Yesterday, Farmer Lee Jones came to ICE to speak about his artisanal, sustainable farm, The Chef’s Garden. The Jones family farm near Huron, Ohio works exclusively with chefs and provides some of the most unique, sought-after vegetables and herbs in the industry.
The Jones family has always been passionate about farming. When they were unable to keep up with sky-high interest rates in the late ‘70s, almost everything they had was lost. All that remained were six acres and a leaky old farmhouse. The family rallied and started over. Through the farmers’ markets they met a French chef who started asking for more types of produce and emphasizing flavor.
Using a chef-driven approach, The Chef’s Garden has become wildly successful. The farm now works with well-respected chefs such as Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller and Alain Ducasse. Now, he is known for his incredibly unique produce that allows chefs to add value to their menus. For example, rather than try to grow garlic and compete with farms with cheap labor, Farmer Lee Jones has started selling the garlic roots as a specialty product that chefs love when creating unique dishes. Farmer Lee Jones is so well known in the food world that he has become famous for his blue denim overalls and red bowtie (he even wears his farm-friendly outfit to black tie events).
For Farmer Lee Jones, sustainability is about being “environmentally friendly, socially responsible and economically viable.” They are constantly working on ways to modify and improve their methods. For example, The Chef’s Garden has harnessed technology and now uses barcodes and a computer to let workers know exactly what is in stock at any given moment and harvest only what has been ordered. This system allows chefs to have incredible fresh produce. Other programs on the farm include the Culinary Vegetable Institute, a facility where chefs can come stay and try out new ingredients the farm is growing and Veggie U, a hands-on curriculum for fourth graders.
After giving his talk, the audience was invited up to sample the produce that Farmer Lee Jones brought in fresh from the farm. Along with fresh and flavorful carrots, squash and greens, attendees were able to sample some of the more unique products such as cucamelons, horseradish sprouts and miniature cucumbers. Everyone left full of fresh veggies and eager to try more.