If you've wandered the grounds of The Farm at South Mountain, you've probably spotted owner A.Wayne Smith scooting around on his mini tractor. As a landscape architect, he's stayed very involved in the property he bought in 1983 and slowly transformed into a soothing pastoral retreat for frazzled urban dwellers.
As of this week, Smith has sold 10 acres of the property --which includes Quiessence, Morning Glory Cafe, The Farm Kitchen, Maya's Farm, the Artist's Studio and the pecan grove -- to Pat Christofolo (owner of Santa Barbara Catering and The House at Secret Garden), who has operated The Farm Kitchen at the front of the property since 1997.
You may be wondering what the sale means for Quiessence, Morning Glory Cafe and Maya's Farm. Here's what I found out from Smith and Christofolo:
Christofolo says there will be no major changes for the first couple of months. She plans to get the property in great shape (which means grooming the grounds and giving the Farm Kitchen a facelift) before focusing on her larger vision -- culinary and agricultural education.
Down the road, she envisions chef Greg LaPrad (Quiessence, Morning Glory) doing special local dinners in the Artist's Studio which overlooks the garden and teaching cooking classes somewhere on the property. Farmer Maya Dailey, who has been leasing land at The Farm for years now, could offer gardening classes as well. Christofolo also dreams of having a garden-lifestyle store on the farm.
"Wayne did a beautiful job and had an amazing vision," Christofolo says, "and our goal is to continue creating Wayne's vision while still protecting the property."
She maintains that The Farm at South Mountain (which Smith bought when it was in distress) was created without a lot of money by a group of passionate people who acted individually. Rumors of the sale had been flying for months, and Christofolo as buyer isn't particularly surprising, given that she's been leasing seven acres of the property (excluding Maya's Farm and the back corner, which includes the Artist's Studio), then sub-leasing bits and pieces of it since 1997.
For his part, Smith is happy for Christofolo, who, he says, "knows the property better than anyone else." Way back in the day, Smith had a kitchen crew who ran the Farm Kitchen, the soup/salad/sandwich cafe at the front of the property. But when 150 customers started showing up every day (not the 50 he'd imagined), he turned operations over to Christofolo, who understood how to handle volume better than Smith ever could. The same thing happened with weddings. When they got to be too much for Smith, Christofolo stepped in.
Here's a foot-note for historians: The farm's first fine dining chef was Stacey McDevitt , who was later co-owner of Restaurant Hapa with her husband James, who was named Best New Chef by Food & Wine in 1999. McDevitt worked out of the Farm Kitchen. Quiessence (the former farmhouse where Smith's grandchildren were born) came later, first with chef Hallie Harron, then Brian Ford and finally LaPrad.
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And just so you know, Smith (the most modest guy you'll ever meet) was the planner behind communities such as McCormick Ranch, Gainey Ranch and Ahwatukee. His pastoral vision of Phoenix has left an indelible mark on our landscape.