Out in this part of America that is not quite the South and not quite the Ozarks, where the land is flat and the people free-spirited, Kelly and Brad Claggett are finally fulfilling their longtime dream after years of hard work.
When they first moved to this 60-acre property in Grove, Oklahoma, around 2009, Kelly recalled telling her husband that she could imagine hosting weddings and events on the bucolic grounds. “The space is beautiful and I don’t want to enjoy it on my own,” she had said, as they looked out onto a small pond.
At the time, she could sense that the property could be turned into a space that was welcoming and safe. More than a decade later, the dream has come true. In the fall of 2020, the couple opened The Local Farm to Table, allowing guests to book lunch and dinner parties on its premises, with Kelly cooking up family recipes and her takes on comfort food. Ingredients and meats are sourced locally whenever possible. Meals are always served family-style, with guests encouraged to disconnect from their phones. In a small town, word travels fast. This fall, bookings were already full through the end of the year.
As Kelly was thinking about the family members and friends who supported her and Brad throughout the years, tears welled up in her eyes. “I’m so grateful,” she said.
Kelly grew up in Minnesota, learning to cook and bake from “very confident women” in her family who showed her the ropes, she said. It was a “traditional, generational thing” to pass on those skills. She recalls big family gatherings nearly every weekend—her grandmothers had a total of 20 children. When the family went out camping, the men hunted game and brought back the kill; then the women butchered the animal and cooked the meat over an open flame. Family dinners were boisterous affairs, with the men talking and laughing as the women prepared dishes in the kitchen and children played. Men and women performed their duties “out of love,” Kelly said, “not because it was an expectation.”
She wanted to re-create that experience for people: to provide a place where people could gather with family and loved ones and cherish their time together. In 2018, Kelly invited a group of her best friends—all who shaped her in some way—to the property for a dinner party. Brad had built two wooden tables, while Kelly strung up lights and decorated the space. They sat by the fire, drank wine, and took photos. After that, Kelly told Brad, “This is where my heart is.” But finances, schooling, and other ventures—including raising poultry and running a food truck that traveled to local events serving burgers, tacos, and other light fare—indicated that the timing wasn’t quite right yet.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, it allowed the Claggetts to reflect on what they really wanted to do with their time. During the pandemic, people were told they couldn’t be together with loved ones, and they feared social gatherings, Kelly said. She felt she needed to create “an inviting place during a super-scary time,” where “people can feel safe and enjoy each other again.”
The Local Farm to Table was thus born.
Brad, who teaches at a local college, always wanted to create a business together with Kelly. From the time they met at 22 and 19, respectively, he was enamored with the way Kelly worked confidently around the kitchen. Nearly 18 years later, Brad is ecstatic that he can help Kelly realize her passion—while raising their 2-year-old daughter, Autumn.
“It takes sacrifice, time, persistence—as with everything,” Brad reflected. He thinks back to the years of struggling through the financial crisis, of juggling grad school and running a day care business with Kelly, of naysayers who doubted them. “You have to overcome people who are against you. … It forces you to choose to love those people too,” he said.
The Local Farm to Table started with just a dozen people gathered at the table on the Claggetts’ deck. Then, to accommodate growing demand—date nights, birthday parties, movie nights, and weddings, ranging from groups of 2 to 40 people—the couple began setting up yurts on the property. They soon outgrew the yurts too, especially as inclement weather sometimes forced them to cancel bookings. So they decided to remodel a barn that existed on the original property when Brad’s father, affectionately called “Pop” by all who know him, purchased it. Brad is excited to soon start creating new furniture in his woodworking shop for the expansion. They’re thinking of building a pavilion, possibly getting a pizza oven, and maybe setting up overnight stays on the property one day.
A group of friends and local producers make the experience possible: Brecka, who operates a kitchen store in the downtown area of Grove, supplies the tableware. Kim, who arranges flowers and Kelly says is able to know what she wants “like she’s in my brain,” Kelly said. Holly, a baker who caters special desserts for Local Farm to Table, has known Kelly for over 15 years; while Reed and Stephany, who are the contractors who helped design the space, are “like family.” There’s also an Amish friend from whom Kelly regularly buys pantry samples and gets baking tips. Small-scale farmers like Bobby Alfaro supply the meat—she swears that giving her pigs belly rubs makes the meat taste better.
Brad’s father, affectionately called “Pop” by all who know him, plays with Autumn. (Tatsiana Moon for American Essence)
It can be hard to balance work and family while running a small business. But it’s clear that the Claggetts’ love for each other keeps them going. They named their daughter after their favorite season because they got closer in the fall of 2002, while hanging out on a pumpkin farm where Brad worked at the time. They plan to name the farm on the property Autumn Acres, where they currently raise several Scottish Highland cows and a horse named Scarlet.
While reminiscing about their wedding, which took place in 2007 in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, they had an epiphany. The couple had invited a small group of family and friends to a cabin in the woods and held a party underneath a covered deck—just like the dinners they’re currently hosting. “It was exactly like this!” Kelly said, with a similar array of hodgepodge chairs. Amid the chaos of wedding day, no one went to pick up the catered food. So Kelly and Brad drove to the caterer in their wedding dress and tux. They laughed at the memory.
“We had no idea 15 years later that we’d be doing this,” Brad said.
“We wouldn’t change a thing about it,” quipped Kelly.
This article was originally published in American Essence magazine.