Dining Outdoors:
How the Garden Brings People Together

Today’s guest post is written by Megan Padilla, Orlando, Florida-based freelance writer and the former Lifestyle Editor of Garden Design Magazine.

The U.S. Surgeon General has added a recommendation for better health: MORE JOY! He urges us to do more of what we love and emphasizes the importance of connecting with family and friends. I say, what better place to cultivate relationships than in the garden? And since I love to feed people, sharing a meal outdoors is pure pleasure.

Outstanding in the field

That’s why I was so drawn to the roving, al fresco meals hosted by Outstanding in the Field, a California-based group known for hosting locovore meals shared at a single long table in a breathtaking outdoor location tied to where the food is sourced. When an event finally showed up at Lake Meadow Naturals Farm in Ocoee, near my home in Orlando, I invited a handful of friends to join me and we bought tickets the moment they went on sale.

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Everyone brought a plate to add to the stack that was set on the white-cloth covered, winding table in the farmer Dale’s field on a cool January evening. We drank hand-crafted cocktails while touring the farm, from the vegetable and hydroponic gardens to the newly hatched chicks in the incubator. Then we dined family-style from robust platters of food prepared by James Beard Foundation Award winner Chef Melissa Kelly of Primo. Her crew had hauled an insane amount of equipment out to the farm to cook for us and the results were astonishingly delicious. A favorite memory was when we were instructed to rinse our glasses to shift from white to red wine. One hundred and eight gleeful guests tossed water over their shoulders, drill-team style. A gastronome’s version of doing “the wave.”

outstanding in the field

We all agreed it was an evening of pure magic, worth every cent (and tickets cost a lot of cents!). An evening so perfect that we didn’t attend the next year because we doubted the follow-up could live up to our first. None of us wanted the memory tarnished.

megan padilla

A few years ago, inspired by Outstanding in the Field, I decided to host my own version, also on a January evening. An evite went out for Sunday Dinner and to my surprise, everyone said yes. With 50 people heading to our house, I was adamant that we all eat at a single table in the backyard. It required renting chairs and tables and covered them with red and white checked cloths to fit the Italian potluck menu I’d devised. Everyone contributed, and brought their A-game.

family style dining

The food was delicious, new friendships were formed, old friendships were deepened. Kids and adults alike shared a single meal at a single table. The usual anxieties of Sunday night were forgotten and as dusk deepened, everyone agreed that we had indeed shared an outstanding night in Megan’s backyard. We tried a follow-up meal a month later. An unseasonably cold evening forced us to move the tables on to the screened-in back porch (with a gas fireplace and space heaters). The food was yummy and everyone had a nice time, but the magic of the first dinner could not be recreated. The garden was the pièce de résistance.


Sneak peak into our next blog post…

When the Kitchen is Your Garden

Vegetables from the garden


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How the Garden Brings People Together

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