hosts its fifth annual Meals in the Meadow fundraiser. And this year, not only will the healthy, predominantly locally grown, food allow for guilt-free indulging, the event itself has been designed to provide an edifying experience – with a variety of educational experiences on the entertainment roster.

Michele Norris, host of NPR’s All Things Considered, will be on hand to present a local version of the longstanding radio show. She will provide the dinner-hour entertainment, conducting interviews with the FARM’s new executive director Jonathan Previant and farm manager Julie Olsen, along with one of the many students who have benefited from The FARM’s educational programs.

Throughout the evening, attendees will have the opportunity to visit various Farm-o-Rama stations situated outside the tent. FARM Institute staff and students will be manning interactive exhibits demonstrating a variety of agriculture-related topics, like composting and cultivating. Guests may also learn more about farm machinery, animal reproduction, nutrition, and the origins of many common plants and vegetables.

“Our number one priority is bringing our mission out to people,” said development manager Cathy Verost, emphasizing that this year’s event has been geared toward educating the public about food production. And, since donations are key to The FARM’s continuing efforts, Ms. Verost added, “We want to demonstrate to donors how their generosity helps.”

The event will also feature a silent and live auction, cocktails, and hors d’oeuvres, a sit-down dinner, and dancing. This year, 11 Island restaurants have donated appetizers for the cocktail hour, many of them made with Island-grown ingredients. Buckley’s Gourmet Catering will once again provide the buffet dinner, featuring specialties like roasted suckling pig and beercan roasted chicken, with a large portion of the meat and vegetables grown on The FARM. Ms. Verost noted that there will be a larger variety of appetizers and an extra buffet table this year to expedite the dinner service.

The live auction will feature luxury items, including vacation and party packages. Once again, “laying hens for a week” will be on the auction block and available for up to 20 families. Guests will also have the chance to bid on an all-inclusive party with the event’s featured performers, Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish, providing the music. This year The FARM has added a number of raffle packages so that, according to Ms. Verost, “Everyone can make a donation.”

The FARM’s new executive director, Jonathan Previant, who was named to the post just last week, has expressed a desire to focus on accountability to the public. “This community is well known for having a big heart,” he said. “We need to do all that we can to earn our place at the table.”

Mr. Previant’s entire professional life has been devoted to agriculture. His family roots are in farming and he owned and operated a small farm in the Rocky Mountains when he was in his twenties. In the three decades since them, he has been connected to farming in some way — from management to marketing. He most recently served as director of international business development for a research-based animal nutrition company.

The new executive director will bring an intimate understanding of farms and farm communities to his new job. Mr. Previant moved here from his most recent outpost, Miami, with his wife, who graduated from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and was a part-time Vineyard resident for years. His previous job required a lot of international travel. “That was wonderful but enough is enough,” he said. “I’m looking forward to living in a rural setting again.”

Mr. Previant hopes to expand The FARM’s animal count and increase productivity. “The FARM’s mission is a very powerful one — to educate,” he said. “To have a farm-based educational system you have to have a farm and the farm has to be sustainable.” He would also like to focus on sharing resources with other local farms, a key ingredient in helping them all thrive, as he sees it.

As for Meals in the Meadow, the new director summed up what he sees as the best reason to attend. “You’re getting an opportunity to eat really good food and to help further our goal of community education,” he said. “These are good calories, folks.”

Tickets for Meals in the Meadow, on July 17 from 5 to 10 pm, are $225 per person. To reserve a seat, go online at farminstitute.org or call Cathy at 508-627-7007 ext. 101.