Chow Bella

Local Farmer Carl Seacat Forges Relationship (and Grows Veggies) with Joe Johnston at Agritopia

See also: Carl Seacat's Perfect Summer Farmers Market Food Day See also: Tastemaker #75: Carl Seacat

Local farmer and Chow Bella Tastemaker Carl Seacat has had an anxious summer. His three-year lease at Blue Sky Farms (where he tended one acre) was not renewed, and he's been scrambling to find a little hunk of dirt to grow the veggies he sells both to high-end restaurants and to customers of the Old Town Farmer's Market in the cooler months.

But luckily for folks who take the Food Pyramid seriously, Seacat has found a new home.

This week, Seacat told Chow Bella he'll be working with Joe Johnston and Johnston's head farmer, Erich Shultz, at Agritopia, a mixed-use community of traditional neighborhoods and working agriculture.

According to Seacat, this will not be a typical tenant/landlord arrangement but rather a collaborative relationship whereby Johnston provides Seacat with a plot of land, and Seacat offers Johnston and Shultz his expertise in hot-climate farming. Seacat says he's logged a lot of hours in field experimentation, such as growing lettuces in 100-degree temperatures and tomatoes in winter.

For his part, Shultz says that he and Johnston love the notion of helping other local farmers and working side by side with them. "We can learn so much from each other," he says, adding that farmers too often have nearby plots but fail to share valuable information.

There should be plenty of good info for Seacat to scoop us as well, given that the 15-acre Agritopia farm is a patchwork of orchards (citrus, dates, and olives) and traditional row crops, where more than 100 different items are grown in rotation.

Agritopia not only supplies fresh produce to Johnston's three Gilbert restaurants (Joe's Farm Grill, Joe's Real BBQ and Liberty Market) but also to Jeff Kraus' Crepe Bar and to the Gilbert Farmers Market.

Agritopia also plans to reboot its CSA program as of September 29. Check its Facebook page (The Farm at Agritopia) for more information.

As for Seacat (who considers himself a gardener, not a farmer, because he sows, weeds, and does everything by hand), he will continue to lease an acre or two at Lucky B Acres in Paulden (the north end of Chino Valley), where he grows greens and lettuces and sells to resort clients such as Enchantment Resort.

He also plans to continue his work with attorney Sam Kelsall, who founded Tigermountain Foundation, a youth garden group that beautifies the community while teaching disadvantaged children about gardening.

Now that he's landed some land, Seacat can assure us he'll be selling produce to his regular customers, which include Atlas Bistro, Quiessence and BLT Steak.

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Nikki Buchanan