Robert Meyers, owner of Three Tomatoes Trattoria on the Green in Lebanon, loves food, loves gardening, and loves his family. He and his wife of 36 years, Phyllis, have combined all three of those passions in a mini-farm or large garden at their home in North Bridgewater, VT.
In recent years Robert got most of the produce for his restaurant from Blue Ox Farm in Enfield. He and Steve Fulton worked out a plan so that the farm would have adequate supplies of lettuce, greens, root crops, peppers and cherry tomatoes in season. But then Steve moved off to Finland, and Robert needed a new source of produce.
Enter Phyllis. For decades Phyllis has had a large family garden and also grown some salad greens and specialty vegetables to supplement produce at Three Tomatoes. She and her two daughters, Nika and Phebe, were movers and shakers with the Change the World Kids, an independent, teen-run, Vermont nonprofit. That program has a food justice initiative that grows food for soup kitchens and food pantries, as well as efforts that provide tens of thousands of hours of help to local individuals and have an international environment component in Costa Rica. But Phyllis had never supplied a sustained produce harvest to Three Tomatoes until last year.
This summer 3 generations of the family are working to produce food for Three Tomatoes Trattoria: Phyllis and Robert, along with their son Lani, daughter Nika, and grandson Luscian, age four and a half, all work in the garden. Lani also works in the kitchen at Three Tomatoes, and Nika in the front of the house, when she is not long-distance hiking. Luscian has a small garden of his own, specializing in edible Johnny Jump-Up flowers.
As Lani explained, growing the food you cook with adds another dimension: “I know everything about the food before I cook with it. I have total control over that dish.” Lani likes to use things like beebalm and daylily blossoms in some dishes, too.
For Robert, growing the food is relaxing. “Meditation is part of gardening from soil to harvest – including weeding. I’ve become a Master Weeder. If you keep on it, you don’t have to work too hard.”
The garden produces mainly greens for the restaurant. According to Phyllis, they grow at least 60 kinds of greens, including European dandelions, 18 different kinds of Romaine lettuce, 7 types of Batavian, along with another 20 kinds of both bibb and leaf lettuce. She packs up an average of 9 crates of greens each week for Three Tomatoes. “I love this garden because I love how it looks, I love the tapestry of colors, and I love that it has given my family the skills it has, and the sense of food justice,” Phyllis said. It is important to her that all people, everywhere, have access to healthy, nutritious food – hence her 20-plus years of involvement with Change the World Kids.
Three Tomatoes Trattoria tries to get as much food as possible, from local farmers. This garden takes it one step further. The salad you have there at dinner may have flowers or greens in it raised by a little boy who is following in the steps of his dad and grandparents, and for whom gardening is a way of life.