The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #139 - Farmer Lee Jones
Farmer Lee Jones is an in-demand speaker and expert on regenerative agriculture and has presented at national and international conferences and seminars, including at The Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone Flavor Summit, The American Culinary Federation’s National Convention, the Women Chefs and Restaurateurs National Conference, and Chef Raymond Blanc’s American Food Revolution in Oxford, England.
He was honored to receive the James Beard Foundation’s award for Who’s Who in Food & Beverage, making him one of the first farmers to receive it.
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10:10 - Farmer Lee Jones Story
15:30 - how farming used to be
17:00 - nutritional levels in produce
18:30 - growing for flavor
20:25 - Vitamin d
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23:40 - chemicals and GMOs
25:00 - home delivery
25:20 - could we have done it differently?
26:00 - how the war changed the way we eat
27:50 - a change in mindset about our food
30:10 - using the whole plant
31:45 - how much of our food are native species?
33:15 - seed savors exchange: an heirloom seed preserve
34:10 - are heirloom varieties more nutritious?
35:50 - the algal bloom in the great lakes
36:30 - how we can turn things around
37:35 - buying local
39:00 - respecting your farm employees
41:00 - microgreens
43:05 - hydroponic Gardens
45:30 - Eating The Root And Greens
46:55 - Edible flowers
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52:20 - White Vegetables
54:40 - winter vegetables
58:20 - "beneficials" in organic farming
1:01:15 - seed sorting & seed weight
1:04:15 - vegetable tops
1:05:15 - craving certain plants
1:07:00 - pollination and hybridization
1:10:00 - the recipes
1:12:30 - how to navigate the regular grocery store
1:15:30 - regenerative agriculture with animals
1:16:50 - eating seasonally
Melanie Avalon: Hi, Friends, welcome back to the show. I am so incredibly excited about the conversation that I am about to have. Friends, I read a lot of books every single year, especially for this show, and the book that we're going to talk about today, and it's not just about the book, today's episode, but it is honestly, one of the most beautiful, enlightening, incredible, lifechanging books I've ever read. I think it should be required reading for kids like an elementary school or middle school just to learn all about the incredible wonder of farming, and food, and all of the different types of vegetables and produce. I feel it gave me an entire new understanding of our food and our connection to it.
I am here today with Farmer Lee Jones. He is a legend. The book that I'm talking about is The Chef's Garden: A Modern Guide to Common and Unusual Vegetables--with Recipes. Farmer Lee Jones, he's just a legend in the regenerative agriculture sphere. He runs the culinary vegetable institute and you guys have probably seen him, because he's been everywhere. He's been the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine. He was actually the first farmer ever on the Food Network show as a judge on Iron Chef America. He's been on the Food Network, Martha Stewart stuff, he was actually the answer to a jeopardy question. Yeah. So, today, I'm so looking forward to this conversation. I have so many questions, but first of all, Farmer Lee Jones, thank you so much for being here.
Farmer Lee Jones: Oh, my gosh, thanks for having me on. I'm really excited about it.
Melanie Avalon: I'm super excited to ask you. This is always the first question I ask the guests, but you talk about your history in the book and we were just talking before this about 40 years in the making in a way this book. But I was so excited to hear your story from you, because it's incredible. So, for listeners who are not familiar, what got you to what you're doing today? Were you always doing farming? What made you interested in the way that you approach it now, what's your story? I know, that's a big question.
Farmer Lee Jones: I think part of why we are, who we are is where we're at. We're in an amazing microclimate. We're right along Lake Erie in Ohio in a little town called Huron, Ohio. H-U-R-O-N. It's right on Lake Erie. Lake Erie is the shallowest of all the great lakes. Consequently, it's the warmest. There's an amazing microclimate right along the ridge of Lake Erie all the way up into [unintelligible [00:02:45] and near Buffalo. Because it's the shallowest, it's the warmest, and it provides an amazing microclimate, European settlers came here and recognized this amazing growing area. It was huge in grapes, even before Napa Valley. But vegetable growers came here. If you can think about it, it's so easy for us today to get on a highway four or five hours and be 300 or 400 miles across the country pretty easily. But back going into the 30s or the 40s, roads and refrigeration had not developed to the point where there was a lot of outside competition. So, it was really more of a regional distribution system in America. More similar to what we like and hear about Europe where we go every day, and get our bread, and our poultry, and our vegetables, and our fruit, and that was really more of a similar system. But the farmers, we understand it peaked in about 1930 with 330 vegetable growers in Erie County, one of the largest, if not the largest concentrations of vegetable growers, anywhere in the world in one county. All small, what they would have called truck farmers, and they would harvest their vegetables, and take them in to farmers markets entirely different than what we think of as a farmer's market today, where we go on a Saturday morning or we go on a Wednesday morning, we meet the farmer, we buy.
The farmers markets were consisted-- The customers consisted of hundreds of family-owned grocery stores. One of the things that makes the Cleveland area and we're only about 50 miles outside of Cleveland, Ohio is the rich diversity in ethnicity. It's amazing because you've got Jewish, Slovakian, Hungarian, you got all of these just different ethnicities. Every one of them with different likes, and tastes, and nuances to what they like to eat. The farmers really could grow specifically for those grocery stores. That was really quite an active market, and they would take their vegetables in, and they would sell them to the grocery store buyers. It was really a neat model. Hard work, but it was a regional distribution system. As roads and refrigeration continued to improve one by one, the small grocery stores were pushed out, because larger scale chain grocery stores that had 400 stores or 1,400 stores, and one by one, the small family farms were pushed out. My dad at 14 years old went to work for a guy that recognized the competition coming. We worked cooperatively with about 65 other growers from our area. Dad went to work for him at 14, Mr. Nichols had invested in hydrocooling, packaging, palletization, trucking, shipping, and they were able to compete for several years. My dad ultimately bought that farm from him and had some very good years. But ultimately, probably, a lot of the listeners are too young to remember, but in the late 70s and early 80s, the interest rates actually hit 22%. They're about 3%, 3.5% today. So, the economy got turned upside down in the late 70s, early 80s.
I was 19 at the time, we had a devastating hailstorm that came in, and it literally wiped out all of the crops. The banks were closed. At 19, I stood shoulder to shoulder with my mom and dad, my brother, and sister, all of our neighbors, all of our competitors, everybody that was there to celebrate our failure, and they auctioned every tractor off, every piece of equipment off, the farm off, and my mother's car, and our house. We literally crawled away from that. This is not a rags to riches story by any stretch of the imagination. We were following the model that the universities were promoting. Of course, the pharmaceutical companies, and the chemical companies, and Earl Butz, the Secretary of Agriculture at the time, his message to farmers was to get big or to get out. Here's the chemicals you can use to control the weeds, and you can use synthetic fertilizers to feed the plants, and we can increase the yields. Agriculture was really driving the economic engine in America in that period of time. Everything was about expansion and producing more tons per acre. It never really resonated very well with my dad, because he remembered a time in the 30s in the 40s, when a large farm was hundred acres, because that's about all that one family could manage. A third of that was in cover crops, a third of it was in pasture to feed the animals, and a third of it was in production, and then they rotated that. So, they were constantly rebuilding the soil.
We got away from that. We went to chemical control of weeds, we went to synthetic fertilizers instead of letting the land sit fallow, we planted it, we could fake the crops out with synthetic fertilizers, we could increase the yields more tons per acre. Ultimately, that didn't work and ultimately, it's not working for the country or the world today. As it relates to income, we produce food in America cheaper than any other country in the world. As it relates to our incomes, we produce food cheaper than any other country in the world, yet, we have the highest health care. We have a 3,000% increase in kidney, liver, heart, cancer disease, attention deficit disorder, autism, childhood obesity, allergies, diabetes. We believe there's a direct correlation with the way that we've been farming for the last 50 years and the health or the lack thereof of our nation. By losing the farm as devastating as it was, it gave us an opportunity to relook what we were doing. We went back to old agricultural books. What's amazing is that, in the last 50 or 60 years, the nutritional levels have gone down from 1930 to 2020. The nutritional levels have gone down by 50% and they're continuing to go down at an increasing rate. In vegetables that are consumed and grown in America, they've gone down by 50% and continuing to go down at an increasing rate. It should be alarming for everybody that's listening. In the meantime, the yields go up and the traditional levels go down. That's scary. We started looking back, "Why were they hundred years ago able to produce vegetables that were 50% more nutritious than we are today?" With all the technology and with all the brilliant minds that we have, we're producing vegetables with 50% less nutrition.
Going back and looking at the way that they were rebuilding soil really made sense. What we're ultimately trying to do is to rebuild that soil using the information that was available from hundred years ago, but trying to tie technology to that today. After we have lost the farm, we started back over with six acres and we had a lady that she was a chef. Her name was Iris Balan. She's now Iris Brody today. She had trained in Europe and she came and found us at a farmers' market, because when we lost the farm, we started back over with the six acres at a farmers' market. She said, "I've been to Europe, I really believe that if you would grow for the flavor, grow without chemical, grow it for the flavor, flavor kept coming up. If you would grow it for the flavor, grow for the varieties and select the varieties for flavor rather than the tons per acre." She believed that there would be enough chefs to support us. We grabbed around both of her ankles, and we wouldn't let her go, and we said, "Okay, teach us." She pulled out. We made arrangements to come and visit with her in Cleveland one day, and she had books spread all out over the conference table of radicchios and all kinds of things being grown in Italy, and the Europe, and white asparagus. We really started focusing on the top end of the market. We're very fortunate that folks like Jean-Louis Palladin at the Watergate Hotel in DC, Michel Rashard, Thomas Keller, Charlie Trotter, Daniel Boulud, St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, and we really started growing for the top end of the market.
The thing that kept resonated with those chefs that we work with, and we've been so fortunate that those chefs have taken us under their wing over the last 40 years, was flavor, flavor, flavor. But do it naturally, rather than chemically. As we were growing for flavor, we had a hypothesis that we were probably moving the nutritional levels along with that. My dad was really instrumental in pushing this. We put in a lab on the farm, where we could actually test the results of what we were doing. Ultimately, this comes down to soil, finding out what we were doing, how we could affect the health of the soil. We believe that all good health comes from the health of the soil. What's really cool is that, just like if you guys were to go and get blood work drawn, and you get a par level on all your minerals, and finding out what you're deficient in, what's really cool is that based on the deficiencies that we find in the mineral levels in the soil, you know how we jokingly talk about, "Oh, I need some vitamin D. I'm going to go out in the sunshine and collect some vitamin D." Well, there's so much more truth that half the people even understand. What's really amazing is that, when we find out what those deficiencies are and know that different types of plants will harvest different types of energy from the Sun. It could be clover, alfalfa, buckwheat, vetch, rye, we have a 15 species planting that will plant into the soil. Half of our acreage in any one year is committed to harvesting the Sun's energy and it's unbelievable how the soil will respond to harvesting that energy. Then, when we plant the turnip, or the beetroot, or the carrot, or the radish, or the spinach, or whatever it is we want to consume into that ground, it picks that back up and when we eat it, it builds our immune system.
We look at it like the Eastern culture versus the Western culture. The Western culture in medicine is you get a strep throat, they give you a penicillin, amoxicillin, nafcillin. It's always treating a symptom, right? Where the Eastern culture is, get the body in balance, defend against the disease in the first place. We're actually farming that way. 50% of the acreage in any one year on the farm is committed to harvesting the sun's energy. We're seeing numbers as high as 300 to 500 times higher than the USDA average. Now, the USDA average is too low, but we're seeing numbers in many cases as high as 300 to 500% higher. Now, do we have it all figured out? No. But we're on the right track. What's really cool is, where we're getting the trouble when we're using those synthetics and the chemicals, particularly using genetically modified plants? They genetically modify the plant so it can withstand the chemical. When that farmer plants and I'm not trying to talk down about those farmers. They're stuck in a system that says, "Keep the cost of goods as low as possible and produce as many times per acre as you can, and you might stay in business."
They're stuck in this model that exists in America to keep costs low, produce a lot. We got off of that bandwagon. The goal for us is to be able to produce the most flavorful, most nutritious vegetables that we can. It's pretty exciting. We're seeing these numbers and seeing the results of this. I think that as we move forward, plant-based plant forward is the future for sustainability of society. So, it's exciting. We just recently in the last two weeks brought on board on the team, a doctor from Mayo Clinic. She has spent her entire life on plant-based on a holistic side and we're really trying to emerge into a healthy lifestyle living, where folks can be able to get vegetables directly at home. For 40 years, 100% of our business was direct to restaurants. You can imagine what might have happened or what did happen when the restaurants closed down during the middle of the pandemic or at the beginning of the pandemic. Our team was like, "Oh, man, what are we going to do?" So, we pivoted to a home delivery to be able to get vegetables to individuals at home.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, I am smiling so much right now. This is absolutely incredible. I'm wondering in a parallel universe, so, you're talking about what happened with the 70s and then this change to the more conventional system that we have today. Do you see a way that could have gone differently? I think it's an important question, because it could speak to the implications for the future. But just as far as that switch that happened, I'm guessing it created a lot more food, a lot more access to feed the population. Is that required to feed a growing population? Could it have manifested any differently, where we are doing what you're doing now, but on the large scale?
Farmer Lee Jones: I think so. We'll never know. I know that we can affect the future, we can learn from the past, we can't change that. I do know that. There were a lot of things that entered in, in World War II and it was gender specific at that time, the men were off fighting their wars, and moms were at home chanting the family, taking care of the household chores, and taking care of the children. Today, it doesn't matter what gender it is, that's at home. But at that time, that's the way it was. But it became all hands-on deck. The moms were tasked then with welding, and building submarines, and machine guns, and army tanks. What happened was that America recognized that we could become after the war was over, we recognized we could be a two-income household. Mom and dad were both building careers, both out in the workforce. Marketing, large corporations recognize another gap that they can emerge into. I don't know if you remember the frozen TV dinners, the nasty Salisbury steak, and instant mashed potatoes, and the frozen peas and carrots. My mother thought that those were just wonderful, because she was working away from the house, and she could pop those out, and they were terrible. Now, my grandmother would have never dreamed of cooking something like that. She wouldn't even have thought of bringing it into the house.
But mom's generation was looking for convenience. It allowed for us to change from our focus of where our food sources were coming from, and connection with the farmer, and we lost that. Had it gone out different, had we played it differently? Absolutely, I think that we could have a different result. A 3,000% increase in those diseases. I would be willing to bet, I won't bet the farm, but I bet you a nice unsweetened iced tea that there isn't anybody listening that doesn't have somebody in their family or immediate circle of friends that doesn't suffer from one or more of those diseases. A 3,000% increase in 50 years, it's not sustainable. We're headed for a train wreck. But I think that the younger generation is recognizing some of our mistakes and saying, "Wait a minute, I want to know where my food is coming from, I want to know how it's grown, I want to know how the people are being taken care of on those farms." We have a saying. "Healthy soil, healthy vegetables, healthy people, healthy environment." That's really the crux of what we're trying to do here on the farm. There are 156 families that are involved in farming on 350 acres. 350 acres, half of that acreage in any one year is committed to harvesting the sun's energy. So, it's about a person per acre. 150 people, about 150 to 175 acres. It's very labor intensive, what we're doing. But we're doing it trying to do it the right way, we're trying to be cognizant of our carbon footprint, we're trying to be cognizant, and I think the book alludes to--
I don't know what the right word is just pushed, again, by the marketing of billions of dollars from big corporations that things can only be a certain size or a vegetable we only eat a part of it. If you think about the majestic nature of a brussels sprout, Melanie have you ever grown a brussels sprout plant, well, they're just an absolutely beautiful plant. They grow to about four to four and a half feet tall. It takes nine to 10 months to grow them, and they're a beautiful plant, and they've got all these leaves.
Melanie Avalon: They're on stalks, right? Like a big stalk. I've seen it on the--
Farmer Lee Jones: Yeah, they're on a big stalk, and it's almost as big around as your wrist, and it grows up to four and a half, five feet tall, and you have all these beautiful leaves that come out, and those leaves are there to protect. They provide a canopy to protect the brussels sprout from being sunburned. Nature just has an amazing way of taking care of itself. All we do is we pick that brussels sprout off and that's what we eat. But all this energy, all the love, all the nutrients, all the water have gone to produce this plant. I would defy the listeners that they probably would not be able to tell the difference if they were blindfolded between a brussels sprout leaf and a collard leaf. We can utilize more of the plant. What better way to give reference into respect to that plant than to use the entire plant and reduce the waste?
Melanie Avalon: You talk about in the book, the blooming rutabaga incident and when you realize that you could use the plants at every stage and I was wondering like, "Why do certain parts of plants become the part that we eat," just in general?
Farmer Lee Jones: I think that it becomes one of efficiency and marketing, and if we're growing that in our own garden, I think that perhaps we look at that plant in a little different way. Chefs have taught us over the years to look at the plant outside of the box, just because this isn't the norm, it doesn't mean when it shoots a seed stalk, a lot of times we think that it's gone to waste and that we can't use it. We had a chef that actually, I was taken aback to show him a field and my brother was ploughing it down, because we thought that once they shot the seed stock, the field was done and we were going to have to plough it under and start over. He jumps out of the truck, and runs in front of the tractor, flags the tractor down, and my brother was driving the tractor, and Bob got off of the tractor, and I got out of the truck, and we got down on our knees, and we're looking at this plant, and he starts tasting it, and looking at the seed pod and the flowers, and he's like, "Do you have any idea what I can do with this on a plate?" So, what we've learned effectively from chefs is that, at every single stage of the plant's life, it offers something unique to the plant or into the plate.
Melanie Avalon: I grow cucumbers hydroponically in my apartment. I was getting rid of the old plant, because I needed to replant it. I pulled out the whole root system and I was like, "Oh, I wonder if I could eat these roots." I was just thinking about how-- It's just so interesting that we focus on certain parts of plants and not others. Another question about just the sourcing of plants. I'm really curious, like, in the US, for example or any country really, how much of the different plants that we're exposed to are actually native to the land? Is the majority of stuff grown now in the US? Was it ultimately from somewhere else and how does that all come to be?
Farmer Lee Jones: Yeah, I think that it is ultimately, because which one of us was not an immigrant to America. We're all immigrants, which is just that some of us immigrated a little earlier than others. I think that's, again, part of what makes America great. But people brought seeds with them or they remember foods that they ate in their home countries. If it's able to be grown here, then we're going to grow it. I think that's why we have 700 different crops that we grow. Of course, we're always sourcing from another country. I think that it's been exciting to see chefs that certainly want to cook regionally, but also, it's fun to be able to see a chef that's bringing part of their heritage with them, if it's Native American, or Italian, or Caribbean, or wherever, Thai. They bring things that they remember from their home country here and it influences their cuisine. I love to go to a restaurant, where the chef's home country has been influenced or that that chef has gone someplace and traveled and found something there that they really love and they can bring it here. I think there's a lot of things that can be grown here. There's a great company. It's a not for profit called Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. Doctor Kent Waitley, and he has done more to preserve old heirloom varieties than anybody else that I know in the world. It's a great program to support. Again, a not for profit, but they'll preserve old varieties that have been handed down. Where was your great grandparents from Melanie?
Melanie Avalon: Germany and Ireland, depending on the side of the family. But Germany, most closely.
Farmer Lee Jones: Yeah, so, if it would have been some a seed, potato that had been handed down from generation to generation and you wanted to preserve that, you could share those seeds with the Seed Savers Exchange, and then, somebody else could write a letter and ask for some of those seeds. The only way we save these old varieties is to use them and create a demand. It's like they did with the heritage turkeys and the heritage chickens. So, the same thing has to happen with the vegetables.
Melanie Avalon: It's incredible. The heirloom seeds, because I know when I go look at seeds at the store, there are a lot of heirloom varieties. Are they automatically, naturally more nutrient dense?
Farmer Lee Jones: Not necessarily. No, I think that they can certainly affect flavor. I think that it's critical of the soil that ultimately starts. It's just like our body. What we feed our body is going to determine how healthy we are. What you eat is what you are and what the plant eats is what you are. I think that it's really critical. Ultimately, it's going to go back to the health of the soil. That's really, really fundamental in our health. We've had several doctors here over the years, and they look at what we're doing, and the way we're looking at plants, and breaking them down, and measuring the nutrient density, the nitrate oxides, the gut biome, all of these things factor in, but it ultimately comes back to the health of the soil. Healthy soil, healthy vegetables, healthy people, healthy environment. It's pretty amazing. I think I got off track a little bit earlier. We're talking about when companies are using, farms are using genetically modified seeds, it genetically modified the seed. When they spray the chemical on, it kills the weeds that compete for light, and for moisture, and for yield. But it also is killing all the biology in the soil. Then, when they're using synthetic fertilizers, the biology is not there to break the fertilizer down into a form that the plant can pick it up. That's why we're getting-- I don't know, if you've read about it, but we have a lot of issues with algal bloom in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes are 80% of the world's supply of fresh water and all of this synthetic fertilizer is washing off-- [crosstalk]
Melanie Avalon: Of the world's supply?
Farmer Lee Jones: Yeah.
Melanie Avalon: No way. My mind is blown.
Farmer Lee Jones: Yeah. And yet, we've all this algal bloom problem, because we're using genetically modified seeds and consequently, the biology, it's not existent in the soil. Melanie, you just wouldn't believe. When instead of using synthetic fertilizers, we're using plants like clover, and alfalfa, and buckwheat, and rye to harvest the sun's energy, and you're feeding that biology, and then they can break that food down into a form that the plant can pick it up, it's just unbelievable, the difference. The good news is that we can turn this around. It's not the Titanic, it's not guaranteed that it's going to sink. We can turn this around, we can move it in the right direction, I believe we can provide enough food to feed the world. We've got to do it one bite at a time. It's how we make our decisions on where we buy. Build a relationship with a farmer, go to the farmers market, have a connection, ask them questions, "How are they growing? How are they rebuilding the nutrients in the soil? How are they taking care of the people on those farms?" It all works together? How are we taking care of the environment? We've got a pretty cool situation. Our neighbor produces hundreds of acres of popcorn. Well, the corncob is actually a byproduct and he pained to haul it away into a landfill. We're now using the corncobs instead of fossil fuels to heat an entire four-acre greenhouse. It's just exciting when we work together that we can make such a big difference and an impact on our health and the health of the environment.
Melanie Avalon: Speaking of buying local, because one of the fascinating things that you dismantled a little bit in your book was, you're talking about buying local and how that can be a little bit misleading sometimes, because some "local farms," they wouldn't necessarily have access to a consumer population that could even buy local from them. What is the best way to buy local and support all these different farms?
Farmer Lee Jones: Well, I guess, my point in the book was this. Local defines distance. It does not define quality. If you can get something in your backyard local to you, by all means, do it. It's absolutely a smart move. But it doesn't necessarily mean that just because you're buying it local that it's more nutrient dense that it's better. I would be cautious that, it's not only local, but the farmers growing at the right way. How are they rebuilding the soils? Are they using the chemicals? What are they doing? I think in the old days, a farmer's goal was to leave the land in better condition for future generations. That's a good goal, and it's a noble goal, and it's still part of our goals. But there also was a saying that "If you couldn't make in the real world, at least you could go back and work on the farm." It was not a highly sought-after position was to be a farmer. I think that we have to be proud of the occupation that we have, but also create a situation that provides our team members with a proper level of not only respect but pay and financial income that they can send their children to the schools of their choice, they could have the homes of their choice, they can have the automobiles of their choice, and they can follow their dreams. If we don't pay at a level that supports those things, then the good people go someplace else.
We have some of the best and the most brilliant mines on this farm. It's unbelievable. The single greatest asset on our farm is not land, it's not tractors, it's not greenhouses, it's not barns, its people, its people, and we have some amazing people from all over the world. We have a world exchange program, where students come in from all over. They bring ideas with them, they take ideas home, and we share knowledge, and it's an exciting thing. All of us are smarter than one of us. Yeah, there's some biggie. There's a lot of parts to it. It's exciting. Vegetables are just so much fun. We had Ferran Adrià here. He was the number one chef in the world at El Bulli in Madrid. It's been about 10 years ago. A great friend of mine, God rest his soul. Charlie Trotter brought him here. He made a little speech when he was here on the farm and he said, "We've explored every species of poultry, of beef, of lamb, of fish that exists in the world. Yet, there are thousands of plants to be explored yet. Plants, and plant base, and plant forward, it's the future. It's not a bad thing. It's not taking medicine. Vegetables are good. It's exciting to see the proteins taking smaller place on the plate, and seeing more vegetable, and even vegetables seeing them take the center of the plate. It's exciting to see what Eleven Madison Park has done in New York City, Daniel Humm. When they reopened, they opened as a whole plant-forward restaurant. That's very, very exciting. The ripple effect of that's going to be profound.
Melanie Avalon: It's so incredible and did you pioneer microgreens?
Farmer Lee Jones: We did. With the help of Charlie Trotter, he had an amazing restaurant. He was about 20 to 30 years ahead of his time in Chicago at 816 West Armitage. Everybody was all wrapped up in. Do you remember the masculine that was a hot wave at the time? He was over that. Everybody was using it. You could even find it in grocery stores and Walmart's. He wanted something newer, sexier, better flavored. He was one of the first chefs in the world to have a prefix vegetable menu. I think we're still a little lax in restaurants today with that. My wife and I go out to eat, and she wants a vegetarian dish, and she says, "Well, we can give you the chicken salad and we'll just take the chicken out." I think those days are over. I think that there's going to be more pressure to step up. Yes, basically, we're harvesting vegetables at a smaller stage. What we're finding in our laboratory right here on the farm is that the smaller the vegetables harvested, the higher the impact of nutrient, nutrient densities are. Soil grown microgreens. Even a little bit bigger than a microgreen stage. Two of the big keys that I say is eat it raw and eat the rainbow. Get as much color into your diet as possible and as often as you can eat it raw. When we cook things, we're losing 50% of nutritional value. When we overcook them, we're losing even more. I look at some of the wonderful dishes that my grandmother prepared and they were amazing. But she put greens and ham hock on, and cook them all day long, and they were delicious and full of flavor. But my guess is there was not much nutritional value left to them. So, al dente or use the mandolin, cut it, eat it raw. Eat it raw and eat the rainbow is the way to go.
Melanie Avalon: I just think there's so much education that can happen here. For me, for example, I always assumed, because I see the microgreens at the grocery store and I would get them at the grocery store. But I always assumed naively that they were a species that capped out at that size and then I was hydroponically growing stuff. Like I said, I bought some "microgreen seeds," because that's the way they sell it. Then I was so confused because it kept growing bigger and I was like, "Wait, I thought it was supposed to stop and stay small." But I guess, it just speaks to the fact that in theory, anything could be a microgreen almost.
Farmer Lee Jones: That's right and it probably wouldn't develop into a kale, because the way you plant microgreens is so much closer together. Because you don't need that space, because you're harvesting them small. You could pull those, you could theoretically pull those apart, and then plant them into the ground, and then with more space, and they could go out to a kale. I'm not knocking it, but I'm not a huge proponent of hydroponic.
Melanie Avalon: I was going to ask you about it. Yeah.
Farmer Lee Jones: Yeah, fundamentally, I believe that soil, it's a more natural way to do it. If you think about water it's a good carrier of E. coli and bacteria. Soil slows that down. But ultimately, we believe that the biology that's happening and taking place in that soil. We're seeing. We're doing some testing on it. We're finding hands down that we get a more nutritious plant, more nutritious vegetable when we grow in soil versus hydroponic. Now, am I knocking hydroponic? No. There's a lot of great growers out there doing really good things, and this is not, and I will never knock another farmer. It's just for us. We found that it appears to be more nutritious. There're some really good operations doing microgreens or doing other things in hydroponic and I'm not knocking them at all. I love all my fellow lady and gentlemen farmers out there across the world. So, it's not a knock on them. But for us, we don't believe in the use of hydroponic.
Melanie Avalon: I was going to ask you about that, because just sensibly thinking about it, it would completely make sense that they probably would not be as nutrient dense. You're speaking about the role of the soil. I think it's a good gateway farming technique for people like me living in an apartment, because before I had my hydroponic units, I don't think I would have grown stuff outside or anything like that. But then when I started growing indoors, it really opened my eyes. Now, I feel plants are alive, and I take care of them, and it really inspired me. So, I think like I said, it's a nice gateway farming technique for people living in our apartment.
Farmer Lee Jones: Absolutely. I loved your example of thinking about eating the root of the cucumber. I can remember one day, my dad and my wife were actually in the greenhouse, and we were growing garlic, and we were growing it from the top. My dad always said that the best way to find out what's going on above the ground is to look at what's happening with the roots below the ground. They pulled the garlic out of the ground, and they looked at it, and they looked at each other, and they're like, "We're grown for the wrong product." We grow garlic specifically for the roots.
Melanie Avalon: It's a garlicky tasting?
Farmer Lee Jones: Oh, they're delicious. The chefs just have a blast with them. I've seen them make [unintelligible [00:36:02] with them, because they're so moldable and they are pure white. You bring them out of the ground, and they're a little bit dirty, and you can just take a gentle garden hose, and clean them off, and they come snow white, and you can put them raw in a salad, you can fry them off, and they can be a garlic crouton. But they're so diverse and so delicious that I love your idea and your thought process of looking at that plant. I didn't realize until Chef Jamie Simpson from the Culinary Vegetable Institute did some deep diving with the squash plant. Probably, everybody that's gardening does summer squash. Well, obviously, you can pick those at all different stages of the plant's life. But also, the stems of that and the leaves even are edible. Looking at that plant outside of what we're traditionally marketed to look at allows us to reduce waste, it gives us so much more diversity, it gives us a lot more fun to be able to play with vegetables.
Melanie Avalon: It's so amazing. What about things like edible flowers?
Farmer Lee Jones: Yeah, they've been grown for hundreds and hundreds of years. I would not recommend going to a garden center and buying pansies and then thinking that you could just eat those, because I don't think they're being grown or taken care of in a way that necessarily is considering edible flowers. If you're going to do edible flowers do them from seed, where you know that you're not putting anything on them that is unhealthy. But they can add so much brightness. When COVID hit, 100% of our business was going to restaurants and we thought that we could do more to help society by making our vegetables available to individuals at home. We pivoted to a home delivery. At first, we're like, "Well, this is a crisis. People are just trying to buy food. Do we want to put edible flowers in here?"
We had so many positive comments, because we were sending things that were healthy direct from our farm. It was obviously supporting our team and keeping us going. You don't furlough a farm. When this hit, there was never a question that we were going to close the farm down. It's like walking away from a relationship, and then come back a year and a half later and saying, "Hi, honey, I'm home." You can't do it. It doesn't work. She's a breathing living thing, the farm. There's an intimate relationship with the farmer, and the farm, and the land. We had to stay, we had to keep taking care of her, and we had to take care of our big family of 150 families here. Pivoting to this home delivery and we made the decision to put the edible flowers, you wouldn't believe the notes back that said, "You have no idea in a dark and dreary situation to get your salad greens and then to be able to put the edible flowers on them, and eat them, and it just brightened up our whole day." The edible flowers really are psychologically a fun thing and they add some real flavor nuances that are incredible, the nasturtium is actually in the radish family. So, you get a nice hint of bity flavor to it that's kind of fun.
Melanie Avalon: One of my most treasured memories is, when I was really little and I was at a restaurant with my grandmother and they were flowers on the food, and she was eating them, and she told me she said, "Whenever they bring a flower on the food at the restaurant, you can eat it." That stuck with me and I've just been it so fascinated by it. I'm starting to see in Whole Foods now they actually sell edible flowers. So, I do see it infiltrating into the culture which is pretty cool. You compared it to wine tasting I think in your book with the flavors which was [giggles] very, very cool.
Farmer Lee Jones: Yeah, there're so many different nuances, and flavors, and colors that can match up. It's just exciting to mention, to eating.
Melanie Avalon: Speaking of colors, something that again blew my mind and I learned about was like white asparagus. Are plants that are white? Could you tell listeners a little bit about why certain plants can be white and what that means?
Farmer Lee Jones: Well, sure. In Europe, they considered the green asparagus to the asparagus for the pigs. I don't believe that's completely true. I love green asparagus, and we've grown it for years, and it's really good. The way that they produce white asparagus in Europe is they plant the rows of asparagus and of course, it's a root, and it pokes up through the ground, the crowns come up through, but they take in mounds of soil up around, so that the asparagus has to get 10 to 12 to 15 inches tall and it's still all covered by soil, because they're like hills or mounds. Then they dig into the side of the mound and pick the asparagus out. Because the dirt has been covering or the soil has been covering the asparagus, it's not exposed to chlorophyll, no sunlight. So, it's white. We actually grow ours entirely different. You could do this in your garden, Melanie. We actually take black plastic and create little miniature greenhouses over the asparagus, so that we don't have to mound the dirt up and we go in with a coalminers lamp on our forehead, and pick it, because it's completely dark in there. But you can do it with pea tendrils and it creates this beautiful, brilliant golden sunrise gold color, and they just add a nice nuance of flavor and of course color, we eat with our eyes.
Chefs have constantly pushed us to be able to create colors, and textures, and flavors, and shapes, and sizes, that are going to just help them blow people away when they put the food on the plate. That's transcending now into the home delivery, where people can actually go to farmerjonesfarm.com and order a box, and it's delivered right to their home. We're excited about Dr. Amy coming aboard, because now we're going to do a whole approach of the health and wellness in a healthy living style. That'll be exciting. You'll see that rollout in the next few months.
Melanie Avalon: So, they don't get any exposure to sunlight?
Farmer Lee Jones: That's right.
Melanie Avalon: So, how many plants can do that?
Farmer Lee Jones: I don't know. I don't know the answer to that. That's a really great question. We continually try to find out. We get an idea. We sometimes do these things by mistake. We harvest like our great grandparents or grandparents did. There's a reason some vegetables are called winter vegetables. If you go 56 inches deep into the soil, you stay 56 degrees year-round. It's hard for us, because we can go to a refrigerator today and we just take so many things for granted. But it hasn't been that far back in our history that refrigeration didn't exist. A root cellar, maybe some of the listeners can remember going to a grandparents' home, and they went into the basement, and there was one room in the basement that didn't have a poured floor, it was a dirt floor, because they knew that that temperature would stay cool and it was a way to be able to keep vegetables during the wintertime. We've replicated root cellar conditions, so we harvest carrots, and beets, and rutabagas, and parsnips, and [unintelligible [00:42:51], celery root, and store those in October, November in a root cellar like condition, and then we can sell out of those during the wintertime, so that we've got good winter vegetables to sell all winter.
But we had some beets in the root cellar and they were stacked. There were bushels and bushels in these bins. 20 bushels to a bin. We didn't get all of them sold, and we pulled them out in March, and we noticed that there was enough strength in the beet, because these were big beets there. Some of them were not only as big as a hard ball, but as big as a softball. There was a lot of energy in the beet. That plant had started to grow just like a potato. It starts growing and shooting a sprout in the root cellar or in a potato sack. Well, this beet started to grow out of the top. Because there was no light, you had this beautiful, brilliant burgundy red veins. Then the outer leaves were this majestic sunset yellow. The red veins going through the yellow leaves, it just was so sexy. We call it beet blush. We grow it now. We actually have built out. It started as a mistake, growing it in the dark, we were just storing them there, and they started from the energy of that beet growing tops, and we're like, "Well, how can we replicate that?" We build out a whole growing section, and we put a row of beets in each week. We've got them coming and then when the chef orders them, we can cut them and send them to them. If you can imagine to in a beet dish, and then putting one of these beet blush leaves on it, it really pops the plate.
Melanie Avalon: Have you checked the nutrient effect of the plants that are grown in the dark?
Farmer Lee Jones: Oh my gosh, that is a great idea. We have not done that. I like how you think, Melanie. We need you on the farm for-- We've got an extra room here, we even have indoor plumbing. Why don't you just move on out here and we'll put you to work on the farm. I would like your thought process.
Melanie Avalon: [laughs] Right. I have to take you up on that. Well, I was just thinking, because I would imagine, the first thing you think would be maybe there would be a decrease, because not having a sun, but then you would wonder if maybe, there's some other effect, where it gets some other phytonutrients or something to deal with growing without sunlight.
Farmer Lee Jones: No, that's a really, really great idea. I think we'll do that test. I will let you know on that offline. You have what we call the inquisitive gene. We love the inquisitive gene at The Chef's Garden. It's what makes it fun for us every day here.
Melanie Avalon: I think that's the reason probably your book resonated with me so much, because like you said, it's the way I think, too and I was just so excited. I learned so much. That's why, like I said, I think it should be required reading. Another question I had about your growing practices, because you're talking about how you grow without pesticides and things like that. But you talk about the role of beneficials. I was wondering if you get enlightened listeners about that process?
Farmer Lee Jones: Yeah, keep in mind. We have people on the farm that can talk probably way more intelligently than I can about this. I'm a dirt farmer and we have three scientists on staff. But I don't know if you're old enough to remember. But on Sunday night here on the farm, we weren't exposed to a lot of the outside world. We didn't have the money for it. We live pretty close to home, but there was on Sunday night, there was a show called Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. Do you remember it?
Melanie Avalon: I don't.
Farmer Lee Jones: Yeah, you're half my age or less. Well, it was a show and Mutual of Omaha, so, the insurance company, but they would put on the show and it would take you to parts of the world that we had never seen as kids on the farm. Over to Africa and you saw herds of giraffes, and elephants, and gazelle. Of course, it was pretty graphic. It showed lion tracking down or a cougar tracking down a herd of gazelle and which gazelle did it harvest, the weaker one, or the oldest one, or one that was lame. The reason I tell you all that part of it is to get to this. Plants operate, insects operate under the same premise as a cougar tracking down a gazelle. The insect goes to the weakest plants. We believe that the best defense is a good offense. Healthy soil, healthy vegetables, healthy people, healthy environment. If we can put healthy seeds into that and get them a good start, it actually tastes so healthy, so sweet that the insect won't go to it. That's really exciting. We have even taken a section of the farm and planted, and just disregarded them. It did take care of them. It created a patch of weak plants and let the insects go to them, so that they would stay away from the healthy ones. But beneficials, we can actually purchase. There're companies that make a business out of selling the beneficials, and they come on this yellow sticky tag, and we put them in the greenhouse, and they hatch out, and they all attack the larvae of the insects like aphids, and they'll kill the population. They won't kill an adult aphid, but they will kill, they will attack to their larvae, and wipe out the population of aphids that are attacking the plant. Beneficials can really be, no pun intended beneficial to controlling the insect issues without using the chemical.
Do we have all that figured out? No. But it's really exciting to see that work. But I think that the biggest thing will even take-- we have some equipment that will sort the weight of the seed. f you can imagine, we get a five-pound bag of seeds from a seed company. Let's say, hypothetically, carrot seeds about 150,000 seeds in five pounds. They're pretty small. They're smaller than a BB. Maybe the listeners know, maybe you've planted carrot seeds. So, you know how small they are. We run them through a gravity machine and it separates the seeds by weight. We separate into five different weight categories. What does the weight of the seed mean? The weight of the seed, there's a direct correlation between the weight of the seed and the health of the endosperm. We found that the healthier the endosperm, the better start that it can get. If we get the soils in balance and get all the nutrients there, and then put a healthy seed into that, boom, it just takes off, and it grows, and it's too healthy, and the insect doesn't want it. Some of those lighter seeds, we may just pack those up and send them back to the seed company and say, "These seeds are unacceptable. We can't accept these, because the endosperm is too weak and we're going to have to send them back to you." In many cases with seed companies, there's no standard for a farmer to be able to grade the quality of the seed. But by doing this weight, we can weigh them out through gravity, we can determine which seeds are healthier. We'll take those to test out that theory when you have five different sizes and put them in a petri dish, and sprout them out, and nine times out of 10, sure enough, the heavier seed is the healthier seed. So, we want a healthy seed, healthy soil, and that really is a key to helping defend against the insects and the disease issues.
Melanie Avalon: Is the seed weight very specific to the variety?
Farmer Lee Jones: Yes. Not the variety as much as type. Yeah, I mean squash seed and a carrot seed are entirely different. But like red carrot, orange carrot, yellow carrot, white carrot, peachy pink carrot, no. There's not a lot of difference or disparity within the weights of those different varietals of carrots. It's interesting, carrots, for thousands of years, we only ate the top of the carrot. Now, we only eat the bottom. The top is full of nutrient. You can actually exchange the carrot top if you're doing anything with a salad or if you're making one of the basil, I can't think of the word right now. Help me out.
Melanie Avalon: With basil like for the salad?
Farmer Lee Jones: No, not for salad. It's right there. It's so simple of a dish that we make we use a basil. No, well, I can't think of it.
Melanie Avalon: Like a pesto?
Farmer Lee Jones: Yeah, I don't know why, but I had a brain freeze right at that moment. But yeah, with a basil pesto, you can actually exchange the carrot top out running through the blender and you can make an amazing pesto with the carrot top. We don't have to waste any of it. We talk about it that in the book. Even the trimmings, make a vegetable stock. It's amazing. We can extract everything. Again, celebrate that vegetable plant by using every part of a plant.
Melanie Avalon: I remember one time I was going to the grocery store and I specifically wanted the leaves on the top of the beets. I was trying to find them and they had cut all the leaves off. So, I went up to the guy and I was like, "Where do I get the beets with the leaves?" He looked at me like I was crazy. [laughs] I was like, "I just want that," [laughs] because I bought some beets before and I had tasted the leaves and it was so good. It was salty. So, yeah, I was like, "Oh, maybe I'm crazy." [laughs]
Farmer Lee Jones: No, you're not. I'm really glad you brought that up, because I don't know whether any of the listeners are in tune enough with their bodies and I'm sure some of them are nodding their heads, yes. But I think that if we listen to our body, it craves certain minerals. There actually are more nutrients in the top than in the bottom of the beet. I love that you were seeking those out. It could have been that you were so attuned with listening to your body that it was telling you. I don't know if you've ever experienced this, but there's times when my body says, "I need kale, I need Swiss chard, I need beets."
Melanie Avalon: I literally felt like my body said, I don't know if I tasted them before, but my body was like, "I need beet greens." So, I went to the store to buy them. They were not there.
Farmer Lee Jones: I think that that's really good that you were there craving that, follow those. I would encourage listeners to follow those cravings, because your body's telling you something. Again, I read this in National Geographic and it always stuck with me. But there were women, and they were eating soil, and it seemed so abstract to me at the time. We've done more deep dives into the mineral deficiencies that we're finding in vegetable. Their bodies were craving minerals and instinctively, they knew that those minerals were in the soil, and they were trying to fulfill something within their deficiency of their body by eating the soil. Now, I can guarantee the soil didn't taste good, but they were listening to their body. I really encourage listeners to really be in tune with yourself. When it tells you, you need beet tops, when you need kale, you listen to it and follow that advice that your body's telling you. Instinctively, it'll tell you what you need in many cases.
Melanie Avalon: I was just reading yesterday and I think you're talking about in your book as well, but the uprise of that disease that happened when we switched to eating corn, because of the lack of niacin, pellagra, was that what it was called? I just thought that was so fascinating how it took forever for people to realize what was the cause of that disease, but it was from not being able to have niacin I think in a corn diet.
Farmer Lee Jones: Exactly. There's so many of those things that there's a cause and effect.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah. Question about pollination, and hybridization, and things like that. I've been growing different cucumber varieties and I have to hand pollinate them. What I think about every time, because I just touch all the flowers of all the different plants. So, am I going to create a hybrid species? Can any plant create a hybrid with another plant, or only certain plants, or how does that even happen?
Farmer Lee Jones: Oh, boy, you're getting into science. That's pretty deep for me.
Melanie Avalon: Okay. I guess, more general question is just hybrid plants in general. Do you guys make hybrid plants, is it something that's of interest, can it easily happen?
Farmer Lee Jones: Hybrid, we don't make them. We believe there's a whole another business that-- Certainly, there are some great growers out there doing hybrids. In fact, we're working with some small-scale growers in California and trying to support their work. Many things, there used to be thousands of seed companies, family on seed companies. One by one by one, they've been gobbled up, and they take the top five selling items, and they abandon the rest. But there're some guys that are taking, of course for the last 20 years now, we've been excited about heirloom tomatoes and some of the great things that some of those varieties offer. But the reason they were abandoned in the first place in many cases, because they didn't have the disease resistance or they didn't have the yield. They're crossing the hybrid or they're crossing the heirlooms with varieties that have some of the characteristics that do resist the disease and can grow a little bit better. It's been really exciting.
There's nothing wrong with hybridization. It's been done for hundreds and thousands of years. If you hypothetically had two rows of two different types of plants in your garden and you hand selected, let's just stick with tomatoes, because we're talking about tomatoes. You pick the characteristics of the best tomato in one row, and you pick the characteristics of the best one in that one, you could create a hybrid. It would take three to five to six years to get those characteristics honed out. Hybridization's not a bad thing at all. It's good. The genetic modification is where it crosses over a line for us. Now, if we have longer time and we could go a little bit further on that, genetic modification in itself can be used for good things to genetically modified in a deserted area where there's no water, where you can genetically modify a plant that could potentially grow without as much water. But the way it's being used commercially in the United States today to be able to resist chemicals, so that that plant can withstand a chemical. We don't believe in the use of them and we don't use any genetic modification for that reason.
Melanie Avalon: For listeners, I'll just again, refer them to your book, because it's such a resource for just so many things. If they want to grow at home-- Oh, and then the recipes, how did you come up with all of these recipes? Are they all recipes from the farm? What's their story?
Farmer Lee Jones: Well, Chef Jamie Simpson is a chef-- We built a facility at the farm called The Culinary Vegetable Institute. The original vision of it was for chefs to be able to come, bring their culinary teams, go into the fields with us, harvest product, come back in a test kitchen, and play, and experiment, and create recipes. José Andrés was here two years ago and he brought 16 of his staff, and they did a whole vegetable book. While they were here in three days, they have the writer with him them, the photographers here with them, and 16 chefs with them. But Chef Jamie Simpson spent three years of his life. He came to us, he was working at a restaurant called the Charleston Grill down in Charleston, South Carolina, and he had seen our product, they're coming into the restaurants, and he's like, "I've got to go find this place." He came, and he stayed, and he's been here and now, going on eight or nine years, and he's the chef liaison. He talks with the chefs when they come in, we have about 600 visiting chefs per year. They come in, he gets to work with them, and help them do menu development for their restaurants. It's a symbiotic relationship with chef and farmer working together.
He developed those, a lot of those are ideas that he's seen from somebody else and created his own. But really this is Chef Jamie Simpson's work at the Culinary Vegetable Institute. One of the things we did, because the chefs weren't coming in during the COVID was we pivoted to an Airbnb. People can now actually come to the Culinary Vegetable Institute, and they have run the whole place, because one of the concerns like when we're traveling is you go someplace and you're concerned about a hotel, and the other people and the exposure they've had. When you get the Airbnb at the Culinary Vegetable Institute, there's only one room to it. You can do a chef's picnic basket. We'll curate a basket around your particular likes and stay a day, or two days, or three days. We had a couple from Charleston that actually came on their honeymoon and spent their entire honeymoon here at the Culinary Vegetable Institute in the Airbnb and we curated-- They wanted to work on the farm for the week. So, they had a great week and it was what they wanted to do for their honeymoon. It was pretty cool.
Melanie Avalon: Well, I just love how you're making this so immersive for real people. For people, who want to support this whole movement that you are spearheading and encouraging, so people shopping, because I know we talked about shopping local and the questions to ask farmers. But if people are going to shop at commission grocery stores, there are big brands that say like organic and stuff like that. Does that make a difference or is that still the conventional system? How can people do the best that they can to support all of this?
Farmer Lee Jones: Right. Well, again, I can't speak to what any other farmer is doing. We have done testing on organic, on commercially grown. We're not finding any significant difference in organic or inorganic. I think that even if you go back to before, the organic thing was a hot buzzword. Building the soil, taking care of the soil, whether that's organic or inorganic, ultimately is going to be what drives the nutrient and the nutrient density levels. Is the soil healthy, is the biology alive, can it break the food down to a form that the plant can pick it back up? I would just encourage listeners to develop relationships, reconnect with where their food is coming from, know thy grower and talk to him. If they're doing things the right way, they're going to invite you to their farm, they're going to want to talk to you about the way they're farming. Do we have it all figured out? No, neither does anybody else. But you can tell those farmers that are on the right track.
It's difficult when you're going to a grocery store, because they're bringing product in to supply the demand. If they need a thousand cases of beets, and one producer has 200, one has 50, and one has 90, there's no way of knowing thy grower. When you can go to a farmers' market and develop a relationship or you can buy it online, and you can read and understand, and understand the philosophies of the way that they're farming and trying to farm, I think that really, it's worth our time and investment. We're going to spend the money with pharmaceutical drugs to patch us up if we're not eating right. Spend the money, spend the time, invest in yourself, take the time to know thy farmer, and know where your food is coming from, and how it's being grown, whether it's a pasture raised or whether it's being fed, whether the animals and the livestock are being fed in a stock yard or whether they're able to graze, and where's the fish coming from? Take the time to do the due diligence to understand. You are what you eat, you are what the plant eats, you are what the animal eats. So critical.
Melanie Avalon: It may seem a big overhaul in the beginning, but once you do do that research and find the sourcing of online companies or local farms, then you can just adapt a new system and a new way of going about it.
Farmer Lee Jones: Well, that's right. It becomes easy. It's just second nature. Then you can tell somebody else about it. Then you can tell somebody else and somebody else and we can make a difference. We can turn this thing around, the movement has begun. Plant based, plant forward, it's the future.
Melanie Avalon: How do you feel--? Because I have done a lot of episodes on regenerative agriculture that are also inclusive of animals. Do you think that could be part of the future as well or do you see it more as primarily plant base?
Farmer Lee Jones: Oh, absolutely. Look, I'm not sitting here promoting. I like a piece of good red meat, or a chicken, or a fish as well as the next person. But I think that those animals should be responsibly raised. I would like to see us eating smaller portions and proteins, and allowing the vegetables. The vegetables day is now. The vegetable can take center stage, and be the main ingredient on the plate, and we eat a smaller portion of protein. It used to be that it was this huge piece of meat and a little bit of vegetable on the side as a garnish. Reverse it. It's going to have profound effects on your health, on your life, on your physical, on your spiritual, on your mental attitude and psyche. It really does make a difference.
Melanie Avalon: I was thinking because it says in your bio that was sent over that you'll never say your favorite vegetable. I was thinking about that, because there's not one vegetable that has all the nutrients that we would need ever. I think in a way if there was maybe that would be in theory, somebody's favorite, because it would satisfy everything, but with rotating nutritional needs and there's a reason that we crave different things at different times, I think, so. But to get listeners maybe hooked, what would be some exciting vegetables that they might not have tried that you would encourage them to try?
Farmer Lee Jones: Well, I guess, the reason I don't like to answer this, because when somebody asked me what my favorite vegetable is, I want to know what season it is. When it is asparagus season, I think we should eat asparagus three times a day. When it's out of season, we should lust for it for nine more months. Right now, my favorite go-tos are the winter radishes. We have one called a lime radish, and a watermelon radish, and a black radish, a ninja radish. I love to take the mandolin, and cut those super thin, and do an overnight quick pickle with any vinegar you have in the kitchen, and add a little bit of sugar, and eat them chilled. That's a go-to for me. But you don't have to put the vinegar, you don't have to put the sugar, you don't have to do the overnight quick pickle. Do a mandolin cut on them and put them on your salad. It gives you color, it gives you crunch, and texture, and flavor, and a little bit of bite, it just puts a little bam in your salad. It's just so much fun with the winter radishes.
Melanie Avalon: Well, listeners, now, you can see why I was so, so obsessed with this book, because this energy, and all of this is in there, and I can't recommend enough that listeners check it out. The last question that I usually ask the guests every single time it's because I realized more and more each day how important mindset is. So, what is something that you're grateful for?
Farmer Lee Jones: Family, for sure. Waking up every morning, I'm grateful to have a crack at it every single day. I'm grateful for God in my life. I believe we all have stronger power, whatever that is and to have faith in something that's constant. I know that three things and you asked me for one grateful that I got to be raised on a farm. I'm grateful that I got to work with my father every single day for 40 years. We lost him August 4th, 2020. I'm grateful that he's still here with us every place we look. All the work that we do, we feel his presence here with us all the time. Life is good. We're going to get thrown curves. It's been a tumultuous 20 months. There's silver lining to everything and we've got to look for him.
Melanie Avalon: And actually, just speaking to that, something similar like you, I also wear basically almost the same thing every day. But why do you wear those overalls?
Farmer Lee Jones: Very few books that I read in high school, I thought I was really smart by using the CliffsNotes. You probably don't remember CliffsNotes, but it was all--
Melanie Avalon: I do.
Farmer Lee Jones: Yeah, it was this yellow paperback thing and you could read it in about an hour. Basically, we thought we were smart that we could get a B in creative writing by reading the CliffsNotes, instead of reading the book. It was really not very brilliant of me. Let's just put it that way. But one of the books that I did not read the CliffsNotes on, it was so captivating to me was The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Little did I know at 17 years old when I read The Grapes of Wrath, and saw the tragedy, and the plight of the farmers during the dustbowl. Then in the 30s and how desperate they got. If anybody is bored and want to stay in their pajamas on a rainy or a snowy, cold winter day, get Netflix. You can still get The Grapes of Wrath. That's a black and white. I don't know whether listeners can remember, but Henry Fonda is the father of Jane Fonda. At 21 years old, he was the main character in The Grapes of Wrath. But again, as I alluded to there used to be a saying, "Well, if you can't make it in the real world, at least, you can go back and work on the farm."
These farmers, if you can picture lost their farms and everything that they owned was loaded on an old truck, three generations in one old truck, and the family dog, and maybe the cow, and they were just trying to find a place to work and to start over. Large ranches would take advantage of the fact that these folks were desperate for work. The word would get out that there was an orange crop to harvest or a peach crop or an apple crop. These families would come and groves just hundreds of cars, but six or eight or 10 people on each truck just desperate for a place to work, and to earn a living, and to make a dollar, and to get a hot shower, and to have something to eat. There's a scene on a Saturday night at one of these ranches, where they were paying a dollar a day to harvest. They were charged a half a dollar for a camp, and a hot meal, and a shower. They were almost working and only at the end of the day. But there's a scene despite how broken down and how much their hardships were, they had a square dance and their overalls that the men wore were worn and they were torn, but they were clean. They had clean white shirts on and they had a red bow tie or a bow tie. It wasn't red specifically, but they had a bow tie on, and a white shirt, and a pair of worn in many cases torn clean overalls.
Despite whatever we're given in this world, despite our hardships, we can always maintain our pride, we can always maintain our integrity. I'm proud to be a farmer. For every person that ever dreamed of being on a farm, for any person that's ever-remembered living on a farm, and then moving off of it, or losing a farm, or wanting to be a farmer, every single day of my life, I wear a pair of overalls and a white shirt and red bow tie. I wore them to church on Sunday, I've worn them to funerals, I've married several people. I have my license to marry. I've conducted several services. Look, there's an old saying on the farm that "You can never make a silk purse out of a sow's ear." I could never put a three-piece suit on and look nearly as handsome as some of the gentleman that can put a three-piece suit on and carry that off. I'm one as a farmer and I'm proud to be a farmer. Not boastful proud, but I'm proud of my occupation, and maintain my integrity of going as a farmer, and having clean overalls, and clean white shirt, red bow ties every day of my life. I'll be buried in them. I have 18 pairs of overalls, 18 white shirts, 18 red bow ties. I've been to some pretty fancy events in New York City. Guys wore a tuxedo. So, lady in some beautiful evening gowns, and the guy will come up and whisper in my ear and say, "Gosh, you sure look comfortable in those. I wish I could get away with that."
Melanie Avalon: Well, thank you so much, Farmer Lee Jones. I'm just so honored and grateful for what you're doing, and to speak with you now, and to meet you. You have the most beautiful sparkling soul, and you're changing the world, and I just can't express enough my gratitude. So, thank you. How can listeners best follow your work? What links would you like to put out there?
Farmer Lee Jones: Well, Melanie, thank you so much for having me on. I've thoroughly enjoyed our time together today. Instagram, we would love to hear from you, folks, @farmerleejones. When you pull it up, you see a guy with a red bow tie, and a white shirt, and a pair of overalls on the picture. You'll know it's me. But @farmerleejones on Instagram, Farmer Jones Farm at The Chef's Garden for being able to get vegetables at home, the Culinary Vegetable Institute. You can go to Airbnb and find the Culinary Vegetable Institute. If you'd like to come and do a farm, stay with us. We'd love to hear from your listeners, and Melanie, please stay in touch with us, and please come and visit us. We would be honored to have you here. Now, I will tell you, after three days, you're no longer a guest and we will put you to work.
Melanie Avalon: Okay. I'm down. Oh, my goodness. [giggles] Thank you. Well, thank you so much and hopefully, we can bring you back on the show, again in the future, because this has just been amazing.
Farmer Lee Jones: That would be fabulous and I just wish you the happiest and healthiest prosperous 2022 that you can imagine.
Melanie Avalon: You, too. Yeah, for listeners, this is my last recording of this year and what a way to have-- I mean, thank you. This is the most perfect last recording of this year. I think it might have been my favorite of the whole year. So, happy 2022 to you.
Farmer Lee Jones: Yay. Thank you. Eat your vegetables.
Melanie Avalon: Yes. [laughs] Bye.