Real Gardens Farm owner Theresa Richards often delivers her farm’s food – tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and many other vegetables – to Lafayette’s campus within a day of harvesting it.
After working with Richards since last school year, Lafayette College Executive Chef John Soder said he easily recognizes her passion for freshness and love of farming.
“You can tell she’s very proud of what she grows and on the invoices she writes the day it was picked,” Soder said. “So it’s usually that day when I’m getting it.”
In addition to providing vegetables to Lafayette, Richards serves local community members with the Community Supported Agriculture Program. Through this initiative, families purchase a portion of her farm at the beginning of the year and receive a bag of vegetables each week from their particular location.
After all of the orders are filled, Lafayette purchases the surplus of vegetables.
Soder said that the school helps Real Gardens grow by eliminating its waste and that the farm benefits the school by providing fresh vegetables.
Real Gardens’ vegetables fill Lafayette’s salad bars and cater smaller events, such as presidential dinners, but are not incorporated into all the dishes including vegetables at the school, since Real Gardens is a small farm and cannot provide a large amount of food.
Richards said she respects Soder’s goal to cook with the freshest ingredients in his food, regardless of the quantity.
“Chef John and his staff have an appreciation for what they get from local farmers, the taste, the freshness, the shelf life,” she said.
“We’ve only had two chefs that have actually wanted to come and see what we grow, and that meant a lot to us that one of them was Soder,” Richards added.
While Richards acquired the land for Real Gardens in 2008 just six miles north of Lafayette, she grew up on a farm in Warren County, New Jersey. She said that her childhood experiences there inspired her to make healthy foods for others.
“I see the people my age who grew up eating healthy and then the next generation that grew up on processed foods and all the problems,” Richards said, “and we need to get back to eating what’s in the earth.”
To ensure that Real Gardens grows the healthiest fruit, Richards said that she abstains from treating her crops with herbs or pesticides. Also, she does not own a storage cooler so she must deliver the vegetables within a day of them being picked.
Knowing that students and community members enjoy her food and grow stronger from it was Richards’ primary reason for starting her vegetable farm, she said.
Richards’ caring nature extends past helping others by providing them with food. Theresa also offers services to plow snow, cut firewood and provide landscape maintenance and design to members of the community. In fact, she started these jobs before she started selling vegetables. Throughout all of her endeavors, Theresa notes the most important factor of doing business.
“No matter what avenue we delved into, it was a matter of trust… Anybody can grow a vegetable, but if that trust and that heartfelt feeling isn’t there, they’re not going to come back to you,” Richards said.
She also added that the strong relationship between Lafayette College and Real Gardens stems from Soder and Richards’ shared passion for serving fresh vegetables to the community.
“It’s in you. And it’s kind of hard to explain but it’s something that’s in you,” Richards said. “You come out every day and it’s not dirt, its soil. It’s just understanding the earth we live in. It’s important to us. We’re just country people.”