Who’s Your Farmer? The Basil Broads
August 1, 2012
By Sheila Julson
The scent of basil and thyme draws customers to the Kitchen Gardens and Blooms stands amidst vendors selling vegetables and baked goods in the new Garden District Farmers Market. Located at 6th and Norwich streets on Milwaukee County-owned land across the street from the Howard Avenue Water Treatment Plant, the new market has attracted a variety of farmers and vendors in its second year of operation.
Kitchen Gardens & Blooms consists of a mother/daughter team, Cindy Lehrer and Tami Fisher, whose love of aromatic botanicals–herbs and flowers—turned into a full-time business. They call themselves the Basil Broads. They grow many herbs and flowers but these women are wild about basil.
Mother Cindy Lehrer said she has been “herbing” for 35 years, and has always had an interest in aromatherapy. Her daughter Tami Fisher followed in her mother’s footsteps and planted her first petunia garden when she was four-years-old. In the second week of July they were selling basil, thyme, dill, oregano, and marjoram. There were also lettuce, wild strawberry, lavender, forget-me-not, and hollyhock plants.
Lehrer has three greenhouses on her Lake Mills, Wis. property, and Fisher has one on the grounds of her West Allis residence. The business is in its second year, and began as a stand in Lehrer’s driveway. In addition to selling at the Garden District Farmers Market, they also sell at markets in Jefferson, Lake Mills, Johnson Creek, and South Milwaukee. Fisher said she and Lehrer would eventually like to expand sales to restaurants.
“Herbs are about as home grown as you can get,” Fisher said. She has always liked to cook, and emphasized the health and economic value of fresh herbs.
Different herbs do require different moisture levels. She cited rosemary as an example of an herb needing less water. “Rosemary is drier, a little woodier,” Fisher said.
Lehrer and Fisher grow many varieties of herbs, 10 varieties of basil alone. “The most popular is Genovese basil,” Fisher said. Also known as traditional or Sweet basil (or Sweet Italian basil) (Ocimum basilicum), Fisher said it’s the most common variety people use.
“Basil is a favorite of growers,” Lehrer added. “It’s very versatile.”
Then there’s the sweeter French basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Minimum’s), which Fisher said is a favorite of children. “The kids say it smells like Trix [cereal].”
Lemon basil also known as Indonesian basil (Ocimum americanum) can be used in lemonade or on bruschetta, Fisher said. “It’s all about knowledge, and what herbs can be used for.”
Herbs can also add zing to ordinary foods. “I put the leaves of basil on my baloney sandwiches,” Lehrer said. “It gives it a summery taste.”
Another basil varietal, Magical Michael (Ocimum tenuiflorum), is another sweet basil, more oddly shaped, with bushy tops that eventually sprout tiny deep purple flowers. This variety can be used for garnishes, or adding color to entrees. “It also makes a crazy purple pesto,” Fisher said.
Herbs have long been a part of human lore. Fisher pointed to a holy basil plant. Full and leafy like its basil cousins, Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) is known for its medicinal properties, and was planted around temples, Fisher said. “In Roman times, basil was also used as a breath freshener.”
Kitchen Gardens & Blooms offers herbs used for culinary purposes, and blooms not seen in other gardens. Some floral varieties include nasturtium, a dainty vine-like plant with almost round, flat leaves. Its blossoms and leaves are edible and are often used in salads to add a spicy tang. The plant is also a lovely decorative when used to border walkways and gardens, Fisher said.
Lehrer held up a wild strawberry plant with dark pink fruit more tiny and narrow than strawberries commonly found in grocery stores. Both Lehrer and Fisher frowned upon mention of commercial strawberries purchased in grocery stores, which are often picked before ripening to endure long-distance shipping.
Our feline pals enjoy herbs, too. (Catnip!) The mother/daughter team grows and sells wheat grass for their customers’ cats, and it is a favorite with Fisher’s three cats.
Lehrer and Fisher have 800 to 1,000 plants going at any given time. They use compost from Wisconsin, and water the herbs and flowers with collected rainwater. Pests are rarely a problem, Fisher said, as the strong aroma of herbs is not attractive to most bugs.
Lehrer said that after some trial and error, it only takes Fisher and herself about a half-hour to pack for market, “once I tell her what to do,” Lehrer joked, and nodded toward Fisher.
Kidding aside, the mother/daughter team seemed to enjoy working together and sharing their extensive knowledge of herbs’ benefits in culinary, medicinal, and aromatic applications.
“You can’t beat growing your own produce,” Fisher said, regarding the freshness and economic value. “It’s also lots of fun.”
Lots of good basil info: http://tinyurl.com/ct6uxco
Note: Effective July 21, Lehrer and Fisher decided to no longer participate in the Garden District or Clare Oasis farmers markets but are still selling at the South Milwaukee Farmers Market and those in Jefferson, Lake Mills, and Johnson Creek.
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