By Sara Perez Webber
When Betsy Nicholas was planning her wedding to Jason Hough, she knew she wanted the reception to reflect her life’s work. Nicholas is the executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake, a coalition of nonprofit organizations that works to protect the waters of the Chesapeake region from pollution, as well as the founder of Fair Farms Maryland, a group that works toward a sustainable food system. “Since healthy food and sustainable practices are such an important part of my life and my career, I felt that they should also be part of my wedding and sought to work with like-minded vendors,” she says.
So Nicholas contacted College Park, Md.-based Catering By Seasons, the full-service catering arm of La Prima Food Group, a company she knew through Fair Farms Maryland. “I was contacted back by the owner, Dave Evans, with an enthusiastic response,” says Nicholas. “He expressed his strong commitment to the values we share in using farming as a way to nourish the body, land and waterways. He provided the inspiration to have the food grown specifically for the wedding at local Maryland farms, and I loved the idea.”
In fact, Catering By Seasons promotes a concept called “Seeds to Celebrations,” for clients who want the satisfaction of knowing exactly where the food for their event came from—because it was grown or raised specifically for that event. Catering By Seasons is also known for using locally sourced produce, meats, cheeses and dairy products in its cuisine.
“We see more and more inquiries for farm-to-table receptions or that state that they are impressed with our sustainability initiatives,” says Evans, whose company is committed to eco-friendly solutions that have won it such honors as the 2013 Maryland Green Leadership Award. “We share this message on our website and social media so our followers see this, and the word spreads.”
Nicholas’ wedding was the company’s third for which all the produce was grown from seeds specifically for the event. Evans notes that due to the growing season, this type of wedding can only take place in late summer or early fall. It also requires a certain type of client. “To make this type of event successful you need a flexible bride and groom—ones who understand that a strong summer storm can change things!” he says.
The first planting for Nicholas’ wedding began in July for the October 1 event, with carrots, butternut squash, beets, tomatoes and potatoes planted at Open Book Farm in Middletown, Md., and peppers, eggplant and squash planted at Groundworks Farm in Pittsville, Md., a partner of La Prima’s. (Groundworks Farm is owned by Evans’ daughter and son-in-law, Margaret Evans Brown and Kevin Brown.) Chickens for the meal were raised at Open Book Farm in large mobile greenhouses that were moved every day to new areas of pasture. Apples were sourced from a local organic orchard, and mushrooms from a local organic provider.
Last winter, before the planting, Nicholas met with Catering By Seasons’ event manager, Alberto Trevizo, and executive chef, Kyle Vermeulen, to come up with the menu. “We ended up loving everything they had us taste at our tasting, and kept it exactly as originally recommended,” she says.
Mother Nature did add a little drama to the process. Several crops were drowned at Groundworks Farm due to rain, though fortunately Open Book Farm had the same crops growing. And Nicholas and Hough had planned several farm visits to see the crops’ progress, but strong rainfalls cancelled two visits. “The good side of that is we saw the vegetables when they were ripe and ready to be harvested,” says Nicholas.
Finally, a few days before the Sunday wedding at the Woodend Sanctuary & Mansion in Chevy Chase, Md., headquarters of the Audubon Naturalist Society, Catering By Seasons received the harvested produce and chickens. The menu prepared by the company’s chefs included passed hors d’oeuvres of lemongrass chicken dumplings, eggplant and tomato bruschetta, roasted root vegetable lollipops, and grilled cheese and roasted red pepper soup; a fall harvest salad; a plated meal of chicken Provençal, rosemary roasted potatoes and carrot soufflé; a vegetarian entrée of quinoa stuffed bell peppers; and cinnamon apple crisp with crème anglaise to accompany the wedding cake.
A card on each table with a photo from the couple’s farm visit informed the guests about the sustainable food. Nicholas also explained the meal in a brief welcoming speech, in which she also mentioned the reused and recycled décor, locally grown flowers, and the recycling and composting taking place at the event. “Reactions ranged from touched to amazed, and for a few people who know me really well, there were a few who said, ‘Of course you found a way to do that!”’ says Nicholas. “The food was incredible, and everything looked beautiful. Nature was at the center of the beauty, highlighted by candles, flowers and linens in a lovely combination. The entire affair was warm and inviting, and everyone had fun—especially my husband and me.”
For more information on Catering By Seasons, visit cateringbyseasons.com