Leaving behind a career as a chef in some of Charlotte’s most popular restaurants may sound risky at best. But doing so to instead run your own farm? That’s a real leap of faith – and one that Jamie Swofford, fondly known as “the chef’s farmer,” took with abandon. To be certain, farming isn’t an easy choice for a lifestyle. He is up at 4:30 a.m. every day, has minimal help, leaves his livelihood wholly up to the rain and the crop conditions, and covers everything for his business from the accounting to the delivery.
But for Jamie, it’s all about the food. Stepping outside of the culinary spotlight – from his former gigs at Mimosa Grill, Upstream and Zink – allowed him to pursue a new path that actually brought him closer to fulfilling his mission: He didn’t become a farmer because it was “trendy or cool,” rather he wanted to be connected to his ingredients and to learn firsthand about what we eat.
Jamie always wanted to be a chef. He grew up eating typical Southern fare cultivated from his own backyard and the positive experiences food afforded — from church lunches to family reunions and family suppers – captivated him. But by the time twenty years in the kitchen passed him by, Jamie felt he wasn’t as in touch with the ingredients as he’d longed to be, and he had grown tired of “[seeing] boxes of food come through the doors and not knowing where they came from.”
So Jamie left and decided to head straight to the source. He moved back to his family’s farm and started growing ingredients for high-end, chef-owned restaurants. Today, he sells his lovingly harvested goods to about 20-25 of the people who work in the same industry he’s felt so connected to: Piedmont-area chefs.
“I feel like I work with the same intensity still. I don’t know how to run a farm, but I know how to run a kitchen, and so that’s how I run my business. Just like hospitality, it’s about feeding people, educating them, and making people happy,” Jamie explains.
One of the major goals Swofford has pursued is to work his land in a way that’s environmentally sustainable, leaving the smallest possible footprint. Planting greens and petite garnish-type greens are one of his most popular sells, but he also provides plenty of other greens, roots vegetables, and edible flowers. All the crops are chef-ready and high-quality, with direct oversight from Swofford every single day, through every stage that happens on the fields. If it’s not perfect? Swofford won’t sell it.
“I grow great ingredients because it makes sense,” he says. “To grow food locally means that I create the smallest footprint from field to plate, which means that the food…will be the best quality.”
Jamie is effusive about one of his favorite parts of his new role: watching the transformation from the ingredients he drops off into a beautiful culinary creation.
Although you won’t be seeing Jamie holed up in a restaurant kitchen anymore, you will see his high-quality, fresh ingredients gracing menus in beloved restaurants all over Charlotte. The restaurants who buy the local goods are doing something more than just supporting farming – they are, Jamie tells us, actually serving a true taste of place.