CEDAR RAPIDS — Josh Carter and Andrew Hoffmann have spent most of their careers on their feet in kitchens, cooking for local restaurants.
Now, they’re also on their feet, but they’re outside, growing the food instead of cooking it.
The duo started Chef Run Farms this year, growing produce they sell to other local chefs, as well as at a farmers market booth and through a catering service.
“It’s neat to be on the other side of the counter. For the last seven or eight years, I was buying produce and walking the market,” Hoffmann said. “Now we’re selling it.”
Their booth at the Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers’ Market also puts their cooking skills to work; they serve up a different menu at each market, featuring dishes that show off their homegrown ingredients, like a grilled cheese with green tomato bacon jam and roasted beets or vegan gumbalaya, with rice, seitan andouille “sausage,” okra, bell peppers, onions, zucchini, yellow squash, cilantro lime crema and kombucha-pickled onions.
Most of the bounty they grow is packed into two locations — the backyard of Carter’s house on Cedar Rapids’ NW side, along with an acre of farmland in Mount Vernon, where Hoffmann lives.
Carter started his backyard garden when he moved to the house about six years ago with a few raised beds. Now, the rows of herbs and tomato trellises and beds of cucumbers, squash, beans, beets, greens and more have taken over much of his yard.
“It just keeps growing and growing and growing,” Carter said of the garden. “We’re doing as much variety as we can and seeing what sells really well and what doesn’t.”
In one corner, a chicken coop completes the urban farm, with several birds happily feasting on garden scraps and spent grain from Thew Brewing Co.
They hope their backyard farming efforts help demystify the process of growing food, they said.
“I want people to know, anyone can do this,” Hoffmann said. “Maybe not professionally, but you can start small.”
They started their seeds inside in the winter, sacrificing Carter’s kitchen table to about 350 tomato seedlings and other vegetable starts before officially launching the business in March.
They focus on heirloom varieties and things they know from personal experience that chefs will be excited about. Clients so far have included Cobble Hill, Caucho, Greyhound Deli, Lightworks, Quarter Barrel, Big Grove Brewery, the Map Room and more.
Using locally sourced ingredients takes more effort and can be more expensive for local restaurateurs, Hoffmann acknowledged.
But there is a tight-knit community of local chefs in the area, he said, and when the duo started Chef Run Farms, they already had a customer base waiting for their produce.
“It’s much easier to call up a food rep and have them drop of boxes of prefabricated food,” he said. “You have to form those relationships and build community around them.”
The two previously ran the kitchens at Quarter Barrel and Cedar Ridge, along with working in other area restaurants.
Both cooking and farming are long hours and hard work, but they said spending those hours outside, with the flexibility to spend more time with their families, has made all the difference.
“It’s hard to be mad when you’re surrounded by plants,” Hoffmann said.
Carter, who is originally from North Liberty, said he likes what the farm lets him pass on to his children.
“I grew up on a farm. I wanted my kids to know, if you plant a seed, you’ll eventually have something you can eat,” he said.
Hoffmann also grew up on a farm in Story City. His parents still own the land, and he hopes to eventually take the business model of Chef Run Farms back there.
“That farm is where my passion for food comes from,” he said. “It’s the ultimate sense of accomplishment, that you can start with a seed and nurture it into a gigantic plant and then harvest the seeds and start again ... to self-sustain is pretty empowering.”
If you go
- What: Chef Run Farms
- When and where: Look for Chef Run Farms at the Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers’ Market, 7:30 a.m. to noon, Aug. 4, 18 and Sept. 1. The booth is typically along Greene Square, on Fifth Street SE between Third and Fourth avenues SE. It also will be at other events throughout the year; follow their Facebook page for updates.
- Details: (515) 290-6124, facebook.com/ChefRunFarms
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