A Visit To Green Market Farm

July 2, 2010

The other day I spent some time with Brandon Tavalin at Green Market Farm out in Gallatin, the farm he’s owned for the past 3 years. Brandon’s enthusiasm for his work is contagious. He truly loves what he’s doing and after hanging out with him for a few hours I began to really see how every dollar we put into the hands of our farmers impacts the local community tenfold. From buying food at the market to eating at local restaurants to building gardens and educating kids about food, that dollar goes a long way.

Although he only lost a few dozen plants in the flood this spring, a luck of the draw that could’ve easily had a different outcome, that didn’t stop him from lending a hand to other farmers that didn’t fare so well. About 90% of his early crop went to supplement the CSAs from other farms that had been hit hard by the flood. “Farming in your community is really important,” Brandon tells me with serious passion in his voice.

By the end of this season Green Market Farm will have about 30 to 35 acres of farmed land. You name it and they’ve probably got it, from eggplant to three different kinds of watermelon to a French specialty melon, kale and squash, red and green okra…the list goes on and on. All grown organically and with an attention that comes from a love affair with vegetables.

“My personal goal is to feed as many people as I possibly can,” he says. “I think we could be a little more self-sufficient in our community. We should at least be able to feed each other at a reasonable price.” And with a farm that’s selling out of their product every single week (knock on wood, he adds), he seems to be on a pretty good roll.

But the thing that sets this farm apart is the heirloom tomatoes. Oh the tomatoes! Brandon told me that if you arrive early enough in the morning, before the plants have been harvested, it looks like a rainbow of color down each row. Each 550 foot row to be exact, with 4500 plants per square acre. He has planted literally every variety of heirloom out there, over 42 types, and can tell you the name of each of them with a quick glance. The Striped Germans and Cherokee Purples, the Green Zebras and Brandy Wines (his personal favorite), all have their own charm, not to mention incredible taste.

Last year, in the midst of the chaos that comes with being a first year farmer and having those moments of wondering if all this work is really worth it, he and his grandfather went to Chatanooga to drop off a delivery at a restaurant that was buying about 175 pounds of heirlooms a week. As they sat down to have a meal and looked around the dining room, they saw that every single person had his heirloom tomato salad on their plate. The chef had cut the tomato into wedges, drizzled a little olive oil and topped it with his basil from the farm. “You could hear people all around the room saying how good it was and that was the experience that kind of propelled me forward. I knew that this was what I really wanted to do.”

His sense of humor and easygoing style can make it easy to forget just how much is really going on at any given moment. With seven farm interns and five workers from South America to manage, coordination alone is almost a fulltime job. And on top of a thriving retail and wholesale business, he started doing farmers markets this year both in Nashville and Gallatin. The mornings tend to be the craziest, “it’s like herding cats,” he says with a smile.

But the farm also wouldn’t be what it is today without the help of family. His mom, Christie, is in charge of Processing and Distribution, and his grandmother, who lives down the road, comes by to cook lunch for the workers everyday. And what an incredible lunch it is.

Despite the challenges and the ups and downs in farming, he said this year he is very pleased with what he’s accomplished. “We’ve made a lot of investment into equipment, we’re developing a really good farm crew. It’s been a great experience this year.”

But nevertheless, he still has moments when he’d like to shut off his constantly ringing phone or maybe bury it in the dirt for a while. “Sometimes I want to tell people, just leave me in the field, that’s where my heart is.”

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