Dean joined the leadership team at Hart’s Local Grocers after meeting founder Glenn Kellogg in 2012. But there was a long and biopic-worthy road that led him to Rochester.
A self-described city slicker and native of Scottsdale, Ariz., Dean took a roundabout route to the farming profession. He served as a U.S. Army photojournalist. He studied property management in college, eventually founding a small firm. But after his early adventures and successes, he felt a yearning for a way of life he’d never known before.
“I always knew I had a real desire to work the land,” Dean says. “I wanted to experience farm life, hard work and gratifying results through farming, gardening, and raising animals. Growing great food and sharing it with others.”
So, he sold his firm in the West and bought a farm in the East, moving to Chenango County, N.Y., in 1997.
“I had absolutely no practical experience as a farmer,” Dean admits. “After some research, I settled on egg-laying hens and went to Lancaster County, Penn., to learn from an Amish organic egg farmer all I could about raising a proper egg. Then I came back to my farm, set up my outbuildings to accommodate the ladies, and began a small flock.”
A few years later, his farm up and running, Dean had found that Upstate New York farmers were producing great food but lacked a solid distribution system. He tackled the problem himself.
“With some coolers, a mini-van and a whole lot of charm, I started visiting retailers in the area, showing off amazing food from my farm and several others” he says. “Cheeses, yogurt, milk, eggs, meats all being made in Upstate New York with very little public knowledge about it.”
Since the early 2000s, awareness and appreciation of local farms food has progressed. Dean believes helping people connect with the food they eat is all about sharing stories of farmers.
“They work seven days a week, never take vacations, and do all they can to make the best food possible for their neighbors,” Dean says. “As consumers, we can all better understand the dedication and demands that go into growing the great food we eat.”
Another breakthrough came with the opening of the supermarket Eataly, a vast food destination in New York City. Dean worked closely with the store before it opened, supporting menu development, supplying key ingredients, introducing the company to many local farmers and products. He even worked with them on retail displays.
He loved the experience. And Eataly taught Dean many things he’s taken to Hart’s. For one?
“Great food can be amazingly simple. Four good ingredients, cooked well, can be a lifetime memory,” he says.
“It’s all about getting the best ingredients you can find, treating them simply, and letting the food speak for itself. Perfection.”