Simple Gifts farmers see produce as 'living palette'

Simple Gifts farmers see produce as 'living palette'

July 25th, 2012 by Emily Crisman in Local Regional News

The kitchen table at Adam and Niki Davenport's Signal Mountain home is covered with a multitude of vegetables in a rainbow of colors, all excess produce from the half-acre garden in their backyard. The array of vegetables, which they will sell under the name Simple Gifts at Signal Mountain Farmers Market, appears to be more of a work of art than ingredients for a meal.

"I'm an artist, so I like seeing a variety of colors," said Niki Davenport, whose crops include produce in uncommon shades such as white cucumbers and tomatoes in pink, purple, yellow and white in addition to average red. "It's like a living palette."

The Davenports provide samples at the market of their unusually colored vegetables to let shoppers experience the variation in taste. For example, Niki Davenport said white tomatoes are less acidic than the red variety, while purple tomatoes have more of a rich and meaty flavor.

"A lot of these vegetables have been grown for a really long time, but people aren't used to seeing them in the supermarket," she said. "Some people are willing to try something new and different, but a lot of people are just looking for a red tomato or an orange carrot."

The couple grew up eating food their parents bought from the supermarket, but said having their own garden has completely changed the way they look at food.

"It really transforms the way you eat when you eat seasonally from the garden," said Adam Davenport, who works as a nurse at Memorial Hixson in addition to spending 10-20 hours per week in the garden.

The couple provides recipes to customers at the market who purchase some of their more unusual vegetables, such as a recipe for salsa verde for a shopper buying tomatillos. Niki Davenport said the recipes help them to sell more vegetables, since a customer is more likely to buy when they know exactly what they can do with them when they get home.

"Our reason for gardening is to eat what we grow, but we also want to share good food with other people," said Adam Davenport, adding that they sell their excess produce at the market.

In the seven years since the Davenports bought their house in Old Town and started gardening, the couple has discovered many delicious combinations of seasonal vegetables through trial and error.

"I find most vegetables go well together if you experiment," said Adam Davenport.

The crops the couple will have at the market in the coming weeks include okra, cucumbers, squash, tomatillos, heirloom tomatoes, potatoes and carrots. They also sell dried beans for soups as well as cornmeal for cornbread, polenta, grits and muffins.

The garden began as just a 3-by 5-foot plot and has gradually grown to cover a half acre, some of which is on land belonging to the couple's neighbor, whose father John Day grew an abundance of tomatoes on the property until he was 90 years old.

"We're still growing beans from his seeds," said Niki Davenport, who was drawn to the house in part because of its unusually large yard compared to others in the area. "Everyone's always surprised we live in Old Town and have a big garden."

She said she and her husband would like to transition to full-time farming in the future.

"Eventually we'd like to move somewhere with more land and less restrictions on animals," she said, adding that they would like to own a few chickens and goats. "The main reason we started gardening was to grow food for ourselves, but I started enjoying it so much that I've kind of gotten hooked."