I often get asked by people in the industry, do you know this farmer, do you know this farmer. I guess it’s just presumed that all farmers know each other. I’m like, I have no fucking idea who any of these people are [laughing]. I know Tom. I know maybe one or two other people. I know Sue Miller from Birchrun Hills Farm. She’s doing cheeses. They have a dairy operation. They started doing veal the last couple of years. But I don’t worry about what other people are doing. I just do my thing. I talk to chefs. I find out what they want. I try to envision what they want before they even realize it.
What do you mean by that?
When I say that I grew up around a lot of really good chefs from a young age, I can kind of get inside the mind of a chef and, with a specific flavor profile in mind, try to think how a chef would use it and whether it makes sense for us to grow it. If it’s a flavor that I think they’re gonna like, I’ll take a chance on it. I may not grow a lot of it the first year, but I may grow some of it.
And you’re well placed to see those opportunities.
It’s being in kitchens every week. We’re also kind of unique in the sense that myself and my co-pilot, we work full-time at the farm. The guys in the other trucks also work full-time at the farm. We don’t have guys who are just drivers for us. So, we’re all farming full-time. All six of us. So they’re all in and out of kitchens as well. Different kitchens that I never get to see. So they know the chefs they’re working with and the style of food that they’re doing. They’ll suggest things to me, like, this chef in this restaurant is using this. What if we grew this? It’s like, oh, it’s good to go. Why not? If you’re just willing to be open minded, chefs often will suggest things to you. I started growing nepitella in the green house because Joe Cicala [of Le Virtu] said he can’t find it anywhere.
It’s a popular Tuscan herb that tastes like a combination of mint and oregano. It’s actually in the mint family but it has an oregano taste to it. That was literally just Joe being like, I can’t find it anywhere. Can you try growing it? It took me awhile to find seed, but now I have—
Where did you get the seed from?
I think directly from Italy. Some small—I had to look and look online but eventually, I found it. Got the seed. Germinated it. Transplanted it into the greenhouse. Now I have a hundred plants ready to go out in probably mid to late April. I’ll be putting those out in the herb garden at our farm. It’s actually a perennial in our climate, so it will survive the winter. I mean, it will go dormant but it will pop up in the spring. Stuff like that. Years ago, Stephanie Reitano who owns Capogiro and Capofitto—I’m going back to the first year they had Capogiro—2002. When they only had the one location at 13th and Sansom and it was their first year, she went to Italy to do research and she came back and said, “Ian, I had the most amazing kale variety.”
I said, “really, what’s it called?”
“It’s cavolo nero.”
I was like, “alright, I’ll look into it.”
Got the seed. Started growing it.
You know what it is?
It’s the most popular kale in the country right now. Everyone grows it. This was before it was really super popular. At that time she wasn’t using Tuscan kale even at her gelato shop. At that time, she was just doing sweets. This was someone who was in Italy, eating this kale. Loving it and passing that information on to me. And that sort of thing happens too. It’s a combination of your own research and just talking to people in the food industry. Just being open minded to growing different things.
So, you’re aiming to deliver the highest-grade products…
That’s what we’re trying to do.
Specialty products, but you’re not just all about micro-greens?
No, no, no, no. Our whole philosophy is to use every stage of every plant. When you farm on a small scale it’s vital to use every stage of a plant and not just use it for one use and when it bolts or starts going to seed, just yank it out. A couple of things we do that with—radishes and fennel come to mind. We sell the radishes themselves and then we sell the flowers. When it starts to bolt or go to seed, the first stage is flowers, so we have fresh radish flowers on the stems that we sell. Then the flowers get pollinated and produce a seedpod. When the seedpod is young, it’s called a rat tail radish. That’s also delicious.
CONTINUE READING >