Yes, yes, yes. I know. I love farm dinners. And yes, I write about every one I attend. This is a food blog after all.
A couple of Sundays ago, however, I attended a very special Fall Harvest Farm Dinner to launch Arcadia’s Veteran Farmer Program. Set to begin in March of 2015, Arcadia’s Veteran Farmer Program is designed to provide veterans with professional agricultural skills; meet the nation’s need for more farmers; capitalize on the growing interest in local, sustainably grown foods; and encourage entrepreneurship and job creation.
But why a veteran farmer program? I’m a visual person. For me, the best telling of this story, is Ground Operations: From Battlefields to Farmfields. Take a look at the preview (or, if you’re so inclined, pay $3.99 to rent it; it will only take a short 40 minutes of your time).
Arcadia’s proposed Veteran Farmer Program will have three components:
- The Reserve Program: For those interested in exploring agriculture without committing to a full-time training program, this 10-month fee-based program offers Veteran Farmers hands-on training on a 52-acre working farm and classroom instruction on topics ranging from pest control to marketing. Arcadia Farm Staff instruction will be supplemented by professional farmers and extension agents.
- The Fellowship Program: Up to five Veteran Farmers will be paid to study and work full time at Arcadia Farm for one year and participate in all aspects of Arcadia’s mission during the fellowship, including food access and distribution, sourcing, working with local chefs and retailers, and farm and nutrition education. During the second year of the program, Veteran Farm Fellows will be placed in paid externships at local sustainable farms to immerse themselves in other methods of farming and learn specialized skill sets – such as greenhouses, aquaponics, livestock, vineyards, and fruit orchards. They will also be schooled in required business skills, such as accounting, marketing, labor laws, and finance. Mentoring by professional farmers will also be a critical aspect of the program in addition to each Veteran Farmer producing a viable business plan for their own farms or agriculture businesses when they complete the program.
- The Farm Incubator: Farming is great but how do you find affordable, suitable land for farming particularly in the DC metro area? The Farm Incubator program will leverage Arcadia’s existing work with local landowners, nonprofit organizations, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation to identify affordable land suitable for farming where Veteran Farm Fellows can begin their new careers. Arcadia will serve as an intermediary, helping the landowners and farmers work out favorable lease terms. Arcadia is also developing a small incubator farm with shared equipment at Woodlawn Plantation in Alexandria that is expected to be open in 2017-2018 to Veteran Farm Fellows. To support Veterans in their new businesses, Arcadia will commit to purchasing at wholesale prices the fruits and vegetables produced by Veteran Farmers who grow within 125 miles of Washington, D.C. for sale on Arcadia’s Mobile Markets and to retail clients.
I was personally incredibly proud that my credit union – Belvoir FCU – helped sponsor the event. As a next-door neighbor to Arcadia, this collaborative effort is a great example of how credit unions can work with community partners on innovative projects to bring their expertise in financial well-being to the broader community. Belvoir FCU is in conversations with Arcadia on how it might be able to provide financial information and guidance to Veterans Farmers as each of the three programs gets underway.
In addition to the great purpose of the dinner, the line-up of chefs for the dinner was hugely impressive. Thanks to Chef William Morris of Vermilion, the son of a Vietnam War veteran, who wrangled a group of chef buddies — Haidar Karoum of Estadio, Proof, and Doi Moi; Jonah Kim; Danny Lee of Mandu; Tiffany MacIsaac of Buttercream Bakeshop; and Jesse Miller of Café Saint-Ex – to create a blend of different takes on the classic American summer barbeque dinner.
Smoked Pork Belly with whipped apple butter and a Ceviche made from lime-scented monkfish with yuzu cured shrimp, smoked mussels, pickled melon and corn relish, was elegantly presented by Chef Miller. Next was Thai Grilled Eggplant Salad with Poached Shrimp and Bulgogi (Korean grilled marinated beef) prepared by Chef Lee.
The crispiest Fried Chicken I’ve ever eaten came with Watermelon and Papaya Salad courtesy of Chef Kim. Finally, the Slow Roasted Pork with Spiced Peach Chutney with arugula, cucumber, nectarine salad and ricotta salata rounded out the barbeque thanks to Chef Morris.
And then there was Chef MacIsaac’s dessert (goodness, this lady knows how to bake!) – a Blueberry Pie with sweet corn ice cream. Oh my.
These chefs gave of their talent and artistry to a great effort that is just starting. As Katherine, a US Army Veteran and Arcadia Farm Trainee said, “I have spent nearly twenty years serving my country with honor and I look forward to spending the next twenty in service of the land itself, to be a steward and a healer as well as a protector.”