In Missouri, there are over 27 million acres of farmland and nearly 100,000 operating farms, each with its own purpose and products. Many farms across the state contribute to farm-to-table restaurants like William Coy’s in Maryville.
Mitchell Cosby, the owner and head chef of William Coy’s, started his culinary career at a farm-to-table restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri. He was then offered the opportunity to create a farm-to-table in Maryville.
“After working there and seeing the quality of the food and just the difference in myself from eating that way for so long, I decided that's the only way I would cook,” Cosby said.
The idea for William Coy’s sparked from a school project Cosby had while in culinary school. The name pays homage to his brother, William, who passed away when Cosby was 17 and Coy was his grandfather's name.
Since its creation in 2018, Cosby has worked with many farms for supplies. When first looking for suppliers for the restaurant, he started with just driving around looking for farms.
“I was just driving around the country looking for houses without power lines, and I would stop in and I'd be like ‘Hey, you guys sell produce?’" he said. “It was really just like kind of a grassroots campaign getting out there and meeting the people and then just slowly over time, more people have found out about us.”
Nearly two hours from Maryville, TableTop Farms was the first farm to partner and supply goods to the restaurant. TableTop Farms, located in Chillicothe, Missouri, has been there since the beginning. Lisa Geiser said she was visiting the Mozingo Lake Golf Course, and while on a tour of the area, she saw William Coy’s. She then asked if the restaurant was looking for a chicken provider, and the partnership grew from there.
TableTop Farms started at the end of 2017, not long before William Coy’s opened, with the mission to produce and supply nutritious food locally. Geiser and her family mainly supply chicken to the restaurant, but sometimes vegetables and other produce if available.
“We are a certified naturally-grown farm, which means we practice organically growing, but we are not organically certified,” Geiser said. “So we are certified by other farmers that come and inspect our farm or like the extension center. We grow vegetables, mostly greens, as well as our pastured animals like the chicken and then we do pastured pork.”
The menu at William Coy’s features multiple different dishes highlighting locally-sourced chicken from different farms. Before it’s served, there is a long process of raising the livestock. Geiser said she also likes to support small family-owned farms as TableTop gets its chickens from a family-run hatchery in Georgia.
After receiving the chicks in the mail, they are transferred to a brooder for around four weeks. After the chickens start to develop their true feathers and can regulate their body temperatures, they are moved into a protected pasture and are grass fed. Depending on the size of the bird, Geiser said they can be moved to different feeding areas twice a day.
“They're just happy,” Geiser said. “I mean, they see you come in and they just run and they're like little tiny dinosaurs, and they're just happy being out on pasture, doing what they're supposed to be doing.”
TableTop Farms have raised thousands of chickens, sometimes a thousand at a time, and said the quality of meat people get from a locally-owned farm when compared to commercial-level production is unmatched.
“Your quality of food is not as high,” Geiser said. “You know, they grow in confined animal facilities, so the health of the animal or the health of the vegetable is not their number one priority. Whereas your small farmer you know, they really take pride in it.”
Despite being two hours away, Geiser said delivering the chicken to William Coy’s is no problem because her family all get to sit down and enjoy a meal together while they’re there. She said a big part of having a farm-to-table restaurant is building connections to keep the community running.
Another supplier for William Coy’s strays just 10 minutes from the restaurant in Ravenwood, Missouri. Farms Wide Open, a pasture-raised meat producer ran by a fifth generation farmer, also supplies chicken and other meats. Courtney Koch and her husband, Boyd, started Farms Wide Open in 2020 during the pandemic.
Koch follows a similar process to Geiser when raising her chicken before sending them to be processed. She uses a USDA certified processor where all of the meat is inspected there. After the meat has been processed, it comes back to the family frozen so they can deliver it to customers.
Originally from California and marrying a fifth generation farmer, Koch said there are a lot of adversities they face while producing meat.
“You just have to know how to pivot,” Koch said. “You have to be resilient. That's why farming is so hard. That's why a lot of small family farms are not making it because farming is not easy. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it and everyone would still be raising their own food.”
With over two years running Farms Wide Open and being in a partnership with William Coy’s, Koch said farm-to-table restaurants help small family-owned farms by reminding people of the ripple effect when they spend their money locally.
She said when people go to buy a package of beef at the store, farmers are getting only nine cents for every dollar of meat. By having local buyers, more money is going back to the people who are raising and processing the animals.
“That's why farm-to-table restaurants are so important because the concept of farm-to-table restaurant leads people to think ‘Where's my food coming from and what impact does that have?’” she said. “It puts more of that food dollar back into the hands of the farmer. So that's why it's important for farmers to either sell directly to consumers or sell to places like farm-to-table restaurants that help farmers educate consumers about where their food comes from.”
Cosby said William Coy’s menu changes with the seasons and what products he gets at what time. Another local supplier is Lettuce Dream which provides produce to the restaurant weekly. Not only does it supply lettuce, but occasionally basil, cilantro or any other microgreens that are being grown at the time.
Greenhouse Manager Alex Chang started volunteering at Lettuce Dream three years ago but has since stayed to work with other volunteers, work study students and other employees. Lettuce Dream grows all its lettuce right inside the greenhouse, packages it and supplies it to many different businesses around Maryville.
“I feel like the more restaurants can be sourced locally, the less hands it has to go through and the more fresh it is,” Chang said.
Cosby said working with local suppliers not only helps the local economy, but also helps reduce the carbon footprint as they don’t have to have meat and produce shipped to them from all over the country. Working with those local suppliers helps build the community and create more connections.
“Once you get to know your farmer and know your restaurant, your small business owner, everybody does become a family,” Geiser said. “Even though you're all working your own separate businesses, you get to understand and you know exactly what's going on with things, and you build that relationship in that community with each other.”
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