Monday, July 5, 2010

From Field to Table Spring Supper in Manitoba

Most, if not all, Canadian dietitians know that March is Nutrition Month. Sometimes we start planning activities months ahead of time; sometimes we begin preparations later than is ideal. This year at the end of February, a group of rural dietitians in southern Manitoba (MB)* were inspired to jointly plan a community-minded supper that would showcase local foods in keeping with the 2010 theme From Field to Table.

The seed was planted when two of us attended the session From Farm to Cafeteria at the Growing Local, Getting Vocal Conference in Winnipeg in February 2010 ( and started to dream. We quickly rallied interest in other dietitians, and began to develop vision and structure for the event. The first priority was identifying a venue. Although we live in four different communities, we agreed to focus our energies and pick one town to host the supper. Luckily, determining the site proved easier than anticipated as a number of venues had limited or no availability. As we were interested in partnering with a chef, when we contacted the chef and the food manager at the local golf and country club in Morden (a fairly new building with country charm and a fabulous view), they were very receptive and enthusiastic. They had been talking about doing something similar for a while! They were on board from the beginning, willing to provide a lower plate cost than their standard price, and brought their event planning expertise and support staff as part of the package. This was a no-muss and less-fuss solution that was particularly enticing given the short timelines.

Local food champions in surrounding communities and other stakeholders were invited to participate in the initial planning meeting. The meeting was also advertised on a public community website. Two dietitians agreed to share the leadership role. The three-fold purpose of the event was identified right from the start: To create awareness of local food opportunities and issues in south central MB; to build local food partnerships within the area; and to celebrate Nutrition Month.

We divided into sub-committees: Promotion; Program; Menu/Food; and Vendor/ Producer Booths. We finalized the date (March 25) early to optimize promotion opportunities and to secure program participants, vendors, and volunteers. Due to time constraints, the lead dietitians developed committee work plans for key tasks and timelines prior to the first meeting. Two of the committees (Promotion; Program) were comprised of dietitians only. The Menu/Food committee included the chef, food manager, and a lead dietitian; the Vendor/Producer committee work was executed by two dietitians and a community person. The core planning group met three times prior to the event including a brief meeting on the day prior to the supper.

Key components of the event included: 1) A simple yet elegant menu accompanied by donated fresh breads; 2) local food producers or suppliers set up at stations around the dining area with additional displays from Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives; Dietitians of Canada; and Food Matters Manitoba (FMM); 3) MC duties by a representative from FMM; she also shared information and quizzed diners for prizes; 4) harp and cello music; 5) open microphone session; and 6) door prize tickets.

We charged $20 per meal in advance and $25 at the door (only seven people paid at the door!). Attendance was 145 people, almost 50% more than the food manager had predicted based on past experience. We went over-budget by about $300, mainly due to printing costs, a large number of complimentary and discounted meals (to volunteers and producers), and under-estimating revenue in the door prize area.

A contingency plan in place prior to the event ensured that the loss was covered.

The following groups of participants expressed high levels of satisfaction with the evening:

  • Dietitians: Through great teamwork and focusing on a shared goal, we attained a feeling of accomplishment and community.
  • Vendors/Producers: Although we did not permit sales on site, the presence of the producers in the banquet room facilitated a lot of interest and interaction from diners. The key times for visiting the booths were during the appetizer course and at the end of the meal. Many said the evening far exceeded their expectations.
  • Restaurant: The food manager and chef expressed keen interest in partnering again to plan a similar evening.
  • Master of Ceremonies: She noted the supportiveness of our community and the breadth of our local resources.
  • Diners: Many individuals took time to compliment us on all aspects of the supper.

What conditions were favourable? Since there has been limited promotion of local foods in area restaurants or other foodservices, this was a unique event that captured community interest. Being in a rural community may have eased some planning obstacles. Most of all, the main element of success was the drive and commitment of the dietitians involved. Everyone thought that others were working harder than themselves (always a good sign!). The main challenges encountered related to the tight planning timelines.

Recommendations for future events

The following points represent our successes and lessons learned from the planning and implementation processes.

  • Due to the amount of work involved and seasonality of produce, the ideal time to start planning would be at least six months prior to the event. This would support the foresight needed to freeze and preserve summer and fall harvest foods.
  • Define ‘local’ foods and related parameters, as not everyone involved will have the same context! Decide what proportion of the menu and whether condiments will be ‘local’.
  • When choosing a date for the event, ensure that your event is not competing with other high profile events.
  • Add a sub-committee focused on ticket sales and door management to spread out the workload.
  • Identify a charitable group (or groups) to receive any proceeds/profits from the event.
  • Try to tap into the myriad of existing groups and activities that support the evening’s theme and find ways to include them in the process. They are your champions!
  • Utilize the various strengths of your planning group. For example, we depended on one creative dietitian with excellent graphic arts skills to finalize signage, the written menu, and vendor/ producer flyer.
  • Establish clear roles and menu expectations with the chef from the outset of planning.
  • Promote, promote, promote! Use media – posters, radio spots, newspapers and newsletters, church bulletins, interest group listservs, and local web resources such as town sites and events calendars. We suggest using the Dietitians of Canada press releases as a reference format.
  • Include schools and youth in various aspects of planning and implementation.
  • Use the opportunity to showcase local successes. Involve the farm community as much as possible
  • Be aware of potential for conflict between the various interests represented by mainstream farmers and industry, and smaller independent farmers (the latter often focus on local, sustainable agriculture and may lean towards organic and/or non-genetically modified production). Strive for a balanced perspective.
  • Provide clear direction and expectations for those in supportive roles on the evening of the event.
  • Consider asking attendees to bring an item for the local food bank.
  • Recognize and reward your volunteers and donors.
  • Have fun!

Further details on the event, including menu, press release, promotion poster, and vendor/producer guidelines can be found at:

A copy of the committee work plans and vendor/producer promotion flyer are available upon request. For general event planning basics, we recommend ‘Event Planning Suggestions’ (Morley, Practice #17, p. 7, 2002) available at:

* Aimee Cadieux, Candice Comtois, Katharina Froese, Kim Knott, Adrienne Penner, Amanda Nash, Michelle Turnbull, Diane Unruh


Kim Knott RD, CDE

Winkler MB

Michelle Turnbull MScCH, RD, CDE

Morden MB

Diane Unruh RD, CDE

Carman MB


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