Go East Young Man!
Joshua Schiff Brings Midwestern Know-How to Grow Chatham Bars Inn Farm
Farm stand aficionados, local food gurus, and anyone else along for the ride down scenic Route 6A are in for a treat. The same produce served at the top-notch Chatham Barns Inn restaurant will be available this spring at the new Cape Abilities farm stand in Brewster at the Chatham Bars Inn Farm.
To find it, follow 6A to the site of the former garden center on the south side of the road in Brewster, just across the street from the Cape Cod Sea Camps. The new farm stand and several new greenhouses are visible from 6A, fronted by a newly installed and planted field with a gate that leads to ample parking.
When the farm stand reopens in May, it will mark the beginning of the second season of innovative and collaborative farming and produce sales between the Chatham Bars Inn and the local non-profit, Cape Abilities Farm. Andrew Todoroff, Director of Business Development at Cape Abilities, is thrilled at the prospect and the collaboration. “It is very unique to think that Cape Abilities is a non-profit striving to provide employment and here is a for-profit, Chatham Bars Inn, that wants to help. It’s an extraordinary partnership,” he said.
This unique partnership began when Paul Zoust, who had been the General Manager of Chatham Bars Inn for eight years in addition to his activities as a Cape Abilities board member, hit upon the concept of a collaborative effort between the two entities. At the time, the Chatham Bars Inn was already growing produce at their Brewster farm for their well-known restaurant and wanted to take the farm-to-table concept further. Simultaneously, Cape Abilities was already firmly established as a large local farming presence and had the experience and knowledge to facilitate just such expansion, and in so doing could further their own goal of creating more jobs for the disabled. These mutually beneficial goals led to an unlikely but happy marriage between the non-profit and the for-profit worlds, centered around the fields and farm stand in Brewster.
Initially, the Chatham Bars Inn purchased the Brewster farm specifically to supply their restaurant tables. The farm’s first, largely experimental year of production was managed by Jamie Fugua. He operated on a small scale in 2013, building the infrastructure and putting a half acre under production for a trial run.
Last January, in an effort to significantly increase production, Joshua Schiff was hired as Farm Manager. Joshua, the former owner of a 75-member CSA-share organic farm outside Chicago with additional experience in Illinois and Wisconsin, found the listing for the position at the Chatham Bars Inn Farm on goodfoods.com. Leaving the Midwest for the opportunity on Cape Cod, he sold everything except his farm equipment, and came East in a reverse Beverly Hillbillies move. Now he can be seen in Brewster riding his iconic 1967 John Deere tractor through the beautifully-managed fields of the Chatham Bars Inn Farm.
Joshua’s first task as Farm Manager last winter included increasing the farm’s growing space. Today the site is sporting a huge new 12×50-foot hoop house intended to extend the growing seasons in both early spring and late fall. New fields have also been cleared, at least quadrupling the arable area. One field covers an entire acre, and the new cultivation is easily visible from the road. Currently, four of the farm’s eight acres are under cultivation, and Joshua is forced to contend with the conditions that make farming on Cape Cod a challenge every time he extends cultivation. These challenges include the region’s typical hills and sandy subsoil, in addition to the gravel and woodchips left behind by the former garden center. He states that the Cape’s garden-like farms and tough soil are quite a shock to a farmer from the Midwest, where soil conditions are rich in comparison, and the farms are oriented for production. He has had to devote considerable time to augmenting the soil onsite.
In an arrangement that might well herald the future, the Chatham Bars Inn has worked in a closed system of recycling between the farm and the restaurant kitchen since last April. Four times a week the farm delivers vegetables to the restaurant and in exchange takes kitchen scraps, including 1000 to 1500 pounds of discarded vegetables and fish, back to the farm to compost. This is a cutting-edge solution to the landfill waste generated by the food industry.
When the kitchen scraps are mixed with 15-20 cubic yards of horse manure (delivered three times a week from a local Brewster farm) and additional soil compost from Watts Family Farm (including scraps from Stop & Shop), a rich, 99% organic soil is achieved. Fertilizer includes crab shell meal from Neptune’s Harvest in Gloucester and organic chicken manure. The farm is working with the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension in order to manage nutrients wisely to protect the fragile Cape environment and to develop a holistic fertility plan. With all that in mind, the goal over the next couple of years is to transition into a certified organic farm.
Last winter’s field expansion and soil building yielded great results this summer, including 20,000 tons of tomatoes of all varieties. Additionally, 115 varieties of other vegetables were grown, from arugula to zucchini. It was a period of trial and error, and next year’s plans include retaining the diversity while growing what has been observed to grow best. A longer-term plan involves the development of specific seeds that flourish in local conditions, to create a seed lineage specific to the farm, and by extension, to the wider area.
Growing technique and abundance of produce is where Cape Abilities comes into the picture. Joshua explained that while both farms are big producers of tomatoes, Cape Abilities is a year-round producer with hydroponic capacity growing beefsteak tomatoes, while the Chatham Bars Inn Farm grows other, seasonal tomato varieties in the ground. These different growing techniques add intrigue to an already interesting marriage.
When the farm stand opens on May 1, 2015, expect a lot of activity as the Chatham Bars Inn Farm goes large-scale on a small property. The public can participate in a series of monthly educational workshops, including spring vegetable seeding, where participants plant seed trays to bring home for eventual transfer into their own gardens, as well as beekeeping, chicken keeping, and cut flower workshops. In the future, watch for access to the farm stand from the rail trail that adjoins the property, allowing bikers to park and visit the farm for refreshment.
Aiming for 50,000 pounds of tomatoes next year, Joshua hopes to keep increasing production ever further. He is planning to add more hoop houses to increase seasonal growing in the hope of matching production with demand. He is also looking forward to working with the distribution company Sid Wainer & Son, and goodies from the Chatham Bars Inn Farm will be available off-site at Whole Foods Market in Hyannis. The partnership with Cape Abilities means that produce also moves between their two sites, further increasing consumer access, while on the other end of the scale, the produce can be experienced expertly cooked at the Chatham Bars Inn restaurant.
On a recent visit to the Chatham Bars Inn Farm, it was flush with fall crops. Row upon row of lettuce shone bright green in the morning’s pouring autumn rain. At the time there were 28 varieties of cold crop vegetables available, including arugula, mizuna, seven kinds of lettuce, two varieties of choi, baby fennel, rainbow carrots, three types of kale, Swiss chard, baby beets, watermelon radishes, French breakfast radishes, Bloomsdale Longstanding spinach, nasturtiums, two cabbages, purple and green kohlrabi, cheddar cauliflower and Romanesco cauliflower.
Farm stand visitors can expect to see a similar array next spring when cold crops come around again. In mid-October, the huge tomato vines in the greenhouse had been removed; they yielded much fruit and topped out at 17 feet in height. Interestingly, the absence of the vines left the greenhouse exposed, revealing how contemporary and clean the structure is. The farm seems bigger than its eight acres and the farm stand is a light-filled, high-ceilinged wooden building, modern with a traditional feel. The atmosphere successfully combines progressive farming with Cape Cod tradition, as the business model successfully combines the for-profit with the non-profit worlds, creating a uniquely local hybrid.
Chatham Bars Inn Farm
3034 Main Street (Route 6A), Brewster