There are local farms with cute monikers and logos that we all recognize, and then there’s Rob Brown. You might not know his name, but if you’ve toured the Monticello vegetable gardens, you know his work —he was a gardener there for seven years until this past February. You probably also know his booth at the Saturday City Market. It’s the one that’s been there for almost 30 years. Brown, who has 122 acres in Fork Union, says he is one of the oldest continuous market contributors behind George Cason, who started the whole thing in 1973.
Rob Brown brings 40 years of experience to his fields.
Brown has been a farmer for 42 years, hailing from New Jersey where his family had been in agriculture for generations. They grew potatoes for the Wise Potato Chips company as well as grain and soybeans until suburban sprawl spawned by nearby New York City surrounded Northern New Jersey’s farmland with subdivisions and strip malls and became unbearable. Brown finally gave up in 1982 and moved with his wife and young children to his spot in Fluvanna County. He says he only landed here because it happened to be where he was when he and his wife succumbed to their exhaustion over looking at every available farm for sale from NJ down the Eastern seaboard.
“If I’d have made it to North Carolina, I probably would have settled there,” says Brown, who at the time says he would have understood the flatter topography of the Tar Heel State (better suited to the grain farming he’d been practicing) than the varied landscape and strange clay soil of Central Virginia. Though he knew he’d have to switch gears from grain to more vegetable farming, he wondered where his market would be. Central Virginia was kind of void of farm fresh food options at that time.
“When we first moved here, I asked my neighbors ‘Where are all the farm stands?’” says Brown, who had grown up surrounded by fruit and vegetable stalls on the sides of the roads throughout the Northeast. Brown says he had to spend his first several years traveling to farmers markets and produce auctions as far a field as Fairfax, Northern Virginia and Shippensburg, Pennsylvania before Central VA woke up the local food craze relatively recently “and just exploded.” Brown now splits his time selling a variety of produce among three markets: Fluvanna County’s Tuesday Market and Charlottesville’s Wednesday Mead Park Market and Saturday City Market.
It’s at the Saturday City Market that market manager Stephanie Maloy says Brown’s bounty is a big draw, “People come to the market just looking for his cucumbers,” she says.
Brown does grow several varieties of cukes from Kirbys to a few “burpless” kinds, and after 27 years growing them, he knows how to do it well. Still, the popularity of his cucumbers and his newfound community stature in general come as a surprise to old Farmer Brown. Almost incredulous of his prestigious new position among local-food crazed Charlottesville, Brown says, “It used to be doctors and lawyers and now it’s farmers.”
Stafford says that you must have a food processor (or blender) to make this classic soup, but if you don’t, you can prepare the same recipe as a salad. $166 from The Happy Cook.
From Martha Stafford, chef and owner of the Charlottesville Cooking School
1-2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
2 scallions, white and light green parts, sliced
2 cups yogurt, whole milk or low-fat (whole milk yogurt is less tangy than low-fat)
1 very small clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
Small handful of fresh mint, cilantro or dill leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Add more salt, pepper, garlic and herbs to taste. Stafford says, “Start with a small amount, say one tablespoon of mint and then taste it. My family loves it packed with herbs and so I put in more. There is not a ‘right’ way to make a soup.” Serves 1-2.
Who says buying local food is only for the well-to-do? Forget expensive creams—chilled cucumbers slices are a great (and cheap) home remedy for soothing puffy eyes.
Back to FOOD & DRINK ANNUAL 2009