Which Comes First - the Chicken or the Egg?

By Michaela Hayes

We’re starting a farm! I am so excited to be sharing this journey with my incredible farm family and with all of the people who have helped us to get this far and continue to cheer us along the way.

I’ve been dreaming and scheming about this farm of ours for years, and it was firmly in my mind when I started my food preservation business, Crock & Jar, in 2011. It’s a bit of an unusual approach to a farm – usually folks start a farm and then create a value-added enterprise to help use up surplus, expand available products in the winter season, or create more stable job opportunities for employees. We’re doing the reverse – coming into our farm planning with a value-added business already in place.  My personal journey to food runs a parallel path – instead of the ubiquitous ‘farm to table’, you could say I’ve gone from ‘table to farm’.

I am always intrigued by the different paths that people take to get to the importance of good, local food. For my amazing friend Karen it was wanting to clean up her neighborhood, for my wife Jane it was global sustainability concerns, for some of our friends and family it was the farm fresh tomatoes they tasted for the first time at our wedding. For me, the path to good, local food was cooking.

I started working in food in my early 30’s, when I decided to change careers. I took the leap and entered culinary school at FCI, now ICC, where I found myself walking the halls and having conversations with royalty of the French Culinary world – Jacques Pèpin, Andrè Soltner, Jacques Torres. My classmates and I began an intense nine month program learning knife skills, the French brigade system, mother sauces and their derivatives, and the importance of good ingredients. All of the items that went into a meal were regarded with scrutiny, care and economy. I learned to appreciate the beauty of fresh, local produce and became a regular at the Union Square Greenmarket not far away. As someone who was raised on frozen peas and corn, the farmers market was a revelation. I went through waves of new found passions – claytonia, sunchokes, sunflower sprouts, and on…

Cooking took me through a wonderful variety of restaurants. I began by interning at my friends place, Public, a gorgeous restaurant featuring Austral-Asian cuisine. I was exposed to flavors I had never cooked with before – yuzu, palm sugar, kangaroo, pomegranate molasses – and it felt like waking up or coming to life.

Over the next six years, I worked at a variety of restaurants, some so small I did a little bit of everything, and some large enough that I concentrated on one portion of the menu at a time. From Public, to Indian inspired Tabla, and ultimately new American Gramercy Tavern, I travelled the world through the flavors in New York’s kitchens. It was while working at Tabla that my roommate and I moved to the South Bronx.

We joined the South Bronx CSA and when I would pick up our share at Brook Park community garden, I was drawn to the food growing before my eyes. I helped with some of the harvesting, tasting yellow grape tomatoes as sweet as candy, and picking my first eggplant. I wanted to learn how to do that – how to make food grow! So I joined Padre Plaza, then a fledgling community garden, and started growing collards, peppers, tomatoes and eggplant. Those first harvests of my own making were mind blowing. All of the gorgeous produce that I had learned to cook with, and appreciated at the farmers markets, became even that much more special when I grew it with my own hands in the soil. And it gave me an even better appreciation of the work and skill that goes into growing great produce.

I started Crock & Jar to support local farmers, and as a benefit I get to work with their beautiful produce. I enjoy purchasing from a network of farmers, and I love building the relationships that make the work I do so enjoyable. Now that our farm dream is getting ever closer – we are looking at land, forming our company, planning our schedules for next season – I find myself working harder to practice patience. I am ready for Crock & Jar to start supporting our own farm too.

I look forward to the day when I can help to sow the seeds that grow into the plants that we will harvest and sell or transform into other masterpieces. I want this seed of an idea to be grown NOW! I long to be on the farm, making delicious value added products with our very own produce, and building new food creations based on the inspirations the farm provides. I am excited to be directly involved in the whole spectrum of seed to plate – to help encourage the connections along that path and to be forever energized by them.

So, which comes first - the chicken or the egg? The table or the farm? My journey started out at the table in the kitchen. I am happy to be on the path that finally brings us all to the farm.

Join us on the journey by following letsgetfarming.com.

See Michaela's culinary love in action: Michaela Food Styling, Crock & Jar