There has been a lot written in the past couple of years about the local food movement. For those of us who own and operate small farms, the attention being given to locally grown food is a good thing. Big farms can fill orders for big companies and they have the employees to execute picking and packing and shipping. All of that is much more difficult for the small produce grower. But through outlets just as farmers markets, CSA programs, and selling to local restaurants and schools, the small farmer can eke out a living. The customer benefits too by getting produce that is better quality (fresher) and has less fuel costs associated with it. Plus buying local strengthens the local economy. But while gaining some strength, I feel the local food movement is still in its infancy. There are so many hurdles for us small farmers to jump over and perhaps getting our message out to the consumer is one of the biggest. Fortunately there are quite a few really good people and organizations out there that have been willing to support local farms and to talk about it. They are our voice. They support what we do and they have the ability to connect with consumers in a way that we cannot. I know I am speaking for most if not all small farmers when I say that we truly appreciate this support. And so while this blog post is about a day of fun and adventure in the lives of two people who own a small vegetable farm, it is also about ALL the organizations that are willing to speak the message of the small farmer for nothing more than a "Thank You".
The first time I met Chef Rusty Hamlin was in the summer of 2010 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. My girlfriend Valerie and I took a whirlwind one day road trip there to see the Zac Brown Band at a concert. It's a 5-6 hour drive and we left at 10am the morning of the show and got home at 4am the next morning. And I had to go to work that same day after the show. It was painful but worth every memory of that day. The band was just starting to headline its own shows and Zac Brown had come up with the idea of doing "Eat and Greets" for the fans instead of the typical "Meet and Greet". At these "Eat and Greets", fans and band members sit down and eat together before the show. As a fan, it truly is a unique and amazing experience. Zac, a chef himself, has a deep appreciation for really good food and so he teamed up with Chef Rusty Hamlin who provides the culinary magic so to speak at the eat and greets. Through a newspaper article, I had read about how Chef Rusty had been supporting local farms by purchasing food for the eat and greets from farms near the venues where the band was playing. For the show in Fort Wayne, I was able buy a couple of tickets to the eat and greet and Val and I had an amazing time meeting the band, sitting down for dinner at a table with Joey and Rory, and eating some REALLY good food. After dinner I decided to introduce myself to Chef Rusty and he told me if the band was going to be playing near our farm to let him know and he would be willing to purchase produce from our farm. A couple of months later, the Zac Brown Band came to Blossom Music Center and the rest is history as the saying goes. You can read about that day in my blog post "Those Extraordinary Days".
I've seen the band many many more times since then, but all of the shows were out of town or at a time of year when we didn't have any produce to sell. Eventually though the timing worked out for another chance for our farm to provide produce for a Zac Brown Band Eat and Greet. And the timing couldn't have been more perfect. The fields are finally starting to produce after the large set back of Drought 2012. Add to that the show was going to be on a Saturday and that meant that Chef Rusty could pick up at the farmers market where we sell produce every Saturday morning. The market is less than 10 minutes from the show venue. As perfect as perfect could be.
For the past week, my computer and phone had been a hub of activity to set everything up with Chef Rusty. Emails, phone calls, text messages galore to make all the plans. On Friday the day before the show, I was not able to help in the fields like last year, but Mike along with a couple Amish girls that live down the road were able to pick and pack all the produce for Saturday's market plus for the the Eat and Greet.
Saturday morning, Mike and Steve left early for market with the truck and trailer. I left later so I could tend to all the animals. The farmers market opens at 9am and so when I got there around 9:15am, the guys were all set up and starting to sell to the early customers. Those guys do such a great job of setting up the Peters Creek Farm / Covered Bridge Gardens produce stand at the market.
About 10am, Chef Rusty showed up to pick up the produce. Cauliflower, golden zucchini, white sweet corn, garlic and cherry tomatoes would all be used in the chef's creations that evening. Mike and I had fun chatting with Rusty and catching up. And we had some fun posing for pictures at the market too.
Oh yes, there were more traditional posed pictures too.
Then I took the chef over to meet Bob the owner of Seville Berry Farm and to purchase some raspberries that would be used on the dessert that evening. (I also placed my order for Bob to bring me several quarts of raspberries to next week's market so I can make some jam. Oh yeah!)
After Chef Rusty left, I finished helping the guys at the market which is something I really don't ever do. Thankfully the people I waited on were very patient with me since I was really clueless, but I managed to muddle my way through.
After a small lunch and a quick nap and some visiting with my brother-in-law and my niece, Mike and I made our way over to Blossom Music Center for the show. Through Chef Rusty's generosity, we were able to attend the Eat and Greet, say hi to the band members and enjoy some beyond describable good food. Both Zac Brown and Chef Rusty always give a little speech about the food before dinner. They thank the local farms where they bought the food and they encourage everyone at the eat and greets to support their local farmers. I can tell you it is very rare for us small farmers to feel a bit like celebrities, but for a brief moment in time these guys make it happen. Mike and I got to tour Chef Rusty's new custom built semi trailer where he and his staff cook all the food. It was AMAZING. No, beyond AMAZING. What a change from 2 years ago when everything was carted around in a basic small trailer pulled behind a regular sized truck.
There is a tent that comes off the side of the trailer and that is where the tables for the guests at the eat and greet are set up. This is a little farther back view of the tent that comes off the semi trailer.
We then made our way over to our seats which we didn't hardly use as the entire crowd stood for the entire Zac Brown Band show. As a fan of country music, I can tell you is not very often that the ENTIRE crowd stands for the ENTIRE show at a country music concert, but Zac Brown Band is far from a typical country music concert.
And so once again, I find my self sending out a HUGE thank you to Chef Rusty Hamlin and the Zac Brown Band organization. Their support for local farmers is just amazing. I encourage everyone to go visit Chef Rusty's web site at www.chefrusty.com. There are some recipes as well as links to his restaurant that is down near Atlanta, Georgia.
And now it is back to normal farm life, but yesterday's memories will last forever.