FIELD NOTES: What it’s like to drive our 1953 Flxible Bus all the way across the USA

The quality of quirkiness is something deep in the DNA of OITF: 

Why bring your own plates? 

Why set a table in the rising tide? 

Why schlep our story-telling ingredients so far over hill and dale?  

Why choose to do the difficult when there is often a pretty darn easy version right there in front of us?

Perhaps the epitome of an excess of quirk is traveling America in our 1953 bus, Outstanding.

It for sure doesn’t get us where we are going any faster. There is definitely an easier way, or at least a more reliable one. Breakdowns are good for stories, but how many stories do you need? Is the dashing design and color, that soupçon of style, really that important?

It, perhaps, takes more than a surplus of whimsy to motivate such irrational journeys, but I believe it says something when the bus stops by for dinner. The presence of a 34 ft red and white portable sausage-shaped rolling home-away-from-home is a statement: expect surprises, expect effort, and expect to not know what to expect next.

This season’s journey cross country started in California in mid-July, with a choice of route: to arrive at the first stop in Utah, Sara and Symbria’s Red Acre Farm, with a fully functioning moving antique meant choosing the route with the least hills. That meant the desert route, being the lowest, which meant often traveling in the cool of night. The bus is vulnerable to overheating. Each of the 5 major hills required strategy to surmount the heights. The usual method was to make it half way up a particular mountain, begin to overheat, pull over, let the engine cool down for 45 min in order to make it to the top and coast down the other side. Soon,  the bus and I arrived in Utah, greeted by whoops and hollers of Sarah and Symbria and dinner in the field.

“…expect to not know what to expect next.”


A journey across America means a lot of fuel stops, which leads to the inevitable questions, “what is that?” and “how old is it?”. The answers are always the same but the people are different; although, they are also on a journey. My curiosity is always piqued by unusual scenery, so we have a long conversation to commence before satisfaction results on both sides. Questions are lobbed and answered. Each journey continues.  

Returning to places seen before means revisiting those important people that helped pave the way to get this far: stopping to see tour veteran Niki Heber cooking in a field in Minnesota at Tangletown Gardens. This time he was our guest chef, not schlepping tables and chairs or expediting, as were his tasks ten years ago, in 2012 and 2013.

Yes, there are always hugs and smiles as we reunite, but there are lots of stories to tell, too. The memories of just how hard it was (and it is) to make this trip to be here to celebrate now are as much a part of the journey as anything else. Each time the bus comes to dinner, there are more to share, more to celebrate. Then, the journey continues…

FIELD NOTES | September 2022

September 2022

“A car is a sandwich, but the ocean is a salad.”

Murmurs of agreement around the table are happily interrupted by steaming plates of eggs and breakfast sausages, omelets, one gerbil-sized breakfast burrito, and the requisite order of pancakes for the table. The diner is about half full of what seem like regulars on this Wednesday mid-morning. The kermit-green walls are decorated with route 66 memorabilia, despite the fact that we’re hundreds of miles away from the iconic American highway, on a small town street lined with pine trees somewhere in Southern Maine. Or maybe upstate New York? I honestly can’t remember at this point. 

Event days, while full of unique magic at every site, are all the same in several ways. They are long, they are sweaty, and they leave us exhausted, filthy—sometimes it’s desert dust, sometimes mud and rain, sometimes sunscreen and bug spray, but it’s always dirty—and hungry. So, after a long shower and a good sleep (so long as we don’t have any skunk visitors in the campsite…), we always hit up a local diner. Nothing hits the reset button like a big plate of eggs and over-buttered toast, endless pours of diner coffee, and the occasional watery whipped-cream-topped hot chocolate. 

? or ??

“Is an omelet a sandwich or a salad?” Justin asks while a Western omelet drifts past his nose to the far side of the booth. 

“It’s a sandwich.” Says Marcus. 

“Look at that, it’s clearly a salad;” Brent remarks, staring down at his plate. 

“I don’t know, I think I agree—it’s a sandwich.” 

“How can you tell!?” Alexa, always exasperated by this recurring conversation, exclaims. 

“A caesar salad is a sandwich” Brent repeats a common refrain. 

“Let’s not get on this again…” 

“Oyster?” Gab inquires, while stirring cream into a fresh cup of coffee. 

“Sandwich.” Says Marcus, as he cuts a bite from the table pancakes, and the group reverently nods. 

“Pop music?” Ariel asks as the song changes over the restaurant’s speakers. 

“Obviously salad,” says Gab

“Salad,” Marcus agrees.  

“Mhhmmm” Brent mumbles through a bite of Western omelet, which the group seems to have decided is a salad after all. 

“I don’t know, it may be a sandwich.” Justin says thoughtfully, nodding to the tune. “Think about it. A pop band is a salad, but this song is a sandwich” 

“Oh, I can see where you’re coming from with that;” Gab seems to rethink their argument. 

“I don’t agree.” Marcus stands firm. 

“How can we still be talking about this!?” Alexa exclaims, stabbing at her eggs Benedict in frustration.

We’ve developed a theory on the road, that comes up periodically (to Alexa’s great dismay)—everything in this world can be classified as either a sandwich or a salad. This is a well-recorded debate, but typically exists in the confines of food specifically. We’ve taken it well beyond the realm of food and will often find ourselves categorizing anything that comes to mind. 

For instance…

A bouquet of flowers: ?

The couch at our AirBnb: ?

The OITF Trailers: ? ?

Farm Dinner: ?

The thing is, the tour crew spends a lot of time together. Not only on long days on site, but long drives and short sleeps in between, days off exploring new cities, and evenings eating Thai takeout watching Below Deck in roadside motels. We get to know each other very well—not just our coffee orders and favorite songs, but what makes a bad day better, what we miss most from home, who we call when we have a free minute, and why they matter. We learn each other’s outlooks on life, biggest priorities, and greatest fears. We may or may not remember each other’s middle names, though. It’s the silly conversations like this that get us through the many days of travel or help us pull through the most difficult events.

So, if you see us in the field sometime soon, feel free to offer your contribution to the game, but be ready with your argument as to why: salad or sandwich

FIELD NOTES | August 2022

August 2022

How the West Won Our Hearts

Half of our tour crew have been road tripping out West for the last few weeks; from the red dirt of Southern Utah, through the sculptural desert around Moab (with a stop at the real-life set of Thelma and Louise), and eventually up into the Rocky Mountains, their distant peaks still dusted with snow. We set the table across Colorado, from the dry grasslands of ranch country into lush meadows studded with wildflowers. 

The OITF 1953 Flxible Bus at Lowry Ranch. Photo: Troy Whitford

As we rolled into Denver, the crew picked up our newest member, Troy, and welcomed him to the team in typical OITF style—a juxtaposition of hot working days and upscale fine dining. 

We started with a hot, stormy day in Watkins, Colorado. This was the first in a series of events with the Colorado State Land Board, which owns and manages 2.8 million acres of land across the state. The Land Board leases farm and ranchland to local farmers, often with generations-old ties to Colorado, and uses revenue to fund public schools’ construction projects and improvements through a grant program. This partnership helps provide ranchers with fairly-priced leases, partnership in land stewardship, and support of rural communities through school improvement.  

Nick Trainor, who leases 24,000 acres from the State Land Board, hosted the crew at Lowry Ranch for this event, and offered up one of the most inspiring farmer talks from the box we’ve heard this season. He is an advocate of adaptive grazing: continuously rotating cattle to different plots of land to allow for soil and grassland regeneration and diversity. At Lowry Ranch, Nick works in partnership with the Nature Conservancy Grasslands Program to create a model for adaptive, drought-resistant, and resilient sustainable ranching techniques.  

As dramatic dark clouds gathered and eventually released a summer thunderstorm, rain drumming on the tent over reception, Nick reminded us that, as humans, we just really need to do less, to tread lightly, and be better stewards of the environment around us. 

The table at Lowry Ranch. Photo: Troy Whitford

The storm receded just in time for dinner, giving way to marshmallow clouds across the pinkening sky. Our guests meandered down a dry riverbed underneath a double rainbow, past whimsically bare trees, and took a left at a porcupine skull right out of a Georgia O’Keefe painting, to the table site for a dinner celebrating the Lowry Ranch with Chef Byron Gomez. 

After that long day’s work, we needed a break – and a good meal – before setting the table again. Last year, OITF had our first dinner with chefs Kelly Whitaker and Taylor Stark of The Wolf’s Tailor. They left a lasting impression on our Kitchen Manager, Leah King. Deeply impacted by their commitment to integrity and ingenuity, she was inspired enough to take a trip to noma’s MAD Academy in Copenhagen during the off season. This made a visit to Wolf’s for a tour crew family meal an integral part of our Denver experience. Our team, while often challenging to impress, felt like they were shown the best bits of Colorado through the eyes of Chef Taylor and the culinary art that he inspires and creates. 

Tour crew family dinner at The Wolf’s Tailor Restaurant in Denver, CO.

Leah even joined their team at the restaurant before their dinner with us at McArthur Gulch—helping to create a re-imagined version of some of the dishes from their tasting menu to share with guests at the field table. 

Kelly Whitaker & Taylor Stark of The Wolf’s Tailor at McArthur Gulch. Photo: Emmy Welsh

It’s safe to say, the West won our hearts with its stunning vistas, artful cuisine, and a strong community of people deeply invested in the health of the environment of the Rockies. 

FIELD NOTES | July 2022

July 2022

After two months in California, half of our crew packed up our trucks and trailers and headed East — all the way across the country. Along the way we took a sunset dip in Lake Tahoe, cracked shell of the Bonneville Salt Flats, and stocked up on candy at the World’s Largest Truck Stop in Iowa. As we drove, we watched the dusty golden tones of the western desert states fade away to be replaced by vibrant greens and big blue skies in the midwest, those shades eventually darkening into the deep greens and grays of the craggy coasts of New England, but we had one especially memorable stop along the way. 

We kicked off the Northeast leg of our tour at Kneehigh Farm in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. We knew this event was going to be a bit extra special because it was highlighting our linen partner, Kitchen Garden Textiles. Our long table has gotten a bit of a glow up this season. We’ve worked with Heidi Barr and Haley Galindo to dress our events with their handmade linen tablecloths and napkins. Kneehigh Farm, run by Emma DeLong, is part of Kitchen Garden Textiles’ sister organization, PA flax project, which aims to revitalize the historic flax for linen industry in the region. 

Kneehigh Farm flax field

Chef Ari Miller of Musi helmed the field kitchen. He roasted pork in Kitchen Garden Textiles linens, in addition to showcasing Kneehigh Farm’s produce in every course. Richard and Mengistu of Two Locals Brewing were at the table after pouring their beer at reception, beer that Ari regularly cooks with when making his signature philly cheesesteak sauce. Miller’s approach to “relationship based cooking” was clearly articulated in every course, and his closing remarks to the table, in which he spoke strongly about the closely-woven community by which we were so clearly surrounded. In fact, Ari was the initial connection between Outstanding in the Field and Kitchen Garden textiles, as well as their first restaurant customer. 

Chef Ari Miller of Musi and his field kitchen team

Angela Whates-Kahl from Fibrevolution in Oregon flew in for the dinner, and demonstrated historical flax production right in Kneehigh’s ⅛ acre flax field, highlighting the strong community of flax growers connected cross-country by their passion for sustainable living and natural fiber. The whole table was scattered with members of Heidi’s community and supporters of the PA flax project; it was honestly difficult to discern who at the table were old friends, and who had just met that evening. Enriching the strong sense of place throughout dinner, guests sipped on wines from Wayvine, an all estate grown winery passionately run by two brothers in the heart of Pennsylvania. 

Demonstration from Angela Whates-Kahl of Fibrevolution

One of my favorite parts of event days is getting to meet the farmers, chefs, and producers we work with. Often, they are especially incredible people. Occasionally, their passion for their place and community reminds me, in the best way, that while we may be hosting the party that night, we are simply guests in this community that they have built. At this dinner, on this sweet postage stamp of a farm, the linens were certainly gorgeous, but the strong fibers of the local community were the real highlight of the evening. Weary travelers that we were, it felt like a strange kind of homecoming to set our first table in the Northeast amongst friends. The rich relationships represented around the table at Kneehigh were woven together far stronger than any we could ever have spun ourselves. We simply got to show up and set the table for them all. 

The long table at Kneehigh Farm

I’d like to share with you an excerpt of Heidi Barr’s speech from opening remarks, as a reminder of the importance of community around our collective tables: 

As a textile artist and an environmentalist, I struggled with the fact that the textiles industry as it is today is a prime example of an industry that exploits both human labor and the natural world on a global scale. 

But it doesn’t have to be. 

And we know how to change it.

The textiles industry can look like this. It can be the renewal of a 37 thousand year old collaboration between the flax plant, human labor and creativity, cultivated and celebrated on diversified farms.

This is the dream we are making come true at this table.

We have a ways to go, a few large gaps to fill before we achieve this, but we have a road map and we have the collective will, making it only a matter of time.

In 2014, when asked to describe my business using metaphor – what I wrote could have been describing this evening.

It goes like this.

Kitchen Garden Textiles is a river that sounds like bird song and tastes like pea shoots being eaten in the field. It feels like the sun on my bare skin and smells like the warm earth.

Today I might add – that it looks like what you are seeing.

I thank every single one of you for being here and becoming part of keeping this momentum going. You are crucial to our collective success. Thank you.