MEET THE FARMERS
Updated: Nov 6, 2019
by Andrew Chalk
Every year attendees at Dallas Fort Worth's Chefs for Farmers meet a lot of chefs. But who are the farmers behind the ingredients they serve? This year a late addition to the festival agenda gave me a way to find out. The organizers added a Farm Tour, in association with the Seed Project Foundation, a charitable foundation that supports sustainability. The tour visited three farms, two of them major suppliers to the restaurants represented at the festival, and the third a very unusual venture that raises produce to distribute to the hungry.
I was a media guest among the 50 people who boarded a luxury motorcoach in the parking lot of Northpark shopping center at 10am on a Saturday morning. At each stop we would not only meet the farmer, but also have a small plate dish that incorporated something from the farm, and an adult beverage.
Profound Microfarms, Lucas, TX
Lucas is a kind of eastward protrusion of Allen which is, in turn, an eastward protrusion of Plano. The artifacts of suburbia are the same in each. It was here that Jeff Bednar and his wife Lee chose to start Profound Microfarms in 2014. It was three full years before they sold anything as Bednar did not come to this venture as a farmer. Actually, he sold real estate but had become increasingly interested in how food was grown from the standpoint of how it could be healthy. He took agricultural courses and talked to farmers to get a handle on how to farm.
Now Jeff and Lee grow over 150 varieties of herbs, greens, edible flowers, and microgreens in 17,000 square feet of greenhouses. Hydroponic and aquaponic systems are used throughout for faster growth and more control.
Sales are solely to chefs and retail establishments, of which there are now more than 60 on the web site (one as far away as Los Angeles). Consumers can buy through one of the retail stores.
On our tour of the greenhouses there were bowls of herbs and flowers to sample at periodic stations. It was amazing how vibrant and varied the flavors were. At the conclusion of our tour ours small plate was crispy Chubby Dog Farm pork belly, with fish sauce caramel, wilted greens, garlic crumble and pickled seasonal vegetables prepared on an open grill by chef Julio Ortiz, formerly a line cook at Fearing’s, and a can of Pegasus City Brewery High Point, a locally brewed English Mild Ale to lubricate. Breakfast of champions!
McKinney Roots, McKinney, TX
McKinney Roots is a farm, but unlike other farms at that point. It is farmed by volunteers and the product donated to organizations that feed the hungry. Overhead is covered by donations and grants that support its goal to eliminate hunger. Founded in 2017, the farm now has five acres incorporating raised beds of produce, organically grown fruit trees and berry bushes, and chickens that produce dozens of eggs a day. Last year they took a big step forward with the hiring of an Executive Director with extensive experience in non profits, Tom Henry.
We sampled a divine bouillabaisse made with redfish and shrimp from the gulf prepared by Andrea Shackleford, executive chef at Harvest in McKinney, and viognier and rosé wine from Caudalie Crest Winery of Weston, TX.
Cartermere Farms, Celina, TX
Arriving at Cartermere Farms for the first time means coming face-to-face with a whole field of hens bobbing around, hundreds of them! It is a quite bewildering experience. These hens are raised in the same way as all of the livestock at Cartermere: no pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or other non-organic practises. The other livestock, grass-fed sheep, were feeding in an adjacent field. In addition Cartermere produces honey, and a smattering of seasonal vegetables and herbs.
Nelson Carter is too modest to say that he and his brother constructed one acre of high tunnels, installed half a mile of irrigation, built a 250-bird chicken coop, a 600 sq. ft. automated seedling room, and 18 beehives. But this attention to detail results in a farm with some of the best products around. He sells to restaurants and end consumers alike (consumers should order through Rock Farmers Market). This Spring Homewood bought his whole supply of lamb.
Given their rural location Cartermere confronts coyotes that want to take their livestock. They have several dogs, the Pyrenean Shepherd and Turkish Akbash are the preferred breeds. Place one of these with the livestock in a field field overnight and no more coyote problem.
We were treated to deviled eggs with a side of chicken liver mousse, both from the farm’s chicken, topped with arugula prepared by Junior Borges, formerly of Uchi and Mirador but currently working on a new concept, Meridian, in The Village to open in Spring 2020. The adult beverage was Calamity Gin.
Visit a Farm
Actually seeing the meat and vegetables we eat being created was fascinating. It enriched the Chefs for Farmers Festival experience. The day after this tour I attended the Main Event of the festival and there, on a placard at several restaurants, were the names of the very same farms that I had visited just the previous day. The Seed Project Foundation plans their next tour for April 25th, 2020.