Sylvia and Al Ganier have histories of farming in their blood; the tradition has been passed down through both their families. It would make sense, then, that when they reimagined agriculture on the Ganier family farm in Nashville twelve years ago as Green Door Gourmet, they set out with the goal of ensuring that this tradition would be able to continue on the family’s farmland into the future.
Al had grown up with memories of raising cattle and pigs on the 350 acres overlooking Bell’s Bend, but a lot of things have changed since then. Today, the Ganier farm is a destination, with a bountiful farm store full of fresh produce and local goods, a culinary-inspired CSA program, and a calendar of community events that bring folks together on one of the few remaining large farms in Davidson County.
River Friendly Farm Certified
When Sylvia learned that the Cumberland River Compact was launching a River Friendly Farm program, she knew that it was something Green Door Gourmet was going to be a part of. In 2021, Green Door Gourmet was the first farm to be certified under the Cumberland River Compact’s River Friendly Farm program.
It was her hard work and dedication to conservation efforts that inspired Sylvia to take initiative and apply for certification as a River Friendly Farmer.
“Al and I have worked really hard to put conservation into everything we do here. So when I saw the certification, I thought, ‘Wow, finally someone is thinking about how to give a nod to people that are trying to farm the right way.’ I just couldn’t resist reaching out.”
Soil Health from the Ground Up
For Sylvia, soil health is an utmost priority.
“You are what you eat eats. If you don’t take care of the soil, you’re not going to take care of the plant and then you’re not going to take care of the people who are buying our product.”
This understanding of the importance of soil health has led Sylvia to employ various conservation practices on the farm that regenerate the soil, build soil matter, and work toward maximum nutrient density.
In order to build the nutrient-makeup of the soil, Green Door gourmet uses no synthetic fertilizers, instead, applying USDA-certified compost from companies like Compost Nashville. The use of compost instead of chemical fertilizers helps create more nutrient-dense soil while ensuring that excess nutrients caused by other fertilizers do not enter and impair waterways near the farm.
The farm also implements a year-round production and cover crop plan. This allows them to make sure the soil is covered year-round, reducing the amount of exposed soil susceptible to runoff, and building organic matter and nutrient density through feeding the soil with the planting of different crops and plants that offer diversity in nutrients.
Green Door’s use of limited tillage techniques also means benefits for the soil on the farm. By reducing tillage and using their year-round production plan, the farm promotes healthy soil by disturbing it as little as possible. This helps build up soil organic matter and prevent excessive soil runoff from occurring. The construction of roads along the farm’s pastures and plots mitigates the use of vehicles in the fields, preventing soil from becoming compacted.
Maximizing Care of Our Precious Water Resources
About one mile of Cumberland River borders the Ganier farm. Years ago the farm was losing nearly a dump truck’s worth of soil to the river every day due to erosion. With both water quality and the Ganier farmland suffering from this severe erosion, the Ganiers worked quickly to stabilize the bank on this vulnerable section of the Cumberland. Green Door Gourmet’s investment in water conservation shines clearly through its efforts to reduce water usage and keep the water that runs through the property clean.
The absence of pesticides and chemical fertilizers eliminates the risk of harmful chemical runoff into the water behind the farm. For the soil and nutrients that do run off, Green Door Gourmet has built grassy buffers between their farmland and the river, and a specially-designed wastewater capture farm pond that directs water into a non-consumption field.
Along with capturing water on the farm, this retention pond prevents washouts and gullies from occurring. Green Door Gourmet also has permanent vegetation (to maximize water infiltration) and rock banks (to direct water flow) along hilly parts of the farm to ensure that washouts and gullies are kept to a minimum during heavy rain events and times of irrigation.
In order to minimize water use, the farm only uses irrigation “when 100% needed,” employing plastic drip irrigation pipes that conserve water and promote water efficiency.
Green Door Gourmet also works with nature to plant drought-resistant crops, such as heirloom corn and sorghum, in areas that don’t naturally get as much water as others. In her decision to plant these crops in order to mitigate water use, Sylvia says:
“Planting these crops helps you be a better steward of the water. Whether you’re irrigating from a river or whether you’re irrigating from a well or another water source, it’s all water, and we need to look at it as a precious resource.”
The benefits of Green Door’s various conservation endeavors are wide and far, reaching the creatures and humans that benefit from the farm in a myriad of interconnected ways. For instance, the farm supports a variety of wildlife such as river otters and Great Blue Herons.
This wildlife, in turn, helps support other aspects of the farm’s conservation efforts. The health of the farmland has led not only to bigger creatures calling the land home but smaller ones, too. The biodiversity of insects that have flocked to the farm work as pollinators for crops and provides protection against certain pests. By understanding the life cycles of pests, trap cropping, and flame weeding, Green Door Gourmet has virtually eliminated the need for pesticides.
The farm’s limited use of pesticides and herbicides in favor of a more regenerative approach means less harmful runoff into the nearby river, richer soil, and healthier consumers.
Feeding the Community to Give Back to the Land
These visible impacts on the health of her customers are something Sylvia takes pride in.
“I see the parents that come out with their kids to pick up their CSA box and the kids immediately go over to the cherry tomatoes or the carrots and put them right in their mouth. And to be able to say we haven’t had to put any amendments in the soil and we have clean water that everything is grown; all that makes an immediate difference to that child that picks up that food.”
Green Door Gourmet’s ability to feed the community with nutrient-dense, organically-grown food is a true reflection of the farm’s commitment to conservation practices. Along with an on-site market store, Green Door Gourmet hosts a flexible CSA program– the first of its kind in the area– that offers Local Farm Boxes throughout the year.
Unlike other CSAs, Green Door’s flexible, opt-in method allows customers to choose which boxes they’d like to receive based on the different offerings throughout the growing season. Along with fresh veggies straight from the farm, the CSA boxes often contain additional produce and treats from local partner farms, creating a well-rounded box that supports local agricultural efforts and makes for delicious meals.
The CSA model at Green Door Gourmet is something Sylvia takes pride in, along with her intimate knowledge of her customers; she knows who prefers to have more tomatoes and who will skip on the tomatoes altogether- even if she’s tried many-a-time to provide different preparation methods to get them to enjoy the vegetable. Green Door Gourmet also holds cooking classes and events at their farm to encourage CSA recipients to find new ways to use the produce in their boxes.
It All Starts with One Small Change
It’s no secret that Sylvia cares deeply about her customers. Sylvia’s vision extends beyond the individual tomato lover (or those still working toward their love of the veggie), though, and creates a system of community symbiosis emulating that of the ecosystems on her farm. With Green Door Gourmet’s flexible CSA program, Sylvia hopes to inspire small changes that add up to major differences in the long run.
“It doesn’t have to be a change to your whole life. One small thing can be so helpful.”
Small changes to your routine, such as buying part of your produce from a local CSA box or shopping at a farmers market once a week, can lead to a healthier diet and help support a system of locally-grown food. Supporting these local agricultural systems, in turn, gives them the chance to build conservation practices that benefit the land and the people it feeds. In other words, Sylvia’s customers support her so she can turn around to support the land that supports them. Now, that’s a model we can get behind.