Sylvia Ganier, operator of Green Door Gourmet, brings years of farm and restaurant experience as well as a passion for food and education. Sylvia grew up on a dairy farm in western North Carolina. She received a Program degree in Radio and Television from Gaston College, and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Communications from Appalachian State University. She worked as a radio announcer in the Charlotte market before moving to Nashville. She embarked on a new field of interest, hospitality upon arriving in Tennessee. She had melded her varied careers with her many years in the restaurant business, including being chef and owner of her former Nashville based establishment, CIBO. Personal attention to both product and patron are the main focus of her businesses. She expels the same attention at her newest endeavor, Green Door Gourmet, which is a sustainable farm located just minutes from downtown Nashville. Providing a one-stop-shop location of local foods and artisan products, Green Door Gourmet is a supplier of locavore favorites. Visit the website www.greendoorgourmet.com for further information.
Q: What lead you to choose a farm as your career path?
A: I grew up on a 150 acre dairy farm in North Carolina. My dad was a farmer, so I guess it must run in the family! I had always loved fresh vegetables, even as a child! I believe there is a huge disconnect with people and where their food comes from. Most people are 5 generations removed from farm life. Less than 2% of our population grows the food to feed the other 98%. To me, that is a scary sway in numbers. I have folks who come to the farm who do not know that potatoes grow underground and that steak comes from cows. Even if you don’t want to grow food, you should at least know where it comes from! Education is critical. When I came to Nashville in the 90’s, I got involved in the hospitality business. I had great mentors. From there, I started my restaurant CIBO. We were a fresh casual concept in downtown Nashville. Everything around us was processed food, fast food for the most part. We paved the way for healthier eating choices in the downtown work space. It was really hard to source great produce. I had a reputation for rejecting lots of stuff that got sent my way. Finally the vendors got it, I would rather be out of a menu item than dish up bad food. I am not talking about “perfect visually appealing, chemically altered food.” I am speaking of, how does it taste? How long has it been picked? Etc. Now I supply produce items to the best restaurants in Nashville. I get to send things to chefs that “get it” and know what to looks for in taste and freshness, and that they are willing to alter their menus to fit what is coming in from local suppliers. They know how to use flavor and freshness as the foundation, and make amazing, gorgeous food from it. As a foodie, I get the best of both worlds! When I retired from the restaurant biz in 2006, I knew I wanted to have a kitchen garden. My husband being a bit over zealous fenced 9 or so acres… so that is how I got started “farming in Nashville.”
Q: What are the biggest challenges to eating a healthier diet?
A: Hectic lifestyles lead to the demand for immediate food fixes. We have a lack of education about food; where it comes from, what eating locally or seasonally means. We are a “consumable society.” We want everything yesterday, and we want the things we are used to when we want it. In a relatively short time, we have gotten accustomed to eating blueberries, strawberries and tomatoes in winter. We stopped trying foods that were out of our comfort zone. We have “dumbed down” our taste buds to accept a lack of flavor for a pretty exterior. We don’t have time to slow down for any reason, and as Americans we have used mechanization and processing to take away the art of cooking. Farming and cooking are a hand in hand adventure. It is disheartening that it usually takes a major health problem to snap folks to reality that “you are what you eat.” I think it is quite sad that we don’t have enough self worth to be willing to spend time, money and energy on eating well. When we fix that and make it OK to devote resources to better food and preparing it, we will have a major turnaround in the health of our nation.
Q: What is the difference between local, natural, organic and biodynamic?
A: I could fill volumes on each, but I will try to break it down to my opinions on each.
Local means it is distributed within 250 miles of where it was produced. Many folks think it should be within 100 miles. I can honestly say I would find it hard to be a complete locavore, but I have a great respect for folks that are. I like olive oil and interesting world cuisine too much to go totally local. I do like finding local small companies that bring world cuisine to our doors. I try to buy locally as much meat and produce, eggs and dairy as I can. That is all we can really do… keep as much here at home as possible. It makes for good economics as well as it goes back to creating a sense of community. Local does not mean no chemicals. Do not be confused! Many farms, especially small ones, use chemicals because they cannot withstand a complete crop loss economically. Our farm does not use ANY chemicals on our items for Green Door customers.
If one of our co-op partners uses chemicals, that item is listed as conventionally grown on the sign, so you can choose what to purchase.
Natural. This one makes me cringe as it is a no-value moniker that is now applied to everything from GMO laden products, to items that have lots of refined products in them. When I use the word natural, I mean it in its original form… straight from Mother Nature, with no manmade intervention. I wish this word was higher up on the proverbial food chain these days, and would be used in that sense. Unfortunately, unless you are visiting our farm, this word doesn’t mean good things to the consumer any longer.
Organic. This term started out as a movement by small farmers to kick the chemicals out of farming. Now the term is enforced by the UDSA, and has lots of twists and turns since its humble beginnings. I am not a fan of this term either. Loads of “approved” chemicals can still be used on “certified organic” produce. Lots of truly Mother Nature given practices cannot be used due to regulations. The volumes of paperwork required to meet and keep certification are massive. I wouldn’t get any farming done for the paperwork if we had a certification. I do know it means a big difference in the price a farmer can demand for product, so if a small farmer wants to go for it, more power to them. I think the term has good intentions, but has gotten convoluted along the way.
Biodynamic. In the crudest, most basic description, biodynamic means produced from a place where the earth sustains itself. No chemicals, nature at it most original intuitive form. Farmers who use biodynamic practices allow the land to become naturally (there is that word!) whole again. Crops grown in biodynamic soil usually taste better, and have a higher nutrient density value as the plant is able to access trace minerals in the soil that are not present in soils that have been chemically altered.
What does all this really mean… well visit a farm! Get to know your farmer. It all starts there. Go as chemical free as possible. Try some new veggies. Take a cooking class, or just experiment at home. The internet is an amazing resource. Make food fun and interesting for your kids and grandkids. They are more likely to try things when you do! Question folks who love food … we love being mentors to people who really want to know!