A Farm is Born
Creating an organic farm at Middleton Place has been on the schedule for years. In 2011 and 2012, Director of Food Services Micah Garrison, and Brandon Buck, Executive Chef at the Middleton Place Restaurant, planted a small “production garden,” sourcing the restaurant with a variety of heirloom produce. With the hiring of Farm Co-Managers Amy Talarico and Frank Beaty late last year, the full-fledged Middleton Place Organic Farm is now underway, with spring vegetables being harvested, and the summer crop planted.
The collaborative effort between Garrison and Buck, along with Talarico and Beaty, and with the supervision of Vice-President of Horticulture Sidney Frazier, broadened the scope of the production garden, creating a one-acre farm on the northwest corner of the National Historic Landmark. The farm will provide produce to the Middleton Place Restaurant, and will supply a full-fledged Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in the coming months.
Having an organic farm on site will create unprecedented opportunities for the Middleton Place Restaurant, enabling Buck to customize future menus. “The chefs will have the opportunity to more directly affect their menu to interpret and bring historical cuisine to life,” Talarico says. “And it creates an additional sensory experience for visitors to the restaurant who will taste truly local, lovingly grown and prepared food.”
Talarico and Beaty have created a viable garden that will provide volume and variety to the restaurant. “In the first year, we hope to harvest over 100 varieties of annual crops, and increase that to 160 varieties to include perennial food-bearing crops next year,” Talarico says. “We are using organic, biodynamic, and permaculture methods to produce a diverse selection of nutrient-dense food for the Middleton Place Restaurant.”
The goal for the Middleton Place Organic Farm is to use as many on-site and local resources as possible to maintain farm sustainability. Food scraps from the Middleton Place Restaurant and manure from the Plantation Stableyards will be used in the process. A composting operation is underway. Organic certification requires manure to be composted and “cooked” until it is deemed more soil than manure before use in the garden. The farm is currently using Stableyards manure for “cover-cropped” areas of the field -- areas planted with non-consumption plants.
The farm project speaks volumes about the Middleton Place Foundation’s commitment to preservation. “This project is a great leap forward for Middleton Place in terms of becoming more self-sufficient,” says Talarico. “It illustrates a direct commitment to preservation.”
Besides providing a farm-to-table food source for the Middleton Place Restaurant, the farm will also be folded into the overall agricultural education programs -- a major part of the Middleton Place Foundation mission. For years, visitors have been able to learn about horticulture and Low Country and African American foodways in the Plantation Stableyards. Today, they can enhance their experience by stopping by the farm, interacting with the farmers, and perhaps lend a hand.
“The Middleton Place Organic Farm will provide an invaluable example for the larger community,” Beaty says. “Our goal is to teach and inspire people to grow their own food. Let’s all be producers rather than just consumers. This is why I feel lucky every day to be part of a project as important as this one.”
The first vegetation planted at the farm was a cover crop of oats and clover. As crops are rotated, cover crops will be re-planted throughout the year to prevent soil erosion and increase soil organic matter and nitrogen. Salad greens, radishes and broccoli followed. Today, the garden is planted with a massive variety of produce. Five kinds of onions, seven different types of beans, six kinds of potatoes, five kinds of carrots, six types of collards, squash and zucchini four types of cucumbers, four different of melons, 20 varieties of tomatoes, 11 kinds of peppers, six varieties of eggplants, and four types of basil are in the ground.
Talarico and Beaty also planted native/regionally-appropriate perennial herbs and flowers, not only for culinary use, but also to attract and shelter beneficial birds and insects such as bees, ladybugs, lacewings, butterflies, and ground beetles. “Encouraging favorable insects provides the essential service of pollinating food crops and reducing populations of ‘pest’ insects that will feed on them,” Talarico says. “Approximately 75 percent of the varieties we plant will be open pollinated and heirloom varieties for which we will save seed therefore adding another layer to sustainability and preservation. By using methods that support a balanced ecosystem in every step as we steward this land, we can lay a frame work for generations to come.”
The mission of the Middleton Place Foundation, a public non-profit educational trust, is to sustain the highest levels of preservation and interpretation for the Middleton Place National Historic Landmark, its Gardens, House, Plantation Stableyards and affiliated properties, such as the Edmondston-Alston House, and their collections and programs. Middleton Place and the Middleton Place Restaurant are located at 4300 Ashley River Road, Charleston, SC 29414. www.middletonplace.org