Outstanding in the Field: Free Union Grass Farm

Tonight, I excitedly attended my first Outstanding in the Field dinner with my client from the Virginia Tourism Corporation. What can I begin to say about the experience? It was everything a culinary experience should be.

I believe food is meant to be prepared with care (and love), to be shared, to tell a story (several stories, in fact), to provide a taste of place and, in nights like this one, to serve as the conduit for an outstanding gathering -- fittingly, on the field, right where everything was harvested.

This was also my first time on a livestock farm, and it was eyeopening -- not for the reasons one might expect. I was amazed by the farmers' obvious passion for what they do, the personal touch that's visible among all the routine details and the love for their animals. One might find such a discovery paradoxical; after all, these animals, once ready, are sent off to become food. But herein lies the magic, the undeniable truth that binds the process together, that makes it a beautiful thing to witness.

These farmers raise their livestock with respect, with care and with an open acknowledgement of the life-death cycle. These animals are raised to be food, yes, but they're raised to be health and happy first and foremost. Of course, that notion doesn't make it easy. "How does a farmer reconcile her emotional connection with her business sense?" I ask, as we tour the farm pre-dinner. "You don't,"  Erica of Free Union Grass Farm candidly explains to me. "The moment you lose touch with the life and the process connected to your food, with its source, with all the effort and care, with its nurturing, you've lost the whole point of it all."

What a beautiful thing that was to witness first-hand. What a powerful reminder, too.