Green Days With Sylvia Ganier of Green Door Gourmet
In 2010, four years after Sylvia Ganier and husband, Al purchased their farm from his parents’ estate, she placed a sign on the front of the property along River Road. “Farm Fresh Vegetables. Open 9 to 1,” it said.
She called a few friends, too, asking if they wanted to come out, tour the farm and buy some produce. What started as a simple marketing idea immediately turned into an overwhelming success. More than 500 people came on to the property that Saturday. The Green Door Gourmet was off to quite the start.
Back to the Beginning
Despite her aptitude for farming—she grew up on a dairy farm in a small town in North Carolina—Sylvia planned a different career route after graduating from Appalachian State. “I graduated college and moved to Nashville the next day, thinking the music industry was calling my name,” she recalled. “I got here and discovered I hated the music industry, but I got very involved with hospitality.”
After some time working at the Loews Vanderbilt and the Hermitage Hotel, Sylvia opened a catering business and restaurant, CIBO in 2000. “It was the first healthy, fast casual restaurant in Nashville.”
By 2006, she was ready to retire. That’s when Sylvia and her husband took over the 350-acre property. “It’s been in my husband’s family since 1942,” she said. “Not long after moving in, we started doing the clean up on the property and just looking at the overall health and sustainability of the farm.”
During the long clean-up, she said she made the “mistake” of asking for a small kitchen garden. “As a chef, I had access to great local things, and I missed not having access to those items. So I asked for a small kitchen garden, and I got 9 acres—that was my husband’s idea of small.”
Rent-A-Row is Born
Sylvia’s friend Seema Prassad, the owner of Miel restaurant, found out about the garden. “She asked if she could rent a plot and bring her staff out to work.” That’s how the Green Door started their rent-a-row program that thrives to this day. “It enabled me to only be responsible for 7 of the 9 acres at the time.” With bumper crops coming in and the farm thriving, Sylvia decided to open the gates to the public. She placed the sign next to the road, and again, in they came.
“Seven years later we’ve added the market, which sells our beautiful flowers, vegetables, and our strawberry crop—which is a big thing every year. It serves as a hub for agritourism activities—like our “you pick berries” program. It also allows us to work with other area food artisans and producers—providing an outlet for the small farmer,” she says. The farm currently has 152 acres in production rotation, a far cry from the nine that Sylvia started with.
With all that going on, the Green Door Gourmet farm has become a weekend destination. “I adore our farm families,” Sylvia says. “It’s a cycle. They are driving by, and they discover the farm and the store. Next thing you know they are getting married in the event barn, signing up to do a CSA, and eating all this great food. Then a little one is coming along, and they’re bringing the little one to help pick all this stuff.”
Sylvia tells the story of one little girl who came into the store and saw cherry tomatoes. She yelled, “Mom! Candy!”
“When that happens, I’ve done my job as a farmer. That’s a winner for everyone right there.”
Taking On Food Waste
In addition to farming, Sylvia is also passionate about the educational opportunity it brings. Over the last several years, she’s been leading the charge on solving the problem of food waste in Nashville—and it all started at her farm.
“We’re trying to become a complete ecosystem here,” she says. “Meaning that if it’s grown here it gets put to good use, while it’s here. The only way it would leave the farm is if it’s being sold to bring new opportunities back into the farm.”
One of the main ways Sylvia has contributed to eliminating food waste is through what she calls the “perfectly imperfect” produce she grows. “I always like to say, not everyone can be a supermodel, nor can every vegetable. They all need love and a home. You just need to know what to do with them. We want our CSA customers to know what to look for—so the person picking out their squash might notice it doesn’t look perfect, but it will taste wonderful and they can use it to make squash casserole.”
Green Door is also very intentional about using their bumper crop and seconds. Their chef, Richard Jones, turns some of it into grab-and-go products in their market. They donate some of their seconds to local organizations like the Nashville Food Project or Second Harvest Food Bank. If nothing else works, then they use it for compost. “So it becomes as close to zero waste as possible because we have numerous branches of the tree to get the product out to the end user, whomever that might be,” Sylvia said.
She’s clear that, while Green Door was her vision, it’s the 32 employees that make it work every day. “I couldn’t do it without them,” she said. “This isn’t the Sylvia Ganier story. It’s really the story of all the people who work out here in the cold, heat, and rain, with all the bugs and everything else. They know how to grow amazing food and take care of customers.”
So when you see the sign off River Road, stop by and say hello, Sylvia’s waiting for you.
THE OKRA QUEEN
This is what Sylvia refers to herself as, which reflects her love of the Southern pod. One word about okra and she spouts off random historical (and new) facts that were unbeknownst to us. Did you know that before World War II, okra seeds were ground for coffee? And that the okra plant is a cross between the hibiscus plant and the cotton plant? And that okra will be the vegetable of the future as it is drought resistant?
She’s so enamored of the pod that she’s experimenting with it. She led us back to a sunny corner in one of the greenhouses where she had okra pods (big ones) laid out on a screen. She was drying them so that she can grind the pods to see if they can be used as some kind of thickener (possibly in place of filé powder). Once we started talking about the best way to cook okra, she enthusiastically shared her recipe which is below. According to Sylvia, Green Door Gourmet will be stocked with okra through October. Lucky for us. We can make her recipe.