The Pig in Logan Circle is one of the most meat-centric restaurants in the city. Even how the menu is structured tell diners that this is not a haven for vegetarians, with sections called "Pig" and "Less Pig". But no matter how delicious the pork, it needs to be paired with equally delicious vegetables, and these guys have a farm in La Plata, Maryland that helps the restaurant do just that. The EatWell Natural Farm is a 13-acre farm that supplies some produce to The Pig and other EatWell DC restaurants, including Logan Tavern, Grillfish and the Commissary.
Bought in 2010, the farm began producing produce in 2011, and is a work-in-progress to provide EatWell's restaurants with a source of hyper-local veggies for diners to enjoy. Josh Hahn, EatWell's operating partner, and Michael Bonk, The Pig's chef de cuisine, talked about some the perks of keeping its produce local and why catnip actually works for people as well.
How long did you have the idea to have a farm?
Josh Hahn: Years in the making. Casually for a couple of years and then seriously for a year leading up to the purchase in 2010. It was a short sale...So five or six years as something that we considered we could even possibly handle.
Why do you feel it is important to have a farm as a part of EatWell DC?
Michael Bonk: For me, everyone talks about supporting local farms and buying local produce, but the connection between the farmers and myself is really important. When you see people out there everyday growing things and working with their hands, it's about respecting where things come from. And it's how I grew up. My grandmother was a farmer. So if you take a carrot and then ruin the carrot, technically, you wasted someone's time and energy. Having this farm part of the company makes me feel good about what we do here.
JH: Everyone's definition of "local" is different. For me, "local" is a couple of hours away. If you're coming from Pennsylvania to DC a few times a week, that's local to me. But our farm is less than an hour away, and I don't know a lot of others who is "that" local. Like Michael said, we can pick it that afternoon and serve it two hours later.
Is the entire farm up and running?
JH: It's 13 acres, but seven of it is cleared. The other six is wooded with ponds and streams. We have so much room to grow. Between what's functioning, I would say we're on an acre and a half.
MB: And there's a surprising amount of produce that comes from an acre and a half. When we're in full-swing, there are loads of stuff. And our efficiency is improving as well.
And you guys just brought on a full-time farm manager in 2013?
JH: Erica Porch is our farm manager. In 2011 and 2012, it was just us flying by the seat of our pants. We were there when we could be there. We were getting help when we could get it.
When you were "flying by the seat of your pants", what were you growing on the farm?
JH: God, a lot. In those first seasons, we were trying a lot of things to see what we could grow and what was a complete failure. Leafy greens have always been good. Herbs has always been good. Lot of the root vegetables have been strong. Tomatoes that don't get blight are good. We tried a couple corn stalks, and they got destroyed. So those are one of those things we won't do again.
How much produce does the farm supply to The Pig?
JH: People are always asking if we grow all our produce for the restaurant. Of course we don't. Given how many french fries we go through, we'll never be able to grow enough potatoes to meet our demand.
MB: It really depends on the time of year. We have peaks and we're starting to get late spring things. For me, what I try to do is get the produce and put it together. That's how our weekend tasting menus happened. I would put together menus based on what's available at the farms. They allow me to get first choice of what's there. I like to showcase what comes from the farm.
What was the impetus behind the tasting menu?
MB: It's two-fold. One of the reasons I came to EatWell is because of the farm. Part of the draw for me is having someone who can grow what I have first choice of, and I don't have to battle with 10 other restaurants to get what I want. Within the restaurant, I wanted to showcase what we do and what makes us different. And I thought the best way to accomplish that would be to offer the tasting menu on Fridays and Saturdays.
Do all the EatWell restaurants share the farm's produce equally?
JH: I wouldn't say it's equal.
MB: I'm greedy. I'm going to shoot for first choice, and I don't think anyone really minds. It's fun for me. I don't take everything by any means. I take what I can use. So if we have things that plug into the menu, we let servers know that these tomatoes may be from the farm or these cucumbers come from the farm today.
Does the farm's produce go into The Pig's cocktails?
JH: Yeah, we use the produce for our cocktails as well. We use the mint for mojitos. Logan Tavern is doing a slush strawberry granita drink.
Do you guys seeing the farm having livestock?
JH: I could see eggs before I see livestock.
MB: I would love to see pigs running around, but I don't know if anyone would have the time to take care of them.
JH: We'll have to see if Erica is ready to be a livestock farming. I know I'm not.
Are there any awesome fruits and vegetables that the farm's producing?
MB: We're definitely into the raspberry and blueberry season. We're looking at cucumbers and baby carrots. I like to make a fresh marinated cucumber salad with herbs. We grow some interesting herbs, like catnip, on the farm, which people don't associate with anything but cats, but it's one of my favorite herbs to cook with. It's a minty basil herb, and it's really cool to put into things because people don't know what it is.