Cream of the Crop

Industries & Trends

The farm-to-table movement has been skyrocketing in popularity over the past decade for many reasons – all of them good. Local and regional products have become a priority to many consumers for not only the sake of nutrition and freshness, but also out of a desire for more ethically and sustainably sourced food and drink. Restaurants who source ingredients locally, as well as the diners who patronize these restaurants, also boost their local economies by keeping their dollars circulating in their own communities. Knowing where your food comes from is incredibly important in the realm of farm-to-table. Here, we’re featuring local farmers and restaurateurs who are part of this movement in the greater Chattanooga area, and they can tell you all about your dinner’s journey from the farm to your fork.

 

By Anna Hill / Photography by Sarah Unger

Sequatchie Cove Farm & Creamery

Kelsey Keener, Farm Partner / Padgett Arnold, Creamery Co-Owner

 

Kelsey Keener with the Chickens at Sequatchie Cove Farm & Creamery

 

Tell us a little bit about your farm and what you do. What got you into it? 

KK: Sequatchie Cove Farm is 300 acres of land in the Sequatchie Valley. We raise organic produce, grass-fed beef, lamb, organic pasture-raised chicken, eggs, and pork. We have been in operation since 1999, and there are currently four generations living on the farm.

PA: My husband Nathan and I own and operate Sequatchie Cove Creamery, a farmstead creamery producing cow’s milk and cheeses on Sequatchie Cove Farm. We have been farming alongside the Keener family since about 2002. We are passionate about high-quality local food, seasonal food preparation and culture, and building community through our connection to food and farming. 

Why do you think the farm-to-table concept is important? 

PA: I believe in bringing about mindfulness and a closer connection to our food. Recognizing that connection while building communities and economic prosperity – whether it be through farming, food service and hospitality, or other means of engagement – is a key component of creating a better future. The farm-to-table concept easily meshes with this philosophy and has clearly made an impact on furthering this movement. 

What’s the best part about working with local restaurants specifically?

KK: Working with restaurants is great because they can order more volume and are able to help spread the word to folks who may not know about us yet. We’ve even started partnering with some chefs to do on-farm meals, and we also sell to some local grocery stores.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face when it comes to running your business?

KK: Farming is tough. There are so many unpredictable variables, such as weather extremes, pests, predators, long hours, and seven-day workweeks. At the end of the day, it’s barely profitable, so you really have to love the lifestyle.  

What are some of your favorite ways to eat foods you produce at your farm?

PA: It’s tough to narrow it down. My all-time favorite go-to snacking cheese is Shakerag Blue. It is amazing on its own or paired with dried cherries or fresh strawberries and a drizzle of balsamic. The cheese I use most for everyday cooking is the Cumberland. It has a nice level of acidity, similar to cheddar. It works really well for so many uses.

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Main Street Meats

Erik Niel, Owner

Erik Niel holding a burger at Main Street Meats

Tell us a little about your restaurant and the local vendors you source from. 

EN: We are a small USDA-inspected butcher shop and charcuterie that works with local farmers and ranchers to provide high-quality meats to our customers. We source our whole animals from Bear Creek Farms and supplement with other regional and national suppliers that meet our extremely high-quality standards. 

Why do you think the farm-to-table concept is important?

EN: In reality, every restaurant is farm-to-table – the important part of this is that we have knowledge of the farm and farmer, so we can better provide high-quality products to our guests. We know our suppliers personally and know they are good people who love their animals. This makes all the difference in the world.  

What’s the best part of implementing this concept in your restaurant? What are the benefits of sourcing locally?

EN: The best thing we do is represent our farmers and suppliers to our city. It’s a privilege to be able to do that and feed people the kind of top-notch product that we strive for. Sourcing locally makes this possible throughout the year. 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced when it comes to farm-to-table efforts?

EN: Local does not mean cheaper. So, the challenge is finding the right quality for the price. There is great value in what we provide because it is of such high quality, even though it costs more than the average products in a grocery store.

What are some of your favorite dishes on the menu that feature local ingredients?

EN: At Main Street Meats, it’s the burger. It represents all that we work for in providing this kind of product to our city. Local beef is ground fresh every single day we open the doors!

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Pickett’s Trout Ranch

Steve Pickett, Owner

Tell us a little bit about your ranch and what you do. What got you into it? 

SP: Pickett’s Trout Ranch is a full-scale hatchery and trout farm. We hatch and raise rainbow trout to stock and sell, and we allow fishing for individuals and groups. We also host various events, such as church outings, veterans groups, Boy and Girl Scouts, weddings, and parties. I got into trout farming simply to get away from the grind of the corporate world. My father and grandfather had a farm on this site, so I knew it could work. I started building infrastructure such as the fish runs, hatchery, and house in 2003, then opened to the public in 2004.

Why do you think the farm-to-table concept is important? 

SP: Not only do local farmers provide the highest-quality and freshest produce and meat available to restaurants, but consumers benefit from the nutritional aspect as well as benefit from their local dollars going right back into local business.

What’s the best part about working with local restaurants specifically? 

SP: Over the years, we have been fortunate enough to work with most of the finest eateries in the Chattanooga area. Some of those relationships go back nearly 20 years for us now. When you have that kind of business relationship, there are very few surprises. My customers know they can expect the highest level of quality and service. Conversely, for us, it’s helpful having customers understand when problems arise, as they almost always do with any type of farming.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face when it comes to running your business? 

SP: Mother nature. Farming is risky business, no matter what type. However, trout farming is especially susceptible to heat and drought during summer months. Every year is a roll of the dice.

What are some of your favorite dishes featuring the trout that you raise? 

SP: Hard to say, but right now I would have to go with the smoked trout fritters at St. John’s and the smoked trout avocado toast at Main Street Meats.

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The FEED Co. Table & Tavern

Miguel Morales, Owner/Operator

Miguel Morales sitting at a table at his restaurant FEED Co. Table & Tavern

Tell us a little about your restaurant and the local vendors you source from. 

MM: Partnering with local vendors is something that’s always been important to me when it comes to my restaurant concepts and menus. Yes, the farm-to-table concept is trendy at the moment, but at FEED, sourcing local ingredients is more than a marketing tactic – it’s also a responsibility as a local restaurateur. My chefs work with numerous local and regional farmers to bring our guests the freshest and best ingredients possible. 

Why do you think the farm-to-table concept is important?

MM: Farming is filled with uncertainty, and fresh produce has a limited shelf life. I think it is the responsibility of all restaurant owners to work with farmers to grow a mutually beneficial relationship – especially with vendors who are a part of our own community. Not only do these partnerships provide some security for farmers in knowing that they have already sold their crops, but it offers our guests superior in-season flavors.

What’s the best part of implementing this concept in your restaurant? What are the benefits of sourcing locally?

MM: Supporting local businesses is important, especially in today’s climate. By purchasing local and valuing our local farmers, we are not only able to help our friends and neighbors, but it also allows us to offer our guests an unparalleled product. From the deep marbling on our Wagyu steaks to the vine-ripened juiciness of a tomato, the care these farmers put into their products shows in each bite.

What are some of your favorite dishes on the menu that feature local ingredients?

MM: It’s impossible to choose just one. We are proud to offer mouthwatering dishes, but wouldn’t be able to provide our guests with the experiences they have come to know and love without local farmers. From the lettuces in our salads to the mashed potatoes and our famous maple and bacon Brussels sprouts, local ingredients can be found in each of our dishes.

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Big Sycamore Farm 

Initia Vandermerwe, Co-Owner

 

Initia Vandermerwe, co-owner of Big Sycamore Farm holding a chicken

 

Tell us a little bit about your farm and what you do. What got you into it?

IV: About 10 years ago, my husband Bertus and I moved from a very busy Atlanta lifestyle to rural Tennessee, hoping to live a life of self-sufficiency. We jumped in the deep end, buying raw land with no utilities. We lived off-grid for over three years, building a farm from the ground up. Our little farm exploded in production when we started a work-share program, trading volunteer time for produce. A local Cleveland chef bought produce from us, and when he moved to a Chattanooga restaurant, he kept ordering from us. And somehow, word-of-mouth led to another restaurant, and another. But essentially, we are still a hobby farm at heart – an out-of-control homestead with big dreams. 

Why do you think the farm-to-table concept is important?

IV: The public is very conditioned into thinking all vegetables, berries, and herbs are available year-round. You walk into any grocery store, and you will find green beans and basil in the middle of winter, or carrots and radishes mid-summer. Eating true to the season is something you will only find if you frequent local farmers markets, support local farms, and eat at farm-to-table restaurants. Educating customers has become a part of our journey. Explaining that sugar snap peas have an extremely short growth and harvest season has become a spring thing for us at the farmers market. 

What’s the best part about working with local restaurants specifically? 

IV: Farm-to-table chefs want fresh and unique produce: fairy tale eggplant, purple potatoes, rainbow carrots. It’s produce that inspires them and stands out on their seasonal menus. 

What are some of your favorite preparations of the things that you grow at your farm?

IV: We eat lots of fresh veggies, do a quick sauté, or grill almost anything, from spring onions and green tomatoes to zucchini and corn. We have discovered that we like okra baked like oven fries. Cut them lengthwise, season with olive oil, salt, and pepper – maybe some red pepper flakes if you like the heat – and bake in the oven until crisp. It turns an otherwise slimy veggie we did not like at all into something we will devour. 

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Chili Pepper Ranch

Jim Osborn, Co-Owner

Tell us a little bit about your ranch and what you do. What got you into it?

JO: Chili Pepper Ranch is a boutique Wagyu beef producer. The ranch is family-owned and -operated and located in Apison, Tennessee. It began in 2012 with 9.8 acres and has expanded to cover approximately 370 acres currently. Our focus is on humane and low-stress practices to encourage optimal well-being for our cattle. As part of caring for the beef product, our animals are harvested at a USDA facility. The beef is dry-aged for 21 days and then vacuum-sealed to preserve quality.

We got into the Wagyu beef business initially by happenstance. When we moved out to the country, cutting the grass seemed a bit burdensome, so we purchased cattle to consume the grass. From there, the ranch has grown exponentially. Over the last two years, 86% of our customers have been repeat buyers, and we have seen a 57% increase in customers annually.

Why do you think the farm-to-table concept is important?

JO: The farm-to-table concept really focuses on allowing the consumer to support the local economy and to choose the practices that are utilized to raise their food sources. It is important to choose a beef product that does not get steroids, other hormones, or antibiotics and is not raised in inhumane conditions. We invite our customers to come out to tour our facilities so that they can see the animals and appreciate the care that’s provided them.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face when it comes to running your business?

JO: Challenges that we face really focus on growth and expansion. There is a 36-month time span from conception to table, and we have to strategize growth accordingly.

What are some of your favorite preparations of the things that you raise at your ranch?

JO: Our family did not come from an agricultural background. Entering the cattle/beef business has allowed us to learn more about different cuts, and we are routinely trying new recipes for different cuts so that we can advise our customers. Currently, we are using a smoker quite a bit to try new recipes and seasonings. Even Wagyu burgers and meatloaf are amazing when smoked.

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Public House Chattanooga

Nathan Lindley of Public House, The Social, and Il Primo

Nathan Lindley

Nathan Lindley, Owner

Tell us a little about your restaurant and the
local vendors you source from. 

NL: At the Public House, we offer a strictly seasonal, product-driven menu that emphasizes vegetable side dishes and simple cooking techniques. We traditionally work with a primary farmer. For the past few years, that has been Bert and Initia with Big Sycamore Farm.

Why do you think the farm-to-table concept is
important?

NL: We believe that paying attention to the foods that are in season provides the best-tasting dishes and keeps our customers’ dollars in the local economy. Supporting the community like that is important to us.

What’s the best part of implementing this concept in your restaurant? What are the benefits of sourcing locally?

NL: Knowing that we are serving dishes that feature produce at the peak of its season and flavor is very rewarding.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced when it comes to farm-to-table efforts?

NL: Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to maintain local supply of a particular ingredient – that’s just the way that things work once you involve supply chain logistics and seasonality.   

What are some of your favorite dishes on the menu that feature local ingredients?

NL: Something that I really love is summer corn, so the succotash we serve in the summertime is a favorite. I also love the collard greens we get in the fall and winter seasons.

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St. John’s Restaurant

Patrick Sawyer, Head Chef

Tell us a little about your restaurant and the local vendors you source from. 

PS: At St. John’s Restaurant and St. John’s Meeting Place, we provide regional Southern fare prepared with French techniques. We source from several local vendors. During some summers, we have used over 20 farmers. But this year, many local farmers were unsure how the economy would emerge from the pandemic, and they were much more cautious with their plantings.

Why do you think the farm-to-table concept is important?

PS: The farm-to-table concept is very important to us because it is a way to have working relationships with local farmers. We feel it is important to source locally and support the local economy. It also enables us to serve our local community the most nutrient-dense food product available. Our guests are typically eating food within a day or two from when it was picked. 

What’s the best part of implementing this concept in your restaurant? What are the benefits of sourcing locally?

PS: The best part of sourcing locally is giving the guests the experience of products that grow and are produced in their area. The benefit of sourcing locally is knowing the products you are sourcing can be trusted. There is a name and a face to each product. We are trying to create a trusting relationship between chef and farmer, and in turn, we build a trusting relationship between the chef and the guest.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced when it comes to farm-to-table efforts?

PS: One of the biggest challenges with farm-to-table efforts is the weather in our area. We have been experiencing record highs recently, as well as a couple of unexpected freezes earlier this year. This can set back some crops for weeks. 

What are some of your favorite dishes on the menu that feature local ingredients?

PS: One of my favorite dishes on the menu right now is the heirloom tomato salad featuring Big Sycamore Farm’s heirloom tomatoes. This dish also features a Sequatchie Cove Coppinger cheese soufflé.

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