If you could watch a time-lapse rewind of Green Door Gourmet’s past five years, you’d see waves of trucks backing out of the River Road farm, deep gouges in the earth healing over, a driveway melting back into the landscape, a barn and a retail shop slipping back into piles of lumber; and a wagon-wheel herb garden reshaping itself into rows. Fields of flowers would vanish under scrubby shrubs, and cedar trees would untopple to crowd a hillside. A shed would begin to sag, and the homespun sign at River Road would disappear. The last images would show the deer-fence around the fields disassembling and the land growing over with honeysuckle and bramble.
In five years since the fields at Hidden Valley farm were fenced, owners Sylvia and Al Ganier have retooled his family’s former livestock operation into a CSA, a co-op, a classroom, a test-patch for biodynamic experiments, a flower farm, an event space and a “countrypolitan” experience for visitors.
It’s an evolution designed to turn the farm into a hub for a citywide conversation about food, farming and the future of in-town agriculture. So while most of Nashville is putting on the comfy pants and settling in for a few months of old movies and crossword puzzles, at Green Door, it’s boots, gloves and barn coats.
The Ganiers and staff, including farm manager Harry Skeen, Lillie Flynn, Luke Yoder, MaryLindsay Sherrill and Web expert and retail worker Bernie Hendricks, will endeavor tasks like spreading manure from a neighbor’s barns onto fields, clearing underbrush and thinning trees, sowing hundreds of daffodil bulbs, repairing fences, cleaning tools, fixing equipment and planting a field of indigo.
Major earthworks are under way on the 300-plus acres to improve drainage and parking. Come spring, even the driveway will look different.
The to-do list includes opening vistas, replanting the herb garden, ordering seeds, repairing the riverbank, meeting with suppliers and developing recipes. No long winter’s nap in sight.
You need a spreadsheet to keep up with the tornado of activity. For most of the 3,700-member CSA, Green Door is their steady supply of seasonal vegetables, meats, eggs, flowers and more. (The weekly number averages 120 full-box pickups). To bring in non-CSA members and get more local products to the public, Green Door this year opened a retail co-op built in the style of an old general store.
A newsletter and a blog get the word out about what’s ripe and what’s new. School tours of the teaching garden bring children to the farm. Green Door hired two Metro teachers to shape a curriculum that snaps right into Metro’s third-grade science education. Soil scientists come to the farm to lecture on biodynamics, and chef Richard Jones offers cooking classes.
The first party and wedding were held this autumn in The Grange, the newly constructed barn-and-party-room whose style Sylvia Ganier terms “countrypolitan.”
If you’ve hiked Bells Bend Park, you’ve likely spotted Hidden Valley farm across the Cumberland. Up close, the land is currently a bit less picturesque, owing to all the construction. The short driveway is being replaced by a long two-lane drive to show off the land’s beauty and manage two-way traffic better. Al Ganier calls it the River Road Redneck Biltmore drive, a hat tip to the woodland drive up to the famed Biltmore mansion near Asheville, N.C.
The drive will ramble past The Grange, whose hillside spot is getting prettied up for wedding photos, and end at a new and improved parking lot. A drainage project will carry away spring’s rainwater more quickly.
Combined with previous winter projects — opening new fields, putting in more than two miles of roads, constructing a cistern and well, shoring up their riverfront acreage with riprap, building raised beds, taking down or repairing old structures —and the place is ready to host more visitors of more types than ever.
In the farm’s future is a new kind of visitor — the out-of-towner. If you’ve attended a conference in another city that featured a trip to the country for a cookout, some music and a little scenery away from the meeting site, that’s what the Ganiers envision for their farm.
For now, though, it’s time for the Ganiers to settle in by the fire and, like gardeners everywhere, revel in the hope and excitement of garden dreams. Ganier thinks she may have found the right site on the land for growing mâche, a finicky, hard-to-grow salad green. She wants to offer striped eggplant and white zucchini in next summer’s CSA boxes. She’s planning to grow three shades of okra — “ghost” white, red and green — which will end up in the boxes and as appetizers at Etch restaurant.
On a visit to her uncle’s farm in North Carolina, Ganier collected pods of Red Ripper peas and flying dragon fruit, both destined for future plantings. She’s planning to cultivate acres and acres of cutting flowers, both for wholesalers and for table bouquets at restaurants like Silly Goose.
The winter kitchen at Green Door will stroke its chin, too, and think about next year. Ganier hired Jones as chef in July. He worked with her at Cibo, her restaurant on Church Street, closed since 2006, and at Sunset Grill for several years prior.
Jones’ summer job is to teach CSA members and co-op shoppers how to cook with the farm’s produce and co-op products like Kentucky olive oil, local grits, Cruze Farm buttermilk and Jolly Barnyard eggs.
His winter job is to develop recipes for using Green Door’s line of 60-odd jams, spreads, pickles and salsas. He’ll also use the farm’s herbs and vegetables to make spice blends. He got the idea after successfully fermenting kimchi made from garlic paste, ginger paste, watermelon radish and Chinese cabbage, all grown on the farm.
He hopes to have enough seasoning blends to toss a bottle into specialty CSA boxes, such as a meat lover’s box or a barbecue box. Consequently, he’s spending a lot of time with the dehydrator.
But on the last day of the season, Jones was still working among the public, manning portable burners in the co-op to sizzle up a Szechuan-style green bean stir-fry with a sauce made in part with Green Door jam. To shoppers who came to buy the last of the Sequatchie Cove lamb, TruBee honey from Williamson County, and fruit-and-veggie grab bags, he offered a little eye-opener: a Jack and Jelly toddy, made with bourbon, lemon and Green Door’s Southern moonshine jelly.
It was just a sip or two, unexpected, tart and bracing, a little something to put the heart in you to turn up the collar and walk out into the cold, gray day and remember what’s good about winter.
Ease the symptoms of a winter cold — or just winter, really — with this warm and bracing elixir. Jones says it scales up easily to make a slow cooker full for a gathering.
1 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) Green Door Gourmet Southern Moonshine jelly
1 lemon slice
1 ounce bourbon
5 to 6 ounces boiling water
Spoon the jelly into an 8-ounce mug. Add the lemon and bourbon. Top with boiling water and stir until the jelly melts.
Treat locally grown sweet potatoes and turnips the luxury way they deserve. This recipe will also work with other winter staples such as rutabaga, butternut squash or potatoes, Jones says.
4 medium sweet potatoes
3 medium purple-top turnips
1/3 teaspoon nutmeg, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups grated Gruyere cheese, divided
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons softened butter
Peel and slice the sweet potatoes and turnips into rounds no more than a ¼ inch. Grease a 9x9 inch glass or ceramic baking dish and then arrange sweet potato slices over the bottom. Sprinkle with a little salt, pepper, nutmeg and grated cheese. Top with a layer of turnips. Season with more salt, pepper, nutmeg and cheese. Drizzle with one-third of the cream.
Repeat the layers until the baking dish is full. Top with cheese and breadcrumbs. Dot with the butter. Cover the dish with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Remove the foil and cook for 20 minutes longer until the top is browned. Let stand to firm up for about 15 minutes. Can be made ahead up to 3 days and stored in the refrigerator