This article first appeared in Nougat Magazine, September, 2006, in an issue devoted to art. Each Saturday when I go to the Lexington Farmers Market, I visit Hazelfield Farm's booth. I do not buy much, because Teresa Biagi and Raphe Ellis, Hazelfield's owners, sell flowers, tomatoes, herbs, and peppers. My fine man grows plenty of flowers, tomatoes and herbs in our yard in downtown Lexington.
I visit Raphe and Teresa's market place because it feeds my hunger for beauty. Their Owen County farm's 'terroir' yields the goldest golds, greenest greens, and most searing scarlets I have ever seen. I stop at Hazelfield's space so I can soak in the flowers' intense colors and take proper delight in Teresa's brilliant, textured flower arrangements.
In midsummer, Raphe's multi-colored vegetables join Teresa's flowers. I love looking at the baskets of small heirloom tomatoes: round, oval, and pear shaped, in zinnia and daylily colors: red, pink, orange, yellow, cream, striped green, purple-black. Several times a summer I buy one of these generous $2 baskets, even though I have fantastic Sungold and Brandywine tomatoes in my yard.
When I get home, I make lunch in four minutes, like this:
Rinse the tomatoes, pat them dry, and cut them into a dish. Toss in some feta cheese. Dress with olive oil and a tiny drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Season with sea salt and black pepper. If you want, add a few shreds of torn fresh basil leaves and a bit of finely chopped sweet onion. Stir. Eat the beautiful bites with a spoon. Slurp the sweet-tart, peppery juice.
That's it: Summer in a bowl.
Hazelfield Farm's products stimulate and satisfy the senses of touch, taste, sight and smell. As I see it, Teresa, Raphe, and their daughters grow art.
Like all art that appeals strongly to me, the art at Hazelfield Farm involves transformation. The primary transformation is the most mysterious of all ' those tiny bits of nearly nothing that grow into beautiful and useful plants. The human transformations are significant, too, and involve both growers and consumers.
As growers, Teresa and Raphe have changed their lives dramatically. A few years ago, Raphe grew tobacco and Teresa ran a furniture and flower shop in Frankfort. Now they grow flowers and vegetables on about five of their 140 acres. Teresa takes primary responsibility for the flowers and Raphe manages the vegetables. Raphe planted 50 new varieties of heirloom tomatoes just this year, and he may get involved with flowers, too. This spring he planted 500 peony crowns.
Like the growers, we consumers are changing, too. Instead of shopping at huge grocery stores, a lot of us now want to buy fresh food from people we know, so we are re-discovering small farms and their astonishing owners. Instead of filling up on whateveris handy, regardless of taste, many of us are experiencing what New York Times reporter Julia Moskin recently called 'the regeneration of American respect for flavor.' And instead of accepting whatever grocery stores offer, no matter how the food was grown and processed, most of us now want to avoid eating dangerous chemical additives and poisons with our meals.
National Public Radio's All Things Considered devoted five minutes on August 16, 2006, to a story about Betsy and Alex Hitt, owners of Peregrine Farm in Graham, North Carolina, recipients of an award for sustainable farming. The farm's weekly newsletter features this slogan: 'Food with a face, a place, and a taste.'
Later the same evening, Public Radio International's Marketplace Radio dedicated four minutes to describing a huge surge in demand for organic milk. Consumer interest in organic dairy products is so strong that organic businesses like Stonyfield Farm and Organic Valley are offering small-scale dairy farmers signing bonuses and prices that more than double the going rate for conventionally produced milk.
Since I love to cook and eat, these widespread, positive market changes please me. I value fresh, local products for their contributions to delicious meals, stronger local economies and communities, better health and environmental stewardship. I also find the products compelling simply because they are beautiful.
When food and flowers attain the level of art, as Hazelfield Farm's products do, we want to touch and taste them, to use them. When we do, we are choosing wise care for ourselves, our people, and our land. That may be the most powerful, welcome change of all.
Read more Nougat articles by Rona.