Catching Up with Sparrow Arc Farm

As spring has been gearing up I’ve been getting in touch with farmers in the New England area. One of the most enthusiastic and nicest vegetable farmers I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with is Matt Linehan of Sparrow Arc Farm in Unity, Maine. Matt’s farm specialized in preserving food traditions and providing chefs with the highest quality heirloom vegetables. This year besides adding a second day to Boson deliveries, Matt will be bringing his fine vegetables down to New York City, if you are in Boston or New York Matt wants to hear from you. I asked Matt a few questions about farming and working with restaurants.

Why do you farm?

I farm because it is what I am good at. There are very few occupations that require you to be so many things: mechanic, salesman, laborer, manager, grower…I like growing food.

What do you see as the benefits of working with chefs and restaurants?

By far the greatest benefit to working with chefs is that no one appreciates good produce like a chef. When you bring a chef produce that is ultra clean, less than 24 hours old, and will last in their walk-in three times as long as the stuff from the wholesaler, they’re pumped! They know what they’re looking at. They don’t feel the need to bicker about the price, because they know it’s a great value. Secondly, growing for chefs has allowed me to specialize in heirloom crops. These crops are part of our history, part of what makes us unique, they hold our stories. Additionally, they taste better, are often more attractive, and are very important to the conservation of biodiversity. Giant Musselburgh Leek, Waldoboro Greenneck Turnip, Rampion, Satan’s Kiss Pepper, Reine des Glace Lettuce, Sea Kale, Black Futsu Squash, and over 100 other heirloom varieties are only grown on this farm because we love to do it and our customers support it.

What have been the biggest challenges to working with chefs and restaurants and how have you worked around these challenges?

Our biggest challenge has always been being a ” convenient” vendor. By convenient I mean having an easy, streamlined order process that works with a chef’s schedule, and a punctual delivery schedule. I’m proud to say that as our farm has grown we have developed a system that is convenient, easy, streamlined and punctual.

How do you go about establishing new networks and markets?

When I was first starting out I’d just walk into kitchens, a bag of mesclun in one hand, haricot verts in the other and ask if anyone was interested. For the last several years though we haven’t needed to do anything like that. Our customers will open new restaurants, sous chefs will move to new kitchens, and chefs we supply will tell their friends. Cooking is like farming that way, everbody knows everybody.

What are your new projects in the coming year?

Well we added a ton of new heirloom varieties, exactly what I’m keeping under wraps because it’s more fun that way. I’ll be trying out some new things in the field; transplanted beets, denser plantings of greens, more dry beans, more cornichons in the greenhouse. We’re also really upping our delivery game this year, delivering to Boston twice weekly and NYC weekly.

Do you have anything else to add, especially about building networks between farmers and chefs?

Only that really good cooks are some of the coolest people in the world, and I feel lucky to call many of our customers friends. They take something beautiful I work very hard to grow, and create something beautiful with it.

Posted by: Rob Booz

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