Oysters grown in the clean waters of Buzzards Bay. Meat and cheese produced by small outfits. Produce, and beer, and honey. The cornucopia ran over when 10 chefs from across the region converged on …
Oysters grown in the clean waters of Buzzards Bay. Meat and cheese produced by small outfits. Produce, and beer, and honey. The cornucopia ran over when 10 chefs from across the region converged on Westport, Little Compton and Tiverton last week to try local food and tour some of the towns’ unique farms and related businesses, learning along the way about how to incorporate more local products into their menus and why doing so benefits not just their diners, but the region itself.
The tour was organized by Keep the Farm in Farm Coast, a local campaign that encourages consumers to buy local and aims to bring publicity to the issues small farmers face here in finding, acquiring and working the region’s ever-diminishing land.
“It’s so important to preserve that way of life and preserve farms,” said Chris Schlesinger, the founder of the Back Eddy who also ran one of the Boston area’s dearest restaurants, the former East Coast Grill in Cambridge.
Much to see
The day began not even at a farm, but at Meatworks, the Westport butchery and meat processing facility that in its short life has become a huge boon for meat producers in the region. Though only about 1 percent of the meat consumed in New England is raised here, Meatworks has provided local producers with a cost-effective way to process their products, cutting down on transportation costs to facilities farther afield and keeping more money generated from livestock in the area. The proof is in the pudding — Meatworks is extraordinarily busy.
Then it was off to the Back Eddy, which was founded and run by Schlesinger before he handed over the reins to Sal Liotta. The two teamed up to make chefs a lunch sourced almost completely from local farms — Cuttyhunk Farms, Farm and Coast Market, Ferolbink Farms, Ivory Silo Farm, Meatworks, Orrs Farm, Roots Farm, Skinny Dip Farm, the new Small World Farm, Sweet Goat Farm, Westport Rivers Vineyard and Winery, Westport Sea Farms, and Little Compton livestock farmer Carter Wilkie, one of the main forces behind the campaign.
Schlesinger, who started out in Little Compton, moved to Boston and now lives in Westport, is retired from the restaurant business now but had fun cooking for the entourage, which included chefs who in many cases had no personal connection to the area before the day began. It was a perfect afternoon, with a crisp deep blue September sky.
“I’d like to preserve the natural state of the area,” Schlesinger said. “I’d like to promote these independent small guys; supporting small business and entrepreneurial efforts are crucial in this day and age. It seems like everything is getting taken over by the big guy. There are a myriad different reasons to support local farming.”
After lunch, the tour took to the water, giving farmers a close-up look at the Westport Sea Farms oyster operation. Then it was off to Little Compton to visit with Skip Paul and Silas Peckham-Paul of Wishing Stone Farm, who have been vocal about farmers’ needs for more labor and housing for those laborers.
From there, the group headed to Sweet and Salty Farm, where farmers Laura Haverland and Andrew Morely talked about their passion for cheese and yogurt. They learned about the local meat industry from Ron Potter at his Golden Tassel beef farm in Tiverton, and finished up the tour at Buzzards Bay Brewing.
Like many of the other chefs on the tour, Robert Andreozzi loves local but hasn’t always been able to use as much local produce as he would like in his restaurants, most recently the hot Providence pizzeria, Pizza Marvin. But seeing what farmers are producing here, and how the players all work together, he said, was inspiring.
“There’s just so much going on in the farm coast,” he said. “Most restaurants are pretty familiar with Wishing Stone and Sweet and Salty, because they’re always at the (Hope Farmer’s Market in Providence). But there’s so much more to be appreciated in the region.”
Andreozzi first met the campaign’s players when he purchased some of the pork products offered by Wilkie at his small Little Compton farm — “I was blown away by it,” he said. When asked recently to help spread the word about the tour to fellow chefs, he jumped in.
“I grabbed a bunch of chefs in Providence and was able to cherry pick some of those who would have the most impact,” he said. “It was eye-opening — there’s a lot more to be appreciated in the region.”
Throughout his discussions with Wilkie and others, he said, one of the questions that keeps coming up is how to make the Farm Coast a brand name. Andreozzi said he’s been lucky to work in restaurants whose clientele appreciate locally sourced products, and said public participation and support is key. Educating folks on why local is in many ways superior needs to be a focus, he suggested.
“Why is local important? It supports so many people and you’re putting money back into the community — along the way you get a windfall,” said Andreozzi, who currently buys products from Farm Fresh and tries to work in other local sources when they’re in season.
That’s what Schlesinger has always tried to do, from his early days working as the chef at the Sakonnet Golf Club in Little Compton, straight up through to the East Coast Grill and the Back Eddy.
“You hear a lot of talk in the urban areas of people having relationships with farmers,” he said. “We’re right in the middle of it here. I learned early on how much this area has to offer.”