Thursday June 06, 2013 | 08:04 PM

After a morning spent tending to chickens, geese, ducks, cows, sheep, and a pig, Chef Neal Foley whipped up a restaurant-style lunch in his old farmhouse kitchen at Claddagh Farms, in Montville, Maine. Through The Kitchen Garden Company,  a small company Foley runs with his wife Kathy from their farm, they educate consumers about foods and ingredients through culinary classes, workshops, and cooking services. The lunch Foley prepared for us was an example of what he feeds his family and teaches his students to make. Fresh greens from the Union farmers’ market, Appleton Creamery’s Blue Chevre in Brandied Grape Leaf, and homemade tapenade and French bread. All the ingredients were locally sourced and/or homegrown.

“Most of our family meals are quick and easy,” Foley shared. “We work 12 to 14 hour days seven days a week, so there isn’t a ton of time for elaborate cooking. Nevertheless, most of what we eat is homemade. All of the meat and quite a bit of the produce we eat are home produced. We grow what we like to eat. During the winter we eat a lot of soups and stews. In the summer, everything seems to come straight in out of the gardens with the least fuss. Although we tend to eat a lot of the same dishes week in week out, the ingredients vary with the seasons.”

Foley grew up in Connecticut in the 1970s and remembers quite a few Swanson Hungry Man dinners being eaten in his house. By the time he was in high school he cooked a lot for himself, and later during trips to Europe was exposed to a variety of different foods and cultures. Between college and graduate school Foley spent 18 months through a now defunct farm internship program at the Lady of the Rock Monastery on Shaw Island, Washington.

“I learned about small-scale raw milk dairying & cheese making as well as raising Scottish Highland cattle, Cotswold sheep, and pigs,” Foley said. “It was also an introduction to haying, logging and more.”

In Washington, he met and married Kathy, and they lived on her family’s farm where they raised Scottish Highland cattle on grass. Foley also taught cooking lessons at a local shop using home appliances, and developed a reputation as a private chef who used quality fresh ingredients. According to Foley 75% of what they cooked was from the garden and off the farm.

Three years ago they relocated to Maine. “We never had enough land for dairy cows and sheep and pigs and horses and crop space,” Foley said. “Here we can have draft horse power on the farm and still have room for a few cows, a flock of sheep and raise the pigs we need. All of this means there is greater opportunity for raising the things we need to do, the sort of teaching we think matters.”

“The farm has been a perfect backdrop to teaching a variety of people not only how to cook, and where their food comes from, but to allow them to explore in some small way whether they would want to raise a few ducks themselves,” said Foley. “I hosted one duck workshop and three of the attendees have gone on to raise and process duck in their communities.”

Another objective of the farm is to preserve rare breeds. At Claddagh Farms, the Foleys raise Silver Fox rabbits, and Leicester Longwool sheep.  "We believe that in order to preserve rare breeds of livestock they need to be more accessible, not less,” said Foley. “Many people try to capitalize on the “rare” factor and over charge for breeding stock. If anything this does the opposite to promoting conservation. It puts the breeds in the hands of a select few who can afford an expensive hobby. Rather, we need to live by the motto--you need to eat it, to save it. In other words, create a popular demand for a rare breed or animal facing extinction and people will breed it and raise it and put it before the public with renewed effort.”

Chef Speak, Farmer Speak

Foley recalled a conversation he had with Chef Damian Sansonetti of the Blue Rooster Co. at a recent Farmstead Charcuterie Workshop held at the farm “He basically said as a chef I’m cut off from the people I’m trying to buy from, I want this stuff, but the farmers don’t speak the chef’s language, and the chefs don’t speak the farmers language. So there’s still this huge disconnect and I really think the Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association would be a perfect vehicle for this. They are training the new generation of farmers and chanting the mantra of local and organic, but that’s only half the picture. As farmers we all want to get our stuff in the restaurants, because that’s a good market for farmers to supply, yet there’s no bridge, no channel of communication, no language where the two can speak fluently.”

“There is a struggle between farmers, some of whom are old and have a way they do things and chefs used to getting all radishes the same size,” said Chef/owner Damian Sansonetti of the Blue Rooster Food Co. “Chefs can be a little more flexible with what is farmed seasonally and certain parts of the year be open to (re: meat) broader or shorter breeds. This means chefs have to educate themselves so we have more to work with.”

“Chef Foley is right: Growers need to understand the unique needs of chefs if they want to sell to that market, said Jean English, Editor the Maine Organic Farmers & Gardener. “To help create that understanding and make those connections, MOFGA has an organic marketing coordinator, Melissa White Pillsbury, and an organic marketing consultant, Cheryl Wixson (a chef herself); both are very helpful. We sometimes offer workshops on the subject at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show (which is a great place for chefs to meet MOFGA certified organic growers, by the way) and at our Farmer to Farmer Conference. Chef Sam Hayward is on our board of directors and has spoken at some of our events, as are some growers who sell to restaurants. And we sometimes publish articles about the chef-grower connection in The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener. Growers and chefs can also communicate through the forums on MOFGA.net -- including the forum for restaurants and chefs. Our beginning farmer programs address all kinds of marketing, as do our agricultural services personnel. So we do a lot, but we can always do more -- especially given the increasing demand for local and organic foods.”

For information on upcoming classes visit Claddagh Farms & The Kitchen Garden site  and Offshore Baking.  Foley said they are thinking about hosting a veal workshop either on butchery or cooking and preparing rose veal and its uses. He also does “From Feathers to Flavors” waterfowl (duck or goose) workshops upon request. Foley can be contacted at info@claddaghfarms.com regarding workshops, one-on-one classes, and “party” classes where he teaches a given menu or technique to a group of friends while they “make a pile of food and then eat it.”

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About the Author

Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.

When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.

In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.

Sharon can be contacted at kitchens.sharon@gmail.com or on Twitter @deliciousmusing.

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