I formally met Elizabeth Dry about a month ago. I had known her name for years through the work she does with Promise of Peace Community Gardens and public education. So when I saw her at my neighborhood market one Sunday, I took the opportunity to get to know her better.
A couple of weeks later, she’d take me on a little road trip. We drove north on U.S. 75 for a while before getting off the highway and heading east to unknown territory for me, but it’s an area Dry knows well. She rattled off names of people here who are making strides in the farm-to-table movement: people who don’t cook with local food just to list a farm on the menu, but people who dedicate their lives to growing food and getting it directly to local residents.
We finally stopped in front of a red barn, the store of the Reeves Family Farm in Princeton. We weren’t there to buy the watermelon that were lined up against the exterior of the building (though I didn’t resist getting one), but we did go to walk out among okra fields, which will be home to a seated dinner next month.
The annual Okrapalooza, organized by Dry’s Promise of Peace Gardens, returns for its 10th year with a dinner on Sept. 14 and a chef cook-off Sept. 15. It most recently took place at The Lot near White Rock Lake, but this year the event is moving north, straight to where the okra grows.
“If we want to live local, then we need to know what’s going on in the local community,” Dry says. “I’m an educator, so I can’t help myself. They’ll learn new ways to do things locally and how to be more connected to things in the communities they live in.”
The chef cook-off is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., when professionals use okra to create, competing against each other to make something delicious out of the vegetable. While they do that, you’ll hear live music from a number of groups while you can peruse the silent auction and sip beer or wine.
The seed-to-table dinner is the higher ticket item, where you’ll have a multi-course dinner prepared from some great chefs, including Anastacia Quinones-Pittman, Alex Astranti, Daniel Pittman, Mark Wootton and Adam West. Cocktails plus music by Grammy-nominated Russ Hewitt will start the evening.
“The table dinner will be a unique experience they’ll never forget,” Dry says. “The table will be in the okra field, and it will be abundant with love and cool décor … Alex is doing the entree sourced from Chubby Dog Farm, then there will be vegetarian sides, and Adam West is doing an amazing okra cake dessert.”
Okra cake? Why not?
There are 100 seats for the dinner, and a 50-person bus will take people from the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden to the Princeton farm — a long drive, but one that’s worth it.
“It’s a little road trip, an agricultural experience,” Dry says.
The Reeves Family Farm is a lovely place. From the market that sells locally sourced vegetables to the field growing this delightful okra, it might be worth the drive from Dallas every weekend.
Aaron Reeves modestly shared how the farm started in 2006. The store came along in the fourth year. Okra, he explains, does pretty well in Texas, favoring higher temperatures from 90 to 100 degrees.
On the way back to Dallas, we took some back roads — again I got to see some parts of the state I’ve never seen before, such as Lake Lavon. Dry explained her experience working through different school districts, with a common thread being her love for uplifting people. She did it in classrooms, and now she does it through community gardens and her Soup it Forward program.
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And, she says, by people going to events such as Okrapalooza, that work can continue.
“The funds go directly to giving these types of ingredients on the table to families who are living in food deserts,” she says. “Our Soup it Forward is a true, authentic solution to food insecurity. When they buy a ticket, they’re a big part of making that happen.”
Okrapalooza will be Sept. 14-15. The seed-to-table dinner ($125) is at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14. The chef cook-off ($45) is from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15. Both events will be at the Reeves Family Farm, 3577 FM1377, Princeton.