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Right from the Dairy: Indiana’s Fair Oaks Farms Emphasizes Locally Raised Food

14:35PM Jul 28, 2014

The dairy’s venture into farm-to-fork dining could help change how consumers look at food.

FAIR OAKS, Ind. (AP) — Walk into the Farmhouse, the new farm-to-fork venture by Fair Oaks Farms, and you'll see an equal embrace of past and future, local and global-industrial.

The 18,000-square-foot building is styled after 18th-century Midwest farmhouses, with a wraparound porch, towering stone fireplace and chandeliers made out of gas lamp-style lights and wagon wheel spokes.

Yet look to the left from the dining room and you'll see, through the giant glass pane, a state-of-the-art kitchen that serves between 800 and 1,200 customers a day. It's where managing partner Carl Bruggemeier greets servers and chefs as locally raised bacon entrees and burgers are brought from the prep room to the bustling kitchen line — then, finally, out to the wood-paneled dining room.

Fair Oaks Farms, a key player in Big Ag, isn't the first business you'd expect to dip into a movement based on the small, local and organic. It's one of the largest dairy producers in the nation, pumping more than 300,000 gallons of milk from 37,000 cows every day.

Yet the people behind the farm's venture into farm-to-fork dining say size is a good thing when it comes to changing how we look at food.

"In 2050, we're going to have 9 billion people in a world where 1 percent of the population feeds the other 99 percent," Bruggemeier told the Journal & Courier. "One needs to think big to win big."

"We need to innovate. You're not going to be feeding these people in your backyards," said Fair Oaks Farms CEO Gary Corbett.

Roughly half of the ingredients used in the Farmhouse are produced at Fair Oaks, according to Bruggemeier. The Asiago, gouda, and mozzarella used in the barbecue shrimp flatbread ($11), for example, all come from Fair Oaks cows, as does the milk used in Fair Oaks Farms ice cream ($5). The bacon on the Farmhouse burger ($11) and the pork on the tenderloin sandwich ($10) are from Fair Oaks pigs.

Sometimes, more than a thousand visitors come to Fair Oaks for tours of their dairy and pork facilities. On a recent summer afternoon, nearly 10 school buses gathered in the parking lot. At the "Pig Adventure," students streamed down the hallways — decorated with Andy Warhol-style prints of hogs and other pig art — and into observation rooms, where they saw thousands of hogs, many of them lying on their sides, eyes closed, within their compartments.

Corbett said more people need to see how their food is produced.

"People are conscious of what they eat. They want transparency and sustainability," he said.

Jim Adams was on his way from Louisville, Kentucky, to Wisconsin when he stopped by Fair Oaks at a family member's recommendation. As he waited for his entrée, he marveled at the décor.

"This fits into my barn-farm fantasy," he said.

For executive chef Christopher Turner, Fair Oaks is a farm-to-table dream turned into reality.

"What's really exciting about this project is the culmination of the ingredients, the people and the location all coming together," he said.

Turner has been cooking farm-to-table all his career. While more and more restaurants aim to source their ingredients locally, Turner said, you can't get more local than this.

"We are the farm, and we are the table," he said. "That's very exciting to me."