Farmer Tales: Cass Fraunfelder

Move over, chefs! Farmers take the spotlight in this new CL series

When we look at the deep purple of a carrot, the gnarled asymmetric form of a beefsteak tomato or the radiant green of fresh-picked okra, we know it wasnbt grown in a restaurant basement or grocery store back room. But for most of us, thatbs where the knowledge ends. Popular culture has idolized the culinary aspects within the lifecycle of our food, yet a crucial side of the story is often missing from the narrative.

Beyond just the name of a produce distributor or even that of a farm, this new series seeks to explore the most conspicuously absent part of the food narrative in Atlanta: where it came from in the first place.B From seed to soil, sweat to sales, the farm story is full of life.B Here, we go straight to the source, introducing you to the farmers themselves and sharing their tales.B

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Life is hard. Itbs no secret.But when youbve narrowly escaped lightning strikes in four of the last five years, lost thousands of tomatoes in half an hour to rampaging pigs or watched 50,000 cucumber plants die overnight from a record heat spell, youbll understand that the struggle is real for farmer Cass Fraunfelder of Finch Creek Farm.

The real story of this farmerbs life is just as flavorful as the Certified Naturally Grown produce he grows on his seven-acre plot in Winder, Georgia. Itbs no surprise that the man who now works close to 100 hours a week started off on the family dairy farm, milking 108 cows twice a day for 18 years. bYoubd come in stinking to church, and they knew what youbd been doing,b Fraunfelder laughs.B

The husky farmer is wearing jean-short overalls. He swings the driver door open, staying seated while letting his left leg plant, treelike, onto the earth. Bottle of Gatorade in hand, he gruffly states that after six years touring the world in a submarine with the U.S. Navy, his journey took a turn when, on a whim, he tore up his manicured neighborhood lawn, replacing it with rows of thousands of tomato, squash and watermelon plants. He turned heads by making a huge profit when he sold all the produce to nurseries and churches.

No value assignedHe remembers sitting down at the dinner table after one of his successful sales in 2010. His wife turned to him and said, bYou need to quit your job and become a full-time farmer.b

And so it began.

Fraunfelder recounts that through a customer, who happened to be a well-connected food blogger, he came into contact with some Atlanta chefs who changed the trajectory of his ambitions. Without a clue of how to price his goods to restaurants, and armed with several coolers of produce, he headed to Decatur to meet chef Drew Belline of Ford Frybs Decatur mainstay No. 246. To the nervous farmerbs great surprise, Belline loved what he saw and purchased all of it, claiming it was bthe best-looking produce he had ever seen.bWord spread quickly, leading to the successful farm-to-restaurant model Fraunfelder employs today, selling to around 25 of the hottest restaurants in the city. bHe is selling to really all the top chefs of Atlanta,b says chef Nolan Wynn of King + Duke. B No value assignedThe distinctiveness ofB Fraunfelder'sB approach lies in the fact that he takes orders from his chefs at the beginning of each season, then grows, harvests and personally delivers on his commitment weekly.B Wynn says that another part of what makes Fraunfelderbs produce special is that he bpicks at the peak ripeness, not just growing it to its biggest size. A lot of his produce is small, but it packs a huge punch.bWalking through his fields, the farmer points out that every row is premeditated for a final destination from the moment of planting. You might even say that his produce was committed to a plate months in advance of that first bite.B To Fraunfelder, the commitment starts with the relationship between a farmer and a chef. bItbs not just about making money out here for me. Itbs about making long-term relationships. I want to be selling to these guys for the next 20 years. Wherever they go.bNo value assignedCraig Richards of St. Cecilia is another loyal customer. bCraig and I are both crazy,b Fraunfelder laughs. bHe said that in order to be a chef, youbve got to be crazy. So, Ibve adopted that slogan. In order to be a farmer, you have got to be crazy.bWhen asked about other local farmers, Fraunfelder says: bTherebs a handful out there that are humble and will teach you stuff. And therebs a bunch of farmers out there, I hate to say this, that are absoluteb&shit heads. They think that what theybre doing is everything. Ibm just going to tell you right now, Ibm not doing this. Yeah, we work out here, but whatbs in this soil is doing it. I donbt grow this stuff. Itbs soil, and God that grows this stuff. Thatbs all there is to it.bB Of course, growing food is anything but easy, especially given the farmerbs commitment to employing only organic processes. bEverybody complains, bItbs hard work!b Well it is hard work, but if you love what you do, you donbt consider it work," saysB Fraunfelder. "Every day I come out here itbs like playing in a big sandbox.bB
You can find Fraunfelderbs produce seasonally at No. 246, Kimball House, Brush, Brickstore Pub, Rising Son, Gunshow, St. Cecilia, Holeman & Finch, Restaurant Eugene, King + Duke, the Optimist, Staplehouse, the Pullmam and Beetlecat, among other local restaurants. www.finchcreekfarm.org.

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