Former Farm Manager wants criminal probe - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Former Farm Manager wants criminal probe

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It's every restaurant's mission: finding fresh vegetables that not only look sensational.. but taste wonderful.

That's why a Fox 5 I-Team investigation into a troubled organic farm has caused a stir among longtime farm-to-table growers. A farm that admits it broke its promises to popular restaurants all over metro Atlanta.

Our earlier investigation revealed how the CEO of Free Country Farms, Denise "Eve" Morrow, served time in North Carolina for multiple counts of obtaining property under false pretenses.

But now the farm's former manager claims to law enforcement Free Country Farms pulled a scam on some of your favorite restaurants.

"That little section was going to be the okra. And then the squash and zucchini," Matt Gailey said as he walked along his field of dreams in Tallapoosa.

"It's heartbreaking, it really is to know what I put on that hill and what I've done to this field." All that's growing now is a stiff crop of weeds.

Gailey prepped the land for all those organic vegetables promised to metro Atlanta restaurants.

But he says he never got the chance to plant anything outside a few seedlings in some greenhouses because CEO Eve Morrow would not buy the seeds on time.

He told Haralson County sheriff's investigators the farm even used fertilizers "not in line with an organic farm," just one of "several shady things."

Gailey: "You had to know in your mind that it's right and wrong. And they did the wrong thing with the restaurants."

Last year, Free Country Farms put on what it called Chefs Day. A couple dozen Atlanta restaurant owners made the 90 minute drive out here to see the farm for themselves and hear the sales pitch. Many quickly signed up and put down a deposit. But according to former employees, not a single restaurant got a single carrot... cucumber... or kumquat.

And until we called her earlier this month, CEO Denise Eve Morrow did not refund 1000s of dollars in deposit money. Those restaurants told us Morrow offered the same excuse: bad rainy weather.

That was a lie said Gailey. "Nothing was planted."

Morrow referred us to her attorney... who had no comment about the allegations.

Yet plenty of other longtime organic growers say what happened at Free Country Farms is the exception, rather than the rule. BesMaid Garden Essentials owner Bobby Britt sells directly to many top-end metro restaurants. He said he was shocked to see our original investigation.

But that wasn't the case with one of his volunteers. Donata Defilippi remembers meeting Free Country Farms CEO Morrow last year when she spoke at a gathering of eco-friendly business leaders.

"Everything she said sounded phony." said Defilippi. "She didn't sound like a woman who knew farming, knew organic produce, and really anything about it."

Morrow has promised to issue refunds to those restaurants. Some confirm they've received checks. Former farm manager Matt Gailey is pushing for criminal charges against his old boss... with he and others telling authorities she owes thousands in back wages and stolen investment dollars... but so far, authorities in Haralson County consider it a civil matter.

Gailey looks at that weed-filled field and considers it... a huge waste for everyone.

"We had the whole field prepped. And you see what it looks like today."

 

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