With his trademark crisp white shirt, Christmas-red bow tie, and denim overalls that he’s never without (not even at the black-tie Jame Beard Awards), Farmer Lee Jones is a larger-than-life character.
But he is no caricature.
He is the real deal.
When his family nearly lost its soy bean and corn farm in Ohio during the 1980’s economic downturn, he managed to save it by taking a gamble to transform it.
Instead of growing feed crops like soybeans and corn, he downsized to nurture obscure specialty herbs, fruits and vegetables after a chance meeting with a chef looking for someone to grow squash blossoms.
Today, the small, sustainable Chef’s Garden is revered by chefs nationwide, including Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and Jose Andres. It’s this farm that we have to thank for the whole microgreens movement. During the pandemic, the farm adapted to changing times once again, offering delivery of its produce to consumers so that Jones wouldn’t have to lay off any employees, despite its main customer base, restaurants, ordering far less because of curtailed operations.
Jones’ story is captured in “The Chef’s Garden: A Modern Guide to Common and Unusual Vegetables–with Recipes” (Avery), of which I received a review copy. Written by Jones with Kristin Donnelly, former food editor at Food & Wine magazine, this lavishly photographed 240-page book is not only packed with recipes, but detailed information about selecting, storing, cleaning and using a wealth of produce. The book hones in on both the familiar and the esoteric, from ramps, hearts of palm, and bamboo shoots to amaranth, arrowhead root, and crystal lettuces.Read more