Ever since I started farming, I've come to realize there is a direct correlation between the amount of sunlight in a day and the amount of dirt under my fingernails. Needless to say, as we enter the blessed month of May - there is a LOT of dirt under my fingers, and I couldn't be happier (sorry mom). Hands down, May is my favorite month of the year. May means delicious, drawn-out dinners outside as the sun sets and the crickets begin their nighty symphony. May means the peonies are back in bloom, school is almost out for the summer, and farmers everywhere are ramping up their hustle to plant, irrigate, fertilize, weed, and harvest new crops fruits and veggies. May also happens to be my birthday month, and this year my husband and I are making the trek to Ireland (aka heaven) to explore the countryside and take part in Ballymaloe Cooking School's annual Lit Fest! Ballymaloe is where I earned my culinary stripes, and I am counting down the days until we're back and surrounded by endless fields of green, frothy pints of Magners Irish Hard Cider, and the most glorious butter made from some of the happiest cows on the planet.
May is also an awesome time to get back in the groove of shopping at your local farmers market, or to join a CSA program and receive weekly boxes of seasonal goodness! CSA's are wonderful because they provide upfront capital early in the season for farmers, and it's the best way for to experience the different varieties of fruits + vegetables that peak throughout the growing season. Right now it's all about greens, radishes, turnips, green onions and sugar snap peas - soon to be followed by heavy summer harvests of zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, corn, melons + berries - and as the season winds down, your boxes will be filled with heaps of leafy greens, hefty winter squash, and bodacious brassicas like broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts.
And if you just so happen to live in central Tennessee, then you'll be jumping at the chance to sign up for a CSA share at Bloomsbury Farm, which is the subject of today's Eat Like a Farmer interview! Bloomsbury Farm is owned by farmer Lauren Palmer, who comes from a long line of family members with a deep love for farming. On their stunning 400-acre property (which is GAP and Organic Certified), the team at Bloomsbury produces an impressive variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and greenhouse-grown specialty crops for their robust CSA program, local farmers' markets, restaurants, and wholesale customers. I'm so grateful for Lauren's willingness to share more of her story and offer a glimpse at a day in the life on her beautiful + bustling farm, and I have a feeling that after reading this interview you'll be even more inspired to support your local farm community - keep scrolling and dig on in!
Where is your farm located and what do you grow? Smyrna, TN, about thirty minutes south of Nashville. Bloomsbury spans four-hundred acres across Williamson and Rutherford counties in middle Tennessee. We are a GAP and organic-certified farm growing over a hundred varieties of vegetables, fruits, herbs, sprouts, and wheatgrass. There are about fifty chickens clucking and scratching around who supply us with a healthy stockpile of fresh eggs, and a gaggle of geese who supply us with plenty of squawks and screeches.
Walk us through a typical day on your farm and in your kitchen (ie what do you eat on a typical day)? My daughter Palmer (a three-year old spitfire and proud farmher) and I are early risers, and like to start off with a healthy breakfast. Not counting coffee or milk, our breakfasts often consist entirely of Bloomsbury goodness. A favorite combo is eggs topped with clover sprouts and pepper flakes. Depending on the season, we might add a side of fresh strawberries or slices of heirloom tomatoes. After Palmer chooses her accessories for the day (she’s a fashion-forward farmer who likes to pair tutus and scarves with her mud boots and barn wear), we set off for the barn and greenhouses. On a farm, no two days are ever the same, which is something I love. My days can include handling orders and deliveries, working with customers (we sell at farmer’s markets, to CSA members, and to a range of wholesale clients), field maintenance, planning, marketing, studying forecasts (and doing rain dances in summer), and digging around in the dirt. Because I’m on the go, lunch might be a hearty green juice, salad, or sandwich. A few times a week, Palmer and I deliver fresh produce to two VIPs who live on the farm -- my parents. (We’re very fortunate (and very spoiled) to have them so close!) We enjoy dinner together as a family, unwinding from the day and planning for the next.
What is your favorite fruit or vegetable grow, and what's your go-to method to cook it? I was raised a vegetarian, and I am doing the same with my daughter. When you grow veggies and fruits, like children, it’s hard to play favorites. We’re pretty spoiled to have most everything right at our doorstep. Our favorite foods are those in-season. In the spring, we eat our weight in strawberries. We’re also known for our tomatoes, and thanks to our milder climate, tomato season is a long one! When it comes to preparation, I try to do as little as possible. Fresh food is flavorful in its unaltered form, and I don’t want to mask the deliciousness that we work so hard to cultivate. I like to think that most of the preparation and flavoring is done before it comes out of the ground. I love fresh herbs, and always keep some on hand for a simple sauté. We also enjoy eating raw foods -- it’s hard to top asparagus and okra picked and eaten in the field. (Added bonus: no clean-up!) Palmer knows that at the farm, she can pull anything out of the ground and eat to her heart’s content.
What kitchen tools could you not live without? Sauté pan and good knives.
Name the top three ingredients used most in your kitchen that don't come from your farm. Sea salt, milk, and butter. Maybe one day, though, we can shorten that list to just sea salt.
Favorite cookbook? My grandmother’s much-loved and much-used Betty Crocker cookbook (with the patina of scribbles and stains to prove it) and my mother's Moosewood cookbook. They hold not only favorite recipes, but the memories and joys that come from preparing and sharing them.
Do you have go-to methods for preserving your harvests through the year (ie jamming, pickling, freezing)? As I mentioned, we’re known for our heirloom tomatoes. We roast tomatoes with peppers for salsa, so we can get our tomato fix all four seasons of the year.
What advice do you give folks for cooking with your produce, especially when using ingredients they may not be familiar with? I tell them to do as little as possible because we’ve done all of the hard work for them. We love to throw curve balls to our CSA members and farmer’s market-goers with special varieties and interesting produce. Food surprises are always well received -- kohlrabi was a hit last fall! We make sure to tell our customers how to use these fun veggies, and they share their favorite recipes with us and one other. Nashville is brimming with incredible food bloggers, chefs, and home cooks -- many of whom belong to our CSA. They’ll craft recipes with our CSA offerings in mind, and we’ll then tuck those recipes into CSA baskets for all our members to enjoy.
How has running a farm influenced your relationships with family, friends, and your local community? We’re three generations on the farm — my parents, myself, and my daughter. (My sister, who’s owned and operated a successful small business for almost a decade, is nearby.) As operations have grown since we first started producing in 2009, so has the team, and thus our family. We’re a tribe, a village, and a circus, all learning and growing together as we farm. Because of this tribe, I’ve learned that I’m no longer a shy, quiet kid, and instead someone thrives on sharing with others. So, for me, Bloomsbury Farm is more than just a place to grow, it is a place to gather. Good community, like good food, doesn’t just happen; it is something that’s planted, nurtured, and shared. Last year we started opening the farm on Friday afternoons for CSA pickups and shopping. Families and friends start to gather in the afternoon, and don’t leave until well past dark. Everyone who passes through our gates as a stranger leaves as a friend!
Share a favorite recipe for a simple, straight from the farm dish that you are craving this spring. Balsamic strawberries -- delicious, foolproof, and can take you from salads to ice cream (and courses in between). Using 4-5 pints of strawberries, dice the strawberries and mix in 4-5 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, a tablespoon of sugar, and a pinch of black pepper. Let it stand at room temperature for an hour, and then eat or refrigerate.