If there is a godmother in Baltimore's farm-to-table movement, it would be Joan Norman, who co-owns One Straw Farm, a 175-acre farm in White Hall in northern Baltimore County. One Straw Farm comes up constantly in conversations with chefs and industry professionals about Baltimore's farm-to-table pioneers. And Norman has shared her 30 years of restaurant wisdom with a generation of new and young farmers, whom she encourages to look beyond obvious customers like Woodberry Kitchen and try developing relationships with small restaurants that have never bought directly from a farmer before. "Try starting them with one box of tomatoes," Norman, 53, said she suggests. Norman and her husband are children of farmers and bought their White Hall farm in 1983. The farm has doubled its acreage and now has 20 employees. On a Tuesday morning, some of those employees were in the farm's packing barn, cleaning, sorting and packing freshly harvested kohlrabi, Swiss chard and radishes, which were sold later that day at the Kenilworth Farmers' Market. Today most of their revenue comes from direct sales to consumers through the Community-Supported Agriculture program, in which members sign up to receive weekly allotments of produce. A full share for the One Straw Farm CSA is $650, a half-share is $320 -- there are currently 1,800 members. Sales to wholesalers and retail sales, including five area farmers' markets, account for the next biggest piece of One Straw's revenue pie. Direct sales to restaurants like Woodberry Kitchen, the Black Olive, Clementine and Charleston account for a nominal percentage of their sales, said Norman. The list of restaurants Norman sells produce to is small but very stable. But not only is selling to restaurants a good strategic move ("You should never have all of your eggs in one basket," Norman said) it's also very satisfying. "It feels a lot different, because all of a sudden then you're feeding people," said Norman, who starts planning out the coming season with big clients like Woodberry Kitchen in January. "If I put something in a box and ship it out to a wholesale house, I never see it again. "It's a lot of fun to walk in a restaurant and see your name on the menu and see who else's name is on the menu." Norman says that she thinks her CSA customers might get inspired by what they see restaurants doing with the same produce they receive in their weekly allotment boxes. Norman said that the hard part of having a CSA share is knowing what to do with the food. "Say you had a CSA share of mine, and you get my produce, all of a sudden you walk into Charleston, you realize these are [One Straw Farms] beets, all of a sudden, they're our beets." For more photos of the farm-to-table farms, go here.
Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun