2016 Grant Recipient Geoff Seelen on “The Farm Kitchen”

Geoff Seleen, culinary expert at the Piedmont Biofarm
Geoff Seelen, culinary expert at the Piedmont Biofarm

Piedmont Biofarm is owned and operated by farmers Will Carmines and Brett Evans, and their dining program is run by farmer and chef Geoff Seelen. They have been awarded an Agricultural Reinvestment Fund grant to expand their on-farm dinner series. Our staff will assist the group with technical support and outreach throughout the grant project.

We spoke with Geoff Seelen of Piedmont Biofarm about the farm’s innovative project to create an on-farm experience that combines the operation’s talents in farming, culinary skills, and education to create a new enterprise that adds to the farm’s overall profitability.

Geoff is the culinary expert of the farming trio and has been a major player in the vision for the on-farm dinners called “The Farm Kitchen.” He explains the on-farm dinners as a pop-up dinner series that temporarily turns the farm into a dining experience where guests can get a 5-course meal sourced primarily from the fields and hoop houses surrounding them.

“I started the dinners to test the limits of what you could produce as far as cuisine goes on a single farm,” Geoff says.

As they primarily grow specialty vegetable crops, the Biofarm supplements their meals with meats and dairy from farms within the same region. Most of the spices and flavors come from the farm including foraged wild plants like spicebush and Virginia pepperweed.

“It’s also about building community,” says Geoff. Attendees receive a fine dining experience, but they are seated at a long table with many others, fostering conversation and new connections. The wait-staff is also composed of folks who work on the farm or have a deeper knowledge of the operation.

While Geoff brings his culinary flair to the experience, the dinner series is also about simplicity and education. “I want to keep things simple and accessible. I don’t want people to feel like they can’t cook. I don’t want this to be totally over their head. It’s really important for me to make sure people don’t get discouraged through eating and being introduced to new foods. You want to make people feel like they are a part of fixing the problem. I try to attach stories and short pieces of information about the food between courses,” he says.

The Biofarm is cultivating a chef’s garden exclusively for the dinner series. They find that some vegetable products are more profitable when served as part of the Farm Kitchen. Veggies like potatoes and celtuce are grown solely for the farm dinners. The chef’s garden is also used to showcase the produce in its raw state as well as what it looks like at different stages. Geoff explains that they can demonstrate to attendants what food looks like in its living, changing state, “[Like] what it looks like when coriander bolts and produces berries which we use for a seasoning.”

The farmers had to get innovative about how to increase their income because their ability to scale up and expand is physically limited by their operation’s location. The Biofarm is located near downtown Pittsboro on a campus for sustainable businesses and organizations including Fair Game Beverage Company, Homs, and the Abundance Foundation. The Biofarm benefits from being close to a populated area, but also is limited in terms of available acreage.

The dinner series makes up a considerable portion of the farm’s income stream (especially when considering the amount of time and energy that goes into other avenues of selling their produce such as farmers’ markets). The Farm Kitchen is a once a month event whereas the farmers’ market happens every weekend during the growing season. With the Farm Kitchen, the farmers are able to add value to their farm products through cooking and serving in an on-farm experience.

Thanks to the grant award, the Farm Kitchen will soon be more efficient with an improved cooking space and better catering supplies. The farmers will create a dinner setting that is more centralized on the farm to give attendees a better experience. The grant funding will also allow them to offer more on-farm dinners throughout the year as they make it a more efficient enterprise in their operation.

Be sure to visit the Piedmont Biofarm and support their new project, the Farm Kitchen, by attending the first on-farm dinner of the year on Saturday, May 21st at 6 PM.

The Agricultural Reinvestment Fund is generously supported by the NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission.

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