From Farm to Table
Did you love going on field trips as a kid? Well, I felt just like a kid again when I spent a day on a farm followed by a farm-to-table dinner in the truest sense of the term. As you may know, I have been exploring the trends of bitter greens and braised meats as a part of a yearlong journey initiated by Chef Rick Bayless and Sargento Cheese. (For the background and a complete list of trends, click here.) This field trip of sorts was a way for me to delve deeper into my trends and learn more about them from two different perspectives: that of a farmer and a chef.
I started my day at Buckhill Farm, a family-owned farm and CSA. For those who may not be familiar with the term, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. For a designated fee, individuals may purchase a weekly share of produce throughout the growing season. Beyond the benefit of receiving just-picked, organic produce replete with its unparalleled taste, the inherent variety of a weekly farm share encourages participants to sample produce they may otherwise overlook. The experience of picking up the food right at the farm provides consumers the opportunity to interact with the farmer and see precisely where their food is coming from and how it is being grown.
Farmer Andrew Buckwalter first walked us through his greenhouse, where he starts his seeds. We then walked through the eight acres of fields dedicated to everything from strawberries and melons to parsnips and peppers. Of course, there were also rows upon rows of my trend: bitter greens. Farmer Andrew, as he is affectionately known, grows several varieties of kale, Swiss chard, mustard, turnip, radish and beet greens, tatsoi, and arugula.
As we took in the beauty of the land, Andrew explained his organic approach, noting the importance of crop rotation for both pest control and maintenance of soil nutrients. In place of a chemical fertilizer, Andrew applies an organic mix including – to my surprise – vinegar and molasses. In one area, he allowed rows of arugula to go to flower. The flowers attracted pollinators and various insects that eat the pests that are destructive to his crops. Some crops do well with covers to keep beetles and other leaf-eating pests at bay. As we walked and listened, it became apparent that a farmer’s knowledge runs deep and his days are long. Yet the most ardent planning and tireless work can be foiled be a late frost, insufficient rain, or too much heat. Ultimately, Mother Nature holds the cards.
Our day at the farm was followed by dinner at a local restaurant called Ma(i)son. Chef Taylor Mason relinquished his day off to cook dinner for a group of ten passionate foodies and farmers. For nearly two years, Taylor and his sous chef, Sarah Aierstuck, have prepared dishes featuring locally sourced, organic ingredients in uniquely delicious ways that allow fresh seasonal components to truly shine.
Taylor has always supported local farms and has partnered with organic farmer Alex Wenger to offer his patrons infrequently seen varieties of fruits and vegetables and present them in unique yet comforting ways. His small staff shares a passion for eating well and doing so in a healthy, sustainable way. A salad consisting solely of greens and a light drizzle of a high quality olive oil and white balsamic vinegar was an unexpected star as the combination of nearly a dozen greens offered a range of textures and flavors from bitter to sweet.
Taylor embraced my bitter greens trend throughout our multi-course meal, topping them with grilled radishes on one plate and pairing them with eggs from specialty chicken breeds on another. The meal had a rustic Italian or French country feel with entrees including fresh caught fish poached in olive oil and Berkshire pork braised in goat’s milk with a side of spring peas. shaved asparagus, and heirloom arugula.
Braised meats, as I mentioned, is my second food trend, and Taylor and Sarah danced on the edge of yet another of Rick Bayless’s top 10 trends–herby desserts–with their nutmeg shortcake with rhubarb sauce and crème fraiche. The dinner was as full of delicious food as it was with animated conversation, enhanced by the family-style presentation and the chefs and farmer joining the table for the meal.
It was fitting that the next morning I visited Lancaster’s Central Market, inspecting the array of bitter greens at various farm stands, sampling cheeses from our local artisanal cheesemaker, and speaking to many farmers who have dedicated their lives to working the land and feeding our community. While at Central Market, I bumped into none other than Chef Taylor, scouting out ingredients for his menu that evening. A special thank you to Andrew Buckwalter of Buckhill Farm and Chef Taylor Mason of Ma(i)son. Likewise, I would be remiss if I did not thank friends and fabulous photographers Mark Buckwalter and Donovan Roberts Witmer of Jeremy Hess Photographers. What a pleasure it was to put aside my camera for the day and let the experts shoot the beautiful images you see here. I was able to completely immerse myself in all aspects of this fun, educational, and downright delicious adventure while other people did the heavy lifting, so to speak!