Ramble Hill Farm
August 12, 2010
“I do rugged wild farming, that’s for sure,” Tanner Olsen tells me as we hike up the path that leads to his summer garden at Ramble Hill Farm. After a few minutes we reach the top of the hill, on all sides we are surrounded by endless vistas of trees and meadows, wildflowers mingling amidst the tall grasses, giant blackberry bushes littering the rolling hills. If not for the relentless sun beating down on our backs, it would be hard to ever tire of these views.
His gardens fit like a natural extension of this wild landscape, just as farming for him is a natural extension of his love of food and the life he’s created for himself, a reflection of his many talents and passions. “I’ve always been the kind of person who finds a way to get by however I can,” he tells me. “Make a little money here, make a little money there and try to stay happy ultimately.” And for the first time, this year some of his money will come from the two acres he farms on his own out in Goodlettsville.
But farming is just one of the many passions he has incorporated into his piecemeal life. Come September, the gardens will move to the back burner and he will start school for audio engineering and begin touring the country with his band, Across Tundras. Collectively, he and his band mates decided that they don’t like touring in the heat of summer, the appeal of being cooped up in a van with a few guys, a couple of dogs and a pile of instruments, quickly loses its charm in 100 degree heat, “So I have a three or four month block where this works perfectly that I can go to the farmers market each week.”
The market provides an outlet for the former chef side of him as well, allowing him to talk to people about recipes or coach them through how to prepare items such as squash blossoms, those delicate pale orange and yellow flowers that grow into a squash. Instead of letting them mature into a zucchini, he’ll pick the blossom or pick the zucchini when it’s young and still has the blossom on the end. The flowers offer an entirely different culinary backdrop as they are delicious stuffed and fried, or you can simply cut them up and use them like an herb, adding them to stir fries or on top of pizza or leaving them whole inside of a grilled cheese sandwich. “I like to offer something just a little bit different.”
At 30 years old, the unconventional life he’s led has begun to bring him back to his roots as a kid growing up on the vast plains of South Dakota where his family had “giant gardens and did tons of canning.” Ideally down the road, he’d like to incorporate being a farmer and a chef even more but he doesn’t get too hung up on specific plans for the future. “I’ve already met people and have had some different opportunities come up from it and I feel like that’s probably what’s gonna happen. I kind of just go with it.”
His musical life has evolved much in the same way, through community and simplicity. Across Tundras is partly influenced by Neil Young, Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd, among others, but they also have a distinctly original sound. Nowadays CDs are almost worthless since anyone can burn one, so his band gives away all their albums as a free download online, a nod to fans to come see them play live if they like what they hear. But to get the real authentic sound they’re going for, vinyl is the way to go. They use old gear to record their records which gives them more of a true vintage sound.
So if you want to talk recipes, farming, music or recording, Tanner’s knowledge goes well beyond the surface on all fronts and usually leans toward a less-is-more type of style, something we’re probably all striving for in one way or another. “I see this shift in thinking and it’s for the better,” he says, speaking of both the farming and music communities. “I hope that people just keep going with it because I believe in keeping true to the old ways.”