A morning at Culton Organics

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
A morning at Culton Organics

Editor's note: Tom Colicchio, the head judge on Bravo's Top Chef (and a Food & Wine Best New Chef 1991), will be blogging every day this week about his road trip from Atlanta.

When it came time to decide where we should stop north of DC, my first call was to my friend and fellow chef Marc Vetri. Marc has two highly regarded restaurants in Philadelphia, Osteria and Vetri, and I knew that he'd have great suggestions for food producers to visit in the area. Number one on his list was Culton Organics, a family farm in the heart of Lancaster County which supplies fruit and vegetables to his restaurants. Marc loved the place so much that offered to join us if we visited.

So, on the morning of day six we were Pennsylvania-bound. I invited the chefs of my three New York restaurants, James Tracey, Shane McBride, and Lauren Hirschberg, thinking this would be a good opportunity to spend a day together outside the kitchen.

Culton Organics is run by a guy named Tom Culton. Tom took over his family's 55 acre farm when he was 20 and has been working it for the past nine years, only growing as much as he, his grandfather, and his girlfriend can handle. Currently that means just half of his acreage is in fruit and vegetable cultivation, but Tom is not interested in growing his business, insisting that bringing on extra help takes the joy out of farming for him.

We took a walk through Tom's fields, which were amazingly lush considering that he doesn't use pesticides, weed killer, or man-made fertilizer. He doesn't even irrigate. Tom keeps the land fertile using crop rotation, growing a wide variety of produce (from cardoons to artichokes to fraise de bois) on land that has been farmed by his family organically for the past 100 years (yes, you read that correctly, and it is a very rare achievement). Tom also takes frequent research trips to Europe, studying a new crop or farming method in Italy or France in order to apply it to his own farming.

The icing on the cake of our visit to Culton Organics was when Tom invited us back to his 19th century farmhouse for a hearty lunch: pig's stomach stuffed with pork sausage, new potatoes, and celery, accompanied by homemade apple sauce. It was one of the best home-cooked meals I've had in recent memory.