A few years ago, the partners behind The Hornet looked around at small, upscale restaurants that were getting into farming and began to wonder, "Why not us?"
"Other restaurants were having success as far as farm-to-table," Sean Workman, the Hornet's general manager, explains, "but it doesn't just have to be the small restaurants. Bigger restaurants can do it well, too, and it doesn't have to be high-end."
So they began hatching a plot to plant on one of the partner's Platte River-facing property in Brighton, where they established the Platte Crossing Farm. And at first, admits Workman, it was an experiment. "For the last few years, we've said, 'We're gonna grow this stuff and see how we can use it,'" he explains. "We'd get twenty pounds of basil one week. What do you do with that? We'd say, 'Okay, we guess we'll make some pesto.'"
This year, though, is different. "We're getting our hands around exactly what we're trying to do," says Workman. "We're more planned out, we're learning as we go, but this is our break-out year. We're trying to do it and do it right, and it's all planned out as far as utilization."
That's mostly thanks to a couple of new farmers, Andrew and Alex Helling. "They've been running a C.S.A. up in South Dakota for many years," Workman divulges. "This year, they were looking for land to farm down in Denver. They're helping us grow our stuff and helping us with new techniques, and they're sharing the land."
The Hellings have planted a wide variety of 100 percent organic and GMO-free crops, including greens, French green beans, heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, bok choy, onions, radishes, kale, swiss chard and herbs like cilantro, parsley and lavender. The irrigation system also allows them to plant things like sugar baby watermelon; an additional plot, added this year, will be devoted to dry crops like sweet potatoes and parsnips.
And, says Workman, the restaurant feeds its land with compost from its restaurant, which also provides food for the dozens of hens that roam the property, providing the restaurant with 120 to 150 farm-fresh eggs per week. "The hope is to eventually carry that through brunch," says the GM. "We want to do 100 percent farm-fresh eggs."
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In addition to using the produce at the restaurant, the Hellings and The Hornet are doing a C.S.A., which has room for fifty clients. "We're working out of Zook's in Highland," Workman says. "We're helping the community get better stuff, and we're trying to do it without asking everyone to pay an arm and a leg. We're doing it on a large enough scale to pass on all the benefits. We're creating awareness."
Workman says the big harvests of the season will start at the beginning of June, though thanks to this year's early growing system, the restaurant harvested its first crop yesterday, pulling arugula and greens for use in salads.
You can follow the progress of the farm -- and join the C.S.A. -- on the Platte Crossing website.