I’m here to share a story about how a box of random veggies changed my life.
My neighborhood has a Facebook page. It’s mostly neighbors looking for recommendations for services, selling or giving away gently used items, reports of suspicious activities… You feel me, a virtual neighborhood watch/chat group. One day, about a year ago, a neighbor posted in effort to get enough neighbors to sign up for a CSA. For those of you unaware, that stands for Community Supported Agriculture. I decided to give it a shot. I was trying very hard to make some changes to my diet and my lifestyle in general so, I figured it couldn’t hurt. We are a family of adventurous eaters… ok, mostly. My youngest resists but, I have faith that he will come around! The CSA boxes were filled to capacity with random veggies. Some weeks were filled with kale and herbs and squash, while others were packed with pure maple syrup, freshly ground cornmeal and muskmelons. One constant was the quality. I was getting very fresh, pesticide free produce at an extremely reasonable price per pound. The randomness (there’s that word again) of the boxes was a factor that could have been problematic, but instead became inspiring. I found myself searching for new and exciting uses for all of these items that I might not normally add to my grocery cart (yes, I’m a California girl living in the south. I say cart not buggy!). I found a variety of ways to eat and prepare kale, which has never been a favorite of mine. I learned that potatoes that still have dirt on them will last longer! Who knew that? I learned that the common “weed” purslane, is jam packed full of nutrients and health benefits. I learned how not to waste an abundance of kale! Did I mention that I got a lot of kale? Seriously though, don’t let the kale scare you off. I didn’t actually get that much. It was just more than I would have ever purchased in my own… and I’d say that’s a good thing! I made this Kale Pesto with it, and also this Kale Chimichuri. Both last a fair amount of time in the fridge and both freeze beautifully. The biggest thing I learned was that a diet of mostly vegetables made me feel good and gave me the confidence to do my first round of Whole30 last May.
I started reading about CSAs. You can get them in most areas of the country and they are usually in line with or below the average price of produce at the grocery. How can you beat that??? There are a variety of benefits to buying your produce this way. The farmer benefits by getting their money, at least in part, early in the season which is beneficial to the cash flow of the farm. They also get to form a relationship with their buyers. They can ask questions about what they’d like to see more or less of, they can answer questions about usage and quality. The consumer benefits range from fresh quality produce that’s DELIVERED to simply knowing where your food is coming from. Not to mention the potential for saving some dough! The CDC says that the overall consumption of fruits and vegetables in children is up from .24 cups to just .4 cups per 1000 calories which is good news! The bad news is that it is still less than a cup of fruit and veggies for an average day with many children having less than that or no veggies at all. Here’s a link to read more about that. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2014/p0805-fruits-vegetables.html
In my own experience, I’ve seen firsthand the tragedy of children who aren’t exposed to fresh, whole foods. A friend of my oldest son spent some time with us over the summer. He stayed for dinner many times and always seemed excited about what we ate. Simple things like having lettuce and tomatoes to go with our burgers. He marveled at roasted butternut squash (let’s be real, it’s completely amazing and I am in awe of it’s deliciousness every time I make it) and avocado… he’d never eaten avocado before, in fact. I heard him ask my son if we get to have vegetables everyday. My son, replied in complaint… “yeah”. But his buddy seemed impressed as he retorted, “lucky!”. This interaction inspired me to get in touch with the woman who runs my CSA. I wanted to take pictures of and learn about the process. Working with her has been incredible and we’re now doing an entire series; winter, spring, summer and fall. A year in the life of two farms… so to speak.
Stephanie Bradshaw is the driving force behind Farmhouse Nashville. Inspired to live her healthiest life when she lost her best friend to breast cancer. This was a commonality that I wish I didn’t share with her, but I was glad to know it and it made me feel a sense of closeness to her. She invited me onto her property and shared a wealth of information with me that was impressive to say the least! Stephanie and her brood of gorgeous, home schooled, babes, raise the livestock on their farm.
Pulling onto their gravel drive, I was greeted by goats to my left and chickens to my right, but depending on the day, they may be located elsewhere! More on that later. As I wound up the short driveway to the idyllic home situated on a hillside, I passed a small grove of bare trees including many oaks. I later learned that their pigs were invited to feast on the acorns in the late summer and fall. This is just one example of how well fed and cared for, these pigs are. Pigs have been a source of inner conflict for me. They are such incredible animals. They possess great intelligence and are cognitively complex and emotional. This fact has made eating pork hard for me. However, eating pork that’s been fed and cared for like these animals, takes that dilemma out of my equation.
As I parked near their home, I was greeted by Stephanie, her two daughters and Samson, the trusted and loyal German Shepherd. Samson is a farm dog, through and through. He and his slightly goofy, k-9 counterpart, Roy keep the other animals safe from foxes and coyotes and any other predators that might dare to approach as they patrol through the Tennessee nights.We walked down the drive toward the goats. I love goats. Like, really really love them. I could watch goat videos by the dozen! I kid you not! See what I did there? Bad jokes aside, there’s something about goats for me and I believe I may have some one day! There were a dozen or so goats in the pen, with a smattering of sheep and a big grumpy ram. They had plenty of room to hop around in their goaty way, with bales of hay to eat but also to jump on and off of. The Bradshaw’s have constructed very cool, mobile, a-frame shelters to keep them safe and dry during inclement weather. Mobility is an absolute must for every aspect of this farm, which leads me to the incredible way that these animals are used. When I asked Stephanie what she used the goats for primarily, I expected to hear something about goats milk, goats cheese and of course, delicious and tender goats meat… Birria is completely delicious! This traditional Mexican stew originating in Jalisco, is the most common way I’ve eaten goats meat. I’ve also had it at a favorite Jamaican restaurant where it was braised in the rich and spicy flavors of the region. She mentioned none of this, though. Her two word reply was; land management. My interest was peaked! As we reached the goats, I was met by their “bottle baby” cow, Mr Cowee.
“Bottle baby” is right! Mr Cowee is a lover. He leaned against me like an extremely large cat and was clearly used to getting attention. He had a bunch of cockleburs in his shaggy coat, which I was told came from an unauthorized outing to the neighbors field. Stephanie talked about those cockleburs as a favorite snack of the goats and began to explain how their electric fences were portable so that the goats large pen could be moved around the property to keep the woody weeds in check. Her youngest son Sam, was happy to show me the fainting goat as she explained what causes the fainting and that it doesn’t hurt the goat.
We moved from the hopping, playful, bliss of the goaties and crossed the path to the chickens. Both of her daughters had been carrying around chickens pretty much from the moment we had arrived. It was particularly fun to watch the youngest daughter chase them around and eventually find an egg that was questionable and would be added to the pigs food later.The chickens were also in a portable pen, with similar movable shelters. They are layers and provide the family and business with eggs. Their roll in the management of the land is not to be dismissed. Their fertile droppings and diligent rooting is instrumental in keeping the soil healthy. Their meant to “go behind” the other animals and aid in distribution of manure.
We moved past the chickens out toward the pigs. Five or six adults and just as many piglets reside in yet another traveling perimeter. Stephanie and her son Sam showed us how they move the pens. They started by giving a healthy serving of piggy deliciousness at the end of the pen nearest the area to where they’d be moving. Distracted by their snack, the pigs congregated in one spot which gave the “all clear” to Stephanie and Sam.
They started by shutting off the battery and solar powered electric fence and began to pull up stakes, loosely rolling the fencing up as they moved.Within five or ten minutes they had a very large pig pen completely relocated with a fresh plot of land for the pigs to begin rooting. Guess what? The pigs are also a key component to, you guessed it, land management! I found her explanation of what they do, entirely compelling! You could clearly see a line where their property met the new property that the family had recently attained. Their old side looked more fertile and lush while the new side had a more barren and grey appearance.
You could also see that the rooting of the pigs went six or eight inches down in some cases. This was where the magic was happening. Stephanie explained that they were uncovering seed beds that have been dormant for hundreds of years! This rooting is bringing native seeds to the surface to germinate and thus create a more balanced and fertile soil which will inevitably better feed the livestock that will be raised here in the future. Incredible! This past, has to be the future of farming, I thought.
“This past, has to be the future of farming, I thought.”
We walked and talked some more. The family enjoyed showing us a beautiful creek on their property that had been gently cutting its way through the craggy granite for hundreds of years. Remarking that they take the opportunity to cool off in that creek during summer months, evoked mental imagery that sparked joy in me and reminded me of childhood days at my families ranch in California’s Central Valley. This is good livin.
I learned about the start of her journey into creating this life for her family and that youngest daughter Abby is a bit of a ham and always had a toothy smile ready for my lens. Her oldest son drove up and introduced himself with he confidence and manners of a good southern boy. We walked back up toward the house where we chatted a bit more near the grove of oaks. We were wrapping up last photos and sentiments as their dog Roy came running up with a stick in his mouth. He’s a sweet and loving and goof-ball of a boy and I reached down toward the stick thinking he was after a game of fetch, and as he recoiled with his precious, I saw that it was not a stick but rather the leg of a small deer! Imagine my shock! Well… only my shock, the family was un-phased. This is country life.
Stay tuned for part two of my Farmhouse Nashville winter series where we head to the Amish community in Scottsville, Kentucky to meet the family and tour the farm that provides the produce side of this business. Also, please visit the Farmhouse Nashville site here where you can sign up for their CSA if you are local or make purchases from their farm store from anywhere in the US.