March has been special for Larson Weinstein, the manager at Atlas Farms in Finksburg, a new facility on longtime farmland near Gerstell Academy. After months of working to amend the soil and convert 5 acres of former corn and soybean farmland to multi-crop production site for greens and vegetables, he was finally getting his first seeds in the ground.
“We just germinated our first three beds this week, which is radishes, larger carrots and then baby carrots,” Weinstein said in an March 6 interview. “They are the first crops we have planted on this land.”
If all goes well, he said, a diner might just get to taste those crops by sometime in early April, at Azumi, Bygone, Tagliata or other restaurants in Baltimore. That’s because unlike many vegetable farmers who grow with farmers markets or consumer support agriculture programs in mind, Weinstein is growing solely to supply the chef’s of the Atlas Restaurant Group with fresh produce for their menus.
“It’s a very unique business in that I am a salaried farmer. I am an employee of Atlas Restaurant Group, which means I have one client,” Weinstein said. “It is very cool because so much of the stress of farming is just hoping that Saturday when you bring food to market it’s not crappy out and no one shows up to buy it.”
It also provides the more than a dozen Baltimore area Atlas group restaurants with more control over what they serve on their plates, according to group co-owner Eric Smith.
“By starting Atlas Farms, we are now able to have full control where our produce is grown, how it is cared for and decide the perfect time for harvesting," he wrote in an email. "This level of attention to detail will only add to the positive experience our guests will have when dining at our restaurants by ensuring they are receiving the highest quality products.”
It’s a model that’s been adopted with success by other restaurateurs across the country, according to Weinstein.
“It absolutely is a trend, with some of the pioneers being Blue Hill, The Stone Barn, obviously the French Laundry and the Inn at Little Washington,” he said. “These are all very successful restaurants that have vertically integrated and realized that having a farm in house is much greater than the sum of its parts.”
It’s a model that Weinstein believes could work at other scales and in other areas, including Carroll County.
Atlas Farms will hopefully be growing and looking for workers form Carroll, according to Weinstein, who has so far been doing most of the work himself.
“We’re thinking that we actually have two guys from Carroll County that we will bring on during the season,” he said. “If we expand anything past this 5-acre footprint we will need to staff up a lot more than just two guys.”
And as the season gets going, the hope is to bring Atlas Restaurant Group chefs up to hold farm dinners open to the public, according to Weinstein.
“It will probably be some sort of ticketed event, some sort of fixed menu, and the idea would be to celebrate the peak of each of each season,” he said. “There are times of the year where certain things are growing in the region and we want our customers to be aware of those and eating them and celebrating them. That’s when they will be at their most delicious, which is ultimately the most important thing.”