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There’s a new farmer taking up the mantle. Their fruits are fresher, their light shines longer and their footprint is smaller. This contemporary agriculturalist makes more with less and works a new field that doesn’t need a tractor or a truck to carry the wealth of their harvest to you. They are redefining freshness and I got to taste it for myself at Nanue’s Farm in downtown Raleigh.
Trevor Spear is a charming man who obtained his passion for farming from his dear Nanue, who would guide him through her garden during his childhood and made an impression that would last a lifetime. He invited me to visit his Freight Farm located in the parking lot of an auto shop 2 miles from the Capitol Building. The two refrigerator shipping containers that contain his impressive nursery might fade humbly into the background of Raleigh’s cityscape if you’re not looking for them where they sit parked under the walnut tree amongst a tableau of auto repairs. Only familiar eyes would guess that thousands of top quality counts of herbs and heads of lettuce fly off the racks to local restaurants every week.
The first step you take into the micro-farm provides immediate relief from the sweltering North Carolina summer heat and somehow looks larger on the inside. This is where the magic of Nanue’s begins, internal temperature hovers at a cool 65 degrees with 40% humidity, which makes the plants feel comfortable expressing themselves to the fullest. The Freight Farm design lets Trevor run at full capacity all year without heeding to the solstices. As an aftermarket extra touch he installed a music system for the plants to study Beethoven while they grow, a feature that adds to the otherworldliness of his green utopia.
Trevor starts his produce from the seed on a work bench and places the sprouts in ebb and flow racks. He prefers seeds from ‘Johnnys’ that come coated with a thin layer of fertilizer for an extra kickstart. Once the infant plants reach a certain point of growth, Trevor creates a path to the plant panel by shifting them apart with the pulley system. The modular plant panel is removed and brought to the workstation where Trevor then transplants the starters and hangs it back up underneath the drip irrigation system. The process is so simple that anyone can do it, and Trevor is a maestro of cultivation who makes it look effortless.
Complexity enteres in unique care of all the growth varietals, their nutrient levels in the water, the timing of the lights and fans as well as customer orders for all finished products to make it to a table in time for their freshness to be savored. It takes a great deal of care and rapturous attention to ensure each head of lettuce has received the secret formula to taste delicious. To keep everything running smoothly Freight Farms ships with a monitoring software along with technical support. By closely watching and reacting to the data collected in the system, Trevor can directly provide for the plants physiological needs, effecting the taste and expression of the produce like magic.
During my tour, I was provided samples that stunned my aesthetic sensibilities. Once you taste something that is still alive, it calls into question all the food you’ve eaten up until that point. How long did that Caesar salad have to wait in the kitchen cooler before I ate it? What flavor is left in a leaf basil that was plucked last week? What is lost? I’m convinced that truly fresh produce still contains a living soul and you can taste it.
The arugula was brilliant, peppery and crisp-soft. The parsley luxurious, full bodied and sparkling on the palate. The lettuce was sweet and crunchy, almost juicy. Everything I tried had a pronounced and hard hitting, lasting taste that gave me a feeling of confidence in its ability to shine in a dish. Local restaurants must feel the same way since Nanue’s serves 10 of Raleigh’s best dining establishments including Death and Taxes as well as 2019 James Beard award winning Pooles diner.
Nanue’s Farm also delivers in the Raleigh area, so you can try this ultra fresh herbs and lettuce for yourself. If you’re in town for the 18th and 19th of August, Freight Farm is hosting an open house at Nanue’s farm where you can take a sneak peak inside just like we did here. I’ll see you there.