From Table to Farm: A Story of Giving Back to Farmers
September 6, 2015
The term “Farm to Table” was created in response to the growing desire of people to know where their food comes from and how it is prepared. Farm to table is more than just taking produce from a farm and putting it on your table, however; it’s fundamentally about how the produce is raised, how the farmer is compensated and who creates the final product that ends up on your plate.
But what of the term “Table to Farm?” What can both chefs and diners do to give back to the farmers who work so hard to feed us year round, and how can the farmer identify with them? Whether their farm is local to its customers or located in a rural community in the heart of this country, all farmers deserve recognition for their desire to master humanity’s most necessary craft.
Since 2007, we have partnered with several businesses in the food industry to raise money for the Next Generation Scholarship Fund, a fund that helps pay for the higher education of students from Niman Ranch family farms. This scholarship has awarded over 100 students, the majority seeking degrees in agriculture to return as the next generation on their farm.
One of these award winners is 19-year old Anthony Scheer of the Scheer Family Farm in Iowa. He was given the David Serfling Memorial Scholarship in 2014, which is awarded to the top applicant each year.
Anthony has been raising hogs sustainably and humanely for Niman Ranch since he was 12 years old. That makes him the youngest farmer we have ever worked with! His father started raising hogs with him in 2012, and now they work side-by-side when Anthony finishes class at Kirkwood Community College. He’s considering earning his bachelor’s degree at Iowa State, but he may start farming right after his time at Kirkwood. His long term plan is to expand his partnership with his dad to raise 2,000 head of hogs per year for Niman Ranch.
Over the last seven years and entirety of his teens, Anthony worked hard to do well in school while working hard in his free time to satisfy his passion for farming. In recognition of his strong commitment, we offered him an opportunity that goes beyond helping him pay for college. Anthony accepted an internship this summer at one of our sow farms in Illinois, where we raise mother and baby hogs for farmers who are unable to do so on their own farm.
“I learned an abundance of ways to be more efficient on our family farm, along with helpful breeding tips and techniques,” says Anthony. “I would encourage any student who is considering a career in niche market swine production to participate in an internship with Niman Ranch.”
Even though the internship proved meaningful to Anthony, we felt it just wasn’t enough! We also offered him the chance to travel across the country to see firsthand how businesses we work with raise money from their tables to give back to farm families like his.
A Young Farmer’s Journey From Table To Farm
This summer, Anthony left his internship to attend Next Generation Scholarship fundraising events in Florida, Arizona and Colorado. These three events were held by five chefs, two meat distributors and one natural foods grocer. All of them volunteered a lot of time and effort to host these events, which greatly contributed to the $50,000 we raised this year for scholarship awards.
Pig & Pickle, Scottsdale, AZ
Anthony’s first fundraising stop was at Pig & Pickle in Scottsdale, AZ. Owner and Executive Chef Keenan Bosworth was a featured chef at our Farmer Appreciation Dinner the same year Anthony won his David Serfling Memorial Scholarship, so it was a warm reunion for the two. There were a lot of firsts for Anthony on this trip – it was his first time traveling west of Iowa, seeing a cactus, representing Niman Ranch as a farm ambassador and his first time trying octopus!
Chef Gio Osso of Virtu and Matt Taylor of Gertrude’s joined Chef Keenan at Pig & Pickle to serve 44 people a five course meal featuring Niman Ranch products. All three of the chefs involved source our products through Sterling Institutional Food Service, one of the family-owned and operated distributors we work closely with.
“What made this event so unique was how they had three chefs cooking!” says Anthony. “It never ceases to amaze me how well these guys work together when they might be expected to compete against one another.” The teamwork he witnessed this first experience made it all the more meaningful.
Marczyk Fine Foods, Denver, CO
Niman Ranch has been working with Marczyk Fine Foods since 2001. Pete and Paul Marczyk are two brothers who have a deep passion for good food, and good people. Their business has expanded to two locations on the east side of Denver as they’ve grown to become the premier natural grocer in the city. They offer both local and sustainable products and only sell Niman Ranch meats.
The Marczyk’s have been hosting their Eat a Burger, Fund a Farmer event for the last four years in a row. This is a twist on their locally-famous Burger Night, which runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day. They donate through burger purchases, a “round-up” call to action at their registers and through the sale of a special pork sandwich dedicated to the scholarship fundraiser.
The Marczyk family also hosted a private dinner the night prior with 20 of their loyal customers. “As the evening continued, I became closer with everyone and began to realize their passion for food,” Anthony remembers. “They care about the animal’s environment, the animal’s diet and especially the humane treatment of our livestock. It was an eye opening experience for me.”
When all was said and done, the private dinner and proceeds from both grocery stores raised their highest donation yet – over $12,000!
Parkshore Grill, St. Petersburg, FL
Anthony’s last stop on his Table to Farm journey was on the western coast of Florida. He was greeted by the Niman Ranch team with tickets to a Tampa Bay Rays game – the first MLB game he’s been to since he started raising hogs at age twelve! It was a perfect start to the trip.
This final Next Generation Scholarship fundraising dinner was hosted by Executive Chef Tyson Grant of Parkshore Grill and Executive Chef Jason Cline of The Birchwood, both of whom were a Niman Ranch Featured Chef in years past. The pair joined forces for the first time last year and continued this new tradition with a phenomenal five course meal. The dinner was a sell-out. Over 55 people came together to meet Anthony and support the scholarship fund for the second year in a row.
Beyond sharing his own experiences with guests, he made a meaningful connection and learned from the experiences of others:
“I love meeting new people, so that’s always a highlight on these trips; this one especially because I met Steve Westphal and his wife Nancy. Steve is the owner of The Parkshore Grill. We spoke throughout the meal about several things – Niman Ranch, my experiences on the farm and his successes. I learned a lot from this man about building my own business and enjoying what I do. I am looking forward to Steve and Nancy visiting later this year during their RV trip!”
The Niman Ranch team feels fortunate to have given Anthony the chance to experience a broader perspective of the food system and learn about what happens to livestock once it leaves his farm. From his internship to his time on the road, we appreciate the time and work Anthony put into helping us give back to farmers, from table to farm. We look forward to continuing our commitment year after year as we come together with businesses across the country to support the next generation of farmers.