A Story In Every Bite

The Farmers Dinner

Four courses with James Beard Nominee, Evan Hennessey

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 Four courses with James Beard Nominee, Evan Hennessey

The Farmers Dinner with Stages at One Washington

As a chef I would often spend hours in the kitchen fine tuning details of how I wanted  a dish to be presented. Still to this day, I feel that being a chef is much like being an  artist. The plate is your canvas and the food is your paint. Eating food is more than  just how it tastes. The symphony starts with a visual representation of the chef’s  presentation. The diner is taken on a journey of senses from smells to taste, texture to  color. This symphony, when composed correctly moves the diner beyond just food  and into the realm of true art.

Chef Evan Hennessey of Stages at One Washington in Dover, New Hampshire is an  artist. I was introduced to Evan in the summer of 2014 while I was judging a food  competition that he was in. Chef Hennessey and I began to talk about food and farms  that inspired us. I was in awe of his dedication to local ingredients and realized rather quickly that we had a lot in common.

stages-15 As a meat farmer, Chefs will come to you asking of prime cuts, and  because of the demand these cuts go rather quickly which drives up the  price. A farmer is then left with a tremendous amount of off cuts which  don’t sell as well. Chef Hennessey understood this principal and wanted  to make sure that we did right by the farmer.

As we continue in year three of The Farmers Dinner, we am honored to be  hosting dinners with Chef Evan. On Sunday June 28th,  we will be at Chef’s restaurant; Stages at One Washington in Dover, New Hampshire for a multicourse meal that is truly the epitome of farm-to-table cuisine. You cannot miss this!

Click Here For June 28th Tickets!

Benedikt Dairy: A Story of Love

IMG_0959Shirley Farm is a nine generation farm that took a chance on a couple with a dream.

Max was raised in Münster, Germany and began his studies in Math. Max realized he wanted to do more meaningful work so he began farming conventionally in New Zealand for a year and then moved back to Germany for an agricultural education. It was there that he received an organic farm education and worked on a dairy farm.

Melissa’s story was a bit different. Her grandfather was a dairy farmer and she has always felt a connection to her natural surroundings. Melissa studied ecology and organic farming at Prescott College in Arizona before moving to California to work in green building for several years. She then traveled to Germany and met Max on the organic farm where he was training. The two fell in love and wanted to bring this same sustainable farming system they were a part of in Germany, to New Hampshire where Melissa grew up.

Fast forward a bit and Max and Melissa Blindow were given a secure lease on this historic Shirley Farm to produce raw milk, a product that is marred in controversy and criticism. With a loan and some help, they opened the first commercial Hillsborough County New Hampshire dairy to start in almost 20 years. Along the way they received help from the UNH cooperative extension along with several other organizations. Their dairy products, eggs and beef are certified organic.

IMG_0983I was introduced to Max and Melissa in the spring of 2014 through another farmer. I love raw milk and ended up coming up to the farm that day to take a tour. The first thing that became apparent for me while visiting the farm is how Max and Melissa are stewards of the land and not just takers from it. They understand that there is a system that leaves every part of the process better if you take the time and understand how sustainable farming works. The love they have for the cows is also the same love they have for the land, the process and the customers who support their dream.

Raw milk is often the topic of controversy these days as people cite potential deadly bacteria that can be transferred into the milk. Max and Melissa believe, along with many other people, that raw milk is safe when produced right. Raw milk drinkers report that it is more digestible and more nutritious than the alternatives.

The cows at Benedikt Dairy are fed grass, which is what a cow naturally eats. Max and Melissa say, “Our cows are Jersey cows that live on pasture day and night through the growing season and eat grass and herbs. They are managed intensively through planned rotation to provide them with the optimal nutrition, so that they can make the most nutritious milk. In this process they build topsoil, sequester carbon in the ground and live to the full extent of their being. In the winter they eat dry and fermented hay. They always get sea salt and minerals to complete their diet. Our milk is raw and whole. It has cream that rises to the top and it’s deep yellow from the grass that makes it. It’s at the heart of human cultures in the ecosystems of the temperate climates.”

Max and Melissa’s story is about love. When they pursued the thing that they loved, they found love, and now they continue to give that same love back to every aspect of their farm.

For more information on Max and Melissa and to sign up for their CSA please visit them at:
http://benediktdairy.com/

Benedikt Dairy: A Story of Love

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The Unwanted

The Unwanted

They are discarded, considered imperfect, left to rot and unwanted. The picture perfect produce we find in the modern supermarket has conditioned us to believe that only perfection exists in the landscape of our food.

I spend a lot of time with Carl Hills, owner and farmer at Kimball Fruit Farm in Pepperell Massachusetts. Carl took a chance on my concept of The Farmers Dinner when we first got started. Years later I look to Carl as a mentor and friend. Carl is known around these parts for growing award winning tomatoes. In his quaint farm stand you will find trophies that signify his accolades as a tomato grower.

Each year around May, I see a Chevrolet Silverado covered in mud and dust driving up the winding dirt road that leads to his farm stand. Carl will roll down the window smile and say, “get in.” Each year we go on a journey across the acres of land that he and his family have farmed for generations. These trips are like PHD courses in farming as he explains how the last ice age has changed the bedrock of the soil and thus the landscape of farming on his land.

The first time Carl showed me an heirloom tomato, (which he grows over 60 varieties of on his farm) I thought something was wrong with it. The color was not bright red like I was use to. This tomato was brownish in color and not that symmetrical. Then came the greens, the striped tomatoes and the massive starburst colored tomatoes that when cut open resembled a bright sun rather than the deep red watery mess many tomatoes are known for.

Carl has taught me countless lessons in life and agriculture thus far but on that particular day, I learned that the food we see in the grocery store is often times an illusion to the reality of farm fresh food. The “ugly” fruits and vegetables get discarded by supermarkets for a small bruise or imperfect flesh. Stores don’t want to pay for something that the consumer won’t buy and I understand that logic. I don’t fault the store for not buying something that won’t sell. I place the blame on awareness. See, for a long time now we have been told that only perfection exists in our produce departments. We are given the illusion that strawberries are always in season and they are massive. We are shown that tomatoes should be red and anything other than that isn’t really acceptable.

When the “ugly” food is discarded it creates an issue of waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Food Waste Reduction Alliance estimated that 25 – 40% of food grown, processed and transported in the US will never be consumed. This results in billion dollar losses across the board.

Real food has variations in size, color, textures, marks and shapes. Real food is grown outside and picked when it is ripe so the sugars have time to mature. That maturation also means longer time on the vine and produce will not always be consistent in size. It is time that we break the stereotype of “perfect” produce and put the “ugly” food to good use.

The Seasons

As the snow falls outside, I sip tea from Bee Field’s Farm in Wilton, NH. This time of the year makes me reflect a lot on the changes in the seasons. These nostalgic thoughts often cause me to be extremely thankful for the seasons and why they have meaning to me living in New England.

Years ago I marked the passing of seasons by the clothes that I wore. When I started The Farmers Dinner I quickly realized that seasons have a much deeper and almost spiritual meaning. Looking out my window today I see icicles and snow falling to the ground by it was only a matter of months ago that the landscape looked much different.

I think about May and how the earth is turning green. I think about tasting the first bite of a spring mix salad with local greens. Biting into fresh asparagus and the smell of fresh herbs that permeate farm stands across New England. There is something beautiful about eating food that is in season. The new crops of May give way to a beautiful display of nature in June.

June begins one of my favorite times of the year, strawberry season. There is something so magical about picking a fresh strawberry and putting it in your mouth. The sweetness with a hint of sour captivates your taste buds in a veritable orchestral way. Those of you who purchase strawberries out of season and shipped thousands of miles away probably long for June and fresh strawberries as nothing can compare.

July inches it’s way forward and the tartness of blueberries makes its way into the kitchens of many homes. Pies bake, jam is prepared and nature is in full bloom. These months hold special meaning to us at The Farmers Dinner because we offer these options to chef’s to create anything they desire for our menus. To see their creative ideas come to life like edible art is truly an experience.

August comes and peppers, peaches and plums make their way to my dinner table. As I am typing this I am reminded of the sour juicy flavor of the Methley plums from Kimball Fruit Farm in Pepperell, Mass. Last year owner Carl Hills introduced me to these beautiful plums and ever since I long for the season when I can have them again. These experiences are ones that I don’t take lightly and each season I cherish them more and more.

September begins the harvest season and the bounty that nature provides is unparallel. Tomatoes are beginning to fade, fruits have started to disappear and root crops begin their rise to the top of the food chain. These months bring about change as the cold air creeps on the back steps of September.

Most of us don’t know the seasons like the farmers do. We differentiate seasons by clothing much like I did for years. This is why we try so hard to educate people why seasons matter. This year, take the family to a local farm. Pick some fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and thank the farmer for all their hard work. Seasons have more meaning and you taste your way through them.

Why We Love Cooking (And You Should, Too!)

Why We Love Cooking (And You Should, Too!)

If this was written 30 years ago there would be no need for it’s existence. The fabric of western culture has undergone a remarkable change in the last 30 years as we have moved from our kitchens to the dining rooms of restaurants and replaced pots and pans with take away bags. This fundamental shift in the way we consume food has had varying consequence and subsequently spawned massive debates.

The kitchen table has in many cases become ostracized to a relic of the past or a convenient place to store junk mail. Once upon a time, the landmark we call the table house a family coming together breaking bread and talking face to face. In modern times the landscape of take away bags and the iridescent glow of cell phone light has usurped the treasured past time of dinner.

Let’s take for example the modern America supermarket which has on average 47,000 products and 75% are processed in some way. With multiple people working in a household we shifted from making dinner to heating dinner. We were inundated with people telling us that they had no time to cook a meal and so companies gave us convenient solutions to this “terrible modern problem.”

The fact is, in America today we fear one thing, inconvenience. We want cheap and quick food options but we don’t want to think about who is growing it and if those people are able to make a sustainable living. There are plenty of people telling you what to eat, why you should eat it and when you should be eating but that is not the premise of this post. I am asking you a simple question in order to make you think. When did we stop cooking and start leaving that “chore” to others.

I understand that many of you might be confused and intimidated when it comes to cooking a meal. Your kitchen should be a place to spawn creativity and community. Meals are meant to be enjoyed and shared with others.  Taking time to cook a meal is an important but fading past time that brings people together.

As part of our 2015 season we are making the pledge to educate and inspire each and every person we can to cook more meals at home. This has been a fundamental principal in our company and in my life for years. No matter what my schedule is, I make sure to cook meals at home. Of course I love going out for dinner;  it’s kind of what we do. We also become very inspired talking to chef’s about their passions in the culinary arts. We are blessed to pick amazing produce from local farms and understand when seasons change, our palates do as well.

As a chef, food was my job. As the owner of The Farmers Dinner, it has become my passion. This year we will be posting recipes from chef’s and working on various projects to teach anyone who wants to learn to cook, some basic skills and recipes that they can replicate at home. At every dinner this year you will receive a recipe straight from a local chef that you can make right at home.

We feel strongly about inspiring everyone we can to rediscover cooking. We ask that you help us on this journey and together we can make a major difference in 2015. You can join us by sharing this post with your friends, signing up for our newsletter and interacting with us on social media. We will be posting recipes each month so please stay in touch and let us know what you are cooking!

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2014 A Year In Review

2014 was an incredible year for us. The people we met, the farms we visited, the event we held all hold a special place in our hearts.

When we started The Farmers Dinner in 2012, we had a simple goal; to reconnect people with their local farmer. Now as we embark on 2015 we want to continue that goal and add to it. (more on this in a later post.)

In 2014 we….

Presented 6 dinners, all of which were sold out.
• Total diners served = 536
• Total invested back into local farms = $15,353
• With the help of Great American Downtown and several fantastic restaurants we shut down Main St in Nashua, New Hampshire for an amazing event.
• We were guest judges for The Chef’s Plate – A Taste of New England on their Farm Fresh Challenge.
• We hit over 1,000 likes on Facebook.
• We threw dinners in vineyards, city streets and fantastic restaurants but this is just the beginning.
• Keith (the founder) was named 2014 “It Person” from New Hampshire Magazine for his work with local farms.
• We met amazing new farms and farmers.

Thanks to YOU, more and more people are shopping local and visiting farms but our mission isn’t over. In 2015 we will be expanding The Farmers Dinner to more towns, more exotic locations and more ways to interact with your local area farmers.

Because of your support, we are creating a movement in the New England area. Please be a part of this by sharing our story with your friends and above all, know your food and know your farmer.

A Journey Through The Orchard

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A Journey Through The Orchard.

I have a confession to make.  I feel guilty and terrible just saying it, but I would be willing to be that she agrees with me.  My mother isn’t the greatest cook.  It became clear early on that I was much more interested in food and cooking than she was, and my first basic recipes growing up came from an old 1950’s cookbook that my grandma passed down to my mother. I butchered my first recipe, a batch of peanut butter cookies, but thankfully my mother gave me encouragement and managed to choke down a bite or two.

I must have tried all of the recipes in that book at least a dozen times over the years. Through much trial and error I learned how simple ingredients combined together can create outstanding flavors and textures.

As I grew older I was naturally drawn to the culinary scene, and my first step on this journey was working as a line cook in various local New Hampshire restaurants.  It didn’t take long for me to recognize the disconnect between the food I was preparing and the diners who were eating it.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t an issue of variety or availability.  There were plenty of companies talking about the seemingly endless types of produce they offered, and being the only option as far as most people were concerned, the restaurants would flock to these companies because of their low prices and simple delivery options.  I don’t think that these companies or the restaurants that purchased from them intended any ill will, I simply think that as the poet Maya Angelou once said, “You did what you knew how to do.”  It wasn’t an issue of choice or principles that led these restaurants to source their food from hundreds or thousands of miles away, it was simply ignorance. They didn’t know that local farmers were already producing high quality food in their area, and if they did they assumed it would be too complicated or expensive to use fresh local food.  Once I realized this I became interested in finding alternative ways to source produce, and it was this desire that began my journey to empower hometown farmers and let people appreciate local food.

I still remember the feeling of walking through the apple orchard in Hollis, New Hampshire for the first time.  The smell of the crisp autumn air, the muddy ground trampled on by hundreds of shoes, the rows of pristine trees ripped with deep reds and greens as winter began its approach. I remember the feeling of reaching high up in the branches and twisting a fresh apple off the limb, the cracking sound as the tree released its fruit. These indelible memories are ones that I cherish and long to share with others, but I fear that one day future generations will lose the ability and interest to understand and appreciate their food.

IMG_0636Learning where your food comes from isn’t a fad, it’s not the trendy thing to do, and it’s not just a luxury that the affluent can afford.  As far as I am concerned knowing about your food is a basic human right. Today we live in a world that is disconnected from farms and farmers.  We have ostracized farming to a relic of the past and relegated its responsibilities to minorities for low wages. Farms are forced into this paradigm of low wage hiring because farming is an occupation that we wouldn’t want for our children. We dream big for our children, hoping that they become lawyers, doctors or fortune 500 executives, but rarely do parents hope their children become farmers.

The facts are undeniable when it comes to making a living as a farmer. According to the Sustainability Institute,  in New Hampshire, the average farmer takes in $6,414 per year in income. Their average operating costs exceeds $46,997 per year. When you combine this with 15 hour work days and stiff competition in the marketplace you can see why people aren’t lining up with their MBA’s to become farmers.

The plight of the American farmer is something we should all be concerned about because it reflects poorly on our entire society, and because we have the ability to change it. With every dollar you spend on food you are voting on the future of America’s agriculture industry. Every penny has a purpose, every dime a destination.  When you spend money on low quality food shipped from abroad, you are supporting and reinforcing this system.  The money goes to the big companies, the farmers get very little, and you saved a few bucks at the expense of your local economy.   When you choose to source your food locally, however, you improve the community by giving back to the men and women who work tirelessly to produce the highest quality ingredients around and by keeping money in your home town.  Not only do you live a healthier life by eating higher quality food, but you preserve the local farms of your community for future generations so that they too can know what it’s like to pick a fresh apple off a tree and hear the snap as they take a bite into one of nature’s finest creations.

I don’t expect this article to change the entire food industry. I simply have to make you think. I aim to be a small voice that resonates in your mind the next time you are in a grocery store, asking you simply to take a fraction of your food budget and visit a local farm. If I can accomplish this small and simple thing, we all win. By buying produce locally you enrich the local community, keep the economy in your area healthy, and most importantly support a group of people who work tirelessly to bring you high quality food in an age where mechanization and mass production of low quality calories seems more important than the experience of picking a fresh apple and knowing where it came from.

 

First Dinner of 2014

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We are all very excited to kick off the 2014 season. Last year we knew that we wanted to spend some time on the seacoast of New Hampshire. We are huge fans of all the fantastic work that Seacoast Eat Local is doing out there and knew that we would really enjoy getting to know some of the farms on the coast.

The first Farmers Dinner takes place on Sunday, May 25th at Orchard Street Chop Shop in Dover New Hampshire. The Orchard Street Chop Shop is housed in the original Dover Firehouse. Built in 1865 for the horse-drawn fire trucks, it is one of the oldest historic landmarks in the city. It was used as the firehouse up until the 1970’s when it was converted to the Firehouse I restaurant. It has been a restaurant ever since.

We are putting the final touches right now on the various farms we are working with but we knew from the start we wanted to work with Generation Farms out of Concord. Last year we met James and Marley from Generation Farms and we hit it off really well. Their organic practices and love for their passion was evident from the moment that we met them. This year we are starting off the season by inviting them out and purchasing some of their fantastic greens!

Generation Farms

James, Keith, Marley and Jimmy enjoying fresh organic greens from Generation Farms

We are also working with Jeremy of Great Harvest Bread. Jeremy’s passion for sourcing things locally has been an inspiration to us. The quality of products he creates is second to none and having him at the dinners has been a real treat. (Pardon the pun).

When you attend a Farmers Dinner you are not just getting a great meal but you are supporting local farms and local restaurants. Each dollar has a destination and each penny has a purpose with the Farmers Dinner. This dinner is not one that you want to miss. Tell your friends, neighbors and shout it from the rooftops and help be a part of this movement.

Hope to see you there.

P.S Click HERE to purchase tickets

100 Years Of Farming And Why It Matters To You

old farmersIn the 1900’s farms were small. They were often isolated remote with a small amount of land. The families of the farmers kept the land and lived off of their farm. The crops were diverse and monocultures were nowhere to be found. Farms raised pigs, sheep, cows and chickens knowing that these animals were vital to the success of their crops.

In the 1900’s the rise of machine labor just started to make its first impact on local farms. Farm yields were often low with corn producing anywhere from 15-30 bushels per acre. Farmers often faced the perils of drought, crop failure and diseases. These factors were prevalent in all farms in the 1900’s and every farmer knew that some loss was inevitable.

Farm life was tough with long hours and back breaking labor but this was essential to the survival of the community. In the 1900, 38% of the work force listed their occupation as “farmer.” In 1914 the largest industry in the U.S. was meatpacking, which was over 50 percent larger than the number two industry at the time, iron and steel. As the population grew so did the need for more farms and more food.

With the rise of machinery American farmers could produce more yields and feed more people. By 1925 one farmer could care for up to 34 acres of land which was almost double what they could care for 30 years prior.

As the years went on, companies got involved in farming and designed clever ways to save crops from diseases by using sprays and chemical rich fertilizers. Production increased and so did profit. Then in 1971 the landscape of farming changed forever.

President Nixon appointed Earl Butz as secretary of agriculture with a task, make food cheaper to the consumer. Butz’s motto became “get big or get out,” as he encouraged farmers to buy up their neighbors property and create factory farms by increasing yield and production. These policies helped the growing fast food industry become the giant it is today.

Earl_L._ButzIn Butz’s time as secretary of agriculture he abolished a program that paid corn farmers not to plant all of their land. This program was in place so that the nation wouldn’t have an oversupply of corn with low corn prices. This plan also forced corn farmers to plant other crops on their land besides corn. Upon abolishing this law, Butz told corn farms to plant corn “fencerow to fencerow.” This shift in policy from the agriculture department changed the face of farming to this day.

Americans had an over abundance of corn that the government was subsidizing and we needed ways to use that corn. High fructose corn syrup started to gain popularity as a sweetener in soft drinks, sorbitol gave toothpaste its texture and flavor, corn became a feed for cattle, and the list went on from diapers to makeup. Corn became king in America and to this day it reigns as the crop of all crops.

This brief history of farming in the last 100 years shows a massive change from simple small farms to much larger factory farms filling the need for a population that exploded. As we turn our gaze to the next 100 years we are faced with a precipice that we can alter if we take action. As the population continues to rise with no end in sight, we can see in the not so distant future a real shortage of the modern food supply.

Preservation of local farms starts with the consumer making a choice to spend some of their food budget locally. This simple act can change the face of the modern agricultural system. Agriculture is based on supply and demand. Earl Butz showed us this by artificially increasing demand for food production resulting in a complete collapse of the value of corn. Once the consumer understands that we vote with our dollar, we hold the power to change the face of modern agriculture to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly solution.

The future of farming lies in our hands. Will we continue with an outdated and antiquated system that promotes inequality or will we change this archaic system one carrot at a time.

 

The Main St Farmers Dinner

For awhile now we have been working on expanding The Farmers Dinner to incorporate new and innovative ideas. After months of planning we can finally announce one of the major events we have been working on.

The Main St Farmers Dinner

The Farmers Dinner is pleased to announce a partnership with Great American Downtown to bring the first annual Main Street Farmers Dinner to downtown Nashua on Sunday, September 21, 2014. This farm-to-table event is a celebration of local food and cooking.

Main Street will be closed to traffic and festively decorated with white lights, hay bales, corn stalks and pumpkins. Long, linen-clad tables will be set up down the middle of the street with seating for over 200 guests. A multi-course dinner created by downtown chefs using locally sourced food from neighboring farms will be served family style together with locally produced wine and beer.

Throughout the evening guests will enjoy musical entertainment and hear speakers address issues such as biodiversity and sustainability.Guests will also receive recipe cards of dishes from the evening’s menu to replicate at home.Local farms will set up an impromptu Farmers Market for diners to purchase the seasonal produce used to create their meal.

Chefs from MT’s Local, Villa Banca, Surf, Stella Blu, Portland Pie Co. and many more will take part in this wonderful community event.

This is a ticketed event (price to be determined) and proceeds will be reinvested in downtown Nashua.

We will be posting a lot more about this fantastic event including some behind the scenes footage of the event.

See you all soon!