By Jeff Romig
WINDER – Farmer Cass gently pulled the baby carrot out of the soil, and pinched it between his fingers.
With a slight twist, the dirt crumbled away.
“Try this,” the owner of Finch Creek Farm in Winder recommended. “The flavor’s ridiculous.”
Farmer Cass might as well be giving out candy.
Biting into the fresh-as-possible carrot gives a subtle snap followed by a burst of sweetness.
He ships 50 to 100 pounds of this deliciousness to restaurants in Atlanta and Athens on a weekly basis.
This Sunday night these Finch Creek Farm carrots (as well as Farmer Cass’ turnips), will be on the menu at Gunshow’s “Passing the Torch” dinner, where Chef Kevin Gillespie will unveil his restaurant’s new chef to a dining room full of Cast Iron & Collards Society diners.
This group will be the first group to meet Gunshow’s new chef and devour a five-course meal to celebrate the occasion. Executive Chef Joey Ward is leaving soon to lead his dual-branded dining experience –restaurant and cocktail bar Southern Belle, and speakeasy-chefs counter, Georgia Boy – which will open in the Plaza Theater Complex on Ponce de Leon later in 2019.
Georgia Organics created CI&CS to make sure that Atlanta food enthusiasts are able to meet the people who grow and prepare their food, while supporting the work Georgia Organics does to support farmers.
Farmer Cass has worked with the Gunshow crew for years, and also supplies a number of Ford Fry’s restaurants, Deborah VanTrece’s Twisted Soul, Cooks & Soldiers, White Bull, Five & Ten in Athens and many more. Finch Creek Farm services as many as 31 restaurants, but “not all at the same time.”
“I hit it off really well with Joey and Kevin,” recalled Farmer Cass, who has been farming a mix of seasonal vegetables on seven acres of land in Winder since 2011.
After Farmer Cass first began selling collards to Revival, Kevin loved the quality of Farmer Cass’ product, and a friendship was born. That’s why Kevin wanted to spotlight Farmer Cass and Finch Creek Farm for this dinner.
“That was awesome, coming from Kevin,” Farmer Cass remembered. “He’s gotta be one of the top ten in the nation. He’s an elite chef.”
On a daily basis, Farmer Cass is “super-focused” on food safety and being respectful to the food with a routine of delivering to his restaurant partners within 30 hours of being picked.
“That’s how fresh it is,” he said.
Farmer Cass also focuses as much on the integrity with which he runs his business as the quality of his product. Because of excessive rain, his radishes have presently “turned to mush.” But, he knows his customers are counting on him, so transparency and communication are key.
“I gotta make a couple of phone calls,” he said of touching base with chefs at least 24 hours in advance. “It gives them an opportunity to go get radishes.”
On the flip side, if he gets a last minute call from a chef, he does whatever he can to deliver on their request.
“I come out here, pick it, wash it, pack it, and tell them I’ll be there in three hours,” he said. “When you do that kind of stuff, they stick with you. That’s just old school business. It’s not about the buck.”
Farmer Cass left his position as an electrician for Publix to focus on running Finch Creek Farm in June 2013.
This work is in his blood. He grew up on a farm in Southern Wisconsin where they had dairy, beef, corn, soy beans, and a large garden.
“My grandfather had a green thumb,” he said. “We didn’t spray any chemicals on plants. He believed the fertilizer was in the ground. We just kept growing the way we were growing. It didn’t have to be organic.”
Finch Creek Farm is a Certified Naturally Grown operation, and Farmer Cass works daily to focus on being a steward of his land through sustainable farming the way his grandfather taught him.
“I love doing this,” he said. “It’s no longer a job.”