To people in Louisville, Ramsi’s Café on the World is synonymous with a lot of things: the Highlands, Bardstown Rd, amazing food, vegan options, and diversity. You’ll typically see a diverse range of people eating there, hired there, and the food, of course, is from all corners of the globe. My friends and I eat there frequently for the plethora of vegan options, and it’s my first recommendation when new vegans visit Louisville.
A few months ago, a friend who works there gave me a tip that the owner, Ramsi Kamar, had something big planned. Bigger than an expanded restaurant, bigger than vegan focaccia bread with tofu-feta cheese, bigger than a Highland staple that has sustained the food cuisine in Louisville for years. In fact, Ramsi has had this in the works for over ten years, and he hasn’t even bragged about it. In 2013, Ramsi will be opening a USDA-certified organic farm in Jefferson County. Not organic produce, not organic milk or organic flowers, an organic farm. Every single thing on the property, from the fertilizer to the fruit trees to the animal feed, will be organic. When I asked Ramsi why he decided to take on such an ambitious product, his answer was simple: “because it’s the right thing to do.”
The farm, Raising Hope Farm (where “hope” is actually an acronym for Healthy Organic Produce for Everyone), is around 15 acres, and tucked in among other agricultural and residential properties off Spotswood Lane, in Fisherville, Kentucky. This puts it right on the edge of Jefferson County, which Ramsi and his consultant Patrick Piuma hope will make it the first certified organic farm in the county. Piuma, an urban designer who works at the University of Louisville, has been working side by side with Ramsi and his crew to design and build the farm. There’s no shortage of ambition when it comes to what’s in store for the farm, as they leave no acre unused:
Fruit and nut plants will be concentrated along the east section of the site with an estimated total of about 100 trees of varying types including apple, pear, peach and cherry to name a few. Research is currently being done to determine which trees will be most effective and productive on the site.
That’s just one excerpt from the planning document – other sites include a vast flower garden, an herb garden, a 20,000 square foot greenhouse, aquaponic operations, livestock (chicken and goats) and honey bees (which, while I must frown at as a vegan, at least this is a small, organic farm, and not a CAFO), a learning garden for educational initiatives with the community, and a giant event space to offer Slow Food dinners and foster the community nature of the farm.
Ramsi plans to have infrastructure on the farm to support live-in programs, and told me he also wants to work with groups like the Kentucky Refugee Ministries to bring farmers and their families from war-torn countries like Darfur to Fisherville, giving them a place to work and live as they transition to a new life.
I grew up [in Jerusalem] fantasizing about having olive trees. When I came to America and bought my first house…you have a piece of land, you can now grow stuff to eat. I [bought] a Bradford pear, cherry trees, [then] I did realize they’re not fruiting; they’ve been genetically modified. I waited three or four years before I [realized that]. Our property [the farm] has a creek, and land. That was nirvana for me.
Ramsi stressed me to several times the importance of organic certification, the most important of which, to him, is education. A community garden and workshops to demonstrate the organic ways are both part of his vision. Ramsi consults with the University of Kentucky, as well as the USDA directly and had nothing but positive things to say:
Even if you did not want to farm, once you talk to these people [the USDA]…you want them to be your best friends for life. They really care about what they do. They’re very educated. If you’re a surgeon, you don’t graduate with a degree and start; it’s continued education. And that’s the cool thing about the USDA Certified Organic: it’s continued education. With farming, it’s mandatory education every day.
TNTSU: Organic is important because of not only what it means for the earth, but what it gives back, then?
Ramsi: Organic translates into education. Organic is science. Medicine is science. The earth is science. The worms are science.
Will the organic food sourcing change your prices at the restaurant?
When we opened the restaurant and defined success as being able to attract 100% of the population. Just like we mark vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free, we’re going to mark organic, and hopefully we’ll have 50% of our menu marked organic. So we could still continue to cater to people with low-income…but I hope to God in two years I only eat what I grow.
So the aim for you is sustainability? What is the drive?
What is our drive? Excellence. It is not money. You will never make money at this. But it’s the right way to live.
I’m going to dedicate the rest of my life to organics. I’m going to die on my hands and knees playing with the worms, and doing that stuff. I love it.
This is an interesting shift because to me, to the community, your focus is this amazing restaurant.
People [are my focus]. The restaurant is really about…I get high walking in the dining room and seeing the diversity of people we attract. No other restaurant and claim that. That’s by design; it’s not something that just happened.
Are you going to promote the restaurant as connected to the farm with this ultra-local connection?
That’s another thing that I never really subscribed to…[putting] a big sign on my door saying, “we buy local.”
…It has to be legit: if you want to do a good job, you do it because you believe in it, not because it would sell more stuff. I’m not trying to link the farm and the restaurant together, because I do not want to promote the restaurant based on this.
You don’t want to promote this as a farm-to-table type thing?
That’s not my drive for what I’m trying to do. I’m doing this because I believe in it.
Big thanks to Ramsi Kamar and his wife Rhona for their time and information. Photos are from Ramsi himself and Patrick Piuma.