This article was featured in "TOWN Carolina" magazine. Laurens County's own Crescent Farm was given a spotlight. For the full article, visit https://towncarolina.com/article/hands-feed-us/.
Check out the excerpt on Margie Levine and Crescent Farm:
THE HANDS THAT FEED US
Local growers have been producing sustainable food for centuries, but the symbiotic connection between farmer and chef has finally taken hold.
by M. Linda Lee // photography by Paul Mehaffey
“Eating,” as poet, environmental activist, and farmer Wendell Berry penned in one of his essays, “is an agricultural act.” Be it vegetables that sprout directly from the dirt or animals who forage on green pastures, our food finds its roots in the soil—soil that is tilled, sowed, and cared for by farmers.
In the Upstate these days, you don’t have to go far to find fresh, delicious, nutrient-packed food without the worry of salmonella-contaminated eggs or E. coli–tainted beef. A cornucopia of local farmer’s markets offer just-picked produce and pasture-raised meat and eggs. More and more, area restaurants are turning to local farms to find the highest-quality ingredients, the availability of which is made possible by cultivating the relationships between local chefs and farmers.
When Jeff Kelly took the reins at Stella’s Brasserie a little over a year ago, he adopted the farm-to-table philosophy of the restaurant’s owner, Chef Jason Scholz. He also happily inherited the network of local farmers who have steadily supplied Stella’s Bistro in Simpsonville for years with fresh-from-the-field vegetables, fruit, meat, and milk.
One of Stella’s longest-standing relationships is with Margie Levine of Crescent Farm in Clinton. Levine, a New Englander who took over the six-acre, certified organic operation from Daniel Parsons (Parson’s Produce) in 2014, has farmed for most of her adult life. What draws her? “The smell of a dairy barn, the taste of a tomato, the calmness, the mucking around in the ground all day.”
Diggin It // Margie Levine owns Crescent Farm in Clinton, SC, which she procured from former owner Daniel Parsons (of Parson’s Produce) in 2014. She grows a variety of vegetables that she picks, washes, and packs herself, selling to area chefs such as Jeff Kelly at Stella’s Brasserie.
Levine farms year-round, growing 35 to 40 types of vegetables of different varieties—carrots, turnips, squash, tomatoes, greens, brassicas (veggies such as broccoli and cauliflower), sweet potatoes—about two-thirds of which go to local restaurants (Levine doesn’t participate in any markets this year, but she does offer a CSA, a weekly share in the farm’s produce). Every January she sits down with her chefs and asks them what they want her to grow for the coming year. “It’s like fashion,” she observes, “there are always new peppers coming out, or different colors of vegetables appearing every year.” On Wednesday afternoons, Levine delivers her vegetables to 13 different places, Stella’s Brasserie among them. “Margie is one of the most laid-back, easy-going, sweetest people I’ve ever met,” Jeff Kelly crows. “She’s my go-to. I can call her and say ‘I’m in a bind, can you bring some turnips to me?’ And she’ll do it if she can. Seeing her always brightens my day.”
Frequent contact, be it via email, phone, or face-to-face, enhances the mutual trust between farmer and chef. “Jeff knows when he orders from me that it’s going to be what he wants, he knows how it’s going to look, he knows it’s going to taste delicious,” says Levine. “He’s come to expect that from me.” If Jeff requests turnips that are two inches in diameter, Levine can oblige him because she’s the one who picks, washes, packs, and delivers all her vegetables.
“When Margie comes in and lays things out, it’s like an adrenaline rush. It sparks that fire of creativity, no matter what she brings,” Chef Jeff Kelly declares. “I use these products out of love and respect for what these farmers do,” he says. “They work a lot harder than I do.”
Roughly 40 percent of the local produce Kelly uses at Stella’s Brasserie comes from Crescent Farm. Margie’s arugula tops the carpaccio. Her mustard and chard greens figure in the chicken and the pork chop entrées. Her kale complements the catfish dish. “I tell Jeff I have the next batch of arugula coming in next week and it looks really great,” she notes, “so he feels like he’s part of the farm because he knows what’s going on.”
“It makes me proud of somebody that puts so much love into a product they’re bringing to me, and that inspires me to put just as much love into that dish,” Kelly says. To help him plan his seasonal menu, he asks Margie in winter what she has in the ground that will be available in spring and summer.
“When Margie comes in and lays things out, it’s like an adrenaline rush. It sparks that fire of creativity, no matter what she brings,” Kelly declares. Since Margie and other local farmers support him, the chef believes it’s important that his guests know not only that what’s on their plate is local, but also who grows it. “I use these products out of love and respect for what these farmers do,” he says. “They work a lot harder than I do.”
Margie’s arugula tops Chef Jeff Kelly’s carpaccio at Stella’s Brasserie