Food - Q&A with local farmer Bobby Britt
Talking 'slow food' and 'slow tech' with the Decatur native
You and I might say "tomatoes." As in, the last syllable sounds like the toes on your feet. Farmer Bobby Britt says "tuh-mayt-as," as in, born and raised in the not-too-distant country nook of southeast Decatur. Since 2006, Britt has cultivated quite the professional garden on Besmaid Garden's 1.645 acres, supplying some of the city's best restaurants with a range of organic, fresh-picked produce throughout the year.
Even if you've never seen Britt's Moses-like towering frame at the farmers markets, or caught a glimpse while he makes his own restaurant deliveries, his green thumbprint can be found all over. His crops have graced the plates at Cakes & Ale, 246, 4th & Swift, Woodfire Grill, Haven, Valenza, Empire State South, Serpas, One Eared Stag, Holeman & Finch, Fig Jam, and our dearly departed Pura Vida. The man certainly has a way about him. But Britt isn't all that concerned with flash. He's got his knees in the dirt and his eyes on the future, hoping that the farm he inherited from his dad will sustain itself for the next generation.
Where did you get your green thumb?
Back in the '60s my father bought this property as a farm lot. He was just out of the Marine Corps and raising a family. He cleared the land all by axe, starting in the late '60s, early '70s, just doing it for the family. I picked it up in the early '80s.
When did you decide to become a professional farmer?
In 2006. I had been working in construction, home theater companies. My employer was about to lay everybody off. I remember he told me it wasn't a good time to buy a tractor.
That was bad advice.
Well, I got my first tractor — my only tractor so far — and the garden has grown leaps and bounds since then. I get to work with some nice restaurants. But the most important thing is that you have to grow it. You don't have it growing, the chef does not know your name.
Where did you start selling your produce?
I started my first market in Dunwoody at Spruill Center for the Arts. I just showed up one day with a basket full of okra. The lady was like, "You'll need a table and a tent." When I moved to the Decatur market, Billy Allin at Cakes & Ale was the first restaurant that bought from me.
What do you grow throughout the year?
I grow four seasons. I try to grow arugula year-round. I've got squash, zucchini, beans, okra, and tomatoes in the summer, and a lot of pimento. In the fall time, I start with kale, mustard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, tatsoi. In the winter time, I continue with broccoli, cauliflower, and so on. In the spring, Swiss chard, spinach, beets, leeks. The sky's the limit. You just try to grow the most and the best.
Surely you've got some extra hands on deck now.
I have a helper who has been here for two seasons. I'm 53 and I've noticed how much slower I've gotten since I was 42. I'm trying to install the belief in young people and I want them to take it over. I need to expand if I can find the property, because there's a demand for fresh-picked — there's a world of difference between "fresh" and "fresh-picked." I've told chefs and restaurant owners, "I'm Bobby Britt, I'm a farmer, and my clean clothes have dirt on them!"
I have, in fact, seen you and your produce make some vivid appearances.
I go in there looking like Pig-Pen! But I just want to be the farmer. I want to grow stuff. I'm slow tech. I'm into slow food and slow tech.
Your family has had this farm for more than 30 years. Do you ever think about leaving a legacy?
My father passed at 87 years old in 2007. He told me to keep the garden growing. He said I was doing a good thing. I've just tried to develop this place to make it my field of dreams.