Jean-Pierre Marechal grew up in Belgium, where the connection to the terroir and farmer is very closely linked. As the Executive Chef at the Charlotte Marriott City Center, Chef Marechal was constantly looking for the best possible ingredients to serve in Savannah Red. Yet finding the variety he was looking for was always a challenge. Surrounded by fertile lands and the Blue Ridge Mountains, why was it so hard to find great produce? The answer was found in the reality that for years the area supported the now shuttered textile mills and tobacco/cotton farms, not produce. In February 2007, Jean-Pierre met with “Foothills Connect”, a North Carolina Business and Technology Center dedicated to supporting the development and growth of small businesses and entrepreneurship in Rutherford County. Their goal: establish broadband connectivity to small farm families and create a market for their products to keep them in business. With Jean Pierre’s guidance, the Farmers Fresh Market Project was launched, linking local small farmers with a network of chefs and restaurants.
Upon the first delivery of food from Rutherford County farmers – curly mustard greens that had been picked just that morning – Chef Marechal saw the immense possibilities of the project. Since then, The project has grown to include over 65 farmers who now grow specifically for local chefs, some even setting aside acreage for specific chefs.
Here’s how it works: Jean Pierre views the available products in Rutherford County on www.farmersfreshmarket.org. Jean-Pierre talks regularly with most of the 65 farmers on the site, and often knows what is likely being offered. Though many do not have the resources needed to document their practices for organic certification, these farms do live the credo of organic. Call it sensibly organic if you will. Selecting the farmers and products via the site, the orders are delivered to the hotel twice a week. Jean–Pierre also visits the local schools, working with the students and kids of the farmers, completing the journey food takes from farm to fork. The menus of Savanah Red and many catering events are teeming with fresh vegetables, local jams and honey previously unknown to the lucky guests of Charlotte Marriott City Center. You will also find local produce in the kitchens of the Charlotte Renaissance, as the farmers of Rutherford County can grow a whole bunch of vegetables!
The summer of 2008 has been the first full growing season in this fledgling project, but already clearly a success: food is fresher, more vibrant and nutritious. Food costs are stable. Local farmers are now seeing financial benefit of specialized farming, selling their product in the community they live. Information technology is being used in homes previously unwired.
This program really is fantastic, and I am hopeful we can take what Jean Pierre has accomplished into other areas of the country, bringing our farmers and our chefs closer together.
What’s on YOUR plate today??
What you did is fantastic congratulations and all the best.