On Monday, a bakers’ dozen of chefs and restaurant professionals joined Chefs Collaborative and Pioneer Valley-based Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) in Granby, MA for a unique backstage peek at  Red Fire Farm.  Red Fire, a vibrant & diversified organic farm, supplies restaurants all over the Pioneer Valley and the Boston area.  They also run a CSA, two farm stands, and attend farmers’ markets in Boston and Springfield.  Farmers Ryan and Sarah Voiland grow over 300 varieties of vegetables, fruits, and flowers, including many of the heirloom varieties in the RAFT Grow-Out.

Sarah prepares tomato samples

Upon arriving at Red Fire Farm, we all piled onto a rickety wooden haywagon pulled by a tractor driven by Ryan.  After a brief delay involving a flat tire, we were off!  Sarah rode in the wagon with us and sliced up samples of tomatoes.  We toured the squash patch and the lettuce fields, and then hopped off to see the Gilfeather Turnips, one of the RAFT heirloom vegetables.  Ryan explained he’s been growing the turnips (which, by the way, are really rutabegas) for a number of years due to their excellent flavor and storage ability.

From there we headed off to a favorite farm destination: the melon patch.  We sampled Ali Baba and Moon and Stars watermelon, along with Red Fire favorite Little Baby Flower.  After we got back to the main farm stand area, we toured through the greenhouses, marvelling at the height of the tomato plants towering over our heads. Ryan told us how he grafts tomatoes over the winter, merging the roots of a hardy, disease-resistant variety with the top half of a tomato variety known for its delicious fruits.  The two halves grow together to make superbly healthy, robust and productive plants.

We went on to take a look at the beans, including heirloom varieties Marfax and True Red Cranberry, two traditional New England dry bean varieties.  Finally we ended up at the ground cherry patch. Ground cherries are small tomatillo-like fruits that grow inside a little paper husk and explode in your mouth with a sweet burst of almost tropical flavor.

Ryan explains grafting in the greenhouse

Participants from Henrietta’s Table, Prana Cafe, Bon Appetit cafe, and a number of other area restaurants and cafes agreed it was a hugely interesting and educational, not to mention delicious, day on the farm. It even made the local news- watch the video!

For anyone who is sorry they missed out, you can see and taste Red Fire Farm for yourself at their upcoming Tomato Festival on August 28, which features a 5K “Tomato Trot,” a lineup of local bands, workshops, chef demos, and of course, tomato tastings.

Sampling ground cherries at the end of the tour