Big changes have come to Gamble Creek Farm, where Ed Chiles has been growing kale, bok choy, cabbage, squash, romaine and other crops for his island restaurants.
The Chiles Restaurant Group recently entered into a consulting and management partnership with Eva and Chris Worden, and shifted all production to organic.
“We were half organic on this farm, and we’re going all organic,” Chiles said.
Produce from the farm supplies his restaurants: the Sandbar in Anna Maria, Beach House in Bradenton Beach and Mar Vista Dockside in Longboat Key.
“This is what I had hoped would happen and is happening,” Chiles said of a several-year courtship to bring the Wordens’ expertise to Gamble Creek Farms.
The Wordens, co-founders of Worden Farm in Punta Gorda, have been growing local, organic produce for farmers markets from Naples to St. Petersburg since 2003.
In December 2017, the Wordens added The Market at Lakewood Ranch to the communities they supply.
The Wordens are recipients of the Florida Innovative Farmer Award and have been recognized as organic farmer experts by the Organic Trade Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Chris Worden said he was attracted to the new challenge by Chiles’ passion for food.
“The chefs have all been good to work with,” Worden said.
Any produce that is not immediately consumed by the restaurants will be pickled or preserved in a restaurant facility on the 26-acre farm property in Parrish.
“If we get too much, we can pickle, can, preserve,” Chiles said. “The goal is to not have to buy another pickle.”
Having a restaurant facility on the farm will help free space in the island restaurants.
“Instead of three people in three different restaurants making cole slaw, we will have one here,” Chiles said.
Chuck Wolfe, recently named chief executive officer of The Chiles Group, said there is a huge benefit with the credibility the Wordens bring to the company.
“They are committed to the quality that our chefs need,” Wolfe said.
Chiles seemed to relish being outside on the farm as he sampled some of his crops.
“The outside of that tractor will make you feel real good inside,” he said, pointing to a John Deere that had been working one of the fields.
Gamble Creek crews harvested more than 300 heads of cabbage one day this week. Some of it would go into cole slaw, some into stuffed cabbage with wild pig, and some into sauerkraut.
Chiles took a bite out of a large squash blossom.
“There is a beautiful zucchini and the squash blossom that comes off it. We’ll stuff that with two parts of riccota, one part goat cheese, a little bit of shallot, and a little bit of lemon zest. Customers love it. This will be part of the vegetable of the day,” Chiles said.
The chefs have been to the farm and Chris Worden has been to see the chefs as the team works to give the restaurants what they need.
“This is a fun project working with Ed and working with the chefs,” Worden said. “The crew at the farm is great.”
Richard Demarse, executive chef at Sandbar Seafood & Spirits, said he is more than pleased by the new arrangement.
“I’m beyond excited that we have partnered with Eva and Chris, and that we will be growing beautiful organic vegetables on our very own Gamble Creek Farm,” Demarse said.
“We are truly fortunate to work for an organization that wants only the best and freshest ingredients to serve to our customers.”