Chefs see food sources up close

Washington, D.C., metro area chefs and restaurant owners tour Pleasantdale Farm in Woodstock as part of several Shen Valley Beef Cooperative locations Monday during a farm to table food networking tour. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK — Chefs and restaurant owners from the D.C. area had a close-up view of where the steaks they prepare and serve come from during a tour of Shenandoah Valley cattle farms and facilities this week.

Shenandoah Valley Beef Cooperative made an agreement with Capital Meat Company out of Hyattsville, Maryland, in 2012 for the purpose of networking valley farms with restaurant tables around the D.C. metro area.

A group of around 30 chefs from northern Virginia to Maryland began their tour on Monday at Mt. Crawford Creamery at 9 a.m., continuing by bus to a cow and calf operation there. Next, they stopped by Bluestone Beef in Dayton around lunchtime and arrived at family owned Pleasantdale Farm in Woodstock a little after 2.

Those on the tour snapped photos of the cattle in the farm’s 210-head capacity barn and listened as farm owner Wade Hawkins gave them the lowdown on farm processes, equipment and explained a typical day of work. He answered questions raised about manure use, fat distribution and feed content, and a few brave individuals took a mucky tour of the holding pens for sick cattle.

Ecological practices tend to go hand in hand with natural food sources, and Hawkins discussed his role in conserving local waterways. Russell Ventimiglia, executive chef for American classic restaurant Clyde’s, said he’s also attended Chesapeake Bay tours to see oyster harvesting and “Save the Bay” conservation efforts.

Darren Poole, left, and Chris LeBarron, right, both salesman of Capital Meats Company in Annapolis, Md., try to get a close-up view of beef cattle at Pleasantdale Farm in Woodstock Rich Cooley/Daily

“Nothing beats a fresh local product; the dish will speak for itself,” he said.

Jaclyn Azia, a community manager with D.C.-area meal delivery service Power Supply, said she and her coworkers enjoyed getting the chance to learn more about their food sources, knowing their customers care about quality and sustainability.

“I haven’t really done farm tours before,” she said. “I just really like knowing its family owned and everyone puts a lot of work into it and cares a lot about it.”

Kerwin Wells is looking to help out local community farms while seeking out wholesome, flavorful produce and meats for Eric Ziebold’s up-and-coming D.C. restaurant Kinship. Having toured larger, commercialized cattle facilities, he knew he could determine the quality of life for the cattle at Pleasantdale by smell.

“Where they are right now resting, it doesn’t smell bad. For us, cooks like that,” he said. “When you receive the beef, it’s like ‘how did they come up with this flavor?’ It’s the treatment that they got.”

Wade Hawkins, owner of Pleasantdale Farm in Woodstock, gives this group of Washington, D.C., area chefs and employees of Capital Meat Company a tour of his beef cattle farm on Monday. Rich Cooley/Daily

The only other time this tour ran was in 2012, when the cooperative and the company first made their agreement.

Hawkins said the 2012 tour was behind schedule and didn’t make the stop in Woodstock. He said tours like this one improve the relationships between farmers and their customers, and the cooperative aims to offer similar tours to more local restaurants and chefs so they can see the origins of their naturally raised beef.

“I’m looking for more business from those restaurant chains that are still wondering if they should go that route or not,” he said.

According to Hawkins, Pleasantdale Farm finishes its cattle with mixed grain feed that is about 85 percent farm-raised. The percentage fluctuates during the year, but he said the farm should be raising around 98 percent by August through early spring.

Shenandoah Valley Beef Cooperative board member Tad Williams said the cooperative sees several dozen cattle shipped off per month, and farmers benefit directly from their business through Capital Meat Company.

Kerwin Wells

“It kind of highlights what the cooperative is trying to do … to have farming opportunities that are economically viable,” he said.

Williams said that the agreement has meant a steady and appreciative consumer base from chefs and restaurateurs.

“To just have that one-on-one relationship … I think that goes a long way towards building trust,” he said. “Word of mouth in the restaurant trade means a lot.”

Ventimiglia said tours like this one provide valuable networking opportunities for farmers and chefs and enhances communication between those in the food industry.

“You don’t know these people and you get to meet them, see what they’re doing and how they’re using the product,” he said. “You share ideas and it’s a really cool thing.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com