In the quaint boating community of Padanaram Village in South Dartmouth, a food hub is brewing. In 2015, the arrival of Little Moss Restaurant brought a veritable farm-to-table experience to the south coast of Massachusetts, crafting most of their menu based on a small radius of seasonal availability. This past summer, after years of careful planning and design, Farm & Coast Market opened its doors to the public. Like its restaurant neighbor, the market goes above and beyond to broaden the farm-to-table experience that transcends the center of the plate. Great care is taken to honor the season—you won’t find fava beans or garlic scapes from the west coast on an April menu. But come June, they will be a mere few hours out of the farmers’ hands when they hit the kitchen.
Farm & Coast sources primarily from farms along the South Coast, and almost entirely from farms in New England. Ventures such as these are much-needed components in the move toward a more regionalized, sustainable food system. The rise of young farmers shows great promise, but without supporting industries and infrastructure, the growing, preserving, and distribution of food falls short, and the market availability—and income potential for viable farms—is unnecessarily hindered. Ventures such as this debunk the stigma of prohibitive cost or elitist accessibility to local food. The crucial question of how to make the price point work for the consumer while honoring the higher cost of smaller yet more sustainable agriculture is the starting point of Farm & Coast, rather than a question retroactively worked into an existing framework. This takes, above all else, creativity.
The Market is a working exercise of a zero-waste food program. Though obviously designed with the consumer in mind, the program thrives on a kind of lateral product placement. “We go through a lot of chickens with our wood-fired rotisserie,” chef Chris Cronin explains, “which leads to a lot of chicken wings. We put them on the menu board, and people don’t really go for them at lunch. Our cooler case is not the best storage because they dry out so easily. So what do we do? Marinate them, cryo-vac them, and boom—they fly through the takeout cooler. Having all these different catches gives us more opportunities to use everything.” The wings sit aside beef bone broth and pepperoni in the cooler, all made in-house.
Quality permeates every shelf and cooler in the market, but a stand-out gem among them is the butcher’s case. It is somewhat of an odyssey for the everyday consumer to seek out humanely raised, pasture-based protein. Farm & Coast worked closely with the town Board of Health to develop clearer guidelines for curing and fermenting within their market model. When an animal arrives on the butcher block, everything has a home, from sausage to salami, chuck to marrow, bone broth to pate. Having the options to capture value keeps the price point reasonable, while also honoring the care that went into the raising of the animals and the tending of the pastures supporting them.
At Farm & Coast, if a carrot bunch doesn’t sell fresh in the produce counter, it’s turned into a special on the menu or worked into the prepared foods case. The little food scraps that remain at the end of the week barely fill more than a few buckets, which are taken home by one of the cooks to feed to his pigs. In the process of having multiple alleys to serve food, there is remarkably less waste than a single-stream restaurant or grocer.
Though the staff behind the meat program never preaches, it is undeniable that they have done their homework. “We’ll never hit someone over the head with ideology,” Cronin says, “but we love to have conversations about it. At the end of the day, they are coming because it tastes better.” There is no pretense to the offerings, though they may change and sometimes be unfamiliar—a natural result of a “use everything” custom butchery operation. And if you don’t see what you have in mind, they can readily make a recommendation, leading to wondering why you had never tried that cut before.
Farm & Coast teeters the brink between a European and American feel to its offerings: availability is largely seasonal, but not at the abandonment of one-stop shopping. “If someone wants to make beef stew at home instead, we have the ingredients, the bread, and a bottle of wine to recommend with it,” notes Cronin. (The bread is also baked in-house daily, and sells faster than they can bake it.) The comfortable ambiance lends itself to perusing fine ingredients for dinner as much as sitting with a book and a latte. A full café and delectable desserts complement menu offerings.
The daily menu board for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is utterly unintimidating, almost startlingly so. A recent example: pollock “filet-o-fish,” all made in-house, but following McDonalds’ recipe nearly verbatim. Coney Island hot dogs, fried chicken, and beef Bolognese have all made the chalk. Yet such options as this are effortless and unpretentious within a system whose sole end game, irrespective of ethos, is flavor.
What is startling about the approach is its self-evident simplicity. This is not a singular attempt to fix all that is broken within the modern food system; it is rather to provide a viable alternative by its very sensibility. Food that honors the soil and those for whom it provides will always be a better alternative. Not right, so as to imply a wrong–but better. A model such as Farm & Coast is essentially a way of capturing value on all levels to buffer the otherwise exorbitant cost of food production in its current iteration. From brewing to milling to processing, such structures are necessary links in a localized food system that better authenticates the concept of sustainability, perhaps even looks beyond it, to regeneration.
Food is not cheap. It comes at inconceivable costs. How we tend the garden of our sustenance is inextricably linked to our survival–human nutrition, carbon sequestration, the inhabitability of biodiversity essential to sapiens’ existence, all hinge on how we grow food. In the case of Farm & Coast, it starts and ends with making it taste good.
Bill Braun is a vegetable grower and seed saver at Ivory Silo Farm in Westport, with his partner Deanna Levanti. The farm is developing infrastructure to serve as a hub for seed stewardship, community seed saving, and education.
BOLOGNESE SAUCE FROM FARM & COAST MARKET Recipe
~ Provided by Chef Chris Cronin, Executive Chef, Farm & Coast Market, South Dartmouth, MA