Farm to table
By Stone Lieberman
By Phyllis Rowan
The farm-to-table concept is one of the most popular culinary trends around the country. In most cases, restaurants buy their meats and produce from local farms for their tables. But two local farms are taking the concept a step farther, using the produce and meats from their own farms on their own tables.
Wyebrook Farm in Honey Brook and Far Away Farm in Glenmoore are true farm-to-table ventures.
Dean Carlson and his wife, Emelie, live on the 360-acre Wyebrook Farm in a house overlooking the rolling land where the cattle graze. After working in finance for 15 years, he took time off in 2009.
“I became interested in the idea of sustainable farming. I saw how modern, conventional farming was so dependent on fossil fuels. So it wasn’t until I did see there was another way to do it that I became really interested,” he said.
He bought the farm in 2010 and spent two years repairing the structures. The old barn, with its date stone of 1785, now houses the market and the restaurant. When he got to the farm and saw the potential – with its beautiful scenery and multiple buildings – he realized that it made sense for people to come to the farm.
“Part of the reason is that farming this way is more expensive. You’re starting out in a big hole because you’re doing things the hard way,” he said. “You need to be able to sell directly to people at retail price rather than wholesale price.”
Carlson is achieving his goal of cutting down on the use of fossil fuels. “The best example of it is with grassfed beef -- all of their food is grass. Grass is perennial, so you don’t have to replant it ever year and the animals harvest it themselves.”
They get three to four grazings a growing season from the grass, and during the harshest months of winter, the beef are fed hay. “It’s turning solar power into calories,” Carlson said. “Cows have developed to digest grass, so it’s a way to produce food almost endlessly. Pigs and chickens aren’t herbivores -- they can’t live solely on grass, but a large part of their diet comes from the grass.”
Animals are raised on the farm and taken elsewhere to be slaughtered under USDA regulations. The meat is then brought back to the farm for butchering. When the farm first started operations, about 75 percent of the sales were from the butcher shop. Now that figure has flipped, with about 75 percent of its business coming from the restaurant.
Last year, they dedicated about three acres to growing produce for the restaurant. There are also greenhouses where the vegetables are started and herb gardens.
Beef, pork and chicken are staples of the restaurant, but the featured vegetables change.
“You have to be flexible” Carlson said. “Most restaurants aren’t used to doing that. They plan their menu and then call and order what they need.”
Anthony Colontonio is the executive chef at Wyebrook and a proponent of the farm-to-table concept. “It lets us know where our food is coming from and who’s behind it,” he said. “Calling us a sustainable farm, and this as a farm-to-table restaurant, it includes me utilizing everything.”
When it comes to an animal, he uses the fat, the bones and the feet in addition to the meat. When it comes to vegetables, he uses the whole plant – the top, the root and the vegetable in different ways. “I try to incorporate fun stuff into my cooking, but also let the component shine without doing too much to it,” Colontonio said.
Because of the unpredictable nature of the farm, Colontonio might not know what will be on the complete menu the following week. “It’s difficult, it keeps me on my toes, keeps me fresh” he said.
It’s a collaborative effort. He talks with the in-house butcher to find out what is available, sees what produce is ready for harvesting and plans his menu to include whatever he is given. “It’s as fresh as it gets,” he said.
George Ley’s family has been in farming for decades. He now owns Far Away Farm in Glenmoore with his wife, Jean.
There they raise chickens, cows and vegetables which are used in the Far Away Farm’s County Corner, 1.2 miles down the road. The farm includes two plots -- one is 43 acres where they live, grow the produce, raise the chickens and graze the cattle on Devereux Road in Glenmoore. The other is 100 acres is mostly pasture land in Elverson.
The main part of the farm is from the 1740s, and George Ley’s family acquired it in the late 1970s. George and Jean took it over 11 years ago. Jean opened the café four years ago.
“We had been selling meat [and produce] from the farm for decades out of a cart at the end of the driveway,” Jean said. They even got their four children involved. “We told them if you pick it you can keep [the money],” she said.
Jean and George’s daughter had graduated from culinary school, their future daughter-in-law was a baker, so to most of the family, the restaurant was a perfect fit for their skills. “It seemed like it was made in heaven,” Jean said.
“I wasn’t thrilled about it. I thought we were busy enough,” but Far Away Farm’s Country Corner became a reality. The cart that used to sit at the end of their drive was moved to the restaurant property. The cart served as the café while work was done on soil remediation and building renovations at the new location. Customers who had shopped at the end of the farm’s driveway were now coming to the cart and eventually the café.
The menu at the café includes a variety of dishes featuring products from the farm. The breakfast sandwich includes their eggs. The sauerkraut on the Reubens is homemade from cabbage grown on the farm. The Sloppy Joes and hamburgers are made with their own ground beef. Roast beef and steak sandwiches are made with their own meat. The chicken salad features Far Away Farm chicken. And the farm’s pumpkins and apples are used in the pies. They also make their own apple butter, salsas, relishes and jellies. They are known for their homemade oatmeal bread.
In addition to the food and baked goods they sell in the café, the Leys have freezers full of butchered meat for sale.
“We have lived the farm life all our lives. The freezing and the canning I’ve been doing before I married George,” Jean said.
The farm is home to about 100 head of cattle, 200 laying chickens and 300 roaster chickens, as well as a small population of boar goats, which are usually used for meat. But most of the goats have been like pets to George.
The Leys raise their animals using all-natural methods, in open pastures, with no steroids and antibiotics. “We are not a feed lot with 1,000 animals in one place,” she said.
“We want to make sure our final products are clean,” said George. “We raise it the way we want, we know where it comes from. We have raised them from calves.”
Jean said that the farm-to-table concept is somewhat of a niche for some people. “They are used to living in the city -- you go to the big sandwich place down the street,” she said, adding that what they are doing is the most expensive way to run a restaurant. There is no buying cheaper in bulk from a wholesaler, no mass production.
“Everything we sell, in season, comes from within 20 miles,” George said, and all their meats -- even the ones they don’t raise on the farm -- are always from Chester or neighboring counties.
Wyebrook Farm is on Wyebrook Road in Honey Brook. For information, visit www.wyebrookfarm.com or call 610-942-7481.
Far Away Farm’s County Corner is at 690 Marshall Road (at the corner of Route 282), Glenmoore. For information, visit www.farawayfarmcc.com or call 610-942-2848.