Enormous platters of Wedge Oak whole hog, roasted chicken and pit-fired sausage were passed hand to hand, along with enormous cast-iron pots of roasted heirloom pumpkin and charred Brussels sprouts with fennel, October beans and onions and, finally, Dutch-oven apple cobbler.
With the dinner, Historic Lebanon is pursuing funds for the revitalization of Lebanon’s historic Public Square and its environs, according to executive director Kim Parks who has been involved with Historic Lebanon since 2009 as a board member and chairman.
“Hopefully this will be an annual event,” said Parks. “It’s an ongoing process. I don’t think we will ever be finished, because we try to use historic preservation for positive economic impact for the city of Lebanon, the public square and the surrounding neighborhoods.”
Renowned Nashville chef and Mt. Juliet native Trey Cioccia, who owns and operates the Farm House in downtown Nashville, prepared Sunday’s meal. Cioccia provided the organically grown vegetables from his own farm and other local organic farms. Pork and poultry were provided by Wedge Oak, which is operated and managed by the Overton family, who tend and process their pasture-fed meat humanely and free of any chemicals.
The farm-to-table theme was all about sustainability, and the event demonstrated that could be accomplished on a relatively large scale. About 136 people dined outside under a drapery of stringed lights.
In 2013, Lebanon was accepted as a Tennessee Main Street community. Historic Lebanon is the nonprofit in charge of that program. The funds from the dinner are expected to help the group complete several planned projects in the coming year. The nonprofit also holds an annual spring dinner in May. Historic Lebanon was designated as an accredited Main Street America program. To receive accreditation, the nonprofit had to meet rigorous performance standards set by the National Main Street Center.
Town squares originated in Europe. They housed markets and were also the place for public discourse. It’s widely held that if the town square is active and healthy, then the community around it follows. Parks believes this to be true.
“It’s really for the whole Lebanon community, because we feel that if you have a great square and a great historic area, that raises the quality of life for your whole community,” Parks said.
Parks earned a bachelor’s degree from Middle Tennessee State University in design and history and serves on the board of directors and is chair of the special events committee of the Lebanon-Wilson County Chamber of Commerce.
A few of the nonprofit’s missions are to educate the public on Lebanon’s historic identity within its boundaries and within the greater Middle Tennessee region, to create a center of activity on the public square with an economic restructuring plan, to foster community pride and to pursue the preservation of Lebanon’s cultural and architectural heritage.
“There are new projects all the time,” said Parks. “We felt like we have done a really good job of making people aware of the need for it, so now we are working with helping people with their buildings and helping with infrastructure.”
Historic Lebanon board chair Derek Winfree said the evening was long in the making.
“This has been about a year in the works. We wanted to do it about two years ago, but for whatever reasons, it didn’t come together,” Winfree said. “The weather has complied perfectly.”
Cioccia opened the Farm House in fall 2013. He served under Tyler Brown at the Hermitage Hotel’s Capitol Grille, which was named best restaurant in Nashville.
Wedge Oak Farm on Old Murfreesboro Road is one of the oldest farms in the region and has been in the family since 1904 when the land was purchased. According to the farm’s website, the goal is to nurture a “small, diverse, sustainable family farm” where the food is gently and humanely raised.
Winfree said he expects the same kind of turnout next year.
“We sold 75 of the 100 tickets available within the first two weeks,” Winfree said.