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Julie Peterson spoke about the Banquet in a Field event at the seventh annual Executive Women in Agriculture conference held in Chicago. (Val Wagner/Special to Agweek)

Banquet in a Field event highlighted in Chicago

CHICAGO — "Welcome to our farm!" Those are the words that Julie Peterson of Peterson Farms Seed uses to greet each guest at Banquet in a Field, an event held the last four years at her farm in Prosper, N.D. But this week Peterson had a new audience — those from across the country interested in learning about the magic that occurs at the August event and how they can repeat the same.

Peterson was one of the featured breakout presenters at the seventh annual Executive Women in Agriculture conference held in Chicago on Nov. 29 to Dec. 1. Peterson discussed the ins and outs of planning a farm-to-table event, the inspiration behind it, the drive that keeps it going and the intent of undertaking such a task.

After experiencing different instances in which she was frustrated with the lack of exposure some urban counterparts have to agriculture, Peterson started to consider what could happen if that opportunity was available. She asked herself:

What if we could explain crops in an intimate setting?

What if we could talk about the differences in our farms today from 20 years ago?

What if we could have a conversation on the differences between GMOs and non-GMOs?

Peterson felt those conversations just needed an opportunity to happen. And then fate stepped in.

She picked up the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Inspired Home magazine happened to fall out. She hadn't looked through it much before, but she decided to thumb through the issue. And that's when her "lightbulb" moment happened.

Peterson opened a page with a beautiful dinner in a rural setting. There was literally a banquet table set up in a field — and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

At the meeting in Chicago, Peterson discussed some growing pains that came up for her and the volunteers with CommonGround North Dakota, a farmer and rancher organization that partnered with Peterson to see her vision through. She shared her vision of the "Party on the Prairie," and explained the very intentional direction the event went through in order to be successful.

The purpose of the event is to not only give urban and non-farm Fargo, N.D., community members an opportunity to experience agriculture but also to connect local farmers with those who may have more questions about food and how it is raised.

When asked about how she measured success, Peterson mentioned one interaction:

"One of our guests left the evening talking about 'My farmer at my table ...,' and that comment made my day. The guest went on to talk about how the farmer shared his passion and how he could feel it and didn't have it in his own job."

She said those connections are worth the work.

"We enjoy celebrating the diversity of North Dakota agriculture with our new friends," said Peterson. Although the event is invitation only, its impact is felt throughout the year, creating a connection between agriculture and the community.