It all started with lettuce. I was at this year's Taste of Atlanta and my taste buds were oversaturated with more fried food and shrimp and grits than any one person should ever be allowed to consume in a lifetime. All I wanted was something — anything — fresh to counteract all the brown and beige I'd packed into my gut in the past few hours. Then, like in some biblical tale, the crowds parted to reveal the Veggie Patch's (751 Nunn Road, Commerce, 706-616-7869, www.simplyfreshveggies.com) oasis of vegetables plopped down in the middle of all the typical food-event gluttony. I ran over and started feasting with my eyes at the rows of perfect butter lettuce; each green, smooth head compacted like a rose that has yet to open. Boxes of lettuce filled with a mix of fluffy leaves and spicy mix whispered promises of a bitter and intensely grassy foil to whatever I paired them with. The intense aroma from the pristine display of herbs — tarragon, basil and more — combined in my nose with the summery smell from the overflowing baskets of firm tomatoes, small and large. I was in heaven. Inspired.
A few things make owner James Bouchard's Veggie Patch different from other local farms. Firstly, it grows tomatoes and peppers year round in a greenhouse. Secondly, the farm does not have organic pricing. Take for instance the tomatoes, which are only $2 per pound. According to operations manager/woman of many hats Jennifer Cain, "Since the economy is so terrible, we try to keep our prices comparable to conventional market prices so our organic vegetables get to everyone regardless of how much they can spend." The Patch even donates 200 pounds of produce to the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia every week. Thirdly, the Veggie Patch allows you to preorder what you'd like through its website. It's not a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, but a way to get a bounty of beautiful local produce even if you don't have time to take a leisurely stroll around your farmers market. The way it works is that you pre-shop from a constantly updated list of produce, pay (you can also pay when you pick it up), and choose your pick-up location from choices such as the Emory Farmers Market on Tuesdays, the Lawrenceville Farmers Market on Wednesdays, and the Chamblee Farmers Market every Saturday. They've been trying to get into Morningside for a year and a half, but the market, according to Cain, has no room for new vendors.
There is one more thing that makes the Veggie Patch stand out: The produce is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, full of flavor and abundant. The farm grows 40 varieties of tomatoes, 30 varieties of peppers, and 25 varieties of herbs. Until January or February, 20 varieties of lettuce are available. This lettuce is so immaculate — especially the mixed boxes — it will make you swear off supermarket lettuce forever and have you mourning the end of the season. For now, look for tight florets of broccoli, cauliflower, sturdy kale, turnip greens, turnips and that special type of inspiration only the best vegetables can provide.