The Heirloom Project: Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market

From chefs to shoppers, flavor and nutrition are prized by all at this loved New England farmer’s market.


| Winter 2013-2014


It’s Monday morning in West Hartford, Connecticut, and Scott Miller, executive chef at Max’s Oyster Bar is in his restaurant’s kitchen unpacking boxes that were dropped off a few hours prior. Nothing in these boxes is generic. They’re filled with a rainbow of unusual, rare and old-fashioned varieties of vegetables, fruits, and culinary herbs. Some hold a strange beauty to the uninitiated. All of them are delicious. They are heirlooms.

Chef Miller spreads out the contents of the boxes across the large stainless-steel prep table. His menu for the week will be dictated by what he finds within. This week he gently sets out his bounty of product grown by hand in rich New England soils: bright yellow orbs, lemon cucumbers from Rutabaga Farm, dark-green ridged Tuscan kale and Chinese red meat radishes from Provider Farm, golden beets from Wayne’s Organic Garden, and bright bunches of callaloo and fragrant papalo from Grow Hartford Urban Farm.

Hartford is one of the oldest cities in America and prides itself on its cultural and historic heritage. Once a major industrial center, the capitol city’s primary industry is insurance. Just about 20 miles east of the city is the family homestead of one of America’s national heroes, Nathan Hale. Hale, before being hung by the British as a spy, uttered the now famous last words “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” His family farm is now a museum open to the public and the location of the weekly Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market (CRFM). The market is easily the liveliest and most loved farmers market in the state and has won numerous awards and accolades. It was here at this storied location that these Yankee vegetable farmers got together and started a project to encourage, promote, educate, and discuss the importance of heirloom produce.

The importance of flavor

“I’m seeing an expanding appreciation for taste, as well as a keener awareness of basic nutrition,” CRFM farmer Carole Miller said. Carole began her farm as a wholesale supplier of medicinal herbs, and her exploration of the legends surrounding herbal uses expanded to include heirloom vegetables and plants native to Connecticut. She found that many of her customers also shared these same interests.



“Our farmers understand the value of offering prime produce, and spend a lot of time discussing it with customers at the market. In turn, customers value discussing the growing of their food with ‘their’ farmers,” Miller said. It is precisely this one-on-one relationship that continues to make the market a success and the realization of the link between well-cared-for soils and the people eating food grown from those soils.

As part of its Heirloom Project, the CRFM provides weekly shares of heirloom produce to area restaurants, including Chef Miller’s. “So many American farmers have eliminated flavor so we can grow things bigger, faster, and easier. Crops are being grown in soil that has no nutrient value; therefore, they have no flavor,” Carole Miller said. And that’s where heirlooms come in.








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