By: Paige McFarland, Intern
Fine cuisine, talented musicians, local products and an evening full of the beautiful scenery only found in the Flint Hills—this is what I was lucky enough to experience recently at an agritourism event called Feast of the Fields. I, along with a few fellow K-Stater’s, had the opportunity to volunteer at this event on Bob and Mary Mertz farm east of Manhattan. The Mertz Farm is tucked away in a river bottom with the most beautiful limestone barn overlooking the Flint Hills. There isn’t a better place to host an event for people to gain the experience on the farm. A majority of guests that I spoke with were from the Kansas City area, and were also in awe of the scenery. This is an excellent opportunity for the Mertz family to share the story of their farm. I was very inspired by their story and want to encourage you all to make sure that your story is heard. People are interested now, more than ever, about the production that goes into putting food on the table.
Agritourism has gained a great deal of interest over the past ten years. Agritourism is defined as “The act of visiting a working farm or any agricultural, horticultural, or agribusiness operations for the purpose of enjoyment, education or active involvement in the activities of the farm or operation.” Farmers and ranchers continue to be challenged by misinformation being translated to consumers, who hold the livelihood of the industry in the palm of their hands. By investing our time in acts of agritourism, we can help to bring more knowledgeable opportunities to the average consumer.
Bob and Mary Mertz are striving to bridge the agricultural gap between rural and urban demographics by opening up an opportunity for dialog on their farm east of Manhattan, KS. A magazine article captivated Mary to envision china, silverware and glass spread upon linen-clad tables stretching out into the field of green cornstalks. This vision that Mary had five years ago is what we now call Feast of the Fields.
The Feast of the Fields event at the Mertz’ family farm is one of few agritourism events in the area. They usually offer the event twice a year, once in the fall and once in the early summer. Some guests were eager to learn more about where their food comes from, while some were taking part to make connections with their family history. Guests were able to talk to the local chef and farmer about what they grow, how they grow it, how they cook it, and what inspired them to make these dishes.
“My main hope for this event is that guests leave feeling positive about Kansas farms and foods, and that they will share that message with others,” Mary stated.
I had the opportunity to speak with a gentleman who had traveled from Indiana for the event on Saturday evening. He had heard about the event from his brother who formerly sold real estate in the Manhattan, KS area.
A ticket to this event landed guests a delectable meal made with Kansas products by Scott Benjamin, owner and chef at 4 Olives Wine Bar in Manhattan, KS, the opportunity to try three Kansas made wines, and music from the “Tallgrass Trio.”
Obviously, not all farms are set up or inclined to hold agritourism events like this. But each of us can do our part by taking the time help our non-farm friends and relatives understand farming and how we raise our crops and livestock. Many special interest groups aggressively spread misinformation about farming, and it is up to us to tell our story!