When visiting local farms and farmers’ markets customers will get more than just ingredients. My search for the best local produce in Hampton Roads led me to Farmer John (Wilson) at New Earth Farm, where food education is essential to their mission.
Since the beginning of my culinary journey, and experiences in New York, Richmond and Chicago, I have always valued using fresh, local ingredients. I have learned the incomparable taste of locally-sourced ingredients and felt the responsibility to feed people the right way, not the easy way; no matter the city I resided.
On a particularly cold and rainy morning in April, I pulled up to New Earth and was greeted by a group of chickens and the farm’s main attraction, a cat dubbed both Mufasa and Spirit. I wanted to see what Farmer John, owner of New Earth, was preparing in the greenhouse to plant for the growing season.
New Earth Farm has grown organic and non-GMO produce in the Pungo Ridge area since 1995. The 21-acre farm grows more than 200 types of vegetables, fruits and herbs. New Earth is also home to sheep, chicken, and several beehives. The farm boasts all-natural, chemical-free produce that is sold to a variety of stores and restaurants in the area, including where I am the chef, Eurasia Cafe.
Farmer John is passionate about sustainability and education. We clicked right away.
After finishing a cup of coffee under the wind-battered greenhouse roof, he told me, “This farm solves a lot of problems. We help draw down carbon levels, and we encourage biodiversity. Our farm is a 50% working farm and 50% educational farm. We have helped create more than 20 school gardens over the past 10 years.” New Earth was also one of the first farms in the area to introduce a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which provides fresh, locally grown produce to members every week.
The farm-to-table concept is not only a fit for our restaurant, but it’s an opportunity to support other locally-owned businesses and owners, like Farmer John.
Working with local farmers is an absolute privilege, and I have learned so much from their expertise. It is wonderful to work with people who understand the need for high-quality ingredients and who value the experience we try to provide to each of our customers. Visiting farms is always enjoyable and, as a chef, it is extremely helpful to taste the food and hear directly from the farmers on their processes. Using locally-grown ingredients ensures a fresh taste to every dish and simply cannot compare to foods that have traveled across the country.
The importance of using locally-sourced ingredients hasn’t hit all restaurants yet, and I have found that the bigger the restaurant the less local ingredients are present, but a slow shift is happening. I am excited to integrate many of New Earth’s local ingredients into our new menu at Eurasia Cafe. We are currently using herbs and greens from New Earth, including different types of kale and mustard greens grown in their greenhouse. As the weather warms up we will receive a larger variety of vegetables and fruits to include in our dishes. Using local, fresh ingredients has always been a priority and I am so grateful to share the farm-to-table experience with our customers.
In coming days, provided Farmer John doesn’t get a very late frost, he’ll load up my order and deliver it right to our door. I can’t wait to show you what we’ll be making.