HURON, Ohio — The Chef’s Garden, a local farm in northeast Ohio, had to change up their operation during the pandemic, leading them to focus on growing for home cooks rather than large businesses.
The new business model was put in the spotlight at the Cleveland International Film Festival, in the documentary, “Food and Country.”
The Chef’s Garden is a 400-acre, family-owned farm in Huron, and it’s run a little differently than the typical farm.
“We’ve never done this to get rich,” said Farmer Lee Jones, one of the farm's owners. “This is trying to grow slowly and gently in full accord with nature. It’s our life’s work. It’s about trying to do the right things. It’s not about trying to make a lot of money.”
The Chef’s Garden uses a regenerative agriculture model, meaning they restore soil biodiversity in an effort to help reverse climate change.
It’s a difficult approach for folks who are used to a traditional farming model, but Jones said it’s well worth the rewards.
According to data from the American Society for Horticulture Science, nutritional levels in vegetables have declined significantly in the past 70 years.
Jones believes the nation’s food production system is broken but that his method of farming could be a solution.
“We went back to those farms and agriculture from 100, 150 years ago, 200 years ago to see what they were doing,” Jones said. “And really, it’s about trying to work in harmony with Mother Nature instead of trying to outsmart it.”
At The Chef’s Garden, they say they’re focused on quality over quantity.
They do the bulk of their work by hand, and vegetables grown on the farm are delivered in smaller batches directly to home cooks and restaurants around the world.
They even have a lab and researchers on site to test the nutritional levels of their crops.
“What is that nutrient density that makes up the vegetable and the quality of that vegetable, versus just how do we produce mass volumes of things with synthetic fertilizers instead?” said Sarah Hinman, a crop health scientist.
The Jones family has faced a few bumps in the road getting to this point, having to close the farm in the early 80s and start over, but they’re grateful for everything that’s come out of it.
“We learn best by failing and learning and tweaking and failing,” Jones said. “You get knocked down. You get back up. That’s part of farming and part of life.”