It’s Farm To Truck, Not Table

Lucy Gellman Photo A young business that relies on locally grown food has sprouted wheels and is rolling into Winchester Lofts. Just don’t label it “farm-to-table.”

That request comes from Meg Fama, founder and owner of The Farm Belly. As the operation turns three this year, it is settling into a new spot in the parking lot of the Winchester Lofts, an upscale apartment complex where the Winchester Repeating Arms Company operated until 2006.

On a recent day, Farma was out in the lot early, serving up breakfast to the 7 a.m. crowd. As she flipped breakfast burrito filling, assembled egg and vegetable sandwiches and put out homemade bottles of hot sauce and ketchup, she dipped her hands back into her own culinary history, coming out with a story of where they came from.

Foodie Origins

Fama grew up in Shelton, the youngest of three kids to an Italian dad and Irish mom. As a kid, she wanted to be a detective (she still watches episodes of Law & Order SVU to unwind), but found that she was more curious about the insides of kitchens than what might be happening at crime scenes. Her dad did most of the cooking at home, offering her friends something from an extra meat freezer — “just packed with meat!” Fama recalled — when they visited after school.

Spending weekends with her paternal grandmother, she found herself asking about food. What was her grandmother making? Why did a dough look a certain way? How did she know when something was just right? Measurements were never committed to paper. They didn’t need to be, insisted her grandmother. Fama just needed to listen to her food.

“It will tell you what it wants,” her grandmother told her. So Fama started listening.

She claimed a section of the family’s garden as her own, growing Sun Gold tomatoes and watermelon in the summertime. In high school, she started to work part-time at a deli, and said she was enthralled when a rush came in and the staff had to scramble to assemble slices of meat and cheese, quick cuts of bread, and sandwiches stacked for customers.

Her cooking bug led her to a pastry chef in Fairfield, whose tutelage she valued even as she realized baking wasn’t for her (“It’s not very forgiving,” she said). In 1996 she got involved with Common Ground High School through Joe Lesiak, one of the school’s founders. Remaining involved with Common Ground, she worked a series of cooking jobs; line cook, high-in-command chef at fancy restaurants, fast-paced toast duty at a restaurant called Taste in the Valley, where orders piled up within minutes.

“Toast kicked my ass,” she recalled. “But once you do that, you can kind of do anything.”

And she kept calling her grandmother, regaling her with stories of the day’s most succulent artichoke, or a bread dough that was the right consistency, a tomato that had come off the vine as it was turning red. Just keep listening, her grandmother urged.

While Fama was listening to her food, life was happening around her. She picked up food allergies — strawberries, then pineapple, kiwi, dates, beets, and turnips — and began to grow wary of eating out. She met and started dating the woman who is now her wife. And she landed a job at a New Haven restaurant, where the work was good. For a while.

“I had been working so much, and I’d missed so many holidays and birthdays,” she said. “I got to the point where I thought: I don’t want to do this anymore.”

So she quit, and looked forward, where the horizon line met the dirt.

Mother Trucker No More

Fama took six months off after she quit. She doesn’t cook at home, she said — so she hardly cooked anything for that time, letting her now-wife take control of the kitchen. When she emerged from that culinary hibernation, she wanted a food truck. A food truck called Mother Trucker, that sourced from local farms.

The farms wouldn’t be the biggest hurdle, said her friends. Through her relationship with Common Ground and Connecticut farmers and chefs, she already had the connections in place. She had the savings to afford the truck, too. 

But the name had to go. Mother Trucker would alienate families, they insisted.

“So we were trading ideas, and I said ‘well, it’s from a farm and it’s good for your belly,’” said Fama. Farm Belly stuck. In 2014, she bought a truck from a guy named Mike in Massachusetts.

“His wife wanted her driveway back,” she recalled.

She networked with farms that stretched from New Haven to the Naugatuck Valley, and traveled farther out across the state. Artist Jamie Ficker, a friend with whom she’d always joked about a restaurant, started working on designs for the truck. 

Fama could hear her food again, whispering secrets of local soil and seasonality to her as they traveled from farm to truck, and truck to New Haveners. As she devised menus with vegetables straight from the farms, the truck caught on by word of mouth. It started making appearances at CitySeed’s weekly farmer’s markets at Wooster Square and Edgewood Park, and catering events on some of the weekends.

Two and a half years in, she’s worked out a system where she’s out from 5 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. most days, in constant communication with over 30 farms across the state. It means long days of hopping in her car for farm site visits and discussions over how many carrots, cucumbers, or tomatoes she can expect in any week. She experiments with new vegetables constantly.

“I actually love that,” she said when asked if the need to improvise ever intimidates her. “My body thrives on that. At the end of the day, I feel great.”

To The Fields

Last Tuesday, Fama had heard from two farms — Massaro in Woodbridge and Clover Nook in Bethany — about fresh strawberries and freshly cooked and canned tomato sauce, which she uses with mushrooms, arugula and fresh cheese from Sankow’s Beaver Brook farm. Just past 1 p.m., she hopped in her car, flipping on Wilco as she wound down the tree-lined roads to Woodbridge. 

In a week, Fama said as she drove, she goes through pounds and pounds of seasonal vegetables — and never knows exactly what she’s going to get. One week she’ll have spinach, radishes, asparagus, bok choy. Another, it’s hearty, sweet carrots, spring onions, young berries. Because this spring has been exceptionally cool, wet and cloudy, produce is growing at a slower rate, with sun-craving crops like corn way behind schedule.

At Massaro, she and Farm Manager Steve Munno headed toward rows of fabric-covered strawberries, Fama’s sneakers sinking into damp soil. At the first few — a mix of red and green berries, no larger than a person’s thumb — Fama knelt down, snapping photos of the berries on her phone before asking Munro a series of questions for the Farm Belly Facebook page. She headed towards a storage shed where Munro had stored pints of strawberries washed for her. Fama examined them carefully, turning one over between her fingers.

Allergic to strawberries, she handed it off to this reporter for a taste-test. Firm between the teeth, the berry bloomed from sweet to floral, with just an edge of tart at the end. Fama loaded the berries into her trunk, and checked her watch. It was time to head over to Clover Nook. She waved to Munro and hopped back in the front seat.

As Fama headed to Clover Nook, her car smelled overwhelmingly of green — a scent that comes from the produce and fresh meat she ferries back and forth almost every day, after packing up truck operations at 3 p.m. Sometimes that transport will take her well into the evenings, she said.

At Clover Nook, Fama surveyed a new farm stand, populated with fresh bushels of asparagus, radishes, spinach, rhubarb, strawberries and tightly-wrapped, cooler-packed fresh meat. Before picking up a few pints of strawberries and veggie-filled marinara sauce, she headed out onto the farm’s 90 acres with eighth-generation Clover Nooker Lars Demander, checking out rows of soon-to-be tomatoes, delicate artichokes, and young corn.

Crossing the road into a field, Demander pointed out a group of four sheep, munching at an overgrown patch of grasses and flowers. Fama approached quietly, murmuring a hello. A sheep looked up, and then went back to its lunch.

That’s an added perk of the job, said Fama — she gets to meet the animals that may end up on her truck, experiencing how they come into the world, live their free-range lives, and make their worldly departure. Making a third, impromptu stop at Stone Gardens Farm in Shelton, she visited with piglets, chickens, and friendly cows — some who are just about ready for slaughter — before talking produce with farmer Stacia Monahan, who owns and runs the farm with her husband Fred. 

Farm Plot To Parking Lot

Thursday morning, Fama was back at the truck, adding ingredients to a quinoa salad on one counter while assembling breakfast burritos on another.

Fama is full of peculiarities as she cooks. She doesn’t like eggs, so she’s never tried any of her breakfast sandwiches, burritos, or egg salad. Because of her allergies and a long-held vegetarianism, she also doesn’t taste her own food. She goes by smell and appearance, and the way it chatters with her as vegetables sizzle and pop from the grill, or an aioli gently settles and swooshes in its vat.

But she doesn’t like the label “farm to table,” she said. It’s too chic, with blurry, rough edges around where the farm ends and the table begins.

“I just care about the fact that they come from the farms,” she said. She recalled photographing a pint of fat, chemical-fed strawberries that had made the journey from Salinas, California, and putting the image alongside a pint of small berries from Massaro. “The things that they do to preserve that fruit — it’s not so nice.”

Instead, she sees Farm Belly as part of an agricultural ecosystem. When customers eat locally, they’re supporting their farmers, and taking better care of their bodies, she said. It’s common for her to pull up at a farmer’s market and catch a “farm fresh” vendor who has actually picked up produce at a restaurant depot, and is selling it as his or her own. She watched the Monahans fight for legislation last year that would find and fine farmers peddling “fakes” — off-season, non-local ingredients. She seeks to fight that with her product.

And as part of that quest for agricultural equity, she changes her pricing based on neighborhood, trying to keep it as low as possible while still paying the farmers — and her upkeep costs — fairly. Parked at Winchester through an arrangement with the management, she’s sensitive to the gentrification of the neighborhood, and the “properties that Yale keeps buying up.” She said she gets about equal traffic from students and staff who are at Science Park, people who live around the lofts, and folks from the wider neighborhood.

“”It makes me so happy to just make food for people,” she said.

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 14, 2017  4:48pm

A young business that relies on locally grown food has sprouted wheels and is rolling into Winchester Lofts. Just don’t label it “farm-to-table.”

No .You should label it gentrification and hipster restaurant.on wheels.

posted by: dew21 on June 14, 2017  4:54pm

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Farm Belly!  They are my favorite New Haven food truck and I love all they stand for!  Summers at the Farmer’s Market with a beautiful goat sausage breakfast biscuit can’t be beat! If you haven’t discovered them yet, go find them at Winchester ASAP!

posted by: NewHaven18 on June 14, 2017  10:10pm

@THREEFIFTHS

I think your idea of gentrification is mistaken. Elm City Market would be a better example (although even yuppies think that it is a sad attempt at a Whole Foods). As the article claims, Meg Fama grew up here and utilizes ingredients from CT farms. All the money is flowing into the hands CT farmers and long-time residents. Additionally, most of their food items are very low cost.

posted by: William Kurtz on June 15, 2017  7:35am

” Fama just needed to listen to her food.

“It will tell you what it wants,” her grandmother told her. So Fama started listening.”

If you listen really closely, you can hear one of those breakfast burritos whispering about how it wants to be in my belly.

The worst part about working out of town is lack of easy access to food trucks.

posted by: Renewhavener on June 15, 2017  8:38am

Now I am not prone to fits of praise.  But, had cause to be over near science park recently and I scored a burger from this truck.  Delicious.  Hit me like a lead balloon, and feel like I needed a nap, but undeniably worth it though.  Go out of my way to stop here now.

Keep up the good work Meg.

posted by: EdgewoodHaven on June 15, 2017  9:21am

We love Farm Belly’s unique food and Meg’s team at the truck is always so pleasant!  It’s always a joy, and we love that they travel to various festivals, farmers markets, etc. all around the city to offer their food, not just in Winchester Lofts!  Thank you for all the fabulous meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), and more to come! :)

posted by: Mikelive on June 15, 2017  9:22am

“No .You should label it gentrification and hipster restaurant.on wheels.”

Poor Threefifths, the world is changing all around him and he wants nothing to do with it.

Notice the use of quotation marks. I learned to use them, you can too.

posted by: ADAK on June 15, 2017  11:49am

A small business that buys from local farms. If that’s gentrification and hipster-dom, let me be the KING! What’s better 3/5ths? Big chains where they source nothing local, and is probably unhealthy for the community? I’d be curious what restaurants and food business you *do* support…

On to more important things…

The Farm Belly is awesome. Meg is super nice. The menu is delicious. The ingredients are fresh.

Anyone who comes across the truck should try it—period.

posted by: Fairhavener on June 15, 2017  3:15pm

Meg makes the best breakfast sandwiches! Sausage, egg, cheese to die for.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 15, 2017  6:20pm

Hipster Food Trucks

I’d say that the food described above that was served off this particular truck certainly would appeal to a hipster sort of person.

Urban Dictionary defines it as:
Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20’s and 30’s that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter.

Food trucks are absolutely trending right now. and all of the food items detailed above, from their localvore roots to their unusual pairings and re-visioning of old favorites plays to the creativity and independent thinking aspects.

https://www.chowhound.com/post/hipster-food-trucks-912570

Who do you think live in the Winchester Lofts.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on June 15, 2017  9:00pm

Ok, 3/5ths, anyone who has a breakfast sandwich is a branded hipster and incipient gentrifier.
Damn, why did you give us all away!

posted by: NewHaven18 on June 15, 2017  9:51pm

@THREEFIFTHS

Why did I not see it sooner? If I had just put down my fidget spinner and my vape long enough to read my reliable UrbanDictionary sooner, I could have helped prevent this Yupocalypse.

posted by: adelaide12 on June 16, 2017  12:32am

What if this woman was a local African American woman doing the same thing in New Haven? Would you call it “hipster gentrification” then, 3/5ths? I can bet you anything that you wouldn’t. I never see you moaning and complaining about this sort of thing when the person in charge of the business is black. It’s acceptable as long as it’s a black person doing it. I’ve been following your ignorant comments for a while now and I see a definitive pattern in what you say and what you believe in. That is: any non black person doing anything positive in New Haven ==== gentrification zombie according to 3/5ths. You are as ignorant as they come, my man. You would be happy if no new businesses cropped up in the neighborhood and nobody made any effort to build themselves up and make New Haven a better place to live in. No, you’d prefer people to stay below the poverty line, living off of WIC/EBT, unemployed and enmeshed in a world of crime. You’ve proven your point for a long time with all of your comments on this website. You’d rather b**ch and moan about “gentrification vampires” while offering no solid solution to building our people up and offering opportunities to help them thrive. You’d rather this be a city overrun with blight and listlessness than a city filled with entrepreneurs and opportunity for growth and development. I really wish you’d move the hell out of New Haven or save us all the aggravation and stop commenting. All you do is complain and complain when anyone does anything good for this community. Go move to Detroit or some other city in the U.S. filled with 3/5ths that enjoy wallowing in stagnation or playing the race card when anyone does anything beneficial for the local economy/community. You have nothing of substance to offer to any of these discussions but you are too arrogant and obnoxious to ever stop typing.

posted by: LorcaNotOrca on June 16, 2017  12:34am

@THREEFIFTHS

So you have a problem with hipsters. Many of us think “hipsters” are annoying, sure. The usual response is simply “whatever.” 
But people like what they like, and they start businesses. “Hipsters” seem to be among the many who are taking the initiative to do so. Why is that a problem?

What exactly do you want?
Here’s a woman with a small business, does good work that is sourced locally, and people like it. What is your problem exactly? How is this not a good thing?

You offer many complaints but little in the way of solutions.

Open your own damn restaurant or show us all what we should be doing to advance our city without “gentrifying.” I have plenty of assumptions I’m making based on your criticisms, but I’ll hold back for now. All I hear is a bunch of chatter from someone with no ideas of his/her own but would seemingly prefer a New Haven that remains a dangerous, uncultured, dingy slum with nothing to offer, but hey, at least it’s not gentrified, right?
Quit knocking on the people who are trying to do well for themselves and their community, and the city as a whole.

Pony up, or shut up.

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 16, 2017  3:46am

Dwightstreeter,

It’s funny you use the word ‘Breakfast’....
Don’t you know New Haven doesn’t do Breakfast…...????
It’s kinda weird given a City this size….

3/5th’s,

Meg is definitely catering to a niche….and I think her food will serve itself in whatever corner she stops at…..

Maybe someday she will open a New Breakfast Spot worthy of an up-and-coming mid-sized City…...

posted by: Dwightstreeter on June 16, 2017  9:14am

@Bill Saunders:

The article used the word “breakfast” at least once and it appears in 3 of the comments, sometimes as a modifier “breakfast” burrito or as a meal. In any event Bella’s in Westville does a big breakfast/brunch business and another place in East Rock (name escapes me) has lines on Sunday. Cedarhust Cafe on Crown also does breakfast. Atticus is also popular

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 16, 2017  9:33am

posted by: adelaide12 on June 16, 2017 12:32am

What if this woman was a local African American woman doing the same thing in New Haven? Would you call it “hipster gentrification” then, 3/5ths?

Yes I would. In fact if you read my post I have call out African American who have sold out there people.

I’ve been following your ignorant comments for a while now and I see a definitive pattern in what you say and what you believe in. That is: any non black person doing anything positive in New Haven ==== gentrification zombie according to 3/5ths

First if you have been following my comments you would see that I never use the term gentrification zombie.I use gentrification vampires.So get your facts Straight .

You would be happy if no new businesses cropped up in the neighborhood and nobody made any effort to build themselves up and make New Haven a better place to live in. No, you’d prefer people to stay below the poverty line, living off of WIC/EBT, unemployed and enmeshed in a world of crime

Most of those businesses cropped up in the neighborhood ,The same people you are talking about on WIC/EBT, unemployed can not afford to eat in those businesses.Do those businesses cropped up in the neighborhood take WIC/EBT,?

All you do is complain and complain when anyone does anything good for this community. Go move to Detroit or some other city in the U.S. filled with 3/5ths that enjoy wallowing in stagnation or playing the race card when anyone does anything beneficial for the local economy/community. You have nothing of substance to offer to any of these discussions but you are too arrogant and obnoxious to ever stop typing.

What community are you talking about? Have you been to the Hood?

Part One.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 16, 2017  9:44am

@adelaide12

You have nothing of substance to offer to any of these discussions but you are too arrogant and obnoxious to ever stop typing.

So If I do not have nothing of substance to offer to any of these discussions.They why do you read my comments?I tell you like I tell everyone else.You do not like what I write.You do not not have to read it.


You say race card. Give me a break.The very hipster lifestyle is, in some ways, racist, and definitely not very introspective when it comes to race. Hipsters are a driving force behind gentrification, driving out low income people and people of colour. They consistently co-opt and appropriate elements of other cultures, piecemeal, and often without any cultural sensitivity or respect You sound like a Hipster racist.

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 16, 2017  2:08pm

Dwightstreeter,

Go visit another mid-sized city, and see a what a ‘breakfast spot’ can really look like…

There is a unique absence here.  I think it has something to do with Yale catering it’s own events.

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 16, 2017  3:13pm

ps Dwightstreeter,

The lines you mention at The Pantry only prove my point….the fact that you couldn’t come up with the name tells me something as well….

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 16, 2017  3:15pm

Also, to give credit where credit is due—City Point Kitchen is spot on, but it is far removed from the roar of greasepaint and the smell of the crowd…

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 16, 2017  5:31pm

posted by: LorcaNotOrca on June 16, 2017 12:34am

You offer many complaints but little in the way of solutions.

Again you must not read write in the NHI. If you did you would see that when it comes to solutions.I always offer these solutions.

1) Stop voting in Career politicians

2) Get rid of the Two Party system and replace it with Proportional representation.

3) Term Limits for all.

Open your own damn restaurant or show us all what we should be doing to advance our city without “gentrifying.

Here is what can be done in place of gentrifying.

Aggressively build Low and middle-income housing.Thousands of low and middle-income households today cannot afford to rent or even buy a home.Prohibit large-scale luxury development in at-risk neighborhoods. The single biggest cause of displacement is large-scale, high-cost housing development.Case and point look at how the people were put out of Church Street South.the one"s I knew had to move out of state and to Waterbury.Do like some ciies are starting to do.That is Create a stabilization voucher. To be awarded to long-time residents of low and middle income communities to help them stay when gentrification poses a risk to displacement.

I have plenty of assumptions I’m making based on your criticisms, but I’ll hold back for now.

As we say in the Hood Bring your game.Do not hold back!!!

All I hear is a bunch of chatter from someone with no ideas of his/her own but would seemingly prefer a New Haven that remains a dangerous, uncultured, dingy slum with nothing to offer, but hey, at least it’s not gentrified, right?

Read the above for your answer.

Quit knocking on the people who are trying to do well for themselves and their community, and the city as a whole.

Last I looked the city is driving people way.can you afford a apartment down town?

Part one.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 16, 2017  5:40pm

Part two.

Pony up, or shut up.

As the great PLAYTHELL BENJAMIN would say who I have great respect for would say.

We Must Praise the Saints, Celebrating Heroes, Unmasking Charlatans, Defending the Defenseless and Chastising Scoundrels.Care to follow with me on this.

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 17, 2017  2:52am

3/5th’s

I admire your passion, but give me a break—Meg is a long standing asset to the community who has found a way to share her craft with public at large.

There ain’t no fault in that…..