You don't have to be a farmer to attend the Harvest Dinner – but you'd better be a fan, or at least willing to eat your Yuma vegetables.
Set for 6 p.m. March 7 at the Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park, the event serves as a bridge between the industry-oriented Southwest Ag Summit taking place at Arizona Western College and Yuma Lettuce Days, which kicks off in the riverfront venue March 9-10. The dinner is being hosted by the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association and Yuma Visitors Bureau, organizers of the respective events.
Also unique will be the format, which brings together three executive chefs from three top local restaurants and catering businesses – normally competitors – in a collaborative culinary effort to turn local produce and products into a homegrown feast. The chefs and their restaurants volunteered their services for the occasion.
“It's a lot of fun to work with these chefs, and not something we'd normally get a chance to do,” said Alex Trujillo, owner of Catering by Design, who's joining forces with Brian Tolbert, executive chef of the Hilton Garden Inn and Luis Garcia, executive chef of the Quechan Casino and Resort. “We all inspire each other to new heights and work together to create new recipes specifically for this event.”
Tolbert added, “It's a privilege to prepare locally sourced food for the people who work so hard to produce it for the rest of us.”
In addition, since local producers and shippers are donating ingredients for the dinner – from veggies to locally raised beef – the Harvest Dinner will help grow new farmers, with proceeds benefiting the Yuma County Agriculture Producers Scholarship Fund. Last year's event helped raise about $25,000.
“The Harvest Dinner is an incredible instance of synergy, where local food is being prepared by local chefs for a local audience – and it all goes to help local students,” said Tanya Hodges, coordinator of local outreach programs for the University of Arizona's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “We're excited to be part of a real homegrown effort.”
Tickets for the Harvest Dinner, themed this year around Yuma's connection to the Colorado River, are $100 per person, or $1,000 for a table of eight. This event sold out in January. The ticket price includes wine with dinner, mariachi music, an inspirational video about Yuma agriculture and dancing under the stars to Bobby McClendon's band out of Nashville.
This year's event will also showcase a live auction, with one item being an opportunity for celebrity chef Ben Ford to cook dinner in someone's home on Saturday, March 9.
Kristan Sheppeard of the Yuma Visitors Bureau notes that the Quartermaster Depot has a historic connection to local agriculture. Though it first supplied all the military posts in the Southwest, the site later was headquarters for the Bureau of Reclamation and the Yuma County Water Users. The Yuma Siphon, which first brought irrigation water to the Yuma Valley under the Colorado River in 1912, still bubbles up next to the park.
“This is really a landmark for Yuma agriculture, so what better spot to hold the Harvest Dinner?” Sheppeard said.
Sheppeard added that the focus of the evening is gratitude. “This agriculture industry supports this community. The Harvest Dinner is a celebration of what the industry does for Yuma and for the entire world. We are excited to showcase the Yuma agriculture industry's tremendous efforts and accomplishments.”
Yuma Sun reporter Sarah Womer contributed to this story.