A few months ago I e-mailed Bon Appétit Executive Chef Patrick Cassada at Wheaton College and asked him to connect me with one of his Farm to Fork partners. What he sent me instead was an entire family tree of farmers in central Illinois who work with Bon Appétit.
Ham, bacon, sausage, and ribs at Wheaton College come from Tom Ifft out in Fairbury, IL. Tom’s brother Tim, in Piper City, produces whole chickens which are then used by the Wheaton College kitchens. In addition, Tom and Tim’s cousin Matt (also in Fairbury) sells dairy products to Chef Patrick, and his cousin, Mark (Strawn, IL) produces mixed greens and basil.
As Patrick said, “Nothing like keeping it in the family, huh?”
He continued, “These all are truly fantastic people and we are so proud to be in a partnership with them.” His enthusiasm for these farmers was contagious; I couldn’t wait to meet them. So I immediately called up the brother duo, Tom and Tim Ifft, and drove up for a visit.
Both Tom and Tim grew up in central Illinois farm country. As they got older and got married, their paths diverged… slightly. Tom chose to work with hogs, founding Twin Oak Meats with his wife Amy, while Tim opted to work with turkeys and chickens, founding TJ’s Pastured Free Range Poultry with his wife, Julie. While their day-to-day activities do differ somewhat, when I asked the brother duo how often they get to see each other, they grinned, gave each other a knowing look, and replied, “Every day!”
Tom and Tim Ifft both run true “family farm” operations. Tim’s egg business exemplifies this; when I visited, he showed me what happens after the eggs are collected. First they must be cleaned, and then candled. (Candling is a process of holding a light or candle near the egg to see the inner contents and to determine if the egg is fertilized). All of this is a three-person job, involving Tim, his wife Julie, and their son Braden.
Both Tom and Tim raise their animals without hormones or the routine use of antibiotics as a feed additive. In addition, I can personally attest that the result of their work is nothing short of delicious. My mouth still waters at the thought of the chicken pita and ham sandwiches I had after visiting Tom and Tim’s farms! It’s no wonder Patrick makes such a big deal about buying their products. In fact, Patrick and Bon Appétit are responsible for about 15% of Tom’s overall sales, and about 35% of Tim’s overall sales.
And Tom and Tim couldn’t be happier with the business. I spent the day with the two brothers, and they were singing Patrick’s praises the entire time. Tom summed their sentiments up well in an email after my visit:
Bon Appétit Wheaton College works hand in hand with us as farmers and makes it possible for us to bring our local, sustainable pork to the students. They are rated #1 Best Campus Food in the nation 2012, which everyone at Bon Appétit should be proud of, especially Chef Patrick Cassata. He is a great asset to Bon Appétit and Wheaton College. The relationship Patrick and I have built thru your Farm to Fork program has helped us grow our business, been educational as well as foster a friendship. Keep up the great effort it takes to run such a fantastic and necessary program.