Photo: Luca Trovato
Chef Tyler Brown wants you to eat your veggies. And not just because they're good for you. Through his work with Nashville's Glen Leven, a 66-acre urban farmstead owned by the Land Trust for Tennessee, he's proving they're good for the land too. The Hermitage Hotel, where Tyler Brown works as executive chef of the Capitol Grille, has a unique relationship with the Land Trust for Tennessee. Through donations, the hotel helps fund land conservation. And in exchange, chef Tyler and his kitchen staff are allowed to cultivate the garden at Glen Leven—trading in chefs' whites for overalls—and bring the harvest right back to the dining room, where his guests enjoy the bounty.
In July 2008, the 122-room Hermitage Hotel initiated a line-item charge on guests’ room bills: a $2 per night donation to the Land Trust. People can remove the charge, but very few do (about 0.1%). To date, hotel guests have donated $189,000, which the Land Trust has used to purchase property (roughly 1,849 acres) to put into conservation easements and protect against future development. That means virgin forests and lands can stay that way.
But it doesn't stop there.
What began as a simple reciprocal arrangement over land conservation and fresh produce has blossomed into community outreach and a chef’s full-blown passion for Southern foodways preservation.
Up until two years ago, the most Tyler had grown were a few tomatoes in his backyard. When he tilled his first row at Glen Leven, it was scattershot. “I didn’t know when to plant. When to harvest. When or how to do anything, really,” he says, twirling his handlebar mustache as he paces through rows of verdant collards. “But a friend’s dad told me, ‘The best fertilizer is a farmer’s footprint.’ So I just kept coming out here and learning, spending time here almost every day.”
Now, this 5-acre plot just minutes from downtown has turned into a study in Tennessee heirlooms, incorporating as many native or longtime resident plants as possible. And Tyler is giving those crops cultural relevance by showcasing heirloom recipes in his restaurant, such as bourbon-braised greens or late-season tomato pie. “It’s not about the latest fads in food,” he says. “It’s about where recipes came from and how this region ate.”
He shares his passion with the community, inviting volunteers to help work the rows, to reconnect with the land. And he’s active in schools, like the LEAD Academy public charter school, where he regularly brings students produce from the garden, prepares a healthy, farm-fresh meal, and supplements the curriculum.
Land conservation. Community education. Cultural preservation. Yes, it’s good to eat those veggies.
To donate or become a Friend of Glen Leven and support the project, visit the Land Trust for Tennessee.