On a recent steamy Thursday morning, we strapped on our gardening shoes and took a quick drive to North Creek Nurseries (NCN) to join West Grove’s culinary icon, Chef Tim Smith of Twelves Grill & Cafe.
Tim, a gem of a culinary comrade to have, selected the location for our early morning “on the farm” meet-up, as the Landenberg-based nursery is one of the main providers for his locally-infused dishes.
As we trotted alongside the chef through the production space of the Chester County-based garden — a garden that exceeds over 36,000 square feet, the charming, tattooed restaurant-owner halted every few feet as he combed through what would be our next best bites, hand-picking vegetables off the vines that we “had to try.”
If we could offer you an experience unlike any other, we suggest you befriend a chef and trek with them to the farm where they source a bulk of their produce. If your chef and culinary adventure is anything like ours, you’ll travel through the garden’s walking paths with him (or her), and as the chef spies gorgeous, vibrant ingredients, he’ll start detailing what new dish he has to make with it and what’ll most definitely be on special for that night. Hopefully your garden tour will consist of a few raw tastes too, and like ours, it will begin with snacks of purple and yellow beans, and move to more-interesting bites like squash blossoms and purple broccoli. Hope you spy insanely-beautiful artichokes along the perimeter, too — a bountiful site to see!
But, back to reality. 35-year-old Tim joined forces with NCN’s two-farm, 45-acre growing oasis soon after opening his local-infused BYOB three years ago (which is just two miles away), and remains the only restaurant that the farm sources to, as their on-site vegetable garden holds a sole purpose to act as a CSA for their 65+ employees.
“I don’t get this kind of individual attention on other farms,” revealed Tim, as he chatted about his personal relationship with the growers of the farm.
NCN’s Research and Development Coordinator Erin Kelly is responsible for managing the private garden and regularly tips the chef off to new and interesting vegetables that are ready for picking each week.
“Sometimes, I’ll swing by and pick up the only batch of something,” shared Tim.
Prior to 2008 (and still to this day), NCN’s focus is cultivating eastern US natives — which they produce over seven million perennial, ornamental grass, fern, and vine plug liners annually. But, as of 2008, they began to search for ways to lessen the financial burden on their employees and in turn, the idea for North Creek’s community garden was born. Employees share the responsibility for designing the gardens, selecting vegetables and herbs each season, and planting and harvesting the crops.
The garden is all-organic (while not yet “certified organic”), and like Tim shared, he never gets such vibrant colors from produce as he does from his supply at NCN. With each new growing season, Erin works toward reaching an annual goal of 52 weeks of fresh produce. In late 2011, Erin reported that the garden was approaching 35 types and 250-300 varieties of vegetables in a single growing year, and during our visit, she revealed that they are “always looking for new, exciting plants to grow” and add to their lineup. Also, supporting the farm’s strides in following sustainable efforts, all waste from the employee garden is composted and put back into the soil.
Since NCN is by first, a purveyor of native eastern United States plants, Twelves Grill also compiles mixed bouquets from the farm to act as table decor. “You won’t get these flowers anywhere except in Pennsylvania,” said Tim, which is just one other example of why Tim and his wife/co-owner, Kristin, endlessly support all things local, especially North Creek Nurseries.
Find Twelves Grill & Cafe in order to peek at what Chef Tim is cooking up with his NCN goods at 10 Exchange Place in West Grove or online at twelvesgrill.com. More info on North Creek Nurseries is sourceable at northcreeknurseries.com.