A Farmer’s Table

I am not a professional food critic. Or a chef. I am not even a foodie. I am certainly not a foodie who cooks and gets paid to critique the food and the farmers who put that food on my table. I am, however, a lover of good food and all the goodness that comes from the bounty of the hard work of farmers and the creative talents and imagination of chefs.

Yes indeed, I absolutely adore sitting down to a table laden with delicious food that someone else cooked. I cannot deny that I also rejoice in the experience of delicious food prepared by very capable hands that are not mine and borne unto me upon dishes that I do not have to wash.

I am a food eater. It just so happens that I am a farmer as well. While not all food eaters are farmers, amazingly enough, all farmers eat food. That makes us a bit special, eh? We not only raise, harvest and produce the food, but we feed our families and ourselves with our crops. We put the “farm” in “farm to table”, and that table is where we gather with our loved ones to break bread and to tuck in heartily. A farmer’s table is truly a family table, and your family table was set by a farmer. No amount of cookbooks, editorials, speaking engagements or panel discussions can refute the fact that without farmers there is no table.

So it was with special relish that I spent an evening dining at a table laden with food that was not only assuredly from the land and farmers, but from a menu and a creative chef and kitchen who chose to actually celebrate the folks who make the farm to table movement possible: farmers like me.

The menu I speak of was one placed before me at Jonathan’s Ogunquit in the very lovely town of Ogunquit on the coast of Maine.

The regular menu offerings at Jonathan's are extraordinary in their own right, but on this evening a special menu based on selected recipes from a cookbook from family dairy farmers showcasing their products managed to exceed the normal standards.

The regular menu offerings at Jonathan’s are extraordinary in their own right, but on this evening a special menu based on selected recipes from a cookbook from family dairy farmers showcasing their products managed to exceed the normal standards.

I did not just happen to sit down at this wonderfully appointed table. As part of a weekend to celebrate good food, good friends and great cheese and a longstanding partnership between Cabot Cheese and the neighbouring inn, Meadowmere Resort, I was fortunate enough to spend a few days in Ogunquit letting folks get to know their farmer and sharing with them the ups, the downs and all the in betweens of being a dairy farmer, as well as sharing with them a very special cookbook that not only provides recipes, but a glimpse into the lives of the farm families who make up the Cabot Cheese Cooperative…and of course I shared cheese! So while my presence in this quintessential, coastal Maine town was not by chance, my decision to venture next door to this particular restaurant was. (especially in light of the fact that I had been on the road for eight days, through 6 states, 3 winter storms , 3 cancelled flights, 2 stand by seats, an unexpected, but necessary, bus ride and taxi to get there and had spent the previous night on the floor of an airport…the lure of a bed was almost greater than the lure of a meal wholly prepared and presented by someone else while I sat and simply enjoyed it. I am very glad that the bed did not win.)

This cookbook from Cabot Creamery Cooperative shares recipes of simple wholesome dishes and stories from some of the 1,200 farm families who own Cabot.

This cookbook from Cabot Creamery Cooperative shares recipes of simple wholesome dishes and stories from some of the 1,200 farm families who own Cabot.

So I sat down to a very fine table and selected my choices from a menu meant specifically to celebrate and share from the new cookbook from our family farm’s cooperative and incorporated not just all things Cabot but also made certain to showcase locally grown foods. Just like the regular menu, Jonathan’s offers not only a variety of meal choices but does so by focusing on providing food that is tied to the community. Perhaps not the most novel idea in this world of trendy bistros and chefs/lifestyle gurus/agronomy specialists/farming moralists but sincere in its endeavour to deliver a true taste of the locality while supporting each level of the community without focusing on a label, but focusing on the purveyor.

There was a Butternut Squash & Sage Bisque…

This Butternut Squash & Sage Bisque combined locally sourced vegetables with dairy products from Cabot Creamery Cooperative which not only supports 1,200 dairy farm families throughout New England and New York, but includes 90+ family farms here in Maine. In Maine alone dairy farms contribute $570 million to the economy, $25 million in State and local taxes, 700,000 acres of open space, 1,300 on farm jobs and 4,000 dairy related jobs.

This Butternut Squash & Sage Bisque combined locally sourced vegetables with dairy products from Cabot Creamery Cooperative which not only supports 1,200 dairy farm families throughout New England and New York, but includes 90+ family farms here in Maine. In Maine alone dairy farms contribute $570 million to the economy, $25 million in State and local taxes, 700,000 acres of open space, 1,300 on farm jobs and 4,000 dairy related jobs.

…and then there was the Sam Adams Marinated Pork Tenderloin with Charred-Cheddar Relish…

C

hef Tristan Maher "really was impressed with the marinade" for this dish "as well as the Dried Cherry, Apple, Almond Turnovers with CabotSharp Cheddar." The Spicy CheddarDressing on the Grilled Corn Salad was also a favourite of this chef who truly appreciates the farmers who provide the food for his creations.

hef Tristan Maher “really was impressed with the marinade” for this dish “as well as the Dried Cherry, Apple, Almond Turnovers with Cabot
Sharp Cheddar.” The Spicy Cheddar
Dressing on the Grilled Corn Salad was also a favourite of this chef who truly appreciates the farmers who provide the food for his creations.

 

 

…and dessert, of course…

This Cherry, Apple, Almond Turnovers with CabotSharp Cheddar was not only divine but one of Chef Maher's favourite recipes.

This Cherry, Apple, Almond Turnovers with Cabot
Sharp Cheddar was not only divine but one of Chef Maher’s favourite recipes.

There really is no substitute for a fine meal that is crafted with care and attention equal only to that which was applied by the farmers and fishermen who raised the ingredients. It takes a special kind of chef to truly appreciate the importance of not just the meals they prepare but the quality of the food they use, and the quality of the farmers who produce that food. Tristan Maher, Executive Chef at Jonathan’s Ogunquit says that,

It is very important to to us here at Jonathan’s to use local. We only source seafood from the Gulf of Maine, our goat cheese is from York Hill Farm New Sharon-ME, our blue cheese is Great Hill Blue from Marion-MA, and we use a variety of Cabot products including the Greek Plain Yogurt, select cheeses and butter. In addition, we always have organic produce that we grow ourselves on Jonathan’s farm that includes beets, a variety of greens, tomatoes, zucchini & squashes, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, apples and blueberries. We also forage for field cranberries and black walnuts. We raise sheep to make our lamb sausage and to run as specials throughout the year. We stock rainbow trout at the Farm as well to use in daily specials during the summers. Jonathan’s has been committed to organic farming and support of the local food community for the past 39 years. As the chef here, it is a pleasure to create ever evolving menus that use these products throughout our menu.”

When it comes to the customers and patrons of Jonathan’s Chef Maher feels “people that choose to spend an evening eating with us here are happily impressed by the variety of local ingredients that we use.” Because those who choose to enjoy the goodness that he creates with all this locally sourced food want to know where their food comes from the restaurant “makes a point of highlighting what is local on our menu each evening… point out each night what we are using from our own farm on the menu and in the daily specials.” And it’s not about labels or lofty ideals promulgated by fancy folks in big cities, it’s about the fact that, as Chef Maher says, “People come here to Maine to eat the food we have here…” and because of that “we shop for local food”. They primarily source their dairy products from H.P.Hood and Oakhurst, both bottlers that are located in Maine and are part of the 263 family dairy farm industry that is such a big part of Maine’s economy and landscape. They use Cabot cheese and butter and for special menu items or features they source local cream, eggs, cheese etc…

The whole point for Chef Maher and Jonathan’s is to feed their patrons well, and not just their palates but their hunger for food that satisfies their stomachs and their souls. Give them what they want. Share with them the story of where their food came from, not because it is trendy but because it is true. Make the effort to source locally and know their farmers, not to dictate how the food should be raised but to ensure that the dishes they create are as much a part of the community as the people who raised the food, prepared it and served it while welcoming those who come from afar to the community.

When it comes to a movement the point is that the motion be for the good. When it comes to the farm to table movement it is becoming crystal clear that some of the momentum seems to be leaving behind the very folks who put the food on the table—the farmers. But like most things, everything is local and when you leave behind the high priced, fancy, trademarked and copyrighted “back to the land-farm to table” book signing and talk show circuit you find yourself seated at a table laden with fare that came from both near and far, touched by those interwoven throughout the local community. As a farmer it is a purposeful moment to realize that the table before you is heavy with the food your hard work and your way of life has produced and to realize as you look around the room that each person there is seated before a table like yours.

Seated at a farmer’s table.

About Jenni Tilton-Flood

Jenni grew up the daughter of the local John Deere dealer and then became the “Parts Girl”, eventually working beside her father as a tractor and equipment salesperson. After one of her customers fell in love with her and she fell right back, she became a dairy farmer and part of a family farm (Flood Brothers Farm, LLC) that has been in agricultural production for over 200 years and is currently operated by 3 generations of family members and 40+ employees. She is a proud Cabot Farmer as the farm are owner/members of the Agri-Mark Cooperative. Her family farm produces 5% of Maine’s milk with a milking herd of 1600 and 3400 head overall. They raise 2000 acres of corn for silage and harvest 3000 acres of grass 2-3 times a season for both dry hay & haylage to feed their herd. She is very proud of the care they provide to their animals, their stewardship of the land, and their commitment to their families, and environment.

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