Chef & Farmer at Wilderbean Provisions and Elkstone Farms
Chereen Leong not only works daily to produce sustainable food in the Yampa valley with Elkstone Farms and with her own catering company, she has also impacted the restaurant culture in Steamboat by bringing locally grown, sustainable, and delicious menus into places such as Low Country Kitchen and Mountain Tap Brewery.
Chereen inspires everyone around her to love food deeply and respect where it came from and where it brings us. In her private chef business, Wilderbean Provisions, she uses as many local ingredients as possible and offers menus that rely on what is growing in the season. There are often times when she tells her clients that she personally harvested what they are eating the morning of their dinner or the day before, connecting people directly with the food.
On the farm, Chereen helped start an agritourism program with on-farm cooking classes, workshops, and farm lunches. She also works very closely with a local nonprofit called the Community Agriculture Alliance. They are an amazing organization in the community that has created a way to connect all of the local producers and has given the public a way to purchase local food in one place.
Chereen is a 2020 Emerging Leader in Food & Ag Award recipient. Recently, she took the time to update us on this work.
Emerging Leaders in Food & Ag (EL): Tell us a little about what you’ve been up to in the last 6-12 months? How (if at all) did 2020 and all its unexpected craziness influence your work?
Chereen Leong Schwarz (CLS): The last year has been a whirlwind! When quarantine began in March, I’d already been planning to leave the farm where I was working to more fully pursue my farm-to-table private chef business. My plan was to become more involved with our local non-profit the Community Agriculture Alliance as well as help at my friend’s growing farm. I ended up having the busiest summer so far and more and more people requesting private chef services.
EL: What lessons have you learned that you are taking into 2021?
CLS: I’m definitely taking the mantra “simplify to amplify” into 2021. I run another business called Smeeny Beanie Knits where winter is my busiest time and my 2020 was full of juggling the two. I want to transition my private chef business into being more of a seasonal offering instead of year round services. Our growing season is very short here in the mountains, and I want to better focus my offerings and energy. I’m hoping that by doing this, I’ll also be able to do more events and collaborations with local farms.
EL: What’s next for you?
CLS: I joined the Community Agriculture Alliance Board of Advisors this year and am really looking forward to introducing more community outreach and events to the organization. I’m also excited to be more involved in local food on a community level. By cutting back a little on the private chef business, I’m also hoping to get back on the farm and explore more of the animal raising and butchery side of farming.
EL: What gives you hope for the next year? Or, alternatively, what is your greatest hope for the next year?
CLS: Of course, my greatest hope is that we can come together and beat this virus! I think seeing how much growth we saw in our local food market over the course of the pandemic also gives me a lot of hope. We saw a huge increase in market members this year as well as in local food producers. With more people aware of and turning to local, I hope we can really create a healthier food system in my community.