Today marks the first article in the #ShopLikeAChef Summer Series. Chef Robert Lyford of Patina Green Home and Market and I met at the McKinney Farmers Market at Chestnut Square for a tour and to relay some of his knowledge on how to shop local.
“The main thing I want people to know is that a farmers market is a great way to get out of your comfort zone. Don’t just go toward the same vegetables you always do. Ask about some greens you’ve never tasted or what the farmer recommends if your favorite stand is out of peaches. Get the kids involved and make them curious about where food actually comes from.”
Robert attended culinary school in San Francisco and became accustomed to the the fresh ingredients synonymous with the California food scene. The farm-to-table movement didn’t really exist in Texas on his return, but when his father-in-law passed away from stage 4 lung cancer after never smoking a day in his life, Robert and his wife Kaci began considering what factors could have caused the illness. The Lyfords discovered it was likely food-related. They sought out farmers markets and began paying attention to ingredients; they sourced local, organic farms, humanely treated livestockand made those the pillars on which Patina Green sits today.
Stonebranch MicroFarm is probably the most unique of all the farms at the McKinney Farmers Market. They consider themselves soil farmers who happen to get vegetables from their efforts in creating healthy soil. Their goal is to farm the way plants would naturally grow in nature…completely random! For example a lettuce plant may grow next to an onion plant, which might grow next to a bitter melon. This type of permaculture farming promotes a healthier and heartier crop.
Owner, Alan Robbins, is a plumber by trade and a visionary when it comes to watering methods and soil health. Along with beautiful vegetables, the Robbins family sells homemade soaps, detergents and beautiful, enormous flowers from their gardens.
N&P Farm and Dairy
N & P Farm and Dairy was another favorite I visited while touring with Robert. This farm/dairy located in Farmersville, Texas has sheep, chickens, cows, pigs and a wide variety of heirloom vegetables such as Patty Pan Squash, tomatoes and zucchini. I personally bought some of their farm fresh eggs at the farmers market and yes, you can taste the difference. They are rich with bright yellow yolks and the knowledge that the animals are treated with health and respect makes the experience of eating them all the better. N&P is also a Raw Milk Dairy. The benefits of drinking unpasteurized milk is the inclusion of food enzymes, beneficial bacterias, natural vitamins and conjugated linoleic acids. Unfortunately, state law prohibits the sale of raw milk in a store or even at a farmers market. Consumers must visit the farm to purchase.
When Robert took me to see the Lewellen Farm stand, I felt excited because I had purchased arugula from them before. They are known for their lettuces and are located…get this…right here in McKinney, Texas!! The Lewellen Farm exists on a little less than 1/2 an acre, though they grow enough produce for a 16 member CSA, 4 restaurants and 3 markets. I hope you will click the link above and ‘Like’ their Facebook page. Owner, John Lewellen, is heading to Nepal soon to teach locals how to create sustainable, organic farms.
Pure Land Organic Farms
If you haven’t heard of Stonebranch, N&P or Lewellen Farms, perhaps you have heard of Pure Land Organic located here in McKinney. Robert told me the first time he met Megan Neubauer 8 years ago he was shocked when he saw her,
“I had never met a young farmer before. Up until then all the local farmers I worked with were older men who had been farming their whole lives. When I met Megan I realized things were changing.”
Neubaurer is half of the Pure Land Organic father-daughter team who began farming their 28 acres back in 2011. Although not “Certified Organic” by the USDA, Pure Land Organic follows organic cultivation practices and does not use chemical pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers or other additives.
Lyford’s connection to this market falls in a dichotomy of loyalty to both the farmers and his customers,
“Don’t forget that these farmers rely on us for their livelihood. And I rely on them for ingredients to make my food unlike anyone else’s in town. Most restaurants call distributors for a delivery of vegetables. I head to Chestnut Square and buy fresh. These farms make my food special.”
I’ll admit after spending the morning with Robert, meeting the farmers and hearing their stories, I too feel the desire to support them and take advantage of the fact we have such exceptional food at our fingertips. Below are a few tips from Robert on how to #shoplikeachef when visiting a farmer’s market.
Will I see you tomorrow at the Farmer’s Market at Chestnut Square? I certainly hope so!!