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Finger Lakes Chefs Take to the Garden

Kelly Walker
Finger Lakes Public Radio

A recent article in Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle is just the latest signal that Geneva is developing a big reputation in the region as a culinary destination. Many of the restaurants in Geneva take advantage of the Finger Lakes’ agricultural bounty. When you sit down to a meal, you’re often no far from where some of the ingredients were grown. At four local restaurants, you might be dining on produce that was grown by the chef who prepared it.

On a recent Monday, Sara Meyer, Food Systems Program Manager for Hobart and William Smith College’s Finger Lakes Institute was showing off just a few items growing in the Chef’s Cooperative Garden including an assortment of edible flowers. The garden is tended by chefs who use the produce in their own restaurants. Meyer came up with the idea with Brud Holland of Fox Run Vineyards.

“Brud and I had known each other through our participation in the Finger Lakes Culinary Bounty board. We also coordinate the Harvest Dinner. We just saw an opportunity. Growing projects are coordinated for the campus farm here for Hobart and William Smith Colleges. It just seemed like a natural fit to try and create intersections of relationships between chef’s and other chefs. But, then also having these exclusive menu items that these talented chefs are providing at their venues.”

Credit Kelly Walker / Finger Lakes Public Radio
Finger Lakes Public Radio
Chef Brud Holland of Fox Run Vineyards with an edible flower harvested from the Chef's Collaborative Garden.

The campus farm is Fribolin Farm, operating on 35 acres gifted to the colleges by agricultural entrepreneur and philanthropist Carl Fribolin. In addition to serving as a learning environment for the students, it’s host to events for the public. The day I visited, four of the chefs demonstrated ways to use the produce they’d cultivated. Holland was making a salad including the sunflowers Meyer was showing off earlier.

Alongside Holland the garden is tended by Carl Bray of Geneva on the Lake, Orlando Rodriguez of Veraisons Restaurant at Glenora Wine Cellars and Max Bonacci of The Linden Social Club. Joe Kennedy, the mixologist at The Linden Social Club is also a part of the Chef’s Cooperative Garden. He uses ingredients from the garden in The Linden’s craft cocktails. Meyer hopes that the garden will bring in more chefs in the future.

“I hope that I can keep repeating this. This is just our first year, so I almost think of it as a pilot project. I’m kind of learning as I go as to how to best coordinate, get the word out. I collaborate with the Geneva garden coalition, Growing Geneva Together and that’s another piece of our community in Geneva especially that has an interest in gardening that could benefit from learning from these chefs and just learning about gardening side by side from each other.”

Meyer also hopes to invite the general public to visit the garden again closer to harvest, perhaps with a community meal.

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