HARWOOD, N.D. - CommonGround North Dakota, a volunteer advocacy organization group, threw the fifth annual Banquet in a Field event at the Peterson Farms Seed near Harwood.

Julie Peterson, the event's farm host, and Val Wagner of Monango, N.D., coordinator of CommonGround North Dakota, say the invitation-only event brought another group of 120 urban invitees to the farm.

As successful as the event has been, it is likely to change. The group is brainstorming on how the event can transform so they can influence more people in events that are replicated with fewer resources.

"We have recognized that there is an opportunity for continuing dialog and interaction and we have to set the stage to get people to get to know each other," Peterson says. "It's in everybody's interest to have people on the farm."

Wagner said the organizers have talked about developing a similar outreach event but making it an easier event to replicate, both in money and volunteers.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

"We're definitely planning some changes, trying to make it something that can be replicated," Wagner says. "If another group or community wants to do something similar it'll be easier to take on. We want it to be really task-oriented, and give them a blueprint."

Alive after 5

The local Banquet in a Field effort was launched in 2014. CommonGround and the North Dakota Soybean Council and North Dakota Corn Council linked to bring in community, business and food leaders at various levels and give them an opportunity to learn about North Dakota crops while enjoying hospitality in a unique setting - the farm field.

Peterson and her husband, Carl, run an independent corn and soybean seed retail company and farm. Julie said she'd read of specialty event providers offering upscale dinner events, sometimes charging $200 a plate. She wanted to offer a free event that offered meaningful conversations among adults about agriculture.

"People are hungry for experiences," Julie says, noting that it's urgent to communicate with younger audience members that are driving new forms of economic activity but sometimes with little experience with the agriculture that forms the base of the economy in the region.

The appetizer part of the event includes education about 13 crop plots important to North Dakota, including such biggies as wheat, soybeans, sunflowers and honey. Each of the 20 tables of invitees had a host farmer to help spark conversations and answer questions about modern farming. The multi-course meal again was catered by Tony and Sarah Nasello, offering North Dakota delicacies.

Hungry for info

CommonGround today has grown to 113 trained volunteers. Wagner says the Banquet in a Field widened with a numerous sponsoring organizations who support CommonGround in its agricultural advocacy role.

The elaborate banquets have become the "flagship" activity of CommonGround. Wagner says this is the fourth Banquet in a Field-style event the group has helped with across the state over the past year. "All have their own flair," she says. "The similarity among them is making the farm-to-table connection.

But the event costs from $15,000 to $23,000, including food, coordination and rentals. CommonGround does other, smaller food-focused events where they showcase things like food safety or events to showcase tips and tricks for after-school snacks or meal ideas.

Julie says she would like farmers to find ways to welcome townspeople to their farming operations.

"We've learned that people are hungry for that agricultural experience and that they're hungry for even more experiences," Peterson said. "How many people have been on a farm? How many on a tractor or combine? Very, very few. Everybody (every farmer) has a 'buddy seat' in their combine. Why doesn't everybody just put one person in the buddy seat?"