Field Guide Festival in Austin will bring farmers and chefs together
Visit any number of modern Austin restaurants, and you’ll find names of farms listed on the menu.
The roster of purveyors lets you know that the restaurant is (hopefully) serious about sourcing and seasonality, as well as supporting locally owned food businesses.
But the dry list of names doesn’t tell you about the farmers’ practices, their soil, their philosophies, or how they get their product from the ground to your plate. You usually don’t even get the name of the actual farmer.
Trisha Bates and Lindsey Sokol created the new Field Guide Festival to help flesh out those details and eliminate any disconnect from the farm to the plate. Their inaugural festival takes place Oct. 29 and 30 in Austin, and tickets are on sale Tuesday at fieldguidefest.com.
Bates founded the company Urban American Farmer as a way to help bring those living in the city closer to the source of their food. She teamed with Sokol, who worked for 12 years with uber-producers C3 Presents, to create the two-day event that does exactly that.
Field Guide is pairing more than a dozen Central Texas farms with 18 area chefs to create dishes at the
fest, which will include a dinner helmed by female chefs, farmers and beverage makers; a daylong tasting event; and a brunch. The chefs and farmers will present dishes in tandem, allowing ticket holders to get a full sense of each dish’s provenance.
“I’m really drawn to bringing those experiences to people so that they feel really connected with where their food comes from.
Having that experience, for a lot of people I think, can be really life changing,” said Bates, who comes from a farming family in Illinois that grew much of its own food.
The educational component for the festival is not limited to the tastings and meals. Field Guide Festival will also feature symposiums with topics that include regenerative agriculture, seed breeding, food access, health, medicine and waste.
Bates hopes it will give a holistic understanding of our modern food systems.
“What does the future of food look like for our Austin community, and how do we bring all of these different pieces — that are very connected but sometimes kept very separate — together, to have conversations from different perspectives that can lead us forward into the future?” Bates said about the programming.
“We wanted to create a different experience for a food festival,” Sokol added. “How can we build a festival that is not only a great experience but has an educational element to it that will then create change in the long term?”
The festival will also offer a farmers market open to the public, and it will be home to an onsite farm that will allow attendees the chance to get their hands in the soil and learn about how to produce their own food. And the wellness-focused festival even features a 5K run on Saturday morning. Tickets can be purchased for individual events or the entire weekend.
The partners named the festival after the field guides that were ubiquitous in Bates’ childhood homes.
“A field guide is a book that helps you understand your natural environment and get to know it and get tuned into it," Bates said.
Field Guide Festival, which has partnered with Central Texas Food Bank as its nonprofit beneficiary, will feature some big-name chefs recognizable to many Austin restaurant regulars — Michael Fojtasek of Olamaie, who is also the chef advocate for the fest; Sarah Heard of Foreign & Domestic; and Edgar Rico of Nixta. But festival organizers, including the fest's chef curator, Philip Speer of Comedor, made an effort to include names from smaller restaurants that attendees might not see at other festivals — Rosie Mina-Truong and Kevin Truong of Fil 'n Viet; Tebi and Trinh Nguyen of Le Bleu; and Nick Belloni of Trill Foods.
Bates and Sokol said that one of the foundational pillars of their festival is making sure that, unlike some other festivals, Field Guide pays all participating farmers and chefs and pays for the food that will all come from the ground in Central Texas. It is just one of several things organizers believe differentiates their festival from many others.
One important thing that makes the festival different "is the idea of highlighting the soil, the seed, the growth and harvest, the stories of the people that own that process, leading to the preparation, and ultimately the presentation of our food
,” Speer wrote in an email to the American-Statesman. “Painting the picture of that food journey will show us that the food path doesn’t begin at a supermarket or the restaurant kitchen.”