If there's one thing Richard Stewart knows, it's how to adapt.

He didn't start out as a natural at Carriage House Farm, his family's 300-acre, sixth-generation farm in North Bend. He had an indoor job working in design, doing computer-aided illustration. When demand for that business dried up, he went outside and got his hands dirty.

In the decade since, the 42-year-old Stewart has taken risks, experimented with crops, changed the business model and became one of the area's only beekeepers who is allergic to bees. But his approach worked.

He joined a farm-to-table movement that has taken off. The farm has become a hit with high-end Cincinnati chefs and independent stores, filling a demand for local ingredients such as honey, cornmeal, root crops, horseradish, delicate salad greens and culinary herbs.

"We knew there was a demand for local food, and that was showing up in the farmers' markets. That's where it all started," Stewart says. "We are producing a much healthier product. There's zero chemical application to it."

And the changes are drawing customers like bees to an allergic beekeeper. But that's another story.

Hustling to produce

On the edge of a row of basil in her half-acre garden on the farm, Kate Cook takes in the fragrant scent and says this is what her own career switch was all about.

Cook, 35, the farm's garden manager, also reinvented herself when the economy took a dive when she went from production and theater design to farming.

The Cincinnati design firm she worked for closed, so she turned to her gardening hobby and applied for a chef program working with Findlay Market, one of the city's most cherished food institutions. Then she began volunteering at Carriage House Farm and never left.

"Growing seasonal vegetables is like doing a never-ending theater production," she says. "You've got hard deadlines. You've got to hustle. And you work until the job is done. That's something you don't see in a lot of other jobs."

This job taught her how to fight drought conditions and grow large quantities of Swiss chard and kale and heat-tolerant herbs like basil, parsley and thyme. She experiments with radishes, wheat berries, spicebush berries and nasturtium capers.

"The quality of what we're producing, since it isn't being shipped across the country, tends to be much higher," she says. "It has a longer shelf life. This year, we got our walk-in cooler. So when I'm harvesting things, it's immediately chilled down, and it lasts a lot longer."

She tests recipes at home all the time and likes having the luxury of chatting with chefs about how they might incorporate the farm's ingredients into their dishes.

The farm recently received a grant to put in a tunnel that will allow Cook to do four-season growing, and she's excited about keeping restaurants and clients stocked with leafy greens year-round.

"Three years ago, when I started doing this for my job, the conversation was, 'Is this a fad, or is this a real trend?' " Cook says. "Now there's no question. It's a trend. I say this because the larger producers, your food distributors, are starting to see a difference in their bottom line. There's a little bit of push back. That means we're doing something right."

Sweet Taste of Local

For Shalini Latour, a chocolatier at Chocolats Latour in Northside, buying locally makes good business sense. It's a matter of establishing relationships.

Latour experiments with the farm's allspice-like spicebush berries or peppery spices in her handmade chocolates, and she has a locally sourced item that gets people talking and coming back for something they can't find anywhere else.

"I like to source locally because the flavors are so much better," Latour says. "Compare locally harvested and dried rosemary and the stuff from a bottle at the grocery store and there is world of difference. The fragrance and taste of local herbs is so intoxicating. I also like to know the people who grew the foods I use. It's more personal."

At Local 127 on Vine, a "new American eatery" downtown that prides itself on sourcing locally, the farm-to-fork movement has meant Chef Steven Geddes listens when Cook tells him how she prepares wheat berries.

The restaurant recently held a four-course farm dinner. Geddes served the wheat berries on a pork dish along with wilted greens and red wine essence. And for dessert, he sprinkled some of the sweet pollen collected from Stewart's bees atop buttermilk panna cotta with blueberries and spiced bush berry crumble.

At the green Park+Vine shop and lunch counter in Over-the-Rhine, constant availability of fresh local produce and grains fills a void, says store owner Dan Korman.

"For now, local produce is an impulse purchase for most people who come to the shop," he says. "But we're hoping that over time, it's something people can rely on from us."

Carriage House Farm also has honey, small grains and produce appearing at local retailers such as Whole Foods, some Remke markets, Picnic and Pantry in Northside and Green Bean Delivery. The farm also has a following at farmers' markets in Northside and Hyde Park.

The farm adapts to demand, Stewart says.

Restaurants open and close, and chefs switch jobs all the time. Stewart knows a client might disappear at a moment's notice. He's just happy to get people interested in where their food comes from.

"I would love to get everybody to start cooking more," he says.

He explains the situation standing precariously close to those bees he has been trying to avoid, and he pauses to check a text order on his phone.

"Our whole mission here, besides just having a successful business, is to help create a Cincinnati or Ohio Valley food culture," he says.

"We want to be there to say, 'Hey, listen, it's not just about tomatoes and squash. It's about nasturtium seedpods. Can we get ginger to grow? Can we get that on a regular basis? Can we get small quantities? Can we make things in different ways?' "

His approach now is to get his hands dirty and give it a try.