Dinner on the farm is one of the trendier new iterations of farm to table, and Turner Farm — a historic operation in Indian Hill — is harnessing the trend to create a new income stream and connect on a national stage.
With a just-built teaching kitchen and new alliances with the University of Cincinnati’s Center for Integrative Health and Wellness and the local chapter of Chef’s Collaborative, the nonprofit organic farm is expanding its scope amid a flurry of building and new projects.
These include a new mushroom house, new high tunnels and renovation of a barn that long has been used as an art studio and meeting space.
The centerpiece of all this activity is the teaching kitchen. With a 22-foot granite island, three chefs’ demonstration spaces, and nine cooking stations for groups of two to three — not to mention closed-circuit TV monitors — it seems the antithesis of the low-fi atmosphere of Turner Farm, known to decades of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members and customers as a place where chickens peck about in the driveways and draft horses plow the fields.
Turner was always active — CSA members working in the fields as part of their food subscriptions, visitors encouraged to wander freely. And there were celebrations: an annual maypole festival, occasional dinners. But it was never an event space. There were no weddings or private parties. It didn’t have the kitchen for it, for one thing.
That is about to change.
Staff member Mary Joseph said the move to offer dinners and cooking demonstrations does not signal a change in focus.
“I would not call it a new direction. I would call it another direction. We are, of course, promoting the organic foods and the naturally raised livestock, but we also want to take that food and take it into the kitchen and show people how to properly prepare it,” she said. “It’ll be a commercial kitchen.”
Robert Edmiston — Turner’s executive director since the death in 2013 of Bonnie Mitsui, the farm’s legendary owner — said the facility will be used both for private events and for a program in which medical students from the University of Cincinnati go to Turner to learn about nutrition and preparing healthy meals. Edmiston said it will connect the farm with a wider audience, starting with the local chapter of the chefs collaborative and UC.
“We are an educational institution,” Edmiston said. “We teach organic farming to our local farmers, but we believe in doing that next step: What do you do with a handful of brassicas coming out of the field? Well, we’re going to have a high-level teaching kitchen and demonstration kitchen. … We will have a beautiful environment in which people can come and learn proper culinary skills.
“The teaching kitchen is an easy extension for what had been taking place here, which was not only organic farming. … Turner Farm is involved in a larger conversation.”
When the burners get going, Edmiston said, the facility will be a working part of a national group of 26 teaching kitchens, part of a program called Healthy Kitchens/Healthy Lives founded by Dr. David Eisenberg of Harvard University. It’s a heady group, including kitchens at Harvard, Georgetown University, Dartmouth, Vanderbilt, the University of California/San Francisco and the Google kitchen in New York.
Work on the kitchen began about 12 months ago. This week, there was still yellow tape and dust. But next Monday, the space will have something of a soft opening.
On July 18, Turner will host “Fork + Meadow,” a farm-to-table tasting dinner at which several farm-to-table chefs will present a dinner of bites (prepared in their own kitchens and transported). They include Stephen Williams of Bouquet, Jose Salazar of Mita and Todd Hudson of Wildflower Cafe. Molly Wellman of Japp’s will mix cocktails, while Rabbit Hash String Band will do its best to chew the scenery down to the nub. The event is part of Edible Ohio Valley’s Community Dinner series.
Chefs and paying guests will get a preview of the new kitchen.
Edmiston said that he, like Eisenberg, believes medical doctors need to pay closer attention to nutrition —food as medicine —instead of farming the awareness out, if you will, to nutritionists.
“The medical community needs to be informed about proper nutrition, culinary skills and culinary engagement,” he said. “But the other front line are chefs.”
Editor’s note: Jenny Burman is a member of the summer vegetable CSA at Turner Farm.