Jess Piskor met Abra Berens 10 years ago while they were serving bowls of matzo-ball soup and pastrami sandwiches at Ann Arbor’s legendary Zingerman’s deli. At the time, Piskor happened to be sitting on his family’s four fallow acres bordering Lake Michigan. Berens was less interested in farming than in finding a venue for her seasonal dishes. Today, the pals’ Bare Knuckle Farm benefits from a food-forward business model – Berens’ “dirt-to-table” dinners fetch $65 a head for meals featuring Piskor’s produce – but the partners had to learn a few lessons the hard way. “My ‘screw this’ moment came last year,” Piskor says, “when I found myself hand-washing carrots in a tub of ice water. I paid staffers $2,000 to help before I realized I could invest in a root washer.
“A lot of farmers hate working with other people,” he says, “but it’s my favorite part of the job. The most important thing is providing a quality place for employees to work and learn how to grow.”