Spence Farm Foundation’s mission “is to teach the art, history and practice of small sustainable family farming across America.” Kendall College culinary student M. Viviana Proano recently attended ‘Chef Camp’ hosted by the Spence Farm Foundation. Spence Farm sponsors trips to their Central Illinois farm so students can learn about sustainable agriculture practices and more information about where the food served at top Chicago restaurants comes from.
“The opportunity to attend camp blended two things that I am passionate about: local foods & sustainability,” says Proano. “I was delighted when Chef Peggy [Ryan] told me that I would be able to attend.”
The camp is held over two days. Campers attend lectures, prepare and eat meals, tour the farm fields, see a maple processing facility and interact with farm animals from milking a cow to helping a sow (female adult pig) and her piglets move pens. Chef campers also witnessed the slaughter of a chicken and a rabbit first-hand, and visited two other farms.
Attendees of camp get insight on what it means to be a farmer. Student M. Viviana had never milked a cow before, but this visit made her excited to try. While she had a difficult time at first, she “got the hang of it” and “will remember [it] for a long time.”
The camp dedicates much of the time to providing visiting chefs an understanding of the elements that cannot be controlled in farming. Many consumers, including chefs, have an expectation for food products to have a perfect, uniform appearance. Produce grown at many small farms may have different sizes, colors and appearance but have a delicious flavor.
“Although [perfect] produce may look good, it often doesn’t have a good flavor,” shares Proano. “When we [see] produce with superficial ‘flaws’ we may be tempted to not use them even though they taste great.”
Due to her interest in sustainability and the health of animals and the environment, Proano is considering working with and promoting sustainable food systems after graduating from culinary school. The trip to Spence Farm and Chef Camp offered a new, more detailed perspective on food systems and how food products end up on the plate.
“I was impressed with the efforts that the foundation is making to help promote a new generation of farmers,” said student Proano. “One of the farms we visited is a hobby of a 14 year old boy. His farm even sells to some big name restaurants. It is alarming that many farms [owned] by individuals are pretty much ready to retire. I found it interesting that Spence Farms foundation is so successful and getting young people excited and involved in this possible career path.”
On Sunday, November 17, Kendall College will host Harvest Feast to benefit the Spence Farm Foundation. The dinner will showcase selections by Chrissy Camba (Bar Pastoral), Nicole Pederson (Found), Mindy Segal (Hot Chocolate), and Molly Johnson (Calihan Catering). Tickets for the event are $150 and can be purchased here.