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The Scarlet & Black

Imagine Grinnell’s Harvest Dinner is canceled due to low ticket sales


By David Gales

Local restaurant Relish’s fundraising banquet, Harvest Dinner, was cancelled this week due to lack of ticket sales. The dinner’s proceeds were to go to the nonprofit organization Imagine Grinnell, known for improving local community spaces and infrastructure.

Kamal Hammouda, the owner and head chef of Relish and a board member for Imagine Grinnell, described Harvest Dinner as a way to “celebrate the end of the farming season.” Harvest Dinner featured a nearly all-local selection of ingredients sourced from several nearby farms, including Middle Way Farm and Olsen Garden Market. Hammouda puts emphasis on local food in his daily cooking at Relish as well. “I’ve been doing business with the farmer’s market in general for nearly 30 years,” Hammouda said.

Middle Way Farm’s owner Jordan Schiebel noted that this was ambitious: “to do an all local meal is a pretty significant undertaking,” Schiebel said. Not only is it significant, it can also be costly. “We upped the price to $75 per person, which is fairly steep but not necessarily for a dinner of this type,” Schiebel explained. “You know, five course dinner, all local ingredients.” But because not enough tickets were sold, the event had to be canceled: it didn’t make sense to throw the banquet for only a small handful of donors.

This is the second year that the Harvest Dinner would have been held. Last year, 10% of the proceeds went to Imagine Grinnell and 10% went to Mid Iowa Community Action (MICA). “This year, because I feel the need for more revenue for Imagine Grinnell … I thought all the profits could go to Imagine Grinnell,” Hammouda said.

Jennifer Cogley, Imagine Grinnell’s VISTA member for America Corps, described Imagine Grinnell’s purpose as wide and varied. The organization is responsible for the local giving gardens, the recent skate park, a number of running and biking trails, solar installation for local businesses and homes and more. “There were a lot of sustainability efforts this summer, talking about composting and recycling,” Cogley said. “I think we do a wide variety of things to build a better future for Grinnell.”

Hammouda theorized that Grinnell’s saturation of local nonprofits and community organizations may have contributed to the lack of ticket sales. “Maybe people are just fatigued from giving,” he said.

Schiebel had another hypothesis. “Last year we did it more as an entry price of $20, and then during the dinner we asked people to donate more, like the suggested price was $50,” he described. “That worked very well for getting people to come, we sold tickets very easily and everyone came, but it didn’t work so well as in people were confused about what the actual pricing was. People felt a little blindsided and thought that $20 was the actual price.”

This year, efforts to be more upfront about the price may have caused unexpected backlash. Schiebel said, “There’s been some sticker shock, so it’s been harder to sell tickets.” Hammouda acknowledged that the root cause might be the lack of publicity for the event: “It’s mostly really our fault,” he said. “One of our team members was assigned to send out the press release three weeks ago, it didn’t go out until last weekend.”

Either way, the event, which was scheduled to take place at 5 p.m. this Sunday, Oct. 6, in Central Park, has been canceled. It is unclear whether there will be similar events in the future.

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