Farmers, Chefs & Connections

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Farmers and chefs looking for their perfect match at Bluejacket, a restaurant and brewery in Washington, D.C. Dan Charles/NPR

Thanks to the folks at the salt, over at National Public Radio (USA), one of the greatest investments any country has made in broadcast news and features:

‘Speed Dating’ For Farmers And Chefs: ISO A Perfect Local-Food Match

By Dan Charles

…Ashley Heaney and Mark Heaney, from Green Acres Family Farm in Gapland, Md., are sitting in a booth on one side of the room, looking expectant and a little tense. They have a cooler full of eggs from their pasture-raised chickens beside them. This is their chance to show off those eggs to a collection of big-city chefs.

They’re here for matchmaking, though not of the romantic sort. It’s an annual “speed-dating” event where farmers get set up with chefs, in an effort to put more local food on restaurant tables.

“When I heard about it, I basically filled out the application right away,” says Ashley Heaney. “I was very excited about it.”

“Now that you’re here, how are you feeling?” I ask.

“A little nervous,” she admits.

“Kind of out of our element, you know,” adds Mark Heaney. “We’re farmers! We’re not used to being in large groups of people. We’re used to being out and working by yourself.”

“But I think it’s going to be fun,” Ashley Heaney says, resolutely.

The matchmaker at this event is Pamela Hess, executive director of the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture. She’s been putting it on every year for the past five years. Hess makes sure that each farmer or chef who shows up gets a card with a list of potential matches. “We connected folks based on where they’re located, what they grow, what they want to buy,” Hess says.

Plenty of farmers and chefs are looking for these relationships, she says, but they don’t happen naturally. Farmers and chefs generally live in different places. They work on different schedules. And according to the executive chef at Blue Jacket, Marcelle Afram, they’re often very different people.

“We have these stereotypes in the industry, the farmer is shy and the chef is ferocious,” she says. “So some mitigation with a couple of beers might help.”

“Any truth to that [stereotype]?” I ask.

“Oh, yeah. Totally. Absolutely,” Afram says, and giggles.

I meet one farmer, though, who doesn’t seem shy at all: Cleo Braver, from Cottingham Farm in Talbot County, Md. “Braver,” she repeats, when I don’t quite catch the name. “You’re brave; I’m braver.”

Braver grows vegetables and hogs. They aren’t just any old hogs.

“I happen to have the pinnacle of certified organic, pasture-raised, organic vegetable-fed, GMO-free sprout-fed, transitional organic grain-fed, heritage hogs available this week and next week,” she tells me…

Read the whole story here.

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