Heart of Clark: Farm-to-Table dinner highlights Clark County

Published 10:10 am Wednesday, July 17, 2019

When Syndy Deese returned to Clark County in 2012 after living in Colorado for some time, she wanted to get to know the community again.

“I like being involved in the community,” she said.

In 2015, Deese was scrolling through Facebook when she paused to look at a picture of a table on Main Street in Jonesboro, Tennessee.

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“Their courthouse looked kind of similar to ours,” Deese said. “I thought, wow, I wonder if we could do this in Winchester.”

Deese put her thoughts into action, reaching out to a few people she already knew to get started on her idea: a downtown Farm-to-Table dinner.

“They thought, ‘Sure, we could pull this off in Winchester, have a nice dinner downtown using local ingredients,’” Deese said.

Deese then met Molly Stotts, who was market president of the Winchester-Clark County Farmers Market at the time, and Lauren Frazer, an agent at Clark County Farm Bureau. Frazer had been interested in doing a Farm-to-Table concept but hadn’t had the time yet to flush out the idea. So she partnered with Deese and Stotts to put together the first Farm-to-Table dinner in 2016. Winchester Tourism Director Nancy Turner helped with fundraising, setting up sponsorship levels for contributing businesses.

Deese’s family weren’t farmers. However, she remembers as a child going out to the market on Winn Avenue with her grandmother to purchase local produce, during the summer, especially.

“I don’t necessarily know that everyone understands or appreciates the value that adds to have the resource of locally grown food,” Deese said. “We know where it’s coming from. We know the farmers that take it from seed to the market … I like knowing where my food comes from.”

Those fond memories created a lifelong love of purchasing locally grown food. So the fact that Clark County has a thriving and growing farmers market is a blessing, Deese said.

Over the years, Deese said she’s also learned of the many ways the farmers market tries to make fresh, local produce affordable to everyone in the community. It offers many programs such as the WIC vouchers, Double Dollars and more.

“It made me want to do something to support them,” she said, so she wanted all proceeds from the dinner to benefit the farmers market and their goal of building a permanent structure.

After months of planning, Deese sold the tickets for the first dinner at the Farmers Market in the summer of 2016, selling out in about three hours.

“I have people come down to the market to buy their tickets rather than to buy them online … because some people haven’t experienced our market, so it’s a good way to get them down to the market and purchase their tickets down there,” Deese said.

Finally, on a hot July day in 2016, event organizers set up on Depot Street, and 100 guests filed in for the first of many Farm-to-Table dinners.

“The city was cooperative in closing the street for us and helping me figure out how to pull off a city event,” Deese said.

Deese had hoped for good weather, as there was no plan B, but a quick rainstorm went through.

“Thank goodness, all of the guests were patient, huddling under the tent, pushing up on the tent to get the water off,” Deese said.

As quickly as the rain came, it passed, and there was a gorgeous rainbow in its place, Deese said. It’s something, she said, she will never forget.

“We took the rain in stride,” she said.

Clark County chef TJ Harville cooked delicious slow-roasted beef brisket and a tasty pork dish for the first two events, Deese said. This year’s main course features honey, ginger-marinated chicken.

“Amazingly, the support was tremendous,” she said.

The event, which took a brief pause last year following a cancellation to allow Deese to spend time with her family after a tragic accident, has grown to host 200 people on Depot Street. This year’s event is already sold out.

“It’s evolved into truly being a Clark County event from all aspects,” Deese said. “We’ve raised some money, but I think even as important, we’ve created something that the community looks forward to.”

Deese said she has a great core group of volunteers and Clark County FFA students act as servers. Dirty South Pottery makes all of the vases to showcase the blooms from local flower farmers.

“We wanted to make it as close to 100 percent Clark County as we could,” she said.

The third annual Farm to Table dinner, which is at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Winchester-Clark County Farmers’ Market on Depot Street, has some exciting new additions, Deese said.

The guest chef this year is Ouita Michel and her team. Michel is well-known for her support of the farmers and the KY Proud community, Deese said.

Michel’s restaurants include Honeywood, Wallace Station, Windy Corner, Holly Hill Inn, Smithtown Seafood, Zims Cafe and The Midway Bakery and Cafe. Deese said Michel has always made locally grown ingredients a priority in her restaurants, and this evening will be no different.

This past year, Michel was also a guest judge on “Top Chef Kentucky.”

“She’s just well-known and respected,” Deese said. “She’s our famous personality in the food world in Kentucky.”

This year’s event also features a three-piece Bluegrass band and selections from the upcoming Leeds Center for the Arts production, “Mamma Mia!” This year’s dinner also features appetizers such as homemade Bavarian-style pretzels by Jenn Pitts with beer cheese from Full Circle Market.

Overall, Deese said she’s happy with the turnout over the past four years. During all that time, she said she has certainly got to know her community again, and the Farm-to-Table dinner was a major player in that.

“It goes back to community… I think that’s really the underlying theme… but I’ve certainly learned about how gracious everyone is in supporting your community effort,” Deese said.

Deese said she hopes others will discover all the wonderful people, places and things Clark County has to offer. And the Farm-to-Table dinner is a great place to start.

Eventually, Deese said she hopes every Clark Countian will have at least heard of and attended the farmers market. And one day, perhaps, the Farm-to-Table dinner will be synonymous with Clark County.

“My goal was just to see it continue and become something that not only do we look forward to it each year, but it just becomes a part of something that’s a staple,” Deese said. “When people say Clark County, they think we have beer cheese, the Pioneer Festival … We’ve got our great concert series … And we could say we also have the Farm-to-Table dinner.”

About Lashana Harney

Lashana Harney is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. Her beats include schools and education, business and commerce, Winchester Municipal Utilities and other news. To contact her, email lashana.harney@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0015.

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