When Justin and Jeannie Alexander of Trinity Farms heard about the Lovington MainStreet Local Innovator’s Institute food truck program, they knew it would be a perfect fit for them to try a nation-wide restaurant movement seemingly tailor-made for their farm operation.
That movement is farm-to-table, a red-hot concept in dining across the country, where local restaurants — or food trucks — create a menu out of whatever is fresh and in abundance locally for that day. Lots of carrots being harvested? Time to try out recipes like whisky carrots. Extra bushels of tomatoes? Obvious choices of tomato-based dishes like spaghetti or lasagna spring to mind. Squash in season and being harvested daily? Pick one of the dozens, or hundreds, of mouth-watering recipes available so none of them go to waste.
The Alexanders already have the “farm” part down pat and wanted to try their hand at the “table” part of farm-to-table. Their hometown of Lovington is the perfect place to try it out, they said.
“God has given us a place to do our thing and we’ve learned a lot,” Justin said. “We just want to share it with our community.”
Farming is known for being labor intensive with not necessarily a lot of profit. Offering some of what they grow and raise at the farm in a restaurant setting not only gives Lea County residents a unique dining experience, but also offers the opportunity to earn extra money for the farm using produce that might otherwise go to waste, they said.
“Hopefully the food truck will allow us the opportunity to not waste what we produce (at the farm),” Justin told the News-Sun.
Trinity Farms operates about seven acres of the farm for produce and gardens north of Lovington, in addition to the feedlot they also operate for animals. They not only sell fresh produce, eggs, and meats, but also give tours to interested groups and make presentations at local schools.
And picking produce is just starting for the season. Maintaining and picking the garden part of the farm, sorting and separating, and getting produce to market easily takes upwards of 200 man-hours per week Justin said.
Trinity Farms has been a staple at the local farmers’ markets in the past, but with the couple of weekends they have been operating the food truck inside Big Blue at the Lea Theatre in Lovington, their booths at the markets have been noticeably missing.
“We haven’t been able to do farmers’ market and the food truck,” Jeannie said, noting the first weekend for Trinity Farms coincided with Lovington MainStreet’s Smokin’ on the Plaza. That worked well, since Trinity Farms also raises various meat animals, like cows, sheep, chickens and pigs. Justin and Jeannie have worked at Smokin’ on the Plaza in previous years, but never operating as a food truck with a separate smoking trailer parked beside it like this year. “It was a whole new kind of experience,” she said. “We sold out.”
“We stayed sold out,” Justin said. “Every time something was almost ready, it was sold out.”
“Saturday night we looked at each other at about 10 and we had run out of everything. I had beans left and a little bit of cole slaw. And we had some rib-eye steaks in the fridge,” Jeannie said.
“Some real nice farm-cut rib-eyes,” Justin said smiling.
“I said I’ve got 12 rib-eyes,” Jeannie said she announced to those wanting to place orders at the food truck in the waning hours of Smokin’ on the Plaza. “Who’s down? You can have burritos or a rib-eye. We sold out of both.”
“We sold them out in five or 10 minutes,” Justin added.
While Smokin’ on the Plaza was an incredible opportunity, Jeannie and Justin said they really didn’t know how changing the menu of a farm-to-table concept food truck would be received after the event, during normal operations.
“We really don’t know,” Justin said. “That’s why we have the truck, and one of the things that’s so good about this program. It teaches you how to get started. It gives you a place to start from so you’re not shooting in the dark, and then teaches you some of the menu and business side of it.”
“Learning where you need to tighten the belt, or where you need to loosen a little bit,” Jeannie said.
Not only is the Alexanders’ farm-to-table food truck concept different than what has been tried before, but they are also operating a little differently by opening for breakfast, lunch and dinner most days of the week.
“We didn’t want to miss any opportunity,” Justin said about the food truck opening for breakfast at 6 a.m. most mornings. “We didn’t know what to expect with anything. So, if we’re thinking about starting something like this, we need to know – are we open for breakfast, or what’s not a good time. And, nobody before us (this year) has opened for supper.”
The couple noted there are very few dining choices in Lovington on Saturday nights, and they hope to change that in the future.
And, customers of the food truck seem to like the changing menu, the times it is being served, and the way it’s presented.
“Honestly, this is one of the best food trucks I’ve had,” Patrick Rooney told the News-Sun while dining on a pulled pork sandwich with a side of potato salad.
“I’ve got to say the same,” his dining companion Johnny, “Shaggy,” Puckett added, who was eating a sausage link, split down the middle and stuffed with sauerkraut, all wrapped in bacon, and smoked. “They call this the ‘heart attack,’ … it’s so good.”
Both noted they hope Trinity Farms opens a permanent farm-to-table restaurant in Lovington.
The Alexanders listen to their customers and said they are interested in opening a permanent location in Lovington once the food truck program is finished. But opening a permanent location does have costs associated with it, and being farmers, the Alexanders’ plan and take a cautious approach to capital expenditures such as opening a restaurant.
“We’re only one good hail storm away from not doing anything,” Justin said. “When you have a lot of money invested in crops, that’s reality. That’s our business.”
Blake Ovard may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.