Regenerative Farming: Farmer Lee Talks About Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Regenerative Farming: Farmer Lee Talks About Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

At The Chef’s Garden, we’ve often referred to our farm’s story. In reality, though, there are many different stories, including the addition of Farmer Jones Farm Seasonal Market when we returned to our roots in the summer of 2020. That was also the year we strengthened our focus on serving home cooks alongside our cherished chefs, both through the farmer’s market on our own grounds and through shipping boxes of farm-fresh vegetables directly to home cooks’ front doors.

So, Farmer Lee decided to share what life was like yesterday, as well as today—and what we envision for tomorrow.

Look Back at Yesterday
Being a farmer was incredibly difficult in the 1970s and 1980s. Interest rates on bank loans skyrocketed to 21 percent and it was challenging to even make ends meet. Not surprisingly, it was in 1985 that John Cougar Mellencamp wrote his haunting song, “Rain on a Scarecrow,” about the all-too-common foreclosures of family farms, when a son needed to be told that no legacy of land would exist for him now.

Only memories.

These foreclosures were taking place at a time when farmers needed to produce increasing amounts of crops to feed the world’s growing population.

So, my parents—along with other farmers around the country—were being encouraged to use chemicals in their fields to grow for big yields. In fact, they were taught how to use those chemicals, ones that strip valuable nutrients from the soil.

Already on the brink of disaster, our farm was hit by a devastating hailstorm, which totally wiped out the crops we were growing—and then, like so many others before and beside us—we lost our farm.

Everything we owned was auctioned off, including my mother’s car.

We then grew a small number of crops on borrowed land and took those vegetables to farmer’s markets. This, unfortunately, was when farmer’s markets weren’t of much interest to consumers. In fact, they were at an all-time low.

During this era, many households had both parents in the workforce, so convenience foods were in demand to help the harried working mothers.

We then met Iris Bailin, a European-influenced chef who suggested that, perhaps, there was still a need for the small family farmer in America—one who would grow for flavor, not yield, farmers who would not use chemicals.

Once she shared her idea with us, it kept running through our minds, especially with my father. Then, after we decided to give it a go, Chef Bailin introduced us to other chefs who also wanted to use crops that were grown without chemicals, nurtured for flavor.

Everything in life goes in cycles—and chefs were now beginning to focus again on buying the best quality of ingredients that they could, from meat and fish to bread.

They also wanted flavorful, farm-fresh vegetables that they’d be proud to serve their diners.

This served as a beacon of hope for us and this is when we fully re-embraced the concepts of regenerative farming. This especially resonated with my father. After all, he could remember when caring for the land was at the heart of farming.

This is when we fully committed to growing vegetables slowly and gently in full accord with nature, grown naturally with integrity for the maximum in flavor.

Where We Are Today
Here we are, in 2021, even more focused on the benefits of regenerative agriculture—and, thanks to our new agricultural research lab, something we’d intuitively believed was true has been independently verified.

For nearly four decades, we believed that, if we nurtured our soil, then the added flavor this provided would also result in fresh vegetables that burst with nutrition.

We were right!

After comparing mineral content of our vegetables to USDA baseline nutrient density results, we received the wonderful news that has been independently verified. As a result of our regenerative farming practices, we have found that our products often contain more minerals than the USDA average! Learn more about our Health and Wellness initiatives.

We’ve continuing to add more and more farm-fresh products to our Farmer Jones Farm’s site, each of which you can order with a couple of clicks and then have them harvested and shipped directly to your front door.

Here's another thought about where we are today. On the one hand, we’re in survival mode after our entire business model was turned upside down because of the pandemic.

Yet, we’ve never been more hopeful about the future. We’ve never been more grateful for people we serve.

Pathway to Tomorrow
Although no one can predict the future, with certainty, the path to ours has never been clearer to us—or more exciting. We understand where we’re going and why as we navigate how. Our plant-forward world is edging towards becoming plant-based—and, while you can read plenty of information about how fresh vegetables should be at the center of a healthy diet, not enough attention is being paid to growing healthy plants.

This is where we come in. Healthy soil. Healthy plants. Healthy people. Healthy planet.

We will continue to rebuild our soil naturally, keeping two thirds of our fields fallow. We will embrace the concept of balance and of building a better world for today and for the future generations of tomorrow.

And, of course, we’re already planning the reopening of our Farmer Jones Farm Seasonal Market once the snow has melted and spring has sprung!

In the meantime, here’s how you can get farm-fresh produce delivered directly to your front door.

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