by Pia Peterson for Farm Fresh RI
An array of blossoms ready to be packaged at Indie Growers
Indie Growers, based in Bristol, RI, is owned and operated by Lee Ann Freitas. Freitas describes Indie Growers as a “nano-farm” and explains that. “I needed a term that defined what I’m doing, both nano-scale farming and nano-scale products. I don’t have space to grow gargantuan 3-lb heads of broccoli. It’s important that the scale of what I grow match the restaurants that I work with. Most are small, which fits perfectly with what I am able to produce.” Lee Ann says that the term ‘small farmer’ is used a lot these days, but it’s all relative to where the farm is and whether that small farm is 1, 10 or 1000 acres. A visit to Indie Growers quickly illustrates that Indie Growers focus is just as unique, colorful and multifaceted as Lee Ann herself.
Arugula blossoms at Indie Growers
Indie Growers operates at multiple locations in Bristol- their winter home is a 4,590 sq. ft greenhouse at Mount Hope Farm. In the summer, they branch out to three different spaces at Stony Hedge Farm, Weetamoe Farm, and a high-tunnel at the Freitas residence. All of these add up to about an acre on which Lee Ann grows her specialty items. With such a small space, she maintains that her crops be high-yield, unique, and multi-use.
The greenhouse and volunteers at Mount Hope Farm
Lee Ann, a native of Rhode Island, has a background in horticulture and says that she started out on the “pretty side of things,” with landscape plants and landscape design. Now she enjoys going out to eat and seeing how the plates were created, “It’s an art form- architectural design on a plate, what chefs do.”
A volunteer picks blooms in the greenhouse
Lee Ann has a degree in horticulture and graduate work in soil ecology, yet when she graduated, she did not head straight to farming. Lee Ann worked in the nonprofit sector with her work centered on helping people with asthma. She assisted families with asthma to decrease environmental triggers and change behaviors that might cause asthmatic episodes. When she started farming, she knew she had a lot to learn. Her previous greenhouse experience hadn’t prepared her for the challenges of growing vegetables in the field. It was difficult at first, and continues to be a learning experience, says Freitas. “It whups my butt every season!” But she attributes it all to the “beauty and addiction of farming- if you’re not learning about the soil, you’re learning about the microcosm of what is going on with each plant, each row of broccoli.”
Restaurants reach out to Indie Growers asking for specific edible flowers and other plants. “I have a very specific list of folks I work with. I don’t have room to grow a thousand squash and find places to buy them, in order for me to succeed, I need to know exactly how much of each vegetable to grow for each chef.” In the past people have reached out and asked Lee Ann to plant specific varieties such as Armenian cucumbers, charantais melons, red carrots, papalo and other varieties. With her greenhouse bursting with smells and color, Lee Ann isn’t ready to reveal all of the unique varieties of veggies and herbs she grows. She says that she loves the mystery that her products allow her to imbue in things such as garnish boxes, “I want to surprise chefs, in a positive way, with the different varieties of edibles I send them. It’s part of the gratification of farming- it’s like sending out presents every week!”
Packing a box of blooms
Aside from selling to restaurants through Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s Market Mobile, Lee Ann also sells at Mt. Hope Farmer’s market in Bristol, RI and does home delivery through her new produce delivery system, Indie-a-Go-Go. She enjoys making things for people to try at the farmers markets, saying that people are often unsure with what to do with a green like frisèe. Working with interns from Johnson and Wales University and volunteers help her create simple, fast, versatile recipes to sample each week to help her customers increase ways of cooking and using veggies. “Frisèe salad with cranberries and walnuts is super easy, and delish-” Lee Ann says -“you can use the salad in a variety of ways, by adding bacon and a poached egg for breakfast, or add goat cheese, or serve it with fish for dinner.” She also receives consistent interest in her blossom salads, created in mason jars and ready to eat, suggesting that they are “a great salad for people to experiment with and or to use as gifts.”
Nastertiums in bloom
On farming and her volunteers, Lee Ann is effusive with gratitude. “I wouldn’t be here without my volunteers, I am so grateful to them. I am always looking for help and anyone is welcome!” Lee Ann says that people end up coming on their own after hearing about Indie Growers via word of mouth or a farmers market, and that they often stay and become part of her extended family. She believes that you should not only support your farmer, but really get to know them. Most farmers are so passionate about what they do. There are big odds every day to grow their crops and get it to your plate- and they love to talk about that process.
Next time you see Lee Ann at a market, ask her about her farm, her blossoms, her volunteers, or her soil composition! No question (or farm!) is ever too small.