Farm 255 Connects Fresh-from-the Fare
Why Slow Food in a Fast-Track World? It seems counterintuitive.
Begun in 1986 by Italian Carlo Petrini, Slow Food promotes gastronomic traditions and traditional foods. The movement has 83,000 members worldwide, reconnecting with agrarian roots via farm-fresh and local fare.
Is America ready for Slow Food? “Yes,” declares UGA’s Jeffrey Stoike, both doctoral student and a new restaurateur. (Stoike is a Presidential Graduate Fellow, who pleasantly urges Athens diners to take their time.)
The menu at Farm 255 explains, “we exercise patience and celebrate those summer-time staples that love the heat: tomatoes, eggplants, corn, okra and the like.”
Slow Food USA selected Farm 255 as one of six American restaurants for recognition at the Terra Madre Conference in Italy this fall. “While lots of folks source sustainably, none are running a farm and a restaurant in synch as we are without subsidies like Stone Barns’ Rockefeller endowment,” says Stoike. “This is a watershed moment of international recognition.”
On a sweltering summer’s day last year, Stoike and a partnership of professors and friends were set to open Farm 255. Their Athens venture melded progressive farming with the group’s dreams of a unique restaurant.
As the restaurant’s doors were about to swing open Stoike’s blood began to race. The normally laid-back guy took off his ball cap and ruffled his light brown hair.
The details! Crews of 10 to 20 people still swarmed over the restaurant laying tile and waxing floors. Stoike mentally compared the scene to an old-fashioned barn raising. Inspectors jotted notes as workers slipped aside. Health inspectors surveyed the new kitchen as someone else hung a restroom soap dispenser. Nevertheless, the fledgling group had done what observers said could not possibly happen! They had created a new restaurant from the dust and forged relationships with local growers to support their initiative in only four months.
Even detractors had to admit, the restaurant looked sleek. Replete with vaulted ceilings, upscale bar and alfresco dining, the result was impressive.
“The vision has existed amongst our group since those college days of idealism,” Stoike explains. The group included fellow student Jason Mann (PhD, ’09) and four community members. Jerid Grandinetti, Kate Smith (on sabbatical from undergraduate studies) Tamar Adler and Olivia Sargeant were set to expand the Athens culinary scene with their progressive foray into Slow Food. Farm 255 was an unusual moniker for a nightspot and eatery. It refers to the venture’s farm, the Full Moon Cooperative.
A Community-Supported Agricultural program (or CSAA), Full Moon is an eight-acre plot leased from Carl Jordan, a professor at UGA’s Institute of Ecology. Jordan’s 100-acre farm, steeped in the principles of progressive and organic agriculture, initially attracted several of Farm 255’s owners to Athens. Jordan mentored the students as their ideas took form.
The students’ leased field hosted organic seed-saving workshops for small-scale farmers, seminars on permaculture and an accredited UGA course called “Organic Farming and the Ethics of Sustainability.” There, the co-op members practiced a no-till approach to farming. They minimized their imprint on the earth, coaxing crops to maturity without chemicals. Inside the restaurant, organic became a mantra. Diners heard recitations of how menu features reflected nature’s cycles and seasons.
“What Jason and I are doing dovetails with our research,” Stoike explains. “His in restorative agro-ecology and outreach, mine in political ecology, ethics and policy.” Mann, Stoike adds, is the most dedicated to farming as a lifestyle and the business visionary.
The group pondered other components, too, considering musical, cultural and political activities to host (such as a Farm Aid event last Halloween.) Stoike weighed how best to structure the “flow of influences” significant to each.
“We are looking to make the place more of a gathering place for the community, not just a hot venue for a nice dinner or bar scene, but a place to really pass time, connect with different and like-minds, scuttlebutt, whatever. Ways that this will begin to take place include regular themed dinners with speakers on progressive matters related to food, agriculture, culture, sustainability.” Mann wants to integrate Full Moon more fully by having employees of Farm 255 work in the fields or sell produce from a stand in the restaurant’s courtyard.
Stoike’s ideas germinated years earlier in a Berkeley co-op. Communal meals fed the students on a level he had never before experienced. “At the co-op we shopped at the Berkeley farmer’s markets and made meals every night in a commercial-grade kitchen for upwards of 50 people.”
Passion and tradition fused with politics when Stoike and fellow students started a catering company in the San Francisco area (home of Slow Food devotee Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panise.) The caterers created everything from chanterelle risotto to pit-cooked brisket, sourcing the foods served from collectively run farms and tiny “backyard gardens.”
“Two of my Berkeley buddies, Jason and Jerid, were the first to move to Athens to farm on Professor Jordan’s land.” They dubbed their new co-op Full Moon. Stoike graduated and traveled before joining his friends at Full Moon. Several of them had prior experience in either catering or wine businesses and decided to gamble on a restaurant.
The partners sourced foods from area farms, inviting organic meats and vegetables. Stoike is proudest that “If they were not grown by us at Full Moon, they were grown by hands that we have shaken.” The enterprise is a hit, according to reviews, and the Farm 255 concept might spread to other towns.
“Clearly, we saw the right ingredients, so to speak, here in Athens. Farming can happen anywhere, and at some point will probably need to happen almost everywhere. It would just look very different depending on the ecological and social conditions. We would take those same principles to set up shop anywhere else.”
The Endangered Farmlands of America
Farm 255 is open Tuesday - Sunday and is located
at 255 W. Washington Street in Athens, Georgia