The farm-to-table concept may be new to some consumers, but farmers like Ken Buck in Grand Bay have been doing it for years.
Since 1972, Buck has grown peaches, pecans, citrus and Silver King sweet corn on 185 acres. He sells directly to the public and to a distributor who delivers his produce to Gulf Coast food venues.
“Our sweet corn has a superb reputation around here,” Buck says. “At one point during the day we started selling this year, we had 15 people waiting to buy corn.”
Buck knew people enjoyed his produce, but attending the Mobile Master Gardeners’ Farm-to-Table tasting event June 3 was his first direct connection with restaurant owners and chefs.
At the tasting event, 14 farmers from Mobile, Baldwin and surrounding counties donated produce, and 16 chefs prepared dishes showcasing the quality ingredients. The event was set up as a tasting buffet rather than a sit-down meal. Consumers, chefs and growers exchanged business cards and traded stories while working through the stations.
Buck worried his corn was not up to par. Because of the cool spring, his crop took longer to mature, and he harvested it about three days earlier than he would have liked.
He shouldn’t have worried – Buck’s corn and peaches were a hit.
“This is the best corn I’ve ever eaten,” Chef Jason Lafferty of the Virginia College Culinard Program told Buck, as they discussed the challenges of farming. Lafferty used Buck’s corn to create a creamy corn soup and summer squash soup topped with popcorn and caramel.
“When you have a product that is grown and cared for by a person like Ken Buck, it’s easy to let the natural flavors shine,” Lafferty said. “I didn’t manipulate it at all. I think we need to realize the bounty we have around here. We have the ocean, but we also have some incredible crops that we need to be spotlighting.”
Buck returned the praise. “This corn soup is very good. I’ve never had anything like this made out of my corn. My compliments to the chef,” he said.
Master Gardener Regina Gunn, who organized the Farm-to-Table event, said the dinner sprang from a desire to educate the public about buying fresh produce and eating in-season – at home and in restaurants.
“Eating locally helps everybody. It helps us health-wise, it helps the local economy, and it even helps the home budget,” Gunn says. “Here in south Alabama, we have so much diversity and a great, long growing season. But there’s a big gap in education as far as how to eat seasonally and where to get it.”
Buck said he has noticed more people seem interested in where their food comes from in recent years.
“I see lots of young families at the farm,” he says.
Alabama Farmers Federation Horticulture Division Director Mac Higginbotham said whether consumers buy directly from local farmers, farmers markets, roadside stands or eat at restaurants serving local food, it’s good news.
“It is a win-win for the community when consumers and farmers do business,” Higginbotham says. “The purchasing of freshly picked produce from farmers in your community helps support additional businesses because the money continues to circulate within a community. Plus it reinforces the important role farmers play in providing food in our daily lives.”