Molly Peterson’s Story

It’s that time again folks, Octobers Featured Story! I am absolutely partial to the warmer weather, but I am among SO many of you who enjoy crisp fall days, turning leaves and pumpkin patches! 2011 is officially 3/4 over, and around this time of the year, planning for the holidays becomes present in our everyday lives, and with that, what we’re cooking and where we’re eating and also celebrating become more important!

In my attempt to feature the varied aspects of the restaurant industry, it is my pleasure to introduce you to a significant other who is not only married to a chef turned farmer, but who is actively using her artistic talent to support the local restaurant and farming industry herself! As the Director of Photography for my new favorite magazine, Flavor, she is tightly woven into the DC Areas farms and restaurants. When I first read the magazine, I immediately contacted Flavor to congratulate them, and Molly almost immediately responded. I dare you to read her answers and not feel how passionate she is about the farming and food industry, and how her life is dedicated to the pursuit of eating locally and consciously.

A little more about Molly:

Molly is currently the Director of Photography for Flavor magazine while running her own photography business , focusing on children, families, and farm life. She works with her husband, Mike, at Mount Vernon Farm in Sperryville, Virginia where they raise 100% grass-fed, grass-finished beef & lamb, pastured (and soy-free) pork and eggs.

I am SO excited to have the opportunity to share with you Molly’s story! Let’s hear it for Molly!

Q. What were your first impressions when you first realized that by being with your restaurant man/woman, that you have become a part of the restaurant world?

Nearly 10 years ago when we first started dating, my husband realized that having a girlfriend was getting expensive, so he started cooking at home. After that, he got a job at a chain-style restaurant (we were 18 then); I think that was the first time I realized it. He wouldn’t get off work until 1 a.m. or so (and would sleep until 10 or 11) and I’d drive down there almost every night to meet him when he got off work. I can still smell the grease that coated his clothes afterwards, too. Then he went to culinary school while I was in college for photography; we lived about three hours apart so we’d see each other on the weekends. While he was in school, I read Courtney Febbroriellos book, Wife of the Chef; I was so freaked out that that would be our schedule in life (it seemed like they were at work 24-7 even bringing it home with them) that I emailed her…to my surprise, she actually emailed back and calmed my nerves by saying, “This is our crazy life, you two will find your own rhythm; not to worry.”.

I’ve found that there are many similarities between his chef/farmer careers. It’s still weekends, holidays, very long hours, and even some nights, but fortunately, I can be a much bigger part of the farmer career. We live and work on the farm; I work from my home office when I’m not delivering to our customers or out shooting for my clients so at any point in the day, I can pop in to say, “Hi”; I couldn’t really pop in when he was in kitchens. And it’s nice to know that we still like each other after many years of the restaurant career when I only saw him a few hours a day. After 7 years working in fine dining establishments throughout the Aspen Valley and the most recent being at The Inn at Little Washington, my husband said to me, “I think I want to intern at that farm down the road.” He wanted this to help him become a better chef, but here we are, he’s now the manager of that farm and we’re working in restaurants in a new way: selling to them.

After all of this time though, as he’s gone from chef to farmer, I now realize, Courtney was totally spot on; we are constant work: at work, at home, and we’re working together, too.  Funny how life turns out.

Q. When did you know that you had what it took, within the parameters of his/her career, to find success in your relationship?

Early on I realized it; it rarely felt forced for us. There were many places where he worked that I was able to pick up part time shifts to spend more time with him; one of his private residence jobs I took a job as a part time housekeeper – we were only needed a few weeks a year so that worked out well while in college. Another at a private resort, they would hire me to be additional wait staff at their holiday parties and then as their photographer; they understood that it was a difficult life schedule so they tried to include spouses when a time came around. And now on the farm, we live here and I started helping out so much that I’m now on payroll.

Q. What is the BEST part of being married to someone in the restaurant industry?

The best part is the food, of course! First, I’ll say, I never thought we’d be so involved in local food, but I love it. My favorite part is going to restaurants who source locally. The ingredients are so fresh, so incredible, and grown with integrity that it’s hard to go wrong when you start out with the perfect ingredients. We have our favorite restaurants that have awesome food and they support local farmers. I gush with pride when I know farmer’s names on the menus: “I know them!”; and I trust them to make my food. It’s a beautiful symbiotic relationship: chef and farmer – both do what they’re doing because they love it and that shows in their food. To have a chef that understands that small farms are not warehouses of food – that tomatoes are in season certain times of the year, that you can only get so many racks of lamb at a time, and that there is seasonality to beef (we do not process all throughout the year; there are only certain times when the grasses are right) are such a gift to a farmer. We’re supposed to eat seasonally and the food tastes so much better when we do. I feel better when I eat food that a chef has prepared fresh from the farm – the energy is more alive, and I’m far more grateful for the meal: I know it supported a local economy in many ways and it supports my body with clean, fresh ingredients. Fortunately, working for Flavor, has given me even more opportunity to meet so many of the amazing chefs and producers in our foodshed.

Q.How do you handle the holidays knowing you are both going to be so busy at work?

Sure there were many – most – holidays when we wouldn’t make the trek back home to our families and instead I would stay with him. Sometimes he would only get Christmas off, for example, and I felt he shouldn’t be by himself after working an 80 hour week. I think that has been more difficult for our families to accept than the two of us at least at first and maybe even still sometimes; this is our life so we’ve learned to just go with it.

With farming it isn’t easy to fill a space if you take the day off. The animals need to be rotated to a new field, they need water every day, the water pump stopped working, the tractor has a flat, a customer wants to come pick up an order, a calf needs help coming into the world, you name it. If you can’t do it, you have to find someone capable of doing it, and when you have over 400 mouths to feed, that’s no small task. On holidays we’ll do chores together and hopefully our family can come visit for the weekend. Our first vacation together in four years was this past July. All of our wedding anniversaries have been spent doing something farm/work-related so we’ve promised ourselves that next year – #5 – that we’ll go on a real trip somewhere far away.

Q. How has achieving acclaim and success, within the restaurant industry, changed your relationship?

We’ve only grown closer and have a stronger relationship throughout this restaurant/farm career. We make each other a priority but there are times when we cannot and the other understands. We’re supportive of each other and have respect for each other’s career. Both our careers are demanding, that I will not deny. My husband went so far as to hide my computer last weekend so I would take a day off.

We both feel that what we’re doing is of value and making a positive difference in lives of others so that keeps us going, and we’re doing it together so that’s all the more important. We already have three dogs and an aging horse, and I have no idea how things will change once we have kids, but I imagine that we will just continue to roll with it as we have every other change in our lives.

There are many things on my “to do” list each day for the farm, the magazine, my photography (I wish I could find time to update my website!), and last but not least, personal life, but it is my life and I’m doing my best to just go with the flow and enjoy the ride as much as I can.

Video about Mount Vernon Farmshttp://www.smallfarmtable.com/archives/294
Follow them on Twitter: @MountVernonFarm
Find them on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/MountVernonFarmGrassFed