Life seemed deceptively simple for a couple of hours last week, when a dozen local chefs stepped away from their kitchens and into the fields at Victory Farms in Hanover County. There among the Tuscan kale and bok choy and kohlrabi, with hawks catching breezes overhead, they learned about compost ratios and edible flowers while owners Charlie and Gina Collins described their passion for naturally grown foods and the chefs who buy and serve them.
The locavore movement may be taking hold, and the White House may be nudging its new organic veggie beds into national prominence, but there's still something of a disconnect for many restaurant operators. Larger, cheaper sources for produce are a tough habit to break. Chefs on a field trip to Victory might salivate over French charante — a small, flavorful cantaloupe — or tender arugula and Armenian cucumbers, but they have to buy and sell this stuff to distractible customers in a pinched economy. Charlie Collins offers to grow anything the chefs would like to order, and he's experienced meeting the demands of high-volume, upscale restaurateurs in Phoenix and Las Vegas.
In its third season in Hanover, Victory Farms has doubled its consumer base, with 400 subscribers to its community-sponsored agriculture harvest, and more shoppers each week at local farmers' markets. But it's the chef business that can use a boost — hence the field trips and the personal approach. “We're trying to make it a real community,” Gina Collins says, “sharing recipes, seeing people become more aware.” And lest anyone think that farmers have it easy, she reminds those who idealize the gardener's experience that it's difficult, hot and physically demanding work — just like the chefs'. www.victoryfarmsinc.com.