First, here’s the short version of the story. About 35 years ago, a chance meeting between Chef Iris Bailin and Lee Jones transformed the Jones family’s agricultural focus into one where they began to grow specialty products for chefs—thus, the birth of The Chef’s Garden. (More about that moment soon!)
Iris eventually moved to Massachusetts (and is now Iris Broudy), so she and Lee didn’t see each other for about two decades—that is, until August 2021 when she visited the farm. Now, here’s more about the development of this unique friendship and Iris’s thoughts about Lee and the growth of The Chef’s Garden and Farmer Jones Farm.
Going Back in Time
On the day that Iris and first Lee met, he was selling his family’s vegetables at a farmer’s market on the east side of Cleveland. Participating in farmer’s markets was the only practical selling venue for the Jones family because they’d recently lost their family farm through a combination of high interest rates and a devastating hailstorm. So, they were relying upon the goodness of another farmer’s heart who allowed them to grow some crops on a piece of his land, vegetables that they could turn around and sell.
When Iris asked Lee to provide her with squash blossoms, he and his family were surprised to hear of the request, but they provided her with what she needed. She, in turn, gave them guidance on what was trending in the food world and what chefs wanted but couldn’t get, suggesting that they fill in the gap. As a result, the Jones family completely changed their business model and began growing specialty products for chefs.
Fast Forwarding to 2020
For about three decades, The Chef’s Garden maintained its focus on growing for chefs. Then, in 2020, life took another unexpected turn when the pandemic hit, and restaurants closed across the country. In response, the Jones family opened a farmer’s market on their property—Farmer Jones Farm—to also provide delicious and nutritious produce for families like yours.
August 20, 2021
Iris graciously came to the farmer’s market to give an informal presentation with Farmer Lee Jones about their experiences and to sign copies of The Chef's Garden: A Modern Guide to Common and Unusual Vegetables—With Recipes along with Chef Jamie Simpson of the Culinary Vegetable Institute.
“It was wonderful to see Lee again,” Iris says, “and he hasn’t really changed. He is still so enthusiastic, which is what drew my attention to him in the first place. While other farmers stood around, waiting for customers to approach them, Lee says, ‘Come on over! You want zucchini? Sure, we’ve got zucchini. Let me show you!’”
He was a “young guy,” Iris remembers, “and it was hard to resist his excitement about his vegetables. Although I think he gives me too much credit for what they’ve done with chefs, I appreciate how everyone on the farm expresses their gratitude to me and I’m glad that all worked out the way that it did.”
Iris credits Lee’s “infectious passion” for the farm’s success, along with the unique skill sets of each member of the Jones family and their extended farm and chef team. She praises everyone’s ability to know what role they needed to play to reinvent their farm into The Chef’s Garden and the Farmer Jones Farm and offer high quality vegetables.
“When at the farm,” Iris shares, “you see signs of creativity everywhere you look.” She especially noted how edible flowers that had dried up during the pandemic could have gone to waste. Instead, though, Jamie used them to make special teas.
Squash Blossom Recipes
In honor of Iris’s visit, we’ve gathered together some of our favorite squash blossom recipes all in one place:
- Squash Blossom Quesadilla
- Baked Ricotta Squash Blossom with Squash Attached
- Squash Blossom Tomato Herb Focaccia