3.14.2013

THE LOCAL FOOD REPORT: BUYING THE FARM

Farm to table restaurants are incredibly popular right now. You've probably heard of Oleana, Blue Hill, Manresa—places that have their own dedicated farmers and farms. And there are plenty of restaurants on the Cape partnering with local growers to get as much fresh food as possible onto their plates. But here's a new one: last summer, Chatham Bars Inn bought its own farm.


It cost $1.7 million. You might recognize the place as the old Fran's Farm. It's on Route 6a in Brewster—they did u-pick berries in season. The berry plants are still there, and the little pasture and the barn, not to mention two 25' by 50' hoophouses and two 35' by 100' heated greenhouses. But this year, the farm will be growing food for the chefs at the Inn's two restaurants.

What you see up there are micro-sunflower shoots. Farm supervisor Lucas Dinwiddie and farm manager Jaime Fuqua started growing micros in January in one of the greenhouses—they're the first crop moving from the farm to the kitchens. This summer (outside!) they plan to plant fava beans and other legumes as specialty crops and to help improve soil quality, along with one hoophouse full of tomatoes and basil and another with tight, Eliot Coleman-style beds. Later on, those plantings will be replaced with winter greens. 

The farm is 7.7 acres, but right now only about 3 acres are cleared. The farm has its work cut out for it. The plan is to eventually fully supply the restaurants, have a farm stand at the farm itself, maybe do a few farmers' markets, have a children's garden, and do some community outreach dinners and events. 

It's an expensive plan—both in terms of labor and time. I asked Dinwiddie and Fuqua if they thought the farm could become self-sustaining economically, and they had an interesting answer. They said they knew the farm wouldn't make money in the first few years. It's for profit, they explained, but not in the sense of a net cash gain in your pocket. If you're a resort and you're already paying top dollar for top quality food, your dollar goes a lot further when you're spending it at your own farm. It's about traceability, and it's about quality.

I know a lot of restaurants and chefs who are buying locally on a smaller and more diversified scale. They're buying farm fresh veggies, meats, cheeses—you name it. But they're not buying the farm. 

What do you all think? Does this model work here, with our sandy soil and pricey land? Are there other challenges? Or are there particular reasons it works? I'd love to hear.

And finally, a recipe from Joseph Ellia of the Chatham Bars Inn Tavern for goat cheese pizza with sunflower sprouts. Enjoy...


GOAT CHEESE PIZZA


If you've never had a micro-green, you should try them. The flavors are incredibly intense, and a little goes a long way. The sunflower micros I tried at the farm were very fresh, but also nutty. They pair well with goat cheese, and the truffle honey adds a little earthiness.


1 12-inch pizza dough

1 ounce olive oil
1/4 cup grated mozzarella
9 thin slices pear
2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
1/8 cup toasted pine nuts
2 ounces sunflower sprouts
1/2 ounce truffle honey

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Roll out the pizza dough and place it on a baking sheet. Brush the dough with olive oil, then sprinkle on the grated mozzarella. Place the pear slices evenly around the pizza, then top with the goat cheese. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is nicely melted. Take the pizza out of the oven and let if rest for five minutes. Finally, sprinkle it with the pine nuts, sunflower sprouts, and a drizzle of honey. Serve hot.

4 comments :

Flo Z said...

This is very cool, interested to see how it plays out!
Flo

diary of a tomato said...

Up in Portland, ME, Masa Miyake runs a farm to supply his 2 restaurants, Miyake and Pai Men; the owner of Duckfat has purchased land to raise their own pigs; and the chef at Cava in Portsmouth has partnered with his brother to farm for his restaurant. $1.7 million does make one pause, but makes sense if the restaurant is at a scale that allows it to diversify. Cooking from my own garden's taught me a lot about the benefits of growing your own — I can select a wider variety of specialized crops, pick at different stages of growth, and take greater care in post-harvest handling — all reasons I'm sure are appealing to professional chefs as well.

Linda said...

In CT, Chef Boulud of NYC fame, has begun a large garden/farmstead at his property in Kent. Alot has been written about his venture in recent food publications. His goal is to grow most of the vegetables for his restaurants. I'm all for it and wish CT would get as tuned in as Portland, ME and other cities nearby. The land is better used in this way (assuming biodiversity, rotation and organic methods) than going to weed or development. Also good for socio-economic reasons. Your point on sandy soil on the Cape is important though - can't change your natural habitat. Need to work with it so it can work for you. To try and create a different growing environment could bring an imbalance over time.

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