I remember the first time I tried the Island Fresca at Red Cat Kitchen — it was like tasting a tomato-basil blend for the first time. When owner Ben DeForest and his wife Erica opened another restaurant, the Cardboard Box, just across the street, I tried a curry-crusted salmon served over a vegetable risotto — another dish that left a lasting impression on my palate. In May, the DeForests opened a third restaurant — Oyster Bar 02557 — just above the Cardboard Box, where the Lampost used to be. It’s offering fresh New England-style seafood with a fish house feel, dishing out local flavors from the sea. “All good things happen in threes,” Ben said.
Ben’s restaurants are known for their always-fresh ingredients, local flavor, and farm-to-table focus.
“On the one hand, it’s great, because it’s showing people there’s a real benefit to eating from the land and sea,” Ben said. “It’s good for the community, for the diner, the restaurants, the farmer, and the economy of the region — of the Island. But on the other hand, it’s just the right thing to do, and it’s always been the right thing to do.”
Ben’s unparalleled passion for crafting quality food has been catching the attention of diners from all walks of life. Two years ago, Ben’s craft led him to Chilmark resident and vice chairman of the Boston Red Sox David Ginsberg, who was planning a wedding.
“I really believe Ben is the best chef on the Island,” David said. “My wife and I are huge foodies, and we envisioned an Island wedding with food that was farmed from the land and fished from these waters.” Ben made it happen. And from there a partnership was born.
David and his wife Moxie bought a house in Chilmark and put in a 5000-square-foot, 100 percent organic farm — Loon Farm. Why Loon Farm? “Because we live on Loon Lane,” David laughed. Last summer, the Ginsbergs sold their produce at the weekly West Tisbury Farmers Market. “We produced great stuff,” David said. Ben had dibs on excess production.
“To see the stuff that was coming out of Loon Farm last year was truly remarkable,” Ben said. “And to have it come from my friend made it that much more special.”
The two businessmen realized they were onto something. Over the fall, they came up with an idea that launched them into the 2019 high season on Martha’s Vineyard. Loon Farm would be the sole production farm for all three of Ben’s restaurants. And then they found Greg.
“Greg can grow a tree in a mud puddle,” Ben said. Greg Rubick is a native Islander and farmer with a microgreens business called Deep Roots. Now, he’s the head farmer at Loon Farm. “This is my first time managing something of this size, but I’m more than prepared for it,” Greg said. “I have tons of ideas.”
Greg is focused on the soil so he can cultivate the highest quality crops for Ben’s three chefs — Max Rodegast at Red Cat Kitchen, Dominic Giardini at the Cardboard Box, and Joe DaSilva at Oyster Bar 02557. “They’re fired up,” Ben said of his chefs.
The worms and microscopic biology of the soil will create the environment and immune system in which crops can thrive. “That’s my main focus,” Greg said.
“The soil is the drummer of this band,” Ben added.
Greg’s also capitalizing on the farm’s square footage by using vertical space. He’s utilizing trellises, arbors, and square footage from walkways.
Loon Farm produces greens, lettuces, kales, spinach, and a variety of radish. It’s also got beets, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, squash, and green beans in the ground. Greg’s building a compost area where he can process food scraps, so in addition to delivering produce to each of Ben’s restaurants, Loon Farm will also take back the food waste to create compost, and eventually produce its own soil.
“I want to embrace every natural resource I have to give the soil what it needs to produce the highest level of vegetables,” Greg said. “That’s what these restaurants need, and that’s what diners deserve.”
“Passion is really the cornerstone of all of this,” Ben said. “It’s the first point where all of our interests align — creating the best products we can. From the soil to the seed, to how these vegetables are raised and harvested, to when they’re put on a plate — it becomes this beautiful arc that encompasses all of our backgrounds, our passions, and then we turn people on to how everyone should be eating.”
This story has been updated to correct the size of Loon Farm.