We’re all familiar with how order-taking goes on both sides of the restaurant table. In Newport, chefs and restaurateurs are giving the orders and local farmers are taking them. It is the next step in the “farm-to-table” process that has become an integral part of many successful restaurant operations.
Farmer Jim Garman is growing vegetables to order for local restaurants on his small farm in Middletown. “We got into this thinking we’ve got to be different,” he said. “We’re small. There are a lot of small farms in Rhode Island. We have to grow varieties that are different.” So Garman takes requests.
He and his wife consult with local chefs and restaurateurs who would like to feature specialty varieties of produce. The goal of Garman Farm is as the farmer put it to “just not mass produce the same stuff.” He brought a tote bag to our interview. He reached in and pulled out four young seedlings to show exactly what his farm is all about.
There was an Italian heirloom tomato, a sprig of rosemary, and a baby cauliflower plant. This variety known as “Veronica,” is conical in shape which lends itself to more creative uses on the plate. Garman grows this for Malt Broadway restaurant in Newport. I asked him how the farmer-chef relationship got started. Did the chefs come to him or did he go to the chefs?
Garman said it was a little of both and caused a bit of angst on his part: “I had never sold anything in my career!” – he had been a professor of historic preservation at Salve Regina University – “and I was amazed by the demand. We can’t keep up with the demand for fresh local food [by the chefs]!”
Garman is interested in experimentation. Next from the tote bag was a young kale plant. This leafy green is the “flavor of the month” for chefs across the food spectrum. At Garman’s farm, three types are grown. The one he was showing is ‘Lacinato,’ an Italian heirloom also known as ‘Nero di Tosca,’ ‘Tuscan Black’ or ‘Dinosaur.’ It yields a more tender and delicate texture and taste than the more common supermarket kale. The farmer grows this for A-Market, an organic market with locations in Newport and in New Hampshire. The couple lease their Middletown acreage from the Aquidneck Land Trust through an organization called Sustainable Aquidneck. Garman’s lifelong dream was to be a farmer, but his father saw things differently and the young, would-be agriculturist had to put his dream on hold.
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