Cousins Ashley and Chantelle Wagner are the fourth generation in a New Mexican farming family. They grew up just north of Albuquerque in Corrales, where Chantelle’s father, Jim Wagner, owns and operates Big Jim Farms on land that the family has farmed for 100 years. The two have helped Jim with planting and harvesting since they were children, and developed a great love of agriculture and open spaces as a result. As they grew up, they became aware of the mounting pressures that farmers in the Rio Grande Valley face due to rising land costs, increased development and climate change. Despite the growing farm-to-table movement in recent decades, most farmers are still facing an uphill battle to be profitable—or even just to keep their land. It’s because of these challenges that the Wagners created their company Farmer’s Daughters.
The mission of Farmer’s Daughters is to get more local produce served in New Mexico restaurants, breweries and food trucks. They accomplish this by hosting educational events on their farmland, raising funds for farmland preservation organizations hosting special dinners that highlight local produce. They’ve hosted these farm-to-table dinners at Meow Wolf and at several farms in Corrales, and now they’re partnering with Hotel Albuquerque to create a whole series of dinners that will remind diners just what’s so special about Rio Grande Valley produce.
The first of these is on Saturday, July 14 and the theme for the evening is Havana Nights. I recently talked on the phone with Chantelle and Ashley Wagner and with Gilbert Aragon, the Executive Chef at Hotel Albuquerque, to get an idea of what to expect at these dinners.
“We want people to feel transported the moment they arrive,” Chantelle says. “We want to bring a one-of-a-kind experience to Albuquerque diners.” For this particular evening, Chef Aragon has prepared a Cuban menu that’s heavy on pork, black beans and plantains. The full menu (subject to change) is available at wagnerfieldtoplate.com. The dinner will be served out under the wisteria-draped pavilion at Hotel Albuquerque, with live music and a special surprise activity planned. Cocktails start at 6pm, and the dinner begins at 7:30pm. Since Cuba is the theme, you can definitely expect some mojitos.
Chef Aragon wanted to make this dinner unique by serving everything family-style, in the hopes of emphasizing the importance of bringing the family together around the dinner table and to encourage diners to connect with their tablemates over the sharing of food. “I’ll be eating at the table with everyone else, too,” Aragon says. He hopes that by joining the dinner, he’ll be able to help forge the connection people have with where their food came from and how it was made. In Hotel Albuquerque’s regular menu, Aragon works with La Montañita Co-op to source many of his ingredients from local producers as well.
Chantelle and Ashley will also be at the dinner to talk to diners about farming, sustainable agriculture and the importance of using local ingredients. They’ve forged relationships with dozens of local farmers and ranchers over the years, and take their jobs as stewards of the land and brokers between farms and consumers very seriously. “We’ll be printing each of the farms that we sourced from on the dinner menu,” Ashley says. Chispas Farms, A-Z Family Farm and Ranney Ranch are just a few of the farms involved. Several of the farmers will be at the dinner as well.
With these dinners, Aragon and the Wagners hope to show that, besides all the good environmental and economic reasons to buy local produce, it also just tastes better.
There are four other Farmer’s Daughters dinners planned for the rest of the year, and each of them will be themed as well, with the theme depending on the time of year and on what produce is in season. Tickets for this dinner are $125 per person and available for purchase through Eventbrite. You can find out more about this and future Hotel Albuquerque farm-to-table dinners at wagnerfieldtoplate.com or at hotelabq.com.