On the Farm with Pasture to Plate

A new program makes it easy for beginning farms in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts to welcome the public onto their land for food-focused workshops and other activities.

Farm vegetables grace our tables in the finest restaurants in the area, but what if we could dine in the same fields in which those vegetables were grown? That’s the original idea behind Pasture to Plate, the latest venture from Margiana Petersen-Rockney’s Young Farmer Network. The twenty-three-year-old entrepreneur and a small group of people are working together to create a curriculum and guides that will make it easy for beginning farms in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts to welcome the public onto their land for food-focused workshops and other activities.

It all started about three years ago when Petersen-Rockney, a 2011 Brown University graduate, started building a network of people who were new to farming. She grew up working on her family’s five acres at Rosasharn Farm in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, and later helped run a CSA there. She thought it would be helpful to meet other people who were going through the same experiences. “I have the belief that out of relationship-building, collaborative efforts can come to life,” she says. And so, Young Farmer Night was born, and now twenty-five to thirty beginning farmers gather at a different host farm every other week for potluck dinners, bonfires and games in the field. One of the problems that came up amongst the group was how to better engage the public on their farms.

Petersen-Rockney’s solution earned her a fellowship from Wild Gift, a social entrepreneurship organization. “We’re all doing a great job growing, but it’s very hard to bring the public onto your land,” she says. “My first thought was to feed them and give them this visceral experience where they get to go to the farm and have this amazing meal where they are sitting in the fields.” But she needed a licensed food truck that could travel from farm to farm to make that happen, and unfortunately, the grant she earned through Wild Gift was not enough to purchase one. The project required some re-envisioning, at least temporarily.

Instead of organizing full-fledged farm dinners, Pasture to Plate is currently creating curriculum guides for workshops on pickling, bread-making and butchering for beginning farms. “You might want to engage the public on your farm or have a workshop, but you may not necessarily have the time to figure out the details of how to plan it, or know what materials you need, or the costs,” Petersen-Rockney says. “The idea is that we’re doing the legwork.”

And if a farm already has a certified commercial kitchen on site, then they can assist with planning a farm dinner, like the one they held in July in partnership with Matunuck Farm. Pasture to Plate handled organization and outreach, and lucky attendees enjoyed a tour of Perry Raso’s land where he grows tomatoes, artichokes, green beans and more, followed by a trip on his aluminum pontoon boat to learn how Matunuck oysters are grown in Potter Pond. After the tour, guests joined together on large tables in the field for a feast of oysters and vegetable dishes created with the shellfish and produce from Raso’s beds and fields. The meal was cooked in Raso’s commercial kitchen at Matunuck Oyster Bar, and then delivered and served by the Pasture to Plate crew. “It was a way of engaging people on the farm with food, without needing our own commercial kitchen,” Petersen-Rockney says.

The public can participate in upcoming workshops by signing up to receive their newsletter at pasturetoplatekitchen.com. Interested farmers can also learn how to get involved with Young Farmer Night at youngfarmernight.com. But don’t be discouraged by the words young farmer. “We always say young is in relation to your farming enterprise, not you,” says Petersen-Rockney. “We have a lot of farmers who have been doing it for twenty or thirty years, and who can be mentors and share their experiences. One of the amazing and challenging things about farming is that no one is ever an expert. There is always something to learn.”

Upcoming Young Farmer Nights: