A guest post by Dan Bammes
When we pulled up to Will Pitkin’s home in Hyde Park, just north of Logan, he greeted us with an heirloom tomato variety in his hand – a yellow tomato called Kellogg’s Breakfast.
It’s just one of the many varieties he grows in his big backyard garden. His favorite is Brandywine, which he says is a “popular old heirloom, a large, large ugly tomato. It looks like somebody just took a wad of dough and just mashed it in.”
The Brandywines and other tomatoes on his place do find appreciation in the local community, along with the 20 or so varieties of garlic he grows and the eggs his chickens provide every day. Pitkin has been trading them for years with some of the restaurants in Logan and reaping the benefits in wonderful meals prepared by talented chefs.
Ted Mathesius is the executive chef at Hamilton’s Steak and Seafood Restaurant in Logan. He’s an enthusiastic buyer of local produce. With some larger producers, he’ll pay market price. With individuals like Will Pitkin, he trades for credit. Will says he got about $350 in credit last year and enjoyed eating at Hamilton’s as often as he could. He’s traded with several other restaurants as well, and with Caffe Ibis he even got a bonus – chaff left over from roasting coffee beans that he’s used for mulch in his garden.
Mathesius says the produce he gets from growers in Cache County is just amazing, though dealing with a number of individual growers is more work than just buying from one or two wholesalers. And he says his customers really appreciate what he can put on their plates. “I wish I could do it all year long,” he says, conceding that Cache Valley winters interrupt the supply.
The quality of local produce has made an impression on skeptics as well. Will pulled up to an Italian restaurant in Logan once with a crate of cantaloupes. The chef was sitting on the back steps and immediately dismissed the idea, saying nobody in Utah grows good melons. But Will persuaded him to smell one, and that night, the restaurant special was prosciutto with cantaloupe.
Will Pitkin has been gardening his whole life. He remembers hauling buckets of water uphill at age 8 to irrigate squash plants in El Monte, California.
“I never met a gardener I didn’t like,” he says. Watching things grow is part of the reward, but he says “There’s also the wonderful reward of having a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with a tomato fresh out of the garden.”
Hear Dan’s radio story about Will Pitkin and other old-time farmers here.