Farmer Colleen Dudley
What prepared you to be a farmer?
I spent summers visiting my grandparents in southern Louisiana. We would cream fresh corn and shell purple hull peas until our fingers were sore. That’s where I developed a love for vegetables. Simply prepared, but so delicious I just couldn’t get enough of them. My father had a vegetable garden as well. He would enlist my help to harvest, weed and stake up the summer tomatoes with my mom’s old panty hose. I HATED helping him in the garden. After graduating college, I started as a horticulturist at the Atlanta Botanical Garden taking care of the vegetable areas in the children’s garden. Having a few more years of maturity under my belt, I found new joy in weeding, harvesting and staking tomatoes (I use vine tape now, not my mom’s old panty hose.) When the botanical garden opened the new edible garden, it was a natural next step for me to take.
What is a unique feature and how many acres do you farm?
Our edible garden is approximately 3 acres. It features an amphitheater that displays designed vegetables growing in raised beds that seem to surround the visitor as they walk through. We also have A 9 foot tall vertical herb wall. People enjoy touching and smelling sage, thyme, oregano, rosemary and other herbs that grow as low as their toes up to their heads and beyond. Lastly we have a state of the art outdoor kitchen where we host cooking demonstrations, parties, and seated dinners.
Tell us about your main crops and how you chose the varieties. If you have livestock, tell us about your feed and how they live on your farm. Each year we have a cool and warm season plan that is designed focusing on color, texture and plant combinations. We want to show people how beautiful edibles can be. When I review the plans, I choose varieties that will perform well for out climate while keeping the design intent in mind.
How much of food goes to farmers markets and or restaurants? While none of our food goes to farmers markets or restaurants we do use it for our weekend cooking demonstrations. We have 2 garden chefs that choose a vegetable from the garden to spotlight each week. They craft a delicious recipe using the garden’s produce and visitors can sample their creations. When there is excessive harvest, it is donated to the Atlanta Community Food Bank where it is used by partner nonprofits all around North Georgia to that provide food assistance to families and individuals.
What challenges do you have as a farmer? I feel like my challenges are a little different than other farmers barring the diseases and insects that we all have to manage. The edible garden is a display and teaching garden that must look good. We’re trying to inspire people to grow vegetables and show them how they can be as a part of the home landscape. When a crop gets decimated by an insect, I have to remove and replace it with a new crop I have waiting in the wings. Therefore, I have to be really good at planning ahead.
Where do you see farming in the future? I think that we’re going to see more homeowners “farming” for themselves. People are recognizing that fresh vegetables from a local farm have a smaller carbon footprint, more vitamins and minerals, less pesticide exposure and just taste better than their grocery store counterparts. With the American public becoming more health conscious, this realization alone can inspire the average person to plant a bed or just a few containers of veggies for their family. Where would be your ideal location for your last supper, what would be your meal & music and who would join you ? My ideal last supper would be at my mom’s farm in southeastern Louisiana. My mom, dad, sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces and nephew would attend and we would make our own music singing to my sisters’ guitar playing. Fresh tomato sandwiches (on white bread with mayo), field peas, and creamed corn would be on the menu. We’d also have to have a pulled pork shoulder to satisfy the meat lover in all of us. My mom’s pound cake with a dollop of sour cream would round out the meal.
Maybe it’s because her father has grown the same two vegetables for the last 20 years that has inspired her love of crop diversity. Colleen Dudley oversees and tends the Edible Garden at the Atlanta Botanical Garden; growing unusual garden favorites and surprising food crops. A degree in Horticulture from UGA and 7 years of experience professionally farming at ABG’s Children’s Garden have given her practical experience to helm the new Edible Garden. A dream came true this year when she was tapped to teach a cooking class in the demonstration kitchen of her new territory. Her quest this year— to grow rhubarb and artichokes from seed.