Living off the Land: A look at chef Frank McClelland’s prime acreage

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Photos by Eric Luciano

By now, you don’t have to be a foodie to know the phrase “farm-to-table.” But when chef Frank McClelland says it, it’s especially meaningful. For him, and for guests at an ongoing dinner series at his home in Essex, farm-to-table is a matter of mere feet.
McClelland lives on his Apple Street Farm where, since 2009, this top toque from L’Espalier (Boston’s only Five Diamond Award-winning restaurant) grows and gathers the fresh organic produce that graces his nightly menus. More than a dozen other restaurants around Boston and the North Shore also source their ingredients from Apple Street, and its ample haul supports rapidly expanding produce and poultry CSA programs: bringing locally raised greens and pasture-raised chicken to those who want to eat well at home, too.

But for McClelland, the farm is home. “I just love the feel of it. It reminds me of when I was a boy,” says McClelland, who grew up on his grandparents’ working farm in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. (He still uses some of their antique kitchen tools.) That experience largely informed his future career and the farm-to-table philosophy he adopted long before it was a buzzword. “It started my journey in motion of wanting to grow and cook things,” he says. “And it really sets your sensibilities when at a very young age you understand where your food comes from.”
We talked to McClelland to learn more about the design ingredients that make his piece of rural real estate so unique, to better cultivate our own rustic home aesthetic.

A grand plot
Apple Street Farm sits on a covetable 14 acres in Essex, a former equestrian farm, and is anchored by a gorgeous, quintessential New England farmhouse built in the 1600s: Think gleaming but original wide-plank floors, barn wood walls and a rustic brick hearth where McClelland has been known to fire up pizzas. From its soapstone counters to clear glass-front cabinetry, the country kitchen brings natural elements of the outside, inside: just like McClelland likes it.

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A hardworking team
Apple Street Farm is run by McClelland, a farm manager, and three to four workers; they also manage another dozen or so acres of farmland between “satellite fields” offered by other landowners within a mile’s radius. Even in an age of tractors and expert farm equipment, it’s all “hugely labor intensive,” says McClelland. Especially when you’re dedicated to running an organic (read: herbicide-free) farm. That route results in larger crop loss and extra work. (“You have to get in there with your hands to manage weeds.”) But it also yields healthier and, thanks to his exceptionally nitrogen-rich soil, better-tasting food.

A big harvest
Apple Street Farm grows dozens of produce varieties, from diverse fruits and veggies to herbs and edible flowers. And the whole farm staff is trained in animal husbandry, raising chickens, turkeys and even honeybees. Beekeeping is especially important, he says, because nature’s best pollinators increase his yields by as much as 70 percent. Next up for McClelland is raw milk. He says within weeks Apple Street should join just two-dozen other farms in Massachusetts that are licensed to sell strictly regulated raw milk, which organic foodies revere for natural health benefits.

Want to visit the farm? The chef hosts an annual Farm Dinner Series where you can tour the grounds, sip cocktails and eat decadent plates prepared by McClelland. The next one runs Sept. 20-21 with a “Firepit Fiesta” and the season culminates with his “Essex Harvest Feast” Oct. 18-19. Visit applestreetfarm.com for info and tickets.

 


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