by Enrico Villamaino

According to Knox County Farm Bureau President (KCFB) Sam Fawcett, despite its overwhelming success, “Date Night at the Orchard” was not part of some grand master plan.

“With the [pandemic] shutdown, people were just so pent up. Everyone was just going a little bit stir crazy!” he laughed. “We were really looking for an excuse, any excuse really, to get out and blow off a little steam.”

The idea for Date Night at the Orchard (DNATO) came from the owners of Glen Hill Orchard. Located in Mount Vernon, Ohio, Glen Hill grows apples, peaches, cherries and Asian pears. “I can only describe this place as ‘bucolic.’ This owner wanted to educate the public about agritourism with the hopes of attendees coming back to support local orchards. Our Board of Trustees [at the KCFB] decided this would be the perfect event to host.”

(L – R) KCFB Board Member Shaeley Swick and Bureau President Sam Fawcett were at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention to accept a County Activities of Excellence Award for the “Date Night at the Orchard” event. Photo by Enrico Villamaino

Proceeds from the event were used to support the Farm Bureau’s county scholarship. Over $1,500 was raised for the program.

The event took place Aug. 28, 2021. This particular date was selected because the orchard would be in peak peach season. Promotion for DNATO was conducted through Facebook posts, the KCFB website and through a mailing to county members.

Volunteers helped to set up tables between rows of cherry trees. Centerpieces for the tables were crafted out of flowers harvested from the property. “We had two local food trucks,” said Fawcett. “One was a burger truck and the other had really great barbecue.” The event was BYOB and attendees were entertained by local singer/songwriters.

After dinner, guests were treated to a bonfire and s’mores. “For firewood, we used the local applewood, so it smelled absolutely fantastic,” Fawcett added.

Hoping to attract 100 people, the organizers were pleased to have more than 150 attend. “The response was great,” Fawcett said. Intended to be just a one-time event, Fawcett boasted, “We’ve already had at least half of those people ask us when the next one is going to be.” A 2022 DNATO is in the works, with a tentative September date, hoping to take advantage of slightly cooler weather.

The DNATO event and its organizers were recently recognized as winners of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s “County Activities of Excellence” award. The awards celebrate innovative and volunteer-driven programming at the local level in the areas of education and ag promotion, member services, public relations and information and leadership development and policy implementation. DNATO’s award was in the education and ag promotion category.

Fawcett was on hand to accept the award at the AFBF’s annual convention this January in Atlanta.

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