Bristol’s Lee Ann Freitas sees green every day. As the owner of Indie Growers, a boutique greenhouse on Mount Hope Farm, she uses her background in horticulture and microbiology to grow unique greens, herbs and edible flowers sustainably and without chemicals.
Indie Growers is such a cool concept - that you grow specialty plants and flowers to augment other food. Where did the idea come from?
Rather than being an initial idea, it evolved from necessity. We are really small, so it doesn’t make financial sense for us to grow product that will take up lots of space. It’s also important to make sure that each plant delivers the most bang for the buck, so we try to use every part of the plant. For example, we will grow arugula, utilize the greens and then let it flower. We then sell the blossoms, and once they are done we sell the seed pods. We will let it reseed in the bed, and then compost the plant. Once a plant is on the farm, it rarely leaves! We really take a holistic approach to growing. We may not have the space to grow turnips, but we grow everything to make them taste great and look beautiful.
I love your “eat prettier” philosophy.
It’s really all about appreciating yourself. It’s a way to create edible art for yourself on your plate. I thought about this from eating out and seeing beautiful plates and thinking, “we should all be eating this way.” Food is truly the best way to care for ourselves, and eating a plate that is pretty, well, makes us feel special. So why not toss your salad with a few blossoms? It adds beauty, color and flavor to your dish, and is such an easy way to show yourself a bit of decadent love. A good example of that is our broccoli rabe. It has gorgeous white blossoms that are edible, and look so pretty on the plate. Eating prettier is just another way to take a breath, look at what you’re eating and feel like you deserve beauty inside and out.
Tell me about some of your rarer plant offerings.
We’ve got lots of really great herbs. People come to the farmer’s market looking for cilantro, but it goes right to seed in the summer. In Mexico, they use papalo. It’s got a similar flavor to cilantro, yet doesn’t go to seed in the heat. We also have cutting celery: it looks similar to parsley, but it tastes like celery. I’m a lazy cook, so I like to use it in potato salad. It saves me time on cutting celery stalks.
I was so surprised at the robust and unexpected flavors of common plants. Tell me about some of them.
Alyssum has a great flavor – it almost tastes like horseradish or mustard. A lot of us grow it, and we walk right past it. Day lilies are really wonderful. The shoots that come up in the spring are like peas. Sweet William is another one. Many of these flowers we grow in our landscapes are really flavorful. Be careful, though – if you start eating your garden, you need to make sure the plants were never exposed to pesticides where you bought them from.
So where can we get your edibles?
The bulk of sales go to restaurant chefs, but we also supply to the public at the Mount Hope Farmers Market every Saturday. We’re there year round. We grow small veggies, like miniature white cucumbers, eggplant and shishito peppers, which are tiny peppers the size of
your thumb that have a little bit of heat. We also do a delivery of our fresh veggies in the winter months. Sign up is available at Indie A Go Go on Facebook.
Can you give me a couple of quick dinner suggestions?
One of my favorite easy recipes is fish with lemon verbena. Take any flaky, subtle fish like cod and put it on a bed of lemon verbena, wrap it in parchment and bake it for 15 minutes; the fish has the most incredible lemon flavor. A lot of our recipes come from our volunteers like Nancy Stratton and our Johnson and Wales interns. Grant Gaylor created a recipe for cold summer squash. Chop your squash, add fresh basil, mint, parsley and garlic chives; the juice of two lemons and a little olive oil and salt and pepper to taste; then half a pint of green cherry tomatoes cut in half and some feta. You can swap out goat cheese for feta or use green apple instead of tomatoes. You can really do anything with raw squash – it really takes on the flavor of whatever you add to it.
Indie Growers. 1362 Hope Street Bristol. 401-528-9777