From Table to Farm: Exploring Moxy’s Garden
For someone who “didn’t grow up like this at all,” with only a vague memory of her mother “sort of having tomato plants,” Fileshea White offers a perfect example of the direction younger generations food perceptions are swinging. With the organic wave and hot topic of local food, timing and passions have aligned to create a new farm to table restaurant on the Seacoast, or should I say table to farm?
Fileshea White graduated from UNH as a Women’s Studies major and began serving at various restaurants until ending up, presently, at Moxy in downtown Portsmouth. She acknowledges this isn’t the traditional aspiration of a college graduate, but taking these jobs, she was able to pursue her passions on the side by obtaining a piece of land from New Roots Farm in Newmarket. Here, she could satisfy the part of her that took an interest in health and planted flowers along with herbs to support her own business: Wild Ways Apothecary.
As White harvested more dandelion and nettle than needed, she brought the extra to work where Moxy owner and chef, Matt Louis, took them as enthusiastically as many would push their weed-green leaves and prickers away. This influx of local greens continued until Chef Louis expressed interest in seeing the land because “like all farms we use, I was really curious to get over there and see where the actual product was coming from.”
White and Louis drove down to New Roots, where he was blown away by her space, and met co-owner of the farm, Renee Cantara. “Having our own piece of land that we grew our own on was something I wanted to do since day one, but like many things, the right time and circumstances have to present themselves,” says Louis.
Fortunately for us all, the parts seemed to fall in place and “something that was feasible and could actually work” began forming. “[We] began chatting about it right then and there and we really just let the idea take off,” says Louis.
Only months later, this spring, Fileshea White has found herself with her hands in another plot of land on New Roots Farm, but this one seeds basil, chives, lettuce, kale, tomatillos, and much more for the customers of Moxy.
Thus far, White’s only concerns about the project are water and weeds. At the beginning, “we had something like 60 days without rain.” Though they do have drip tapes to keep the plants hydrated, there are things about rain and good downpours that plants especially love. As for the weeds, White tackles “one row a day,” and tries to keep up.
Vowing not to use any chemicals, White sees the weeds as well as the beetles and other pests as just “a part of growing.” Weeds can be pulled, while beetles die quickly, naturally, “especially in the heat,” so there is little stress there.
Speaking of stress, the thing that seems to keep this project going is the fact that there is so little of it on both White’s end as well as Louis’s. They are both going into this summer with the understanding that this is a trial-run season. There is “not a lot of pressure because we just don’t know what to expect,” says White. She also notes that Louis’s patience and understanding is key: he knows that this requires “a lot of learning and he’s okay with that.”
Already drawing from local farms as much as he can, Louis says, “there is already way more incredible product being grown, harvested, caught, foraged, raised, and produced right here than I could ever possibly use.” His adventure into showcasing only local ingredients has shown him just how much “our local farmers have to offer [and] the sheer amount of stuff that is right here.” Louis adds, “there is no more direct way to develop a deeper understanding, appreciation, and respect for the product and profession than actually doing it ourselves.“
Translating this onto his menu, he has the perfect foundation for using local ingredients. Matt’s small tapas dishes provide an easy vehicle for smaller amounts of unique ingredients. With no need for thousands of pounds of beets, Matt can get what he needs from local sources that specialize in small amounts of good-quality produce.
In most cases, the story would stop there: the restaurant created its own way of getting local ingredients and now their customers can enjoy the food that much more. With Moxy, however, the staff is taking it to another level. White handles the farm quite well on her own, however as the vegetables begin to produce and weeds continue to infiltrate, she could use some help. Moxy’s staff is, like him, “hungry to learn, hungry to get a better understanding of what actually goes into growing food. As many turn up each week to help White, the chefs and servers learn to see an onion as something more than an object “that comes on the back of a truck that the recipe calls for.” Instead, it is now “a living breathing product that took endless time, energy, and money to get to the point of being in our kitchen.”
Louis says, “A whole new respect is developed and I am honored to work with so many people that are hungry to continue diving into learning about the whole process.”
How unique is it to have a server tell you they harvested the greens for your salad that morning? It takes the job description of a ‘server’ to a whole new level.
As the restaurant tries its hand at farming, this table-to-farm effort is a new concept for the Seacoast. With the patience of chef Matt Louis and the dedication of Fileshea White, only good things can come from this initiative.
This summer is their time to “see if it actually makes sense,” says Fileshea, but even before they have harvested much of anything, she can already see that it does, “in a big way.”