On Thursday, Sept. 26, the Good Earth Market & Farm in Millville will hold another “From the Farm Dinner” with the help of local restaurateur Matt Haley of SoDel Concepts.
“Matt Haley just came to me and said, ‘Hey, Sue — I think it’d be cool to have dinner out in the field and make it a charitable event,’” recalled Sue Ryan, owner of Good Earth Market.
The dinners have now been held for more than four years, each benefitting local organizations, such as the Delaware Adolescent Program Inc. and Justin’s Beach House.
The Sept. 26 dinner will benefit the Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek — which, according to their Web site, is a “volunteer non-profit organization with a mission to create exceptional, beautiful, educational, and sustainable public botanic gardens in southern Delaware for the enjoyment of all.”
“This one is near and dear to my heart,” said Ryan. “Usually, Matt and I will kick things around. This one I brought forward to him. I’m on the board of Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek, and it is an amazing project that we’re hoping comes to reality. It’s going to be a world-class botanic garden that will attract people from all over the peninsula.”
Tickets to the dinner cost $95 per person, including cocktails, appetizers and a meal crafted by Haley with fresh local ingredients.
“You come in at 6 p.m. with our cocktail hour in the herb garden. We always have excellent wines and a signature garden drink. This dinner, we’re doing a blueberry vodka-infused garden lemonade in Mason jars. And people will eat passed appetizers that are out of this world,” said Ryan.
“After the first hour,” she continued, “the bell rings and we make an announcement, and everyone walks out to the field, where it’s a big, long community table where everyone sits. It’s decorated with flowers and candles. And then the fun begins.”
Ryan said the exact menu is always kept secret, to surprise the guests, but she did say that rib-eye steaks would be cooked on the grill outside for one course.
“We always have our famous Good Earth herb butter. It’s an herb and local honey butter served with crusty bread. Then the courses start coming out,” she explained. “It’s $95 a ticket, but everything is included, including gratuity. For how they feed us, it’s amazing. Matt Haley and his team go all out; it’s a special dinner for sure. It’s very unique. It’s a real foodie event. It’s all about the food.”
Ryan said that the number of dinner attendees is capped at 100, to keep it fairly intimate.
“Because it is an intimate event and the food is cooked outside,” she explained. “Many of them have been sold out. I’m hoping we’ll get a great turnout for this dinner.”
Ryan said that eating locally-grown food is important, and it is always served at the dinners.
“The whole farm-to-table movement is so popular, but I have to say Matt’s been doing it since way back. And this is one step beyond that, because we’re bringing the table to the farm, so to speak. I love that. Everything is either from our actual location or from another local farm.”
Ryan said that the Delaware Botanic Gardens is the perfect beneficiary for the event and is important to her personally.
“I rarely get involved on boards because I’m so busy with the businesses, but this is something — when a board member approached me and told me about it, it’s just something I can really sink my teeth into,” she said.
“The president, Michael Zajic, was the head horticulturist at Brookside’s Botanic Garden in Wheaton, Md. That’s where I grew up. My mother took me there all the time, and it was a big inspiration to me. Just the fact that this gentleman is here and chose our area to live and retire in, and bringing his talent, is just mind-blowing. I’m thrilled! I couldn’t be happier.”
The nonprofit group hopes to offer public classes for children and adults, multiple gardens, a visitor center, conservatory, theater, nature center and onsite parking, with the garden targeted for opening in 2016.
“It’s a very big project. It’s a wonderful project. It has been very well planned and well thought out,” Ryan said. “We’re going to have our conceptual site plan on an easel at the dinner for people to look at. We’ll have almost all of our board members at the dinner to answer questions and just to kind of get some excitement for the garden.”
Ryan said that the dinners have many return customers, but she hopes people who have never been to the dinner will come out and support the gardens and enjoy the great food.
“If you haven’t been to one come out. It’s worth it. It’s one of the most unique dining experiences you’ll have. It’s very casual but delicious food. I love that combination. I love being able to wear your flip-flops and a sundress and dine outside, having one of the best meals you’ll ever have,” she said. “It’s nothing stuffy. The sun literally goes down while we’re eating... It’s magical.”
To learn more about the event or to make reservations, call Good Earth Market at (302) 537-7100. To learn more about the Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek, visit www.delawaregardens.org.