Ok, I’ll not be hypocritical and say I don’t visit a few fast food chains every now and then. I’ll also say that I’m sometimes suspect of where most of the food comes. Face it, most of us are swift to ingest and devour with such unhesitant greediness without giving any pause as to where the food comes from. We must satisfy the whimsical growl of hunger pangs at the whiff of fat in the air.
But alas, I shall not be critical less my house be burnt to the ground and then I shall be forced to live on a sustainable farm. Wait, that might be quite a healthy move. I recently took a trip to a sustainable farm in Homestead, Florida. Albeit, I wasn’t there to just poke around in the dirt and smell dainty leaves. I was there to film some additional footage of a project I’m working on. We visited Teena’s Pride in South Florida, a place that chefs visit, a place that grows fresh tasting food, an environment that practices sustainable farming. What the hell is that you ask? Yes, I’m speaking to the non-foodie or uninformed foodies. Seems it’s quite easy to say something cool like certifiable organic and we go nuts and bow down to the health gods because we think we are righteously making our bodies healthy. Sustainable farming is not just a method to plant food or raise animals. It’s a way of life and a commitment to great quality foods. Sustainability in all aspects embodies that of the artisan. At Teena’s Pride that means: how the earth is treated, how the crops are planted, how the crops are grown, how the crops are cared for, how the crops are harvested, how the crops a packaged, how the people are with the food, and definitely how Teena is with her staff. Sustainability has to do with the extra care that goes into making each product the best it can be. All the seedlings are planted by hand even in all the hydroponic beds as supervised by the farm manager and Teena. Yes, sustainable farmed products cost more but frown not until you have tasted a tomato picked freshly from the vine that had no pesticides or animal manure anywhere close to it. Try doing that on a regular farm. Yes, belly hot madness.
Listen, this is not the first time I’ve been on a farm but it’s the first time I’ve been on a farm since becoming a chef. I grew up in a place where visiting various types of farms was the norm for me. As I got older though there was a marked change in the food and food quality probably because farmers were deluded into believing that you can’t get a great product unless you douse the hell out of it with fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides and other ailing sides. Farmers got corrupted by the ease of bigger money because they could get bigger products and stuff that grew quicker and developed faster to bring it to market in record time. Do you know that it takes a chicken roughly 5 – 8 months to develop naturally? Here you can have that defeathered and plucked yard bird in less than 2 months, that would be 6 weeks y’all. Hail to the protein and genetic modifiers. I tasted a tomato, actually several tomatoes (Oh jesam, Tenna gonna send me a bill now) and I couldn’t stop eating the bloody things they were so good. Damn good I tell you. I was on the farm for over an hour listening to how things were done on Teena’s farm and devoured so much freshly picked leaves I felt like a goat feeding on fresh fodder from the pen. Hmmhm, I was a free range ram. I tasted things I hadn’t before and saw certain plants in their infancy. Chocolate and Pineapple mint are delicious. The leaves from that Nasturtium plant, oh my god somebody slap and call me Mariposa. Okay that’s a stretch. You on a diet and want some flavor while cutting the cheese from a salad? Blaze the Nasturtium I tell you. With her tangy, spicy and citrus notes, Pepper Jack may have a little competition I dare say.
I walked away from this visit thinking about my part as a chef in this crazy food chain. The way I am today as a person and as a chef is far different from when I grew up as a kid. When I went to the market with my mother as a child, I may not have known the vendors by name but I knew them by sight. Not sure if my mother knew their names either but she had developed a personal relationship with so many that often times she would leave me and the heavy bags with them. Yes, a personal relationship, that which most of us really have with the people who sell us our foods. Most chefs are really keying on that element when it comes to food purchases thus allowing them to bring you the best quality products possible. Chefs want to know how that pig was raised – fresh organic feed, mud holes, space to roam; that chicken – not ten to a cage; that goat, know how that eggplant was grown; know the humanitarian aspects are of that farm – proper crop rotation, proper soil maintenance, even slaughter process must be included. I may not be able to source products from vendors I know personally but I feel I must continue to be more vigilant and aware of the products I use. Alas that may come with an increased price tag on your bill. But let me ask you this really quickly, what price are you willing to continue paying for some of the garbage we buy and eat? Make it a sustainable choice.