The relationship between a chef and a farmer is one based on pride, creativity and a passion for food. Two women who truly bring meaning to the phrase “farm to table,” or in this case, farm to bakery, are Jennifer Cody of Cody Family Farm and Chef Mary Jayne Wilson of Amelie’s French Bakery & Cafe.
In the 1900’s, Cody Family Farm was started on thirty acres of land in Richfield, North Carolina, and originally grew corn, soybeans and wheat straw. Jennifer Cody grew up on a small family farm and has always enjoyed being outside, but her career as a nurse often drew her away. In 2007, she decided to take a leap of faith and grew the farms very first strawberry crop. “I wanted something that fit with our family lifestyle, and gave me an opportunity to spend more time with my kids, and strawberries seemed to do that,” Jennifer said, “so we started with one acre, were completely dedicated and ended up loving it.” Today the farm operates on 150 acres of land, growing a variety of fruits and vegetables in addition to their delicious strawberries. They offer Chandler strawberries, small berries with a low tolerance to heat upon picking, and Camarosa strawberries, larger berries with a higher heat tolerance.
The farm is operated seven days a week by three generations of the Cody family. Jennifer leaves the house by 5 a.m. every day to get containers, orders and crews ready for the day. “During busy season we are picking strawberries from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. because they need to be picked while they are cold,” Jennifer said, “we only pick what will be sold that day, so the remainder of my day is usually spent giving tours or working the farm stand.” Once strawberry season is over, the family moves straight into farming blueberries, blackberries and tomatoes. “It’s a lot of hard work because everything is done by hand and the weather can either work in your favor or work against you,” she says, “but all of that hard work pays off when you see customers coming out for a product that makes both them and their family happy. It is incredibly rewarding.”
Mary Jayne Wilson, Chef at Amelie’s French Bakery & Café also grew up in Richfield but her dreams of being a chef took her in a different direction. Mary has always loved cooking but never saw it as a career until she attended college at Johnson and Wales. She worked in many restaurants including an Irish Pub and a French fine dining restaurant before she received the call that brought her home to Richfield. Today she celebrates eight years as Executive Chef and Operations Director at Amelie’s where she takes pride not only in being a 2019-2020 NCDA Culinary Ambassador, but also through featuring local ingredients in her beautiful pastries. “As a chef, I am not only about food, but I am also about people and people want fresh products,” Mary says, “in addition to doing the right thing for my community, buying local ensures a quality and fresh product.”
In 2008, Jennifer and Mary were reconnected through the small town of Richfield and their partnership began. “When they are in season, we get all our berries from them,” Mary said, “she sells only what they pick that morning, so it is as fresh as you can get.” Jennifer says she wants the farm legacy to come from providing a fresh, quality product on a daily basis.
Mary uses Cody Farm strawberries to make strawberry lemonade, strawberry macarons, cream cheese Danishes and strawberry éclairs. “It is very exciting and rewarding for customers to tell me they tried one of Mary’s desserts featuring our strawberries,” Jennifer says, “we are just a small farm getting to make a big difference.” Both women take immense pride in providing products that people enjoy and seeing their hard work pay off. “We all work hard,” Mary said, “and it involves a lot of communication, care and relationship.”
Next time you are in the area, be sure to stop by and try one of Amelie’s pastries featuring Cody Farm strawberries. Both women would be thrilled to have you either at the farm or the bakery!
When asked for ideas of delicious strawberry dishes to try, both women said there is nothing better than a fresh, strawberry pie. According to Mary, “simplicity is often better when you have great products like Cody Family Farm strawberries.” Check out Jennifer’s recipe below and be sure to use local strawberries for the best flavor!
When they are not busy picking or cooking strawberries, both Jennifer and Mary enjoy a girl’s movie night at home with fresh popcorn and wine.
Fresh Strawberry Pie Recipe
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons strawberry Jello
- 1 quart strawberries
- Put the sugar, water and cornstarch in a saucepan and cook until thick.
- Take the pan off the burner, add Jello and stir.
- Set aside to cool (stirring occasionally).
- Wash strawberries, let dry and cap.
- Cook pie crust, then cool in the refrigerator.
- Place strawberries in the pie crust.
- Pour mixture over strawberries, covering completely.
- Refrigerate until set.