Inspired by his grandfather’s farming methods—diversified, with no genetically modified seeds and all heritage-breed cows and pigs—former construction worker Nate Parks and his wife, Emily, operate Silverthorn Farm on 120 acres of cropland just east of Lafayette. There, Parks applied his familial knowledge to revitalize the depleted soil for his organic farm, and the couple now grow greens and heirloom tomatoes for top Indy restaurants such as Cerulean, where executive chef Alan Sternberg uses Silverthorn produce in his inventive dishes.
What does a farm like Silverthorn get out of working with local chefs?
Parks: About a third of my business is restaurants now. The rest goes to the Broad Ripple Farmers Market and the CSA. Selling to chefs really stabilizes our income. We know chefs will always need our vegetables and will often use things we can’t sell at the markets. This year Alan asked me to grow cucamelons, a tiny Latin American variety that tastes like cucumber. It makes the job more fun.
Sternberg: I really appreciate that Nate texts me on Mondays and Thursdays to let me know what he will have and never tries to give me more than I need. Sometimes I’ll use some special things for an amuse bouche, but I have a menu to plan and can’t change it at the last minute. Last summer, when we got so much rain, his tomatoes were literally bursting on the vines, and we couldn’t use them. But Nate called us right away, and we were able to work around it.
Why should chefs visit the farms where their produce is grown?
Sternberg: I’m going to take the Italian approach here and say that to make great food, you have to have great food. I know Nate cares as much about the product and what it will look like on the plate as I do, but coming out to the farm allows me to see that. Nate treats his produce with the care I take with my dishes. Whenever his cherry-tomato mix comes into the kitchen, I can hardly keep my cooks from eating them all.
Parks: There aren’t enough local farms to supply restaurants’ needs, and we’ll still have food deserts until a lot more farms start producing. Having chefs visit us lets them see our part of that effort for themselves.
Sternberg: Though I’ve always been around kitchens, I’m relatively new to food. It wasn’t until college that I realized this was what I needed to be doing. I’ve seen so many people working with their hands, from the farmers to my cooks. I’d really like to use more native clover and rye in my cooking to help us figure out who we are as a culinary state. I see that as where my career is going—to grow and push our food culture forward.