Farm to table has gone mainstream. We’re starting to ask more questions about where our food comes from, how it’s grown, and how it gets to our plates. This is a good thing. Being a woke consumer helps us to eat healthier and make sustainable choices. The culture is re-embracing “artisanal” — turning towards something a little simpler and (most likely) better. After all, artisanal means hand-made by an artisan, which in turn means fewer hands were on the product, which means few chances to f*ck it up.
Farmers are catching on too and branching out into the artisan aspect of food production. Sometimes it’s a chef growing his own vegetables. Sometimes it’s a farmer who simply can’t find the quality milling she needs, so she decides to do it herself. Sometimes it’s about diversifying to keep the farm afloat. And sometimes it’s about making a delicious beer with single-origin products.
The point is clear: Every part of the food chain is deserving of care. We think that’s a good thing and want to celebrate by shouting out these eight trailblazers.
Algería Farms is bringing agriculture into an urban setting — embracing both community and technology. They’ve recently expanded their vertical hydroponic veggie plots from Laguna Beach to a much larger facility at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, thanks to an increasing demand from the public.
The eco-friendly urban farm utilizes hydroponic towers to lower costs and natural resource expenditure. Less water, fertilizer, and soil are used to grow giant Jurassic kale and supersized spinach. Add in the lower cost of not having to ship produce from further afield to local markets and you see the true advantage to vertical urban farming.
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CAMAS COUNTRY MILL
Camas Country Mill is a place where you can watch wheat grown, threshed, milled, and baked into a loaf of bread all in the same day. The Huntons are the third generation to grow various wheats in central Oregon. They’re the first farmers to go back to home milling and baking in 80 years. In 2011, they opened the Camas Country grist mill (that’s where one stone is stationary while a second stone rotates to turn grain into flour) and have prospered as a result.
Their high-quality and milled-to-order flours were a hit and before long Camas Country Mill was providing the local community with 2,000,000 pounds of the stuff — including supplying local school districts and food banks. Recently, they started a test bakery with a large outdoor oven and began experimenting with their home-milled wheats. That test bakery grew in popularity and is now and local institution for naturally leavened breads and delicious looking pastries.
WOODY CREEK DISTILLERS
Distilling spirits is an ancient practice that brought forth some of humanity’s favorite tipples: whiskey, gin, vodka, tequila, rum, et cetera. You have to ask yourself, honestly, how often to you think about the grains or plants that went into that vodka martini or glass of scotch you’re drinking.
Well, if you’re Mary and Pat Scanlan and Mark Kleckner, founders of Woody Creek, you think about it all the time. They care about it so much they grow their own potatoes in Colorado’s Rockies to make their vodka. That’s quality control that excels and helps to forge a world-class product. With that comes a little bit of extra comfort knowing that that shot of vodka originated somewhere special where people paid attention and cared deeply about every aspect of the product.
BLUE HILL AT STONE BARNS
Blue Hill at Stone Barns is consistently ranked as one of the best restaurants in the world, and they largely pull their menu from their own farms in the Hudson Valley. Chef Dan Barber opened the Stone Barns outlet of his famed New York restaurant to explore where farm to table can go — utilizing a 21st century kitchen, staffed with a clutch of forward-thinking chefs.
Stone Barns is more than just a lauded restaurant, it’s also the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. They think about food in new ways, utilize scientists to breed plants in new ways, and generally aim to help the way we think about food and where it comes from by highlighting the process from farm to table. The menu offers the fine diner a deeply local tasting meal of “Grazing, Pecking, Rooting.” Their website even keeps a tally going of what’s being harvested in their greenhouse, orchard, forest, farm, and pasture at all times — giving the diner an idea of what’s in season and what to expect on the plate.
MANOR HILL BREWING
Farm to glass beer brewery is in its infancy at the moment. Big craft brewers like Rogue and Stone have started buying farms to produce products for their gastropubs and special brews, but the real heart of the movement is in the farmers who grow their own grains and hops then brew farmhouse beers out back in small batches and sell them on site. These are the beers that harken back to the old traditions of farmhouse brews — a tradition where the summer is spent harvesting and the winter is spent brewing, and drinking.
Manor Hill is one of those small batch craft brewers. They’re grow their own hops on a two-acre plot supported by grain fields and a plenty of fruit and vegetables paddocks — meaning every year you’ll find something a little different to drink. The small size of the farm brewery means that their distribution is limited to Maryland and DC… who’s down for a road trip?
THE ABBEY OF REGINA LAUDIS
Raw milk cheese rarely gets to the mainstream market in the United States. That’s mostly due to strict guidelines that insist all raw milk is pasteurized (a good thing) and the cheese is made in sterile stainless steel vats. Some nuns disagreed with that notion. And one of them got a doctorate in micro-biology to prove, scientifically, that raw milk cheese made in a classic wooden barrel was safer than the FDA mandate. And she was right (basically the micro-bacteria that live in the wood barrels act as a natural pasteurizer).
The nuns of Abbey Regina Laudis take great care of their grass fed cows and use the milk they harvest to make some truly amazing cheeses. Their cheese is so good that food lover Michael Pollan highlighted the creamery in his Netflix show Cooked. The nuns use simple, but effective ancient techniques to make a cheese that you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the United States. Making it well worth the trip to the Connecticut abbey.
HAMA HAMA OYSTER FARM
Oysters are coming back to menus across the country, and they’re almost exclusively farmed. This is largely due to environmentalists and government officials realizing that oyster reefs are a crucial part of keeping our coastal waters clean — so we’re rebuilding reefs along our coasts. This in turn has brought oyster farming back in a big way.
Eating an oyster has a bit of a ritual to it. You have to open it, maybe add a little sauce, and then slurp it down. Or you can throw some on a grill and wait for them to open then sneak in a little butter. Either way, Hama Hama Oyster Farm in western Washington is a farm to table wonderland of all things oysters. You’ll be able to kick back just feet from the oyster gardens, crack open a cold Rainier beer, and enjoy the sea air as platter after platter of perfectly prepped oysters is delivered to your table for as long as you can take it.
BIG ISLAND COFFEE ROASTERS
Coffee is a finicky fruit to grow — it needs warm temperatures, very nutrient rich soil, and lots of water. Hence it only grows in specific, generally tropical climates. The farming of coffee takes time and energy too — the fruit is tiny, it has to be husked, and then roasted in specific ways to make a product that people actually want to make coffee with. It’s the ultimate in farm to cup experience, requiring a steady hand.
Brandon von Damitz convinced his girlfriend, Kelleigh, that they should take up the laborious art of farming and roasting coffee in Hawaii and never looked back. Their Big Island Coffee Roasters was a trial-by-fire labor of love to make a product with an artisan’s touch from start to finish. And their determination paid off as their business boomed after a stellar ratings from coffee lovers worldwide.
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About farm tours: We’re very small and very hands-on with our coffee farm, mill, and roastery. Because we devote so much time to our coffees, we’re not open to the public and mostly refrain from giving tours. HOWEVER, for large groups and coffee club members, we'll try finding a way to work you in. :)
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Perfect for #ColdBrew, #IrishCream, or with pancakes & maple syrup. Our FAVORITE dark #HawaiianCoffee – Stout Heart Dark – is back for a limited time. Read more about this #deepsoil #deepcharacter coffee by clicking the profile link or going to to: shop.bigislandcoffeeroasters.com/hawaiian-coffee/hamakua-coffee/ #LuckywedrinkHawaii