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Organic on demand: New farm takes orders from chefs to bring organic mainstream

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Feeding Crane Farms reversed the process on local organic farms – instead of growing something and selling it, farmers ask local chefs what they want, and then grow it, said General Manager Shannin Stein.

She added that her goal is to help create a fully sustainable local food scene within the next five years.

“We’re doing things the way nature meant for us to do things,” Stein said. “We feel like it’s gaining momentum and that we’re not just a business, but a voice for social change in the food business.”

Feeding Crane Farms is located in Natomas within city limits and currently has more than 80 acres of certified organic lands, with four and a half in use at one site and five in use at a second nearby site.

Workers on the family-owned farm grow, pick and deliver fresh produce to restaurants and grocery stores in and around the grid, including Grange, Michelangelo’s, Tuli Bistro, Restaurant Thir13en, the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op and Corti Brothers grocery store.

To aid in working with the local chefs, the Feeding Crane crew brought one on board – Mike Ward, who was most recently the sous chef at Lounge on 20 before it stepped back from fine dining.

“We really have an opportunity to change to organic, fresh ingredients,” Ward said. “At Lounge on 20, we were 85 percent organic, and a lot of our produce came from Feeding Crane Farms.”

One of the dishes he said he likes to make with the fresh produce is a vegetable glacée, which includes numerous vegetables each cooked differently to bring out their flavors.

“We’ll take carrots, turnips, asparagus and others, find out how to cook them the best they can be cooked, and what you’re getting is an amazing vegetable dish,” he said.

Michelangelo’s Italian Art Restaurant, located at 1725 I St. in Midtown, is one of the restaurants that works with Feeding Crane.

“The advantage is that it’s in the ground until you need it, and they pick it, wash it off and drive it down to you,” Managing Partner Jacqueline Barton said Tuesday. “Our customers are able to get super-fresh local produce.”

Arugula used in the restaurant’s smoked salmon bruschetta comes from Feeding Crane Farms, and Barton added that the arugula is also used in a pesto sauce that tops a dish of cavatappi pasta.

Stein said that the produce grown at Feeding Crane Farms is certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers, which she described as meaning “it’s just done right.”

“It’s like your backyard garden, but on a bigger scale,” she said.

The farm grows what’s in season, and farmers are currently working with carrots, potatoes and lettuces, among other produce, but Stein said the Sacramento climate allows a lot of food to be grown for a long time throughout the year.

Ward agreed, saying the Sacramento River Delta and San Joaquin Valley is one of the best areas in the world for growing produce.

“It’s all at our fingertips,” he said. “And that’s what we want to put in the restaurants. Corporate restaurants aren’t going to change, but the local restaurants can really make this change.”

The farm is also partnering with the Sacramento Dining Collective, which aims to showcase the best of Sacramento’s cuisine, which Stein said is best-served with organic produce – easily grown locally.

“There’s no reason that in five years we can’t be a world-renown food travel destination,” Stein said. “We have the perfect climate, and we already have some amazing chefs.”

Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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