Know Farms, Know Food
I have had a lot of time to think about what I do and why I do it recently. I suppose you could consider this time ‘crystalizing my philosophy’ of cooking and hospitality. In doing so, I have taken a step back and looked my career; looked at the who, what, where, when and why of the past 13 years. Some ideas shone brightly. The title of this blog is one of them….you might call it a core philosophy.
This phrase, ‘know farms, know food’ is inspired by the phrase ‘no farms, no food’ which has been coined by the American Farmland Trust; certainly you’ve seen it on bumper stickers. I remember visiting my friend Barton Seaver at his restaurant in DC a couple of years ago and all of his cooks had ‘no farms, no food’ hats on in the kitchen. The simple and crisp meaning being that without farms, there is no food and without food there’s nothing to cook. I tossed this idea around in my head for awhile and then came to the conclusion that if you really wanted to be in touch with your food, to ‘know’ your food you needed to at least make an effort to ‘know’ the people who produce your food; not only know them, but know where they come from, know what drives them, know how they produce the jewels that you are about to cook. So…..in order to ‘know your food’ you need to ‘know about farms’. Know food, know farms.
From the beginning of my career as a chef, I have always had some type of gardens. Everything from herb and ornamental vegetable gardens to a 10,000 sq. ft. workhorse of a garden. I have never considered myself a farmer, barely a gardener, but being able to dig into the dirt was always very important to me. Initially, I wanted to have gardens because, as a boy, my parents had impressive vegetable gardens and that was how food first came to me. The wonderful crispness of just picked radish and spring onion; asparagus, corn, beans, etc. As I grew as a chef, I wanted to be able to speak to farmers and producers more intelligently. I wanted to ‘know’ more about it. I experienced crop failure. I know what that feels like. I experienced what it feels like kneel for what seems like hours on end harvesting the tiniest of beans. I know how it feels to see an entire crop of corn blown over by a nasty storm and then spend hours straightening each row. Each one of these feelings has shaped me as a cook and a chef.
Last night during the Super Bowl, a singular commercial won over the television and social media audience. It was simple, no catch phrases, no over the top behavior. It celebrated the American farmer. It made me so happy to see the amount of instant traction this commercial got and the fact that said traction is continuing today. I would hope that if you haven’t seen it, you’ll watch it. I would also hope that once you have seen it, you take a minute to think about your relationship with farms and farmers. When was the last time you purchased a locally produced food stuff? Do you only support local farmers from May to October? Can you name five or more people who produce the food you eat?
That commercial tugged at heartstrings; honestly, it made me tear up with pride…but that isn’t enough. How will seeing that commercial change how you live your ‘food life’? Will it make a difference or have you already forgotten about it? In a world where people are making more and more money for doing less and less, the farmer stands, as they always have, ready and willing to do whatever it takes to get quality food into your cast iron pan. Do you ‘know farms, know food’?