Hardly dormant during the colder months, Little Compton’s Wishing Stone Farm has spent the past months harvesting root crops to sell at winter markets while Asian greens, chard, spinach, and lettuce flourish beneath row covers, but around April is when things really begin to pick up again. “Spring is when we do the majority of our seeding,” says Silas Peckham-Paul, the son in the family-run operation. “Crops like onions, leeks, tomatoes, and peppers need to be started early to have a timely harvest in the summer.”
It’s also a busy season in their commercial kitchen where Chef Benny Little begins churning out prepared foods to get the most out of what’s left over from winter harvests. This takes creativity and resourcefulness, which Little fully embraces, especially when it comes to using lesser-known ingredients like garlic scapes – the green stalks of flowering garlic plants that would otherwise be thrown away – in pesto recipes. With a little dill and mustard seed, kohlrabi can be pickled, excess bok choy is used in kimchi, and green tomatoes – salsa verde. “Watermelon radishes are one of my favorite things I always love to work with because they’re so sweet, and when you pickle them, they get this crazy vibrant magenta color.”
Cutting his teeth in the Coast Guard’s culinary program beginning at 19, Little bounced around for a while before trading an 80-hour grind as executive chef at a barbecue catering company for the life of a farmhand at Wishing Stone, where he could return to the literal roots of our food system. As for the work itself, “I ultra-romanticized it,” Little confesses now, laughing as he recalls the grueling 90-degree days picking green beans in the field. But when they offered him a position in the kitchen, he found his niche.
“It’s so different than when you’re working in just any other restaurant,” Little says. “Silas comes in with a giant harvesting basket full of basil, and it still has all the dirt on the roots, and it’s just that kind of stuff gets me excited, you know – going out in the greenhouse and picking tomatoes right off the vine. It’s transformative, it’s a completely different world.”
Everything made in the commercial kitchen uses produce from the farm, with local tastes in mind. Sauces, pickles, soups, and salsas give at-home cooking that added flair without a lot of extra effort spent over the stove. “We have a lot of summer people, and they’re looking for those quick little fixes when it comes to eating during the summertime,” says Little. Visitors can swing by the farm to see what’s fresh, and a CSA membership, Peckham-Paul explains, is essentially an upfront investment that gets you a debit card you can spend all season on the farm. “We only bring what we grow at the farm up to Providence, but down in Little Compton at our farm stand, we sell lots of other things like baked goods from the kitchen, meats, and pantry items.”
Expect a variety of pestos and pickled vegetables hitting the stand this season as the Peckham-Pauls and Chef Little gear up for the spring demand. While it’s a lot of stress, it’s a close-knit ecosystem of passionate food producers, too. “I call them my farm-ly,” Little says with a laugh, and adds, “They welcomed me in with open arms in the beginning, and it’s great to work for a family operation... I see the hours they put into it and all the blood, sweat, and tears of what it takes to grow for your community.”