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Plan on your next dinner with the Earth

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This holiday season, how about having an Earth dinner?

Not that you'd actually eat earth, but that you and others would gather around the table to celebrate the bounty of our good, green earth. This is not just another meal, but a festive opportunity to have friends and family revel in the culture of food.

Most of us don't realize that our dinner tells many stories, embodying our personal histories, family memories, music, art and other connections ... besides our tummies. To help reawaken those cultural links in a way that can be tasty, touching and fun, the folks at Organic Valley Family of Farms have come up with the novel idea of Earth Dinners.

The concept simply involves throwing some sort of dinner party at which the food is not merely consumed, but also is the focus of table talk, reminiscing, singing, laughing, game-playing and whatever else you can dream up. It can be a potluck dinner, a buffet, a five-course gourmet meal, a backyard barbecue ... whatever suits you. The key is to know something about the food being served — where it comes from, the history of some of the ingredients, songs written about it, and so on.

The goal is to get everyone connecting in some personal or cultural way to the dinner as it progresses. Ask guests to tell about their very first food memory, or to recall any family member who was a farmer or a jolly cook. Invite people of diverse backgrounds and all ages.

Even ask a farm family to join you, or a cheesemaker or others involved in producing food. Then — eat, talk, enjoy!

To help you get started, Organic Valley's website offers a sort of Earth Dinner starter kit, with tips on everything from menus to party favors, as well as providing reports on successful dinners that others have put together.

Check it out at earthdinner.org — and have a good time!

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