I love photographing farm dinners. Beyond the obvious summer bounty on the table, there are no walls blocking access to farmers, chefs, crops or livestock and abundant natural light to document it all. Summer is made for outdoor dining, but once you score that coveted spot, there are several things you should consider before setting out on your farm-to-table adventure.

Barberry Farm-Madison, CT

I can understand the desire to wear flip-flops or sandals to a summer farm dinner, but I remain a firm believer that flat, closed-toed shoes are the way to go. Remember, you’re on a farm and may be walking on unpaved, uneven ground that is dusty, muddy and damp. Leave your A#1 summer kicks at home. If you want to be ready for anything that a pre-dinner farm tour can dish out, I recommend non-nonsense footwear that can handle a range of conditions. Typically, I turn to my Lucchese cowboy boots. Ladies, a skinny heel (of any height) is a bad idea and wedges may elevate you from the elements, but aren’t ideal on uneven or hilly terrain.

You’ll certainly arrive during daylight hours – and no matter the temperature – sunshine means you have scored beautiful weather for the seat you likely purchased weeks or even months ago. You may be dining under a tent, but there’s no guaranteed shade/tree cover elsewhere on the farm. Don’t forget a hat, your favorite sunnies and sunscreen.

You can’t win ’em all, these events typically go on rain or shine.  If it’s recently rained or still threatening to do so, break out the wellies. Expect to encounter some mud in your travels. Bring your raincoat, your umbrella and know that once you’re under the tent, the food will still taste every bit as good.

darkness of night
There’s nothing quite as magical as dining under the stars, but the inevitable darkness also means you’ll eventually have to find your way over dimly lit paths and uneven ground. Tents are often only lit by perimeter string lights and candles. Troublesome passage occurs when returning to your car (often parked in an different area of the farm) and getting to/from bathrooms. Connecticut farm dinners range from $65-250 per person, but don’t think for a second that any price point guarantees you access to indoor plumbing. It may be a deluxe-model portable toilet… but consider yourself warned. All logistics get trickier in the dark, so bring a couple of small flashlights.

Sundown often signals the onset of mosquitoes. This can lead to a very itchy end to an otherwise wonderful evening . I keep my feet and ankles safely tucked inside boots and wear jeans or a long skirt to cover my legs. If you believe bug spray works, bring a bottle along. A lightweight jacket or scarf can come in handy, both keeping you covered in the evening and ‘holding’ your seat at the table when you inevitably wander off for cocktail hour or a farm tour.

forget me not
These meals can typically span 2-3 hours. It’s easy to spread out, leaving your belongings hanging on your chair or scattered on the tabletop. It’ll likely be black as night when you’re getting up to leave and chances are you’ll have downed a summer cocktail or glass or two of wine. My point: at the end of this al fresco experience it’s *very easy* to forget something. Bring a tote bag and always keep all your belongings in one spot. When you’re ready to depart, use your flashlight to illuminate the tabletop and area around your chair to make sure you’ve gathered everything.

I tend to learn things the hard way, but if you have any outdoor dining tips, I’d love to hear them!
While you’re pondering – here’s where I was schooled on many of the suggestions in this post:

2008 Dinner at the Farm | White Gate Farm Old Lyme, Connecticut
2009 Dinner at the Farm | Barberry Farm in Madison, Connecticut
2010 Souterrain | Rowayton, Connecticut
2011 Souterrain | Sport Hill Farm in Easton, Connecticut
2011 Outstanding in the Field | Waldingfield Farm | Washington, Connecticut
2011 Farm to Fork | Millstone Farm | Wilton, Connecticut
2012 Dine with Design | Philip Johnson Glass House | New Canaan, Connecticut

1.) When the sun sets: flashlight from Maglite. 2.) Self-defense: sunscreen and bug spray from Badger. 3.) Maintain order: leather tote bag by Bexar. 4.) Make your own shade: abby hat from Terrain. 5.) Walk with confidence: wellies from Hunter. 6.) Ward off summer breezes and pesky mosquitoes with a lightweight cover-up: chrysalis dress (with removable sleeves) from Nau.