The Chef’s Garden making a name for itself in the culinary world – Ohio Ag Net

Brianna Gwirtz, OCJ Field Reporter

The Chefs Garden story is one of resilience. Bob Jones Her Sr. ran the farm with his sons Lee and Bob Herr Jr. until the farm crisis of the 80’s raised her ugly head. In 1983, when interest rates soared to his 21%, a hailstorm hit the Huron farm, devastating the crops. It was the turning point that led to the collapse of the farm.

“At 19, I stood shoulder to shoulder with my family and watched 25 years of really hard work and blood and sweat be auctioned off,” farmer Lee Jones said. “All our neighbors and competitors were there, and everyone who came to enjoy our failure was there.”

They didn’t know it yet, but that terrible day set the tone and trajectory for the Jones family’s future. it was in their blood.

The family started a farmer’s market, selling fresh produce grown on leased land near their original home farm. One day, Farmer Lee met a chef at the local farmers market. With flavor in mind, the chef was looking for very special vegetables grown without the use of chemicals. This conversation sparked an interest in Bob Sr. and the family discovered their niche in quality vegetables.

Today, The Chef’s Garden grows 300 acres of fresh vegetables year-round. Chef’s Garden has over 7,000 varieties of vegetables, edible flowers, herbs and more. Farmer Lee Jones and his brother Bob Jones, Jr., along with his family and his 167 employees, are running the business at full speed.

“We focus on regenerative agriculture. We are obsessed with soil. We believe healthy soil leads to healthy vegetables, which in turn leads to healthy people,” said Lee. “At any given time, about 50% of our acreage is working with crop cover to improve soil health. For example, clover fixes nitrogen in the soil, and these vegetables need a lot of nitrogen, so we plant clover between Brussels sprouts and tomatoes.”

A cover crop rotation includes a variety of crops such as clover, alfalfa, buckwheat and Sudangrass.

“Cover crops are also very helpful in reducing runoff. said Jones.

About 11,000 years ago, the ground where Chef’s Garden is now located was once the bottom of a lake, leaving a rich sandy loam perfect for growing vegetables. The region also has a microclimate suitable for agriculture.

“There were once more than 300 vegetable growers in the area. But with the advent of refrigeration in the 1940s, much vegetable production was moved to the warmer western states. Because it can be grown in large quantities over a wide area,” says Jones. “But we can grow very high-quality vegetables all year round. The cold will limit the amount to some extent, but when it gets colder, you don’t have to worry about insect pressure.”

Jones says his team uses technology to complement nature. Chef’s Garden uses transparent, mobile greenhouses called Cold Frames to trap the sun’s heat. On sunny winter days, the inside of the cold frame can reach 55 degrees.

In addition, they grow some vegetables in traditional greenhouses during the winter. A neighborhood popcorn farm sells used corn cobs to Chef’s Garden. The cobs are burned and used to power a boiler that heats the water that flows through the floor of the greenhouse.

“We want to be sustainable and go back to many of the production practices that people used over 100 years ago,” said Jones.

Their practices may reflect a bygone era, but this business has seen a lot of change and growth in the last 40 years.

The Chef’s Garden opened The Culinary Vegetable Institute in 2003. This is where visiting chefs come to come up with new menu items, learn about the growing process, and taste vegetables you’ve never had before. The Chef’s Garden not only hosts a chef, it also has three chefs.

The Chef’s Garden has also hired Amy Sapola, Ph.D., who holds a bachelor’s degree in nutrition. Sapora leads the ‘Chef’s Pharmacy in Her Garden’ initiative, educating customers on the benefits of including vegetables in their meals. Her pharmacy boxes feature fresh ingredients that help with specific health conditions.

When asked about his biggest challenges and when he made the biggest changes, Jones simply said 2020. Faced with a global pandemic and restaurant closures, The Chef’s Garden had to find new sources of income. Jones made it his personal mission to keep all staff employed during that difficult time.

“For the past 35 years, our customer base has always been chefs. When the pandemic struck in 2020, we were forced to either reinvent ourselves or be left behind. We launched a home delivery service: During the pandemic, people were afraid to go to the grocery store, or the grocery store was empty, thinking they could deliver products to individuals without leaving their homes. “Through that, we’ve had some good organic growth. People are interested in where the food comes from.”

The pandemic has also spurred the reopening of farmers markets. The original market was outdoors during the pandemic, but is now housed indoors. Open most weekends all year round.

The Culinary Vegetable Institute has also taken a slight turn. CVI not only hosts chefs from around the world, but it’s also a great place for visitors looking to get away for a few days. The property is listed on Airbnb. Guests arrive with a breakfast basket of farmer’s vegetables.

Farmer Lee Jones represents Chef’s Garden well. The company sells produce to internationally renowned chefs and Farmer Lee has been featured in many agricultural and culinary news sources, magazines and television shows.

“I think the key to success is always identifying the needs of our customers. Our supply and demand determine everything,” Jones said. “We try to identify what’s important before other people understand. Having a chef on staff is essential because we have a better grasp of how the world works. We have thousands of products.” For example, I love kohlrabi, I have planted 37 kohlrabi plants that I love, but having a steady supply means nothing if I can’t sell them. We need to secure our customer base, which is a great example of evaluating inventory keeping units for that product.”

Underlying it all is Jones’ strong sense of family that keeps him motivated every day.

“We have tried to create a family environment at Chef’s Garden. Every day I work with my brother and a few other family members,” he said. “But I recognize that the 40 years that I spent with his father were truly irreplaceable.

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