Thursday August 15, 2013 | 01:02 PM

Jacina Martinez, standing amidst harvested garlic at Primo Gardens.

In Midcoast Maine, in back of an award-winning chef’s restaurant that was once just an old Victorian on a hill, there are organic gardens, chicken coops, and greenhouses. Two time James Beard Award winner Melissa Kelly and her partner Price Kushner opened Primo restaurant in Rockland, Maine in 2000. Their agrarian vision is inspired by their farm work at the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company Inn, located in Old Chatham, New York, where Kelly won her first James Beard Award for Best Chef, Northeast in 1999.

Kelly and Price started with herb and flower gardens and gradually progressed to the point of keeping hens and pigs on three of the four acres where Primo resides. During peak season at Primo, if you want to catch a glimpse at where a majority of the produce on your plate came from all you have to do is walk outside. Between 75 and 80% of the restaurant’s produce is from the farm, as well as all of the poultry and eggs. The restaurant sources the remaining ingredients locally from sustainably run farms.

“Having fresh ingredients from the gardens is the dream way to cook,” said Kelly. “It had always been our hope that the farm would grow to supply the restaurant and it has certainly evolved over time.”

It is Jacinda Martinez’s job to manage the transformation from seed to vegetables for Primo. This is her 5th year at Primo, after spending three seasons eating, breathing, and sleeping “farm” as an apprentice at a farm in New Jersey and later Crystal Spring Farm in Brunswick, Maine. Her learning experience varied from farm to farm, but both places gave her a solid understanding of working with animals and vegetables.

“Here it’s about texture, color, variety on the plate,” said Martinez,. “When you look at one of Melissa’s beautiful dishes, it really is a work of art, and part of that is being able to use squash that is yellow, green, light green, dark green, green and yellow. Having mixture is a diversity of crops in the same family benefits what’s going on the plate as well and the flavor obviously. When you actually just look at a plate, they’re really quite thought out and really beautiful.”

Squash bed at Primo Gardens

A typical day on the farm varies depending on the season. In August, the first part of the day is harvest and animal chores (Primo maintains a flock of New Hampshire Reds and Araucanas for eggs, Freedom Rangers for meat, Black and Red Wattle crossed pigs, Khaki Campbell Ducks, and Guineas). Around noon the day shifts to a focus on general farm duties. The day I visited the farm, Martinez and her crew of two assistants were thinning radishes and staking off beds to dig up so the next field succession could go in.

“The schedule outside is following what is going inside,” said Martinez. Early on in the season, focus is on the greenhouses. In late May the planting schedule increases. Toward the end of the growing season, Martinez and crew are double planting a lot, because vegetables grow almost two times as slow as in the middle of summer. During this arc, the restaurant’s hours and menu change, adapting to the farm and vice versa.

“To us, one of the most important aspects of the farm besides providing fresh ingredients is how much it allows us to recycle,” said Kelly. “Our pigs and chickens help immensely with food waste from the kitchen. What can’t be fed to the animals is composted, including shells, which is then used for the gardens. Our fish waste is made into organic fertilizer. It’s wonderful to have the farm and restaurant work together as a full circle and truly be farm-to-table.”

Creating a sustainable agricultural system from start to finish is essential to Primo’s ethos. Two years ago Primo brought a mobile poultry slaughterhouse on site to ensure a humane end to their meat birds. The mobile slaughterhouse design was based on specifications given by the Maine Department of Agriculture after inspection of the restaurant’s kitchen and meat room. From what I could tell, the system is similar to those described in Ali Berlow’s book The Mobile Poultry Slaughterhouse: Building a Humane Chicken-Processing Unit to Strengthen Your Local Food System.

Jacina Martinez in one of the greenhouses at Primo Gardens saying hello to the peppers.

Recipe:

Melissa Kelly’s Chicken Cordon Bleu

4 boneless chicken breasts
4 slices of prosciutto (thinly sliced)
1/2c gruyere – grated
1 egg lightly beaten
flour for dusting
1c breadcrumbs

1/4c pure olive oil (does not need to be extra virgin)
white wine (chardonnay)
1 clove of garlic minced
1 shallot minced
1c chicken stock
1T butter

Method: Cut a pocket in the side of each breast. Lay in a slice of prosciutto, a mound of gruyere and a sage leaf. Press the breast down tightly. Dredge the breast in flour, dip it in the egg and then into the bread crumbs. Heat a skillet with the olive oil until it gets wavy. Place the stuffed chicken breast in the pan; fry until golden and then turn and repeat. Place in the oven for 10 minutes. While the breast is cooking add the wine to your pan, keep the flame on medium. Add the garlic and shallots, add the chicken stock and reduce by half, add in the butter and swirl around. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over mashed potatoes with seasonal vegetables.

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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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