Today we’re continuing with my interview series of inspiring women who do unique and creative work. It seems now more than ever there are endless opportunities as to what a business might look like and how one might go about achieving success. Female trailblazers who are building their businesses off the beaten path, are in a way, sharing their gifts with those of us who aspire to achieve something meaningful in what we do for a living. In my line of work as an editor and stylist I’ve come across dozens of just such women, many of whom I consider friends, and I thought it would be great for you to get to know some of them as well.
Lauren Palmer is the owner and farmer of Bloomsbury Farm located in Smyrna, Tennessee. The farm is set on 400 breathtaking acres where she and her team cultivate and grow beautiful organic produce to sell at Saturday farmers markets around Nashville and to fill orders for their seasonal CSA baskets. But Bloomsbury Farm isn’t only a farm – it is also a gorgeous event space; hosting weddings, special events, and farm-to-table gatherings. Lauren truly loves creating a community around farming, nature, and food – let’s get to know her better!
Please share a little about yourself and your background.
Hi, I’m Lauren Palmer and I grow organic vegetables and relationships alongside the most supportive group of family and friends. My team and I grow for a 300-member CSA community and sell to restaurants, grocery stores, and farmers markets in Middle Tennessee. Before this, I was a social worker for a hospital in Nashville – in some ways it feels like I’m doing the same thing, even though the work itself is very different. I have an amazing 4 year old daughter who I share this farm with and a passion for all things outdoors. I grew up with a father who worked in landscaping, and I would go to jobs and orchid shows with him on the regular. My mom is a boss who pushed me to do things I normally wouldn’t do. My mom, dad, sister and I grew up in a vegetarian household and ate all the veggies growing up; I have fond memories of sprouting seeds in jars as a child.
What led you to becoming a farmer?
In a round-about way, it found me, and I’m so glad it did. With additional acreage my family added to the original farm about 15 years ago, I fell in love with the land. We as a family wanted it to produce for us and I was the one to take on that challenge. It took many baby steps and the best internship at a local farm, where I learned and collaborated with some chef friends – they suggested what they wanted to cook, and I would put the right seeds in the ground. Then, I went to the farmer’s market to sell what I had grown. I found that people wanted to buy veggies they didn’t see in the grocery store. Thanks to this internship, the relationship between food and family became so much more real and I realized that there was a big need to open up the farm for people to see how and what we were growing. With a love to grow and nurture, produce was a way for me to connect.
Can you tell us about your mission with Bloomsbury Farm and what you grow and produce?
My dad always told us to bloom where you are planted, and that is exactly what I am doing. The best part about what I do is the relationships we form. I am in awe that my produce is on so many tables, big and small, and that so much love and care went into getting it out to them. Hearing people’s stories thrills me, so the mission is to open up a space for connection, whether it be with the crew that work so hard to seed, plant, grow, and harvest, or with those who support us with CSA membership, we love the relationship between farm, family, and food.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your business?
Feeding People! Big or small, knowing that what we grow is literally feeding the soul. I connect with each and every member and chef on a weekly basis, sharing with them at market and through the food we all grow.
What has been the most challenging?
Shoot…it’s hard to pick a lane on that one. Logistically, I’ve seen it all, from trucks breaking down to not having enough crew to harvest, or having too many crew members to harvest. Mother nature is a whole other challenge, but you learn to accept it as part of this business. Another aspect is that even though we are a small business, we have to act like a big business because of the food and safety concerns we have to keep in mind. Throw in a divorce and a tiny person to take care of, and yes, there are many challenges, but I still think I have it darn good with such an amazing group of people around me.
What does a typical day look like? I can imagine they vary by the season.
I have come to realize that I do better in a hustle situation. I like having lots to sell and get a real kick out of moving it all. Spring is great because I get a little taste of everything before our big crops like strawberries and tomatoes come in – planting and harvesting at the same time in Spring is fun. During summer I try to keep the team’s spirits up on the hot, hot days. Fall means more gatherings and food to enjoy. Winter is about hoping our truck can get out of the driveway in the ice. We ship to town every week, two times per week, so selling and communicating about what we have, what is coming up, and then prepping is all is very important. This week, I had a lecture and toured a few groups, then threw in a photoshoot and market and that covers it!
Can you share a little about your team and support system?
Big props to my Mom and Dad! Hello, I should have been president of the United States! I go to both of them for advice and they never steer me wrong. Chef and farmer mentors, and some bad-ass team members on the farm teach me everyday how it’s done, and I feel so lucky to be surrounded by them.
Are there plans to add more varieties to your crops or expand the business in new ways?
Yes always! Seed shopping is the best. I try different varieties quite often, and because of how we farm it’s easy to try new things. I love coming up with different ways to get people out here on the farm, whether it be through meals, music, or movies, I never turn away a guest.
Any advice for wanna-be female farmers or budding entrepreneurs?
You can do it! If you see a need, grow it. Ask other farmers for advice, we are very open about what has worked and what hasn’t. The other best part is the growing number of female farmers and chefs. I find that there has been a shift towards more women small business owners, and we enjoy supporting one another. I’ve always had strong women in my life: my grandmother, mother, and now my sister and I are all self-employed.
Describe your ultimate day off!
Day off, huh? Believe it or not, I love getting dressed up, and that’s made easy because my younger sister owns Emmaline, a clothing boutique in Franklin, TN. I also love a thought-out meal either on or off the farm. With home and work all in one place I try to go elsewhere to enjoy time off, traveling is what helps me relax.