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Sacramento’s chefs have a new secret weapon: Feeding Crane Farms.
Now in its first full growing season, the small organic farm supplies produce to most of the city’s top restaurants, from Enotria to Ella. A for-profit, mixed-vegetable farm, it’s in North Natomas, just a handful of miles from downtown. The Sacramento region already has its fair share of boutique farms, including Soil Born Farms and Del Rio Botanical. As the new kid on the block, Feeding Crane had to find its own niche. So Shannin Stein, the farm’s general manager, talked with local chefs to see what the farm could grow for them.
“Our goal,” she says, “is to be the equivalent of a backyard restaurant garden.”
Chez Panisse and The French Laundry are renowned for having their own gardens that supply their kitchens with organic produce. It’s the ultimate in quality control. Unfortunately, says Stein, most Sacramento restaurants don’t have the land for such a luxury. That’s where Feeding Crane comes in. The farm grows standard crops—things such as garlic, squash, tomatoes and peppers—for sale at farmers markets and for its CSA subscription produce boxes to consumers. But to satisfy local chefs who are always looking for something new and exciting, Feeding Crane had to do more. So for its restaurant customers, the farm grows miniatures and baby vegetables (mini head lettuces, for instance), edible flowers, specialty items including shishito peppers and unusual items such as rue and anise hyssop.
The farm also runs an experimental herb garden, testing crops such as winter savory and heirloom oregano to see what local chefs might like. Eventually, Stein hopes to produce flats of live microgreens that chefs can keep in the fridge, snipping off what they need right before serving it in the dining room.
David English, owner of The Press Bistro in midtown, was the first chef to sign on with Feeding Crane Farms. Stein says he’s an exacting client—in a good way. “He’s our quality control chef,” she says. “If the leaf size in the salad mix is too big, he lets us know right away. He keeps us focused on the quality of our product.”
Another chef, Masullo owner Robert Masullo, is so enamored of Feeding Crane’s produce, he put a Feeding Crane Farms salad on the menu of his Land Park pizzeria. Enotria’s Pajo Bruich comes to the farm to personally harvest produce by hand for special events.
According to Stein, chefs often come up with ways to use Feeding Crane’s products that even the farmers themselves didn’t think of. It was a chef who pointed out that the vegetable thinnings that used to wind up in the farm’s compost pile can be pretty tasty. Now, baby beet thinnings end up in the farm’s braising mix.
Collaboration between farm and chef, it turns out, is good for everyone. “I’m constantly inspired by the chefs we work with,” says Stein.