Summer is all about dirt. Oh, and sweat, lots of sweat. Those are two of the most important components of summertime, and the potent combination that produces delicious, fresh fruits and vegetables. Just ask any farmer: none of the bounty you see at a farmer's market can be produced without plenty of both! On a recent trip back to Nashville, I had the opportunity to witness this firsthand at a local farm, Sulphur Creek Farm with a long, lost childhood friend, Tallu.
However, before I tell you about Sulphur Creek Farm I'd like to share another food-related effort. Through Facebook (see, it's good for something!), I had been following Tallu's work as Program Director of the local chapter of a non-profit organization called Mobile Loaves and Fishes (MLF). After many status updates and photo uploads of beautiful farm-fresh produce, I knew that I wanted to know about whatever it was she seemed to be doing. So we set up an opportunity to chat during my visit home. Lucky for me, this opportunity meant an invitation to a summer potluck at the aforementioned Sulphur Creek Farm, of which Tallu is a CSA member. But before we trekked out to the farm, we took a quick peek at the MLF Nashville headquarters, at Woodmont Christian Church. MLF is delivers food and supplies to homeless and others in need via special catering trucks. The Nashville chapter now has two trucks that visit 20 different locations each week, delivering freshly prepared meals to those who need it most. Additionally, the program has begun it's own version of Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard! Behind their headquarters (which is an old house, complete with kitchen) is a small garden, worked by underprivileged kids. The youths work in the garden, learn about nutrition and work together to prepare meals together. It's a beautiful lesson in how important food is to all of us- it is the hub for healthy family interactions and healthy kids, inside and out. MLF is doing great work in Nashville, and I wish I were able to participate in the amazing things they're growing there!
So, on to the farm. Sulphur Creek Farm is amazingly close to the heart of a growing urban landscape. Only 15 minutes or so out of town, and you're driving down rural roads in lush, hilly Tennessee farmland. Before I knew it, we were turning into Sulphur Creek Farm, part of the Bells Bend Neighborhood Farms community. This community of four (I think) farms began as an answer to the need for sustainable development to support the community economically and culturally. The area has been repeatedly threatened with urban development. This growing community hopes to preserve the environmental, historical, and cultural significance of the area. I am woefully uneducated on this issue, but having visited the farm I can see that it is worth fighting for...
Upon arriving we deposited our dish (Summer Tomato Pudding from Judy Rodger's Zuni Cafe Cookbook) and took a stroll around the farm. On this particular evening, industrious farm staff were planting sweet potato plants while farm dogs roamed about and the cicadas began their twilight roar.The farm is biodynamic, loosely meaning that they rotate their crops to nourish and maintain the land... it's subject I'd like to learn more about. There are also free range cows that graze on the land. Awww, happy cows!
The building in the above photo is where the summer interns live, and where the potluck takes place. They live on the farm all summer, learning the inner workings and coming up with solutions for better practices. Below, you can see their living quarters, complete with bedrolls and acoustic instruments. There was a banjo in there somewhere, too. Garlic hangs everywhere, drying.
These pickles (below) were sour pickles, onions and fennel. But they were really just sour cucumbers, as they were not truly pickled, but brined in salt and water with a few spices, making them raw, living food. Next to that beautiful bowl are some chickpea fritters and cucumber raita.
Dinner began with the joining of hands, the reading of a poem and a prayer for rain, a much needed respite from the scorching heat.
Being here felt like remembering the lyrics to a song I'd heard many years ago, but couldn't quite remember.It reminded me of running barefoot through the rows of corn in my grandfather's garden, eating big plates of fresh tomatoes and bowls of crowder peas at my grandmother's kitchen table, and watching sourdough rise by the hearth. It reminded me of the magnetic pull of the hills of Tennessee (ain't no place I'd rather be, than scratching in the dirt of Tennessee). It showed me a direction in which to point myself, as I begin my journey into the world of food (fodder for another post, at another time).
Eventually night fell, and dinner was over. The dishes were washed and dried and the kitchen became a beacon of light in the dark. We piled back in the car, full and happy, and headed back home, leaving the farm to the farmers.