I have always been drawn to hand-dyed goods, so when I met Lou Garner a couple years ago at Indie Craft Parade in Greenville, SC, we became instant friends. Her line of textiles under the label Garner Blue are a unique twist to traditional shibori, using found objects and stencils to make super cool patterns.
And the girl knows how to run a community meal share program. See our conversation below on my blog series, Around the Table, where I talk with and interview other designers, makers, and entrepreneurs about their connection with food, cooking, and hospitality.
Name: Lou Garner
Job Title: designer/maker/owner
Location: Jackson, TN
Tell us about your meal sharing / dinner co-op that you do with friends! How did it come about? How can others start something similar?
Whew -- this is pretty crazy but it started about 7 years ago with 24 of us that decided to share meals (and trust) 4 days a week. We were looking for ways to make dinner prep easier and more affordable and that has been our primary focus the whole time-- food is first but of course community comes with it. We organize the meals in six week rotations, with dinners at 6-7:30 Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and each family hosts for the amount of portions they need (example: my husband and I host/cook 2 meals for all 24 people and another family with 3 littles hosts 4 times for all 24 people --their 3 kiddos split 2 adult portions). In the past 7 years we’ve still got 8 of the founding members.
There are for sure reasons why this has worked so well for us-- 1) we all live within about 10 minutes of each other, 2) we all share the same idea of what constitutes a full meal 3) we have agreed that this whole construct works for us, not the other way around-- so we are flexible and change things that aren’t working. One example of that is that from the get-go we said people could pick-up their meals (so you either come from 6-7:30 and dine there or bring to-go containers and pop in and grab your food & go) but 2 years or so ago we started nights where hosts could request pick-up only. Maybe they were having a busy week and didn’t want to plan for kiddos playing in their house, etc-- so we all just get our meal to go.
This might go without saying but our dinner co-op (that for some reason we call Food For All -- even though it’s really just food for some) has been transformational for me-- helping to redefine community and shared meals. I encourage everyone I know to try some version of it-- if it works for them :)
How would you describe your ideal get-together?
Loads of soft cheese, olives, wine flowing, comfy chairs and clothes-- with some of my best gals
Any tricks for hosting a successful and laid-back dinner party?
Prep as much as you can beforehand and plan out timing / consider serving things that don’t have to be served hot.
Do you have a food or cocktail recipe that you are really into right now, that you would like to share?
This tomato pie is one of my go-to recipes that I make for the group once every summer.
I love it with a Grapefruit Elderflower Mimosa -- 1 part grapefruit juice, 1 part dry champagne, ¼ part elderflower liqueur
Overall, what does gathering around a table mean to you?
Gathering around the table means first of all that we’re agreeing to trust each other, even if just for a little while. We’re agreeing to give time to sit and quiet ourselves. Agreeing to make eye contact and give each other our attention. We’re agreeing to listen and share of ourselves too. Sometimes this trust comes easy-- with friends it can be a genuine chance to catch up and to get closer. But at times that trust is hard won-- a meal shared with someone you’re struggling to connect to can be awkward --but it’s always worth it.