No Need to Mull it Over!

Mulled Wine and Cider are Fall Favorites Everyone Loves

  Spice & Tea Exchange ®  of Alexandria has all the ingredients you need for delicious mulled drinks.

Spice & Tea Exchange® of Alexandria has all the ingredients you need for delicious mulled drinks.

Sponsored by Spice & Tea Exchange® of Alexandria

With the first sign of changing leaves, we start looking forward to our favorite pastimes of autumn: pumpkin picking, evening bonfires, sipping hot mugs of tea and hayrides to name a few. And our food desires transition to rich, spice-filled dishes. Pumpkin, apple and cinnamon are what we crave to keep us cozy as the days get shorter and the evenings become cooler. 

Another favorite? Serving mulled drinks at cool weather parties, in a thermos at a football game, or as a treat after leaf-raking. Mulled drinks have an ancient history, as the Romans started adding spices to their wine in the 2nd century as a health booster in colder weather. The delightful aroma of mulling spices has become synonymous with the season and are popular around the world, especially at the holidays.


The Spice & Tea Exchange of Alexandria has made creating mulled drinks easy with our Mulling Mix that comes perfectly portioned in a bag that also acts as a filter for the spices. Delicious in both wine and cider, it is as easy as simply combining all ingredients with a bottle of red wine or one quart of cider, then simmer for fifteen minutes. 

Remember that entertaining is easier with early preparation.  Several hours in advance, combine Spice & Tea’s Mulling Mix with your favorite cider in a slow cooker and set on medium-low. As you finish your hosting prep, your home will begin to fill with the intoxicating aromas of fall. Another pro tip, you can enjoy the mulled wine or cider alone or kick it up a notch by adding your favorite dark liquor, such as bourbon or rum. For a truly impressive presentation, hollowed out apples make a fun cocktail/mocktail glass!

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Mulled Cider Cups

From The Spice & Tea Exchange®

1 pkg Mulling Mix Spice Blend
Star Anise (optional garnish)
Cinnamon Stick – Korintje (optional garnish)

From the grocer
1 quart of cider
8 large apples
Juice of one lemon

Add the cider and Mulling Mix Spice Blend into a slow cooker and cover. Simmer on low for 3-4 hours or to taste.

Meanwhile, cut off the top of the apples. Use a knife to outline the apple cup “rim.” Spoon or scoop (with a melon baller) out the apple center to the rim line you created. Brush the cut part of the apples with lemon juice to prevent browning. Fill each apple cup with brewed cider. Garnish each cup with a Star Anise and a Cinnamon Stick – Korintje.

Yield: 8 (½ cup servings)
Prep: 10 minutes

The Spice & Tea Exchange® of Alexandria offers more than 140 spices, over 80 exclusive hand-mixed blends, 16 naturally-flavored sugars, an array of salts from around the world and more than 30 exotic teas. We focus on providing high quality products and accessories to home cooks, chefs, and tea lovers in an old-world spice traders’ atmosphere.

Visit our store and become immediately immersed in a sensory experience where you can explore, open the jars and smell and speak with our knowledgeable staff who truly love what they do. We enjoy hearing about good recipes and fun stories, so stop on by! You’ll find us hand-mixing our custom blends and seasonings right in the store, bagging our teas, or putting together unique gifts for our guests.

Spice & Tea Exchange® of Alexandria, 320 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 | 571-312-8505






A Perfect Day Farm: Raising Grass-Fed Beef in Service of an Even Better Tomorrow

By Whitney Pipkin, photography by Kate Warren

  At A Perfect Dat Farm, grass-fed beef is a means to an ecologically sustainable end.

At A Perfect Dat Farm, grass-fed beef is a means to an ecologically sustainable end.

The doe-eyed Jerseys and shaggy-faced Red Devon-Angus cattle chewing their way through a field at A Perfect Day Farm are a postcard for grass-fed beef. But for Matt Rales, 34, they’re the centerpiece of a much grander project taking place on the 800-acre farm in Virginia’s bucolic Fauquier County.

“I would say we are first and foremost in the ecosystem services business,” he begins, “and the production of grass-fed beef is a byproduct of ecological restoration.”

It’s an opening salvo in a complex tale about how the careful grazing of cattle can benefit biodiversity, chipping away at climate change as the cows create a landscape that can more efficiently sequester carbon and filter water.

“But I can get into the weeds,” Rales says, self-consciously, halfway through a description of the diverse mammal species that once roamed North America, an ancient system he’s trying to mimic here.

His fiancée, Abigail “Abby” Fuller, 32, laughs.

“I try to translate,” she says.

If Rales wants to relay the story that has just begun at this farm, purchased in 2016, he couldn’t have found a more fitting partner. A documentary filmmaker, Fuller is the youngest and only female director of Netflix’s Emmy-nominated series “Chef’s Table,” having produced episodes on chefs Ana Roš and Tim Raue, with more in upcoming seasons.

“People always ask me if I’m actually farming,” says Fuller, who moved to Virginia from Los Angeles a little over a year ago but still spends almost a third of her time traveling for work. She’s wearing a comfy black jumpsuit, transformed by a pair of galoshes into farm wear for the day. For now, she says, “I move the cows with him and help out, but I’m more focused on growing the farm’s communications and outreach.”

The couple met through mutual friends and talked on the phone for four months before meeting in person. They are planning a January wedding.

“It started with a similar passion for food,” Fuller says, “since I make films about food and he, you know, produces food.”

  Matt Rales and Abigail Fuller, the duo behind A Perfect Day Farm.

Matt Rales and Abigail Fuller, the duo behind A Perfect Day Farm.

For Rales, who earned a degree in environmental science at Middlebury College in Vermont, the farm is the culmination of years of studying how to manage animals in harmony with the environment. Rales spent three years working for Virginia’s sustainable agriculture savant Joel Salatin at Polyface Farms and has also worked at farms in Zimbabwe, Botswana and California.

“More than anything I spent a lot of time reading,” says Rales, whose background includes running a “suburban farm” in Potomac, MD, that served DC restaurants such as Komi and Marcel’s.

Rales’ brand of farming is as thoughtful as it is labor intensive, leaving him moving cows through the pastures with the help of electric fencing as often as four times a day at the peak of grass-growing season. At any given moment, up to 99% of the farm’s acres, including another 750 acres being leased nearby, are resting. The cattle munch, fertilize and trample a tiny fraction of the total, leaving behind a matted carpet of plant matter and nutrients that improves soil health over time.

The scientists who study this type of farming in the Chesapeake Bay call it management-intensive grazing, but farmers often refer to it as mob grazing, holistic grazing or rotational grazing. The practices have slowly added followers in the region, with nearly 200 farms included in a 2016 directory of grass-fed-meat producers in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and West Virginia—a number that’s tripled since the first directory was published in 2005.

For Rales, grazing cattle is a mental exercise that evolves as he learns—both from the latest research and from his own daily experiments—about the impact their presence can have on the land he’s stewarding. He began work at this farm, which had been growing hay and grass without animals for years, with a comprehensive baseline assessment of its soils. Surveys and 88 core samples measured everything from calcium to organic carbon and gives the farm a starting point to compare with future changes.

“It’s way too complex to begin to understand, and we’re learning new things all the time,” he says. “We’re always trying to make adjustments and observe the response of the vegetation, the soil, the land as a whole to the management.”

This scientist-farmer approach doesn’t rely solely on beef sales to support it, at least not yet. The land is also bolstered by conservation easements that prevent development on some of its wooded acres while allowing farming to continue. Rales is also looking to monetize the work the farm is doing for the environment and dreams of them being paid for the “ecosystem services” they provide. On the West Coast, he’s seen conservation groups recognize the role of animals in reviving environments so they can support endangered species or eat away the dry vegetation that might fuel wildfires.

“So far, there hasn’t been a market for it in the East, but we’re certainly interested in creating that or participating in it,” he says.

  A sampling of A Perfect Day Farm’s grass-fed beef.

A sampling of A Perfect Day Farm’s grass-fed beef.

Moving here from California, Fuller says she’s found plenty of interest in and around DC in the work they’re doing. Through the group Pineapple DC, Fuller met Kelsey Weisgerber, who manages the school lunch program at Mundo Verde Public Charter School. The two worked together to turn A Perfect Day Farm’s beef into burgers for a school lunch in May.

The majority of the farm’s meat is sold through Hardwick Beef, an aggregator that sells to restaurants and shops around New York City and online ( The farm has started hosting pop-up sales inside the District to meet local demand, along with the occasional farm tour open to the public.

During a late-summer visit, following heavy rains, the fields were Technicolor green, dotted with black-eyed Susans and Queen Anne’s lace. I asked Fuller how well she was resisting the urge to use this as the setting for a film on the promise of regenerative agriculture, and she grinned.

“It’s something I’ve definitely been simmering on,” she admits. “I’m so used to diving into a situation as an objective third party, but to look at something that you’re living in? That takes time.”


To find out about a dinner featuring the farm's products in September and a pop-up sale in October, sign up for its  newsletter at or follow the farm on Instagram @apdfarm.



Get on Board: Building Eye-Catching Cheese Spreads

By Whitney Pipkin, Photography by Jennifer Chase

  Artfully arranged cheese spreads like this one can elevate any gathering—and they’re surprisingly easy to create with just a few simple guidelines.

Artfully arranged cheese spreads like this one can elevate any gathering—and they’re surprisingly easy to create with just a few simple guidelines.

If throwing an elaborate dinner party isn’t in the cards this busy fall season, don’t give up on the occasion. Consider, instead, the humble cheeseboard which, in the hands of Alice Bergen Phillips, is anything but.

Phillips ran the cheese counter at Georgetown’s Via Umbria before breaking out on her own last year to start Cheesemonster DC, a cheese-based catering company. The name is a play on how customers often butcher the “cheesemonger” title (but, coincidentally, it also describes the effect a decent spread o’ cheese has on us these days).

“The biggest thing is that it makes you happy,” Phillips says as she arranges pennant-shaped slices of Manchego into a semi-circle at the center of a giant wooden board.

She suggests beginning every board with the cheese, finding a way to weave variety into each layer of its composition. Start by balancing contrasting flavors—salty and sweet, nutty and fruity, meaty and tangy—and continue with a variety of colors, sizes and textures.

“Once you get into the habit,” she says, building beautiful boards is “no more difficult than plunking cheese and salami on a plate.”

We asked Phillips, who will be opening her own cheese studio in Brightwood this fall, for some pointers on assembling boards worthy of their own occasion.

  Using a combination of cheeses—soft and hard, sweet and earthy—to liven up your spread.

Using a combination of cheeses—soft and hard, sweet and earthy—to liven up your spread.

Change up your cheese game

  • Cows aren’t the only animals that produce cheese-worthy milk. Consider goat- and sheep-milk cheeses, which can be as delicious and complex as your friends’ dietary restrictions.

  • Balance the fresh, milky flavors of soft cheeses like burrata, with the intense flavors of aged Gouda or a nutty Gruyère. Don’t forget stinky, washed-rind cheeses and bleus.

  • Combine cheese textures: spreadable, crumbly, semi-hard and the aged ones with crunchy crystals of flavor.

  Variation in color and size add depth and visual appeal to your cheese spread.

Variation in color and size add depth and visual appeal to your cheese spread.

The Accoutrements

  • Shade: Wander through the farmers market, produce section or dried fruit aisle with a rainbow in mind. Balance the bright white of cheese slices with deep-red pomegranate or amber-colored dried apricots.

  • Size: Consider variations in the same hue, pairing a cluster of Concords with the tiny orbs of Champagne grapes and larger plums. The same rule can be applied to crackers of varying shapes and grains.

  • Style: Combine the juiciness of fresh fruits with the tartness of dried ones. Recently pickled carrots or dilly beans can be as good as fresh vegetables for dipping into soft cheese or spreads. They also give gluten-free folks a vessel for schmearing.

  • Salt: Don’t forget to leave room for sliced charcuterie, if it’s in the budget. Along with the usual salamis and prosciuttos, Phillips suggests trying artisanal jerky as an easy finger food.

  • Sidekicks: Olives, Marcona almonds and fancy corn nuts can provide salty balance or crunch to a cheese tray. Whimsical jars of honey or jams add a sweet finishing touch.

  Including multiple types of cheese allows your guests to enjoy a mixture of flavors and textures.

Including multiple types of cheese allows your guests to enjoy a mixture of flavors and textures.

Rules of Thumb

  • Try to offer at least three cheeses, even if they’re small slices for a party of two, to give the tray a balance of flavors.

  • How much should you serve? A good rule is 1½ to 2 ounces of cheese per person, before filling in the board with other fixings.

  • Make it edible. “A big pet peeve of mine is when cheese boards are offered in giant hunks,” says Phillips. “The biggest thing is making it easy for your guests to eat.” That said, don’t cut the cheese too far in advance or it could dry out.

  • Serve cheese at room temperature for optimal flavor. Out of the fridge, softer cheeses can come to room temperature in as little as 15 minutes, but some hard cheeses could take an hour. Set reminders.


Kitchen Confident: A Recipe from "Top Chef Junior" Winner Owen Pereira

By Sabrina Medora, photography by Farrah Skeiky

 Owen Pereira, winner of  Top Chef Junior.

Owen Pereira, winner of Top Chef Junior.

Although not in his own kitchen, 14-year-old Owen Pereira moves with familiarity, building flavors in a cast-iron pot in an autumnal riff on potato soup. He mentions that the recipe is based on one by Los Angeles chef Ludo Lefebvre as though he borrowed it from a friend. And, the truth is, he’d rubbed elbows with some of the greats before entering high school.

“It’s filling, and it warms up the soul,” he reasons, using phrases and techniques beyond his years. We asked him to throw together a one-pot dish, and he explains why he picked potato soup as a canvas. “I add more things to it than you would find in a normal potato soup, to enhance flavors. I like giving it a bacon-y, salty, smoky bite.” The aromas in the air add promise to his words.

His instincts in the kitchen are those of a born natural—or a seasoned competitor. At age 13, Owen, a Baltimore resident, won “Top Chef Junior” and walked away with $50,000. Most of that money’s been put on ice for his future, but Owen doesn’t seem to be waiting to pursue his kitchen dreams.

“I learned a lot on the show about cooking with speed and keeping yourself organized,” he says as his hands deftly begin peeling potatoes. “In a restaurant, there’s no physical clock timing you but you’re always on the clock.”

Owen cares a lot about honing his skills, and is lined up to stage (a brief, unpaid internship) with some of the best chefs in the country over the next year. His list of mentors includes Chicago greats such as Noah Sandoval and Grant Achatz, along with Baltimore favorite Cindy Wolf.

“He can be a little precocious and very ambitious,” chuckles his mom, Susan, who took time off from her job to accompany Owen while he competed on “Top Chef Junior.” She seems proud and a little amused. Like so many his age, Owen is ready to grow up. Unlike most, he has a solid plan.

 Pereira preparing his one-pot soup.

Pereira preparing his one-pot soup.

“I want to open my own restaurant when I’m 18,” Owen states as he tosses pancetta, garlic and leeks into a pot. “I have very high standards for myself. People tell me they’re too high but if there’s even the tiniest mistake [with my food], I won’t be happy no matter how many good parts there are.”

Owen’s quest for perfection in the kitchen began at a young age.

“He showed interest in cooking when he was around 3 years old,” Susan recounts. “He loved stirring things and making scrambled eggs. But 11 was when he really took it upon himself.”

“I had gotten The French Laundry Cookbook,” Owen chimes in. “I didn’t understand a thing, so I returned it. I got Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and after that I went and rebought The French Laundry.” Soon after, Owen began applying for spots on “MasterChef Junior” and competed on “Chopped Junior” before making his way to “Top Chef Junior.”

For Owen, it’s not about the money, which he won’t see for a while.

“His winnings are in an online CD, and he won’t get access to them until he’s 21,” his mother explains.

It’s all about the experience and exposure to as many of the greats as possible. He refers to top chefs like they’re old friends, both reverent and ready to be on their level as quickly as possible.

So, what’s next for the young chef? Not a lot of cooking dinners at home, apparently.

“We’re at an impasse, because he hates to clean up after himself and I don’t want to,” Susan laughs.

More likely, he’ll be seeking stages with notable DC–area restaurants, grooming himself to some day drop the “junior” from his “Top Chef” title.

 The best soups begin with the freshest ingredients,

The best soups begin with the freshest ingredients,

Potato Leek Soup with Pancetta and Pine Nuts


1 cup pancetta

¼ cup pine nuts

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 leek

5 potatoes, Yukon Gold or small Russets, peeled and roughly chopped

3 cups chicken stock

½ pint heavy cream

½ stick butter

Dandelion greens to garnish

 Voila! Potato leek soup.

Voila! Potato leek soup.

Cook the pancetta in a large pot or Dutch oven on medium heat until crispy. Remove pancetta from the pan, but leave behind pan juices.

Turn down the heat and add pine nuts to cook in the pancetta fat, tossing continuously, about 3 minutes. Be careful not to burn them. Remove pine nuts from pan with a slotted spoon.

Increase heat to medium and add garlic and leeks to the pan, stirring occasionally until softened and garlic is translucent.

Add potatoes and chicken stock.

Cover the pan and bring soup to a rolling boil for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Use an immersion blender to blend the potatoes and leeks into a silky soup texture. Add a half-pint of heavy cream and a half-stick of butter, combining until incorporated and heated through.

Serve immediately and garnish with pancetta, pine nuts and dandelion greens.

"There's Work to Do"

By Lani Furbank, Photography by Rey Lopez

 Hugo Mogollon is the executive director of Community Foodworks, a nonprofit rethinking the farmers market, putting it to work for more people.

Hugo Mogollon is the executive director of Community Foodworks, a nonprofit rethinking the farmers market, putting it to work for more people.

After hours of packing produce, Hugo Mogollon finally has a moment to rest and watch the farmers selling stone fruit, squash and beans to their customers—many of them immigrants from El Salvador, Ethiopia or Vietnam.

As executive director of Community Foodworks, the nonprofit that runs this Columbia Heights Farmers Market and 13 like it in the region, Mogollon reflects on how the market’s multicultural audience—including customers who could afford the premiums for local produce and those who could not—helped shape the organization from the start.

“The fact that the neighborhood was so mixed-income, that’s what set the whole culture and our mission,” he says. “This is what made us realize that everybody has to have the same access to the same produce.”

Mogollon joined Community Foodworks in 2015 after moving to the United States from Ecuador. When he came on board, the nonprofit was managing three farmers markets and had just received a grant to open a second Columbia Heights market on Wednesdays and develop a community-supported agriculture (CSA) harvest subscription program for low-income residents.

On a warm evening in July, the Wednesday market buzzes with energy. Children splash in the Civic Plaza fountain while a line of people waiting to receive their Produce Plus checks stretches down the block.

The food community credits Mogollon’s leadership for the market’s incredible growth, but he isn’t interested in taking it. “I have been lucky to have this amazing group of people that are passionate about what we do, and that’s why this works,” he says. “CFW is what it is because of the staff.”

Providing equal access to quality produce sounds like a simple concept, but focusing on that mission helped Community Foodworks find its niche in an already robust food landscape.

Even as more markets grow their programs to serve the typically underserved, Community Foodworks’ focus on residents who might not otherwise have access to local food stands out.

Lindsay Smith, a planning and food systems consultant who has worked with Mogollon for the last few years, says that’s especially true “in a city with such an impressive amount of talent dedicated to improving food security.”

“The heart, optimism and strategic thinking that Hugo has brought not to just Community Foodworks but also to serving farmers markets nationally is striking to me,” she says.

Mogollon, who serves on the national Farmers Market Coalition board, has a core belief that farmers market and local food culture should cater to customers of all income levels—which meant the organization had to rethink programs that traditionally didn’t.

Mogollon looked at the disconnect between the farmer and certain residents and decided, “there’s work to do.” So Community Foodworks developed not one, but several unique models of distribution to connect those residents with fresh, local produce.

 Mogollon’s organization designed its community-supported agriculture program with flexibility to serve all members of the Columbia Heights community.

Mogollon’s organization designed its community-supported agriculture program with flexibility to serve all members of the Columbia Heights community.

Sharing the market

Every Wednesday evening during the growing season, rows of burlap tote bags line up under pop-up tents at the market. Spring onion tops spill out of the bags, hiding a week’s worth of produce—summer squash, peppers, tomatoes in the summer, Butternut squash, potatoes and hearty greens in the fall. They’re awaiting pickup by dozens of participants in the Market Share program, a unique interpretation of community-supported agriculture.

“A normal CSA works in a way that you pay a chunk of money at the beginning of the year, and that way you support the farmer to do all the work for the year,” Mogollon explains. “But for low-income residents, they don’t have the luxury to have that amount of money and put in the chunk at the beginning of the year.”

His organization has designed the program with flexibility to serve all members of the Columbia Heights community. To that end, Market Share buys wholesale from three local farms, and then grants and donations allow low-income residents to pay weekly with federal nutrition benefits such as SNAP or WIC, and receive their share at a 75% discount.

“We see that it’s always this idea, ‘Because you are low-income, your food is also going to be a lower quality,’” Mogollon says. With Market Share, “you receive exactly the same bag, exactly the same product—which is a prime product—at a very low price.”

In addition to the hundreds of customers who pick up their produce at various locations each week through the program that began in 2015, Market Share also serves 200 seniors who are homebound by delivering a bag to their door.

“The order that we were asking the farmers to bring kept becoming larger and larger as we added more people,” Mogollon says. Now, the Market Share purchases account for more than half of what farmers make at Community Foodworks markets.

This sparked an idea about how to address lack of food access in Wards 7 and 8, which are underserved by grocery stores and farmers markets because “residents don’t have the disposable income,” Mogollon says. He wanted to find a way to reduce the risk for farmers who might not otherwise be able to sell there.

Mogollon explains that one method of incentivizing risky markets is to pay the farmer a certain sum, regardless of what they sell. “That model has the flaw that those dollars go to the farmer, but the food goes nowhere,” he says.

Instead, Community Foodworks launched a suite of solutions to serve residents in those wards: a pop-up food hub and satellite vegetable stands. “We think that all these low-income areas are an untapped market for farmers,” Mogollon says. “We’re not competing or taking a share of the market from other food hubs…Our clients are a different kind of client, the kind that’s not being served.”

The pop-up food hub operates in tandem with a farmers market, treating it as a “natural point of aggregation” and helping farmers sell more food to more people during each trip to the city.

Minimum order requirements often prevent small organizations like churches, early-care centers and clinics from procuring their food from a conventional food hub. “That’s the barrier we want to break,” Mogollon says. Community Foodworks compiles small orders, places one wholesale order with the farmer, and then delivers the other orders to each organization.

“The demand is huge. We started last year, and we were thinking, ‘Let’s find five clients,’” Mogollon says. “By the end of the year, we’re working with 47 organizations.”

The satellite vegetable stands also amplify sales by allowing the farmers to send some of their produce to a separate location, where a community member is employed to sell the food on behalf of the farmer. In 2016, CFW had just one farmers market in Ward 7 on a Saturday, and that year the farmers made around $11,000.

“Last year, we had three veggie stands, and they made $65,000—in the same trip, with same effort,” Mogollon says. “If you work to solve food insecurity but you don’t think about the farmer, you are not creating justice.”

The “OGs” of Logan Circle Restaurateurs are Farmers Too?

They are. And their new restaurant this fall will take it all to the next level

By AJ Dronkers, photography by Sarah Culver

 Farmers at EatWell Natural Farm harvest produce, then deliver to the EatWell restaurants. They also help with composting efforts with each restaurant.

Farmers at EatWell Natural Farm harvest produce, then deliver to the EatWell restaurants. They also help with composting efforts with each restaurant.

“The creativity of incorporating produce from the farm is like a quick-fire mystery basket challenge.” - Madison Han, Head Chef, EatWell Group’s Commissary Restaurant

Sourcing local and seasonal food continues to be a growing trend across restaurants globally. While we’d love to say it is being driven by pure altruism on the part of food businesses, the ones behind the wheel are actually consumers.

A 2017 study by the National Restaurant Association found “local sourcing” and “fresh produce” continuing to rise as business trends. But meeting that demand can be costlier and downright challenging in some seasons, not to mention the fact that lemons and avocados simply don’t grow in the mid-Atlantic. A 2016 exposé in the Tampa Bay Times1 went viral after it documented restaurants doing what some consumers had long suspected: faking the farm-to-table thing. It’s not surprising that trying to benefit from consumer interest in eating locally sourced food opens the door to fraud, or to those only partially walking the walk. (We’ve previously reported on a local start-up, Greenease, that allows users to find restaurants that have a genuine commitment to local and provide audited lists of farms from which restaurants source.)

But if you don’t want to have to wonder about the source, consider a restaurant that not only works with local farms—but owns one. In the DC area, one of the original gangsters, if you will, of local sourcing is the EatWell Restaurant Group, whose eateries include Logan Tavern, Commissary, The Bird, Grillfish and the Pig.

In 2003, the group decided to purchase and operate its own 13-acre farm in La Plata, MD, to source for the family of restaurants. This fall they will launch their newest restaurant, The Charles Public House & Farm Table, also in La Plata, which will bring their farm-based inspiration to the forefront.

In the DMV, sourcing locally plays out in many ways. At various FRESHFARM markets like Dupont Circle or Penn Quarter you can routinely catch Executive Chef Jeremiah Langhorne from the Dabney or Chef Michael Costa of Zaytinya walking around with their teams purchasing crate after crate of local produce.

Chef Amy Brandwein formed a partnership with DC Urban Greens in Southeast DC. She supports their efforts to provide affordable fresh produce in a food dessert by purchasing products for her menu and even volunteering to work the farm with her team. Chef Rob Weiland of the Garrison installed and pulls from multiple small urban chef gardens near his restaurant as a means to get local produce.

We took a visit to the EatWell Natural Farm and chatted with the team—the farmers, the chefs, the manager—about what it’s really like to source from and grow for a restaurant group-sized farm.

 Farm-to-table dining keeps EatWell’s restaurants’ menus flexible and innovative.

Farm-to-table dining keeps EatWell’s restaurants’ menus flexible and innovative.

About the Farm with EatWell Natural Farm Manager Keith McNeal

Edible DC: How do you run the farm?

Keith McNeal: We currently operate the farm with one full-time farm manager (that’s me), one full-time crew member and two to three part-time farm crew and delivery members as the season gets increasingly busy.

We hire local folks who have an interest in small-scale, sustainable agriculture. It does help to hire those who have an interest and understanding of farming, as well as those who have experience in production-based agriculture focused on the culinary side of things.

EDC: Does the produce only go to your restaurants?

KM: Currently all our produce goes to our restaurants. In the future, we may sell to our local community, but now it is very important to EatWell DC as a company to ensure we are getting as much of our produce from our farm as we can. 

We have just over an acre under cultivation. Our goal would be to deliver to our restaurants up to three times per week and to source up to 60 percent of the produce that can be regionally grown directly from EatWell Natural Farm.

EDC: Where do you get produce that doesn’t come from the farm? 

KM: We partner with local farmers in our immediate area. At the new The Charles Public House & Farm Table, we will have a perfect opportunity; our menu will reflect the great work our local farmers and food systems producers do.

EDC: What’s coming from the farm this fall? 

KM: On the farm, we are growing vegetables that can be used by all of our chefs, in all of our restaurants. In the fall, we use season-extension techniques to continue to grow a wide variety of baby lettuces, root vegetables and cold-hardy crops to keep things as close to year-round as we can. This year, we are growing some new squash varieties: Blue Hubbard and Delicata. We are introducing Brussels sprouts to our crop list. Farm-pasture-raised hens are here with excellent eggs that usually go to The Bird. We would like to expand our egg production to get more into the other restaurants. We also focus on perennial crops: sunchokes, rhubarb, asparagus and lesser-known baby greens varieties. 

 Utilizing local farm produce often results in seasonal dishes, such as this autumn-inspired stuffed gourd.

Utilizing local farm produce often results in seasonal dishes, such as this autumn-inspired stuffed gourd.

We asked the chefs of the EatWell restaurants how they work with their weekly deliveries from the farm.

EDC: How do you weave the EatWell Farm produce into the menu?

Isaiah Ruffin, head chef, The Bird: I base our menu on what is available, so when the farm manager lets us know what he has or what will be coming, the menu gets developed around it.

Madison Han, head chef, Commissary: The creativity of incorporating produce from the farm is like a quick-fire mystery basket challenge. I usually use fresh produce in daily specials or add to items that are already on my menu.

EDC: What are the challenges and benefits? 

William Crutchley, head chef, The Charles: One of my biggest challenges is going to be meeting my food cost margins. I will be serving delicious, quality food—however, I would also like that food to be rather affordable. The Charles is designed to be a place that people will frequent regularly, not a special-occasion-only spot. That said, one of the most fulfilling things is the ability to support the local community. Our dollars spent in purchasing our restaurant’s food will be spent in the community, we will be supporting real small businesses, not being siphoning off cash to some multinational food aggregate with headquarters in New York City.”

Shabier Bahramy, head chef, The Pig: When you get 20 pounds of farm radishes, you have to think on the fly and come up with creative ways to weave them into the menu and specials. Our farm is 100 percent organic with no pesticides, preservatives or additives. The shelf life isn’t as long as commodity produce, so it’s at its peak the moment it comes through our doors. It forces us to think outside the box and reflect a hyper-seasonal menu.

 Chef Will Crutchley works on developing seasonal menus, planning ahead for fall farm produce. Pictured here is a tandoori chicken salad with butternut squash, EatWell Natural Farm greens and apples.

Chef Will Crutchley works on developing seasonal menus, planning ahead for fall farm produce. Pictured here is a tandoori chicken salad with butternut squash, EatWell Natural Farm greens and apples.

Getting the message that across with General Manager Heidi Minora

EDC: How do you think the farm helps brand your restaurants, if at all? 

Heidi Minora: Sourcing locally can mean anything—from a farm way outside the city, hours away to one in a different state. The EatWell Natural Farm is literally one hour outside the city. This sets us apart from any other restaurant in DC. Yes, we are serving a burger, but the bread came from a local bakery, the lettuce and tomato came from our farm and the beef was grassfed from a local butcher. This is a product that our staff can be proud to serve. And if your staff is proud of the company they work for, they will pass that along to their guests.

As business owners, we feel very strongly that we have a responsibility to not just take from this earth but also give back to it. We are an eco-friendly restaurant group that composts in house. We use only biodegradable products in our restaurants, do not use plastic bags and have both energy-efficient and water-conservation efforts in our restaurants.

EDC: How do your guests react to knowing you have a farm and grow your own produce? 

HM: Parents especially appreciate any restaurant that’s going to make natural foods tasty and approachable for their children. We offer volunteer days at our farm, which are excellent ways for parents and children to work on a farm and make lunch together. Folks are always eager to know more and we love that we can give them that opportunity.