Some of the top chefs around the country are taking the concept of ‘farm to table’ and the local food movement to a new level by purchasing and running their own farms.
David Bouley, the owner of renowned restaurants Bouley and Brushstroke, recently told the Wall Street Journal in an interview, “I seed, I weed, I cultivate. I do everything.” But with just one acre of land under cultivation, he doesn’t expect to make money off his farming ventures. Rather he sees it as his own living food laboratory where he can experiment with new heirloom varieties and with different techniques for bringing out certain flavors in vegetables. He’s also having his produce tested for nutritional content.
Farming is a humbling experience and many of the top chefs have had to learn the hard way how to grow their own food. Erik Skokan who is chef at the upscale Black Cat Farm Table Bistro and the gastro pub Bramble & Hare in Boulder, CO told WSJ that, “If you asked me two years ago, I would have said our tomatoes cost $40 apiece. I taught myself to drive a tractor. If you look at my first rows, they look like a cardiograph.” Today he’s got a great working farm. In addition to produce, he raises hogs which yield him a tasty boutique pork.
For many of the chefs who find themselves drawn to farming, gaining deeper understanding of the food they serve and the upside of marketing a truly farm-fresh cuisine to increasingly savvy customers inspires them. The downturn in real estate prices has also made some farm properties more financially accessible and attractive as an investment, and many of the chefs interviewed use their farm property as a weekend getaway.
Some chefs have actually opened restaurants directly on a farm property. The most famous of these is perhaps Dan Barber’s restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns which is located at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. Using the produce and livestock produced on the farm to serve his restaurant, Dan Barber has gone hyper-local.
The movement toward more local and sustainable food systems is at the heart of Sustainable America’s mission. Food that is consumed closer to the point of production is fresher and drastically reduces food miles (the amount of oil used in the transportation of food from farm to plate).
What these and other top chefs demonstrate is the increasing desire to get in touch with our food and food systems beginning from the very source. Farming is hard work, but for those who love food and love the best in taste and quality, controlling the product all the way from farm to table can be a satisfying endeavor.
Chefs Put Down Roots [Wall Street Journal]