Dinner In the Orchard
A Taste of Local Fare In Support of Knowledge

by Diane Lehr

  'If knowledge is never cultivated the best work of the individual will never be produced. For future profits, the money spent for knowledge will be well spent.'  Raymond L. Isom, February 18, 1949. English A. Auburn University. 

    Raymond L. Isom On October 13, 2012, at 4 p.m. Isom's Orchard will once again be the setting for a late afternoon benefit dinner in their orchards. This year's dinner will honor Raymond Isom and his love of knowledge. One hundred twenty-five tickets at a cost of $100 each, will be sold on September 8, beginning at 9 am, at The Isom's Orchard Stand on Highway 72 in Athens. One hundred of those tickets will be sold to directly assist The Library Foundation in it's goal to build in Athens. An additional twenty-five tickets will be sold to benefit breast cancer research via the Susan G. Komen Foundation. 

The philanthropic dining experience promises to satisfy the most discriminating tastes and will wrap one hundred twenty-five guests in pristine Alabama peach orchards and setting sun rays. All guests are asked to bring their favorite dinner plate which will be collected as they arrive. There will be a hospitality hour around the pond, featuring Alabama wines, hors d'oeuvres including premiere quality goat cheese, and hand-dipped chocolates. A few local artists and crafters will be working and exhibiting there; and music will be performed by Consort A Lacienne. Dr. Mary Crowell with members of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society of Women Educators, local City and County educators, and The Southern Belles, representing the Susan G. Komen Cancer Walk, have graciously offered to serve during the dinner. All foods presented will be harvested from regional farms. The culinary team includes 306 BBQ in Athens, Chef Joey McCool from Canebrake Country Club, Chef Laurie King, Executive Chef Bill Hardin from Below the Radar Brew Pub in Huntsville, Paula George of LuVici's, and The Sweetest Things Tea Room in Athens. They will work diligently to provide attendees a variety of fresh delights provided by Isom's and other Alabama farms. Marlene Isom is quick to add that Mother Nature will determine the final menu. The only hint she offered was the plan for dessert, which includes apple-pear crisps with honey infused goat milk ice cream. 

   Wes Isom speaking at last Fall's Dinner in The Orchard -  photo courtesy of Carla McLemore LawrenceWes Isom continues to farm the land that has been in his family for generations. He speaks respectfully of his Uncle Raymond, who has a permanent place in his family's hearts, though not at the table. A World War II veteran who was trained as a mechanic by Briggs and Stratton, Raymond eventually attended Auburn University. Later he moved back to Limestone County, opening a small country store and buying back the orchards where the dinner will be held. In earlier years, the family sold some of their land, and Raymond worked to regain ownership of the precious commodity that was part of his very being. He knew enough to know he wanted to continue the farming traditions in his bloodline. Raymond was thirteen years older than his brother,Joe Isom, and they remained close farming partners throughout Raymond's 83 years. Wes still refers to his Uncle Raymond as a special man who returned home from a war and stood tall in his quest for knowledge while remaining true to his history. Raymond never had children of his own and he cherished the bonds he cultivated on the farm and with the family that watched many sunsets together in the fields over Limestone County. Wes Isom says of his uncle, "He had a strong connection to our land and he appreciated his time at Auburn. He was a good man who inspired me by his knowledge and his generous nature." Now Wes Isom continues his uncle's legacy.

 When asked why Marlene and Wes chose the Library Foundation as this year's recipient of their generosity, Marlene responded," We wanted to honor Uncle Raymond, and  I taught a Writing to Read Program at Johnson Elementary School for over ten years. We want our community to be educated. We hope the library will provide that knowledge to everyone who is looking for it." Marlene further explained that due to last Spring's tornado damage to the orchards, her planned breast cancer benefit luncheon was cancelled. She expressed her desire to sell an additional 25 tickets this year, in order to make a donation to the Southern Belles Walking Team to benefit the Susan G. Komen Foundation. 

Last Fall's dual mission to offer an orchard dining experience to locals while benefiting a worthwhile cause proved to be a smashing success. That event assisted The Athens Limestone Hospital in their work on renovations in The Emergency Department. The tickets sold out in just an hour and guests attending the event cherished the experience. For that dinner, Marlene reached out to like-minded food producers on Alabama farms, grist mills, creameries, and vineyards. She drew upon her own vast knowledge of people and their connections to nature and fresh food in order to create an encounter unlike any that this community has ever experienced. "Wes and I love our land and we love our community. I hope that these events have proven this fact. We receive no monetary profit from the dinners and we contribute all costs associated with the event in order to make our donation substantial. However, we do receive satisfaction in bringing people into our orchards and drawing them into our love of fresh locally grown food. It makes us happy to share this experience with our community while giving back in some way." 

Just like Uncle Raymond, The Isom's continue the traditions and beliefs that their uncle recognized as imperative to a good life. 

 Marlene Isom
Diane Lehr
August 13th, 2012