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Episode 4: Why Gardening Is Worth It

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

Brady’s mom, Jeanne Steinhilber, has been an avid gardener for more than four decades. She joins the show to talk about the highs and lows of growing vegetables for herself and for her restaurant, Steinhilber’s. Cohost Alvin Williams is also a gardener who provides fresh produce to his restaurant.

Jeanne Steinhilber's garden



Alvin Williams' garden


Brady and his mom, Jeanne Steinhilber



PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

May 27, 2020


Narrator in Vintage Advertisement

You can have vegetables, lots of them on your table next winter. You can have your own fresh vegetables on your table this summer if you have your own Victory Garden. Yes, there's no restriction on home canning and home processing of vegetables and garden fruits and berries. Plan your Victory Garden now. Get your garden plot lined up. Get the advice of a garden expert if you need it and be prepared to grow your own for victory.

Brady Viccellio

Welcome back to The Check, a podcast about restaurants. I'm Brady Viccellio. And I'm here with my cohost, Alvin Williams.

Alvin Williams

Thanks, Brady. Good to be here. As always, today's podcast is about gardening and why it's worth it to grow our own vegetables to serve in our own restaurants.

Brady Viccellio

We started off today's show with a great old radio announcement that the US Department of Agriculture put out in 1943. The ad encouraged people to plant their own victory gardens to grow their own food to help out with the war effort during World War II. As it turns out, they did a pretty good job convincing people in the United States. It's estimated that 20 billion Victory Gardens produced roughly 40% of the country's fresh vegetables during World War II.

Alvin Williams

And gardening is still going strong. According to data from the National Gardening Association, one in three households has a vegetable garden. A couple of years ago, American gardeners spent a record $48 billion on lawn and garden retail purchases. And with this ongoing pandemic, the idea of Victory Gardens is making a comeback. People are worried about food supplies and have more time on their hands to get those hands dirty, and grow some food.

Brady Viccellio

There are millions of gardeners across the country, and I'm happy to welcome the gardener to the show who is by far my favorite, my mom. She has a truly impressive garden. She eats some of the vegetables herself, but most are used at Steinhilber’s.

Alvin Williams

Yeah Brady Jeanne has an awesome garden. And I kind of have garden envy. How big is her garden?

Brady Viccellio

I would estimate probably about a half acre. But one thing that's for sure every year it gets a little bigger.

Alvin Williams

I know what that's like. But each year, it gets harder and harder as you get older and older, taking care of everything,

Brady Viccellio

But it's worth it. Harder an harder, garden’s bigger and bigger. And the demand is greater.

Alvin Williams

So totally random. I have a gardening quote from a movie. My Blue Heaven, Steve Martin. Arugula. It's a vegetable. That's my favorite quote. Do you have any movie quotes about vegetables or gardens?

Brady Viccellio

Well, I always thank about the Godfather stumbling around in the tomatoes with the orange in his mouth, chasing his grandson.

Alvin Williams

And every time someone was gonna get whacked, there was an orange somewhere. Subliminal messages from vegetables.

Brady Viccellio

Hey, Mom, how's it going?

Jeanne Steinhilber

Fine. Thanks. How are you doing?

Brady Viccellio

I'm all right. Welcome to the podcast. What do you think?

Jeanne Steinhilber

Oh, it's an interesting idea.

Brady Viccellio

Well, I'm glad that you're here. Thanks for coming to answer some questions for about your garden and the restaurant.

Jeanne Steinhilber

Sure. What would you like to ask me?

Brady Viccellio

Well, let's start off. How long have you been gardening?

Jeanne Steinhilber

Oh, for probably 40 years or so. Something like that -- a long time.

Brady Viccellio

What's the most rewarding aspect of gardening.

Jeanne Steinhilber

The most rewarding aspect is sharing it with people. Sharing it with people that have never really experienced [having their own garden]. For instance, today I gave a friend of mine some salad from my garden and told her this is about as fresh as it can get. She's gonna go home and have it for dinner. And that's in just a couple hours. So that's very rewarding for me.

Brady Viccellio

What's been the biggest challenge?

Jeanne Steinhilber

The biggest challenges in the past, it was just the work because there's a lot of work involved in a garden, a lot of physical work, and it's hard to find people. I need to find people that know more than I do, and they're hard to find. So that's my problem. But it's, it's a lot of hard work. That's the end of that.

Brady Viccellio

Well, can you save money by growing your own vegetables? Is it cheap? Is it cheaper than going to the grocery store?

Jeanne Steinhilber

No, I would not say it is. But if you consider your time totally worthless, then it's not so bad. But if you consider that your time is valuable, then it's very, very time consuming, but the rewards certainly outweigh that in the way that it's so much healthier and better. I do everything without pesticides and everything organically and that makes a difference.

Alvin Williams

Jeanne, why do you feel like the farm to table approach is important? And how does it enhance the meals at your restaurant?

Jeanne Steinhilber

Well, when we do offer something from my garden, it's amazing how excited people get just the fact that it's so, so fresh. Sometimes it's not even an hour old from when I pick something to when it goes on the table. And that is that's a huge part of it. And the variety too. I can find things that you just can't find from the big purveyors and I have things that are very different because I'm not growing acres and acres of something. I'm just growing enough for one restaurant.

Brady Viccellio

What are some examples of vegetables that come out of your garden that you wouldn't normally find in a restaurant without a garden attached to it?

Jeanne Steinhilber

If I just stick with what I'm doing right now, the salads -- the lettuces are all different varieties of lettuce, all different colors, shapes. I have an assortment of so many different ones that there's no way that you could find anything close to it in a mix that you get from a big plastic bag. It's absolutely no comparison. You just can't you just can't get that.

Brady Viccellio

What would you recommend for a beginner who wants to start their own garden? And what advice would you give for that beginner to have success?

Jeanne Steinhilber

Well, first of all, you should plant what you'd like to eat because if you're doing it for yourself, you want to have things that you enjoy. Some things are easier to grow than others. Everything has its enemy in the insect world and of course weather is always a factor but you have to pick mainly what you like and don't get too carried away with lots of different things. The basics of eggplant, squashes, tomatoes, of course. And when you when you get the different varieties of even like tomatoes. I probably have right now 50 or 60 different varieties of tomatoes that are growing, and probably almost 300 plants ready to go in the ground.

Brady Viccellio

Alvin you're also a gardener. What do you enjoy about it?

Alvin Williams

Well, I wouldn't call myself a gardener, but I grew up some things. I enjoy the fact that you know you see it from seed to fruition into a vegetable or a plant or whatever it is that you growing, and you're a part of that from every step of the way. That's what I enjoy about it. And it's something that I can do either by myself or go out there with my wife and it's because it is it is hard work and sometimes you need people to help you.

Brady Viccellio

What advice would you share with that beginner gardener?

Alvin Williams

I would say to the beginner gardener, don't think that it's easy. It's not. It's hard work. It's a job. I don't want to say you have to be at one with nature but you know, you have to watch the weather and the temperature and the rain content and you know, it's a hard job.

Brady Viccellio

Alvin, you grow a lot of fresh vegetables for your restaurant. And I know farm to table is important to you. Tell me about that.

Alvin Williams

So at Cobalt, we like to call it Farm to Fork because it's pretty much straight from all farm onto your fork. We've marketed a little bit through Facebook and Instagram and that way customers get to see it growing, and then they get to see me create something with it, and then they see it on their plate, and they get to see the whole gamut of where it started to where it finishes. And that to them I think is reassuring and they know they're eating something that was growing correctly and it's organic and it's natural, and they enjoy it and I enjoy creating with those things and taking something from a process from the beginning to the end.

Brady Viccellio

Do you enjoy big savings growing vegetables in your garden?

Alvin Williams

You know, I wouldn't call it a massive savings. I tend to grow things that I use a lot of so we use a lot of like cucumbers and tomatoes and squash. And I try to grow things that usually cost me a lot of money to buy like microgreens or edible flowers. It's not always about saving a buck, but it's definitely about having the best product that we can possibly have.

Brady Viccellio

Clearly, gardening is a lot of hard work. Plus, we've got grocery stores full of vegetables. Why go to all the trouble?

Jeanne Steinhilber

Well, I think if you start with one thing, besides the fact that they're healthier, it's the flavor because the vegetables that we get in a grocery store or delivered to us have been mass produced, and they have been hybridized too. Pretty much longevity is the most important thing -- flavor kind of hits the bottom. And they want things that last a long time in a shipping and you lose so much in the flavor. And I think when you have things like Alvin’s doing and I'm doing and like he said, when it goes directly from two hours later, somebody is eating which you picked and it's been cared for and it's just a whole different thing.

Alvin Williams

The mass-produced vegetables they grow and they grow them a certain size so that they can pack so many in a box. And they're really not thinking about the flavor. They're just thinking about the shape and the color and the size and how they can you know sell. But the way we grow vegetables, sometimes they don't all look the same shape and they're a little gnarly looking but the flavor is unbelievable and there you get an a unique experience because you get a uniquely grown vegetable.

Brady Viccellio

You said you grow dozens of varieties of tomatoes. Why so many?

Jeanne Steinhilber

Most of the tomatoes that would be available have been mass produced and they're pretty much fed a diet of chemicals. And they are all the same sizes like Alvin says. If they turn red on the vine, they throw them away. They take them, they pick them when they're green. And then they're shipped to somewhere where they're treated with something else to turn them red, and then they go to the grocery store and then to you. Whereas our tomatoes we pick at their peak time when they're perfectly formed, ready to eat. And that's the difference.

Alvin Williams

It is true. Our vegetables are picked at the peak of perfection, and then we get them straight to the plate, you know, within, sometimes within two hours an hour.

Brady Viccellio

Many know that Thomas Jefferson was an avid gardener, and he wrote, “but though an old man, I am but a young gardener.” How does that resonate with you?

Jeanne Steinhilber

I think it's like one of those things that you never you never learn everything. Every year is a different learning experience because of many different factors. I agree with Jefferson too. I think it's hard work but there's something about me and the dirt. I really like to work in the dirt.

Alvin Williams

Yeah, absolutely. I believe in that quote. There's nothing like working out there in the soil and in the natural elements. And it's interesting because it was something that I was never interested in as a kid. My mom always used to try and get me out there in the garden and I pretty much refused and but later on in life, I realized what she was trying to do. I did help her when I was younger, and we grew potatoes back in England -- potatoes and cabbages and lettuces and spring onions and berries and I didn't realize what we were doing back then. And now I realize and her parents taught her in Jamaica. And now I realize where it's all coming kind of full circle. So I'm looking forward to passing that on to my kid.

Brady Viccellio

Alvin, thanks a lot for joining in on the conversation with my mother and talking to us about gardening a little bit.

Alvin Williams

Yeah, it was great having Jeanne on the show and what was the best thing was you were on your best behavior the whole time she was here.

Brady Viccellio

Thank you all for listening.

Alvin Williams

We'll be back next week with another episode.

Brady Viccellio

I'm Brady.

Alvin Williams

And I'm Alvin. And this is The Check.

















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