By: Tim Fetter, Executive Chef at Highmark
Over the past couple of years, I have had the pleasure of touring some pretty interesting places and want to share what I was able to see. Here at Highmark, one of our vendors is Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance. They are a group of around 30 Farms that offer CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) and they also supply restaurants. Neil Stauffer, the General Manager set up a tour for us to see a few of their locations.
First we met at Cunningham Meatsin Indiana, PA. This meat processor is run by Scott Cunningham and has been in his family for years. We started in the store front, where they sell all kinds of fresh, smoked, and cured meats, as well as a number of other grocery items. A number of their meats have even won local and national awards. Scott then toured us around the facility, from start to finish, so we could see how exactly everything is handled. First was the holding pen where the pigs or cows would be placed after being delivered to the facility. Then we went inside and saw the slaughter room, then on to the butchering rooms where two of his employees were in the process of skinning and breaking down about a 200 lb. pig. From there we saw the massive walk-in coolers where some of the meats, especially the beef would be held or aged. As we worked our way through, we could see the meats being broken down more and more, until the last few rooms where they were using a Frank-o-matic machine to make hot dogs, and the smoke rooms where they were smoking hams and bacon. It is always comforting when you can know where your products are coming from and how they are handled. Scott was a great host and was quick to answer any of our questions.
Next we left Cunningham’s and made our way to Apollo, PA to Kistaco’s Farm. The Kistaco’s were another bunch of great hosts. As soon as we arrived they have some homemade salsa and their delicious apple cider for us to try. They have a storefront where they offer all of the things that they produce as well as a huge selection of locally made jams, pickled items, and a whole lot more. We all loaded into a couple of trucks and they took us around their farm. We started going by the high tunnel green houses where they can get an early start on the growing season. Next we made our way to the peach orchards and then the apple orchards as you can see below. Lastly we stopped and saw the cider press and saw them making a vat of cider vinegar. After the tour we were able to go back to the storefront, where I purchased a few things, including the juiciest, most delicious peach I have ever had.
Last fall, I was also able to tour some major manufacturing facilities. I went on a trip with John Frick, Eat’n Park’s Executive Chef of Menu Development, to Wisconsin to two McCain Foods plants. First, we went to Plover, WI to a potato facility. Now that is a large plant. They started off the tour by taking us to one of their 13 potato storage buildings. These buildings are the size of a football field, including the end zones and have potatoes stacked 18 feet high! That means that each one holds around 30,000,000 lbs. of potatoes! If the plant was running at full capacity, they could empty out one of those buildings in about 13 days. Next we moved inside the plant and walked us through from the cleaning of the potatoes to the sorting, peeling, cutting, cooking, freezing, and packaging portions, all in order of how it is set up in the plant. It is really a site to behold. I have included the best picture that I have, which is the top of 30 million lbs. of potatoes, but I was not allowed to take any pictures in the plant, because they don’t want any of their trade secrets getting out.
The following day, we went to an appetizer facility in Appleton, WI. This was a much different set up, with eight different lines that can be changed and customized to whatever product they would be running. It was another sight to see and was amazing how fast these products are made.
So, to sum it all up, if you ever get a chance to tour a farm, processor, or manufacturing plant, I would suggest you do so. It will give you a new outlook and a new level of respect for the food that you use and consume every day.