Chef Greg Collier and his wife Subrina, owners of Rock Hill’s The Yolk Café, took the helm in the kitchen for Nation Ford’s Future Farmers of America recent Farm to Fork dinner for the second year in a row.
Organized by FFA adviser Lee Pettigrew and FFA students and parents, the event brings local farmers and the community to the table to share a meal and showcase locally-produced foods.
More than 100 guests attended this year’s sold-out event, held at Saint John’s United Methodist Church. Featured producers were Springs Farm and The Breadsmith in Fort Mill; Tega Hills Farm in Tega Cay; Thames Farm in Fort Lawn; HerMan Jerseys in Chester; Watson Farms Beef, Brown Farm and Manor Oaks Farm in Lowrys; and The Pennell Barn, Bush-N-Vine and Black’s Peaches in York.
“I think we’re creating the epitome of what an eating experience is supposed to be,” said Greg Collier, whose personal career goal is to grow The Yolk into a chef-driven, locally-sourced breakfast franchise.
“I’ve been trying to do a lot more York County stuff. I can get stuff from anywhere, but I want people to see – even the farmers –what you can do with it. It’s important for me to work with the farmers,” said Collier, who established working relationships with growers at The Pennell Barn and others to source heirloom veggies and more obscure things such as fairy tale eggplant, broccoli flowers and celtuce, also known as stem lettuce or celery lettuce.
“Business is built to be profitable, but as a chef, as a craftsman, as an artisan at any level, if you’re not trying to put out the best possible product, you’re doing it wrong,” he said.
“A lot of people preach local, local, local. The community needs to understand this is important. When you see 30 different types of tomato – stuff is just good. When people treat their animals right, that’s serious. Humane treatment is important. The way people treat products when they love those products versus when it’s just about cash makes a difference. As a chef, I feel like it just takes the clientele understanding. We teach people about stuff, and then when they go to the farmers market, they know. People are learning. I teach people and I learn from them.”
The centerpiece of the Colliers’ restaurant is the community table – a long table with 10 chairs lined up on each side. Diners grab a spot where they can. Like Farm to Fork, the focus is on bringing people together, Greg Collier says.
“The communal aspect of passed plates is the community sense of what eating used to be. We bring people together who wouldn’t normally be together anyway. People need to talk. People need to be near each other. People need to be around each other,” he said.
“Let’s start with from the things we all like. Everybody likes food. People are going to come in, and they’re going to sit together, and they’re going to like it. There was a time when knowledge was shared freely, and that builds a community. It’s bigger than race, creed or nationality. We win when we bridge that gap and make those connections. I’m not trying to change the world with food, but we all should be trying and this is the thing I know best. These are the connections that matter. It’s important to start that at the beginning. As a 15-year-old in Fort Mill, you can go into big agriculture, or you can go into local agriculture. You can do what you want.”
While Greg Collier’s passion is for food, Subrina’s is for people. Farm to Fork is an important event to take part in, she said.
“Each year I think it’s going to grow. It gives the kids a chance to see if this is something they want to do. This gives them an inside look at what they’re learning. I’m going to show you how you can apply it. If I can get to one kid, it makes a difference,” she said.
Adviser Pettigrew said her students gave up championship games and other activities to serve at the May 5 dinner.
“Our future is in agriculture. That’s what these young people are. They have the vision to pair producers and consumers. This has been a dream for a long time,” Pettigrew said. “We are in our fifth year of producing quality leaders.”
The school’s FFA program won a national award for its work last year with the S.C. Strawberry Festival and is working on a service project to provide a Fort Mill delivery site for the Catawba Fresh Market, a local online farmers market.