Growing Sweet Potatoes and Other Crops at Delvin Farms

“Bringing people together to grow, cook and share nourishing food.”  The Nashville Food Project’s motto is my motto, too.IMG_0821

On Monday mornings, The Nashville Food Project sends a team of staff, interns, and volunteers to glean from the fields of Delvin Farms, a 140-acre farm in College Grove, Tennessee. The farm, started by the Delvin family in 1972, became certified organic in 1998 and began operating a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in 1999. In addition to their CSA, you can purchase their fruits and vegetables at various Farmers Markets around town. I was thrilled to get a chance to visit the farm with TNFP’s Monday team of gleaners: Marijke, Darrius, and Chris.

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We drove to College Grove in TNFP’s new refrigerated food recovery truck donated to TNFP by the H.G. Hill Realty Company this year.DSC_0370

Every Monday, when the team arrives at Delvin Farm, Hank Delvin, Jr. directs TNFP’s food recovery team to different areas of the farm where they can glean. This week, the gleaners harvested onions and chard from fields about to be plowed over. Hank also let us glean from Delvin Farm’s abundance when he let us harvest from their newly ripening fields of zucchini and summer squash. This was Biblical. The Delvins’ generosity netted the indigent citizens of Nashville 295 pounds of fresh produce, this week alone.

Zucchini and Squash Fields
These fields take my breath away!

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I like the way the Delvins cut down on watering, as well as how they control weeds and insects by laying heavy black plastic over the dirt. They then run a soaker hose under the plastic to water the plants.

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Onion Field
That’s Hank and Chris out in the field harvesting onions.DSC_0424DSC_0427

Swiss Chard Field
Rainbow chard always looks like a bouquet of flowers to me. I asked Darrius, TNFP’s Meals Assistant, to pose for me in this photo.DSC_0431DSC_0433

At some point, I was distracted from gleaning by what was going on in the next field over…

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I walked up to the jovial field hands to ask what they were planting. Sweet potatoes.

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I must admit, when I first saw them, I thought of this, the Nashville Pedal Tavern.

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I asked Hank Sr. to tell me about growing sweet potatoes.DSC_0443

Sweet potatoes are in the morning glory family. Notice how similarly the flowers grow.

sweet potato flower 

Sweet potatoes are a tropical plant and should be planted when the ground is warm in early summer. They’ll be ready to harvest in 120 – 160 days depending on which variety you plant. The “slips” are very hardy; it doesn’t matter how limp the leaves look, as long as they have a few roots on them, they’ll take.

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The Delvins plant thousands of potato slips each year.DSC_0437

I  am attracted to vintage, ingenious, efficient, gadgets of all sizes and this old planter was no exception.

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Here is how the planter works: A stationary v-grooved piece of metal cuts a thin gully in the soil as the tractor moves forward. Meanwhile, the field hands add slips of sweet potato vines into a device much like a Ferris wheel with multiple slip-carrying trays attached to a rim in such a way that as the wheel rotates, the little trays drop the slips into the dirt. As the slip drops in the ground, two red stationary wheels push the side soil back into place “locking” the slip into the soil. Simultaneously, a black hose delivers a squirt of water to each plant from the yellow tank located behind the men.

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Voila!

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Back to the gleaning. We loaded the containers of food into the refrigerator truck.

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We drove twenty minutes back to TNFP’s headquarters and brought the food into the prep room to be weighed. TNFP’s prep room is a beehive of activity where you hear the harmonious sounds of chopping mixed with chatting. Sign up for a shift at Hands on Nashville!

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Then the food went into our walk-in refrigerator to be used during the week.DSC_0467

I went home and planted the potato slips Hank had given me. One variety is called Orleans (top grouping) and the other is a Japanese variety known as Murasaki.

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I planted the slips in my potato bed in between the Red Norland and Yukon Gold potato plants. The white potato plant leaves should start to turn yellow and die this month which will make room for the sweet potato vines to grow. I’ve never planted sweet potatoes this way before, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Like so many new ideas, we’ll see.

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I think the Delvins would be happy to know that TNFP used all of the vegetables gleaned from their farm this week as they prepared and shared meals for over 1100 Nashvillians. The onions and chard ribs/stems (like celery stalks) went into the chopped vegetables of this week’s entree, Shepherd’s Pie.

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The zucchini and summer squash were chopped by volunteer prep teams and prepared for roasting by the chef teams who simply added olive oil, salt, and garlic pepper and roasted them at 400º for 40 minutes.

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Our chef team decided to add the chard leaves (with ribs removed) to the still piping hot zucchini when it came out of the oven.

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We added the leaves, mixed them in, covered the pan, and put it all back in the oven for another five minutes. The combination was good and a quick way for us to prepare the chard with limited stovetop and oven space. If I were home, I would have served the roasted zucchini/chard mixture over pasta with Parmesan sprinkled on top.

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As Curious George would say, Today was a good day to be curious.

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© 2014-2016 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. No photos or text may be used without written consent.

16 thoughts on “Growing Sweet Potatoes and Other Crops at Delvin Farms

  1. Fabulous! I’m so happy to be a part of all this. Judy, you’re awesome as are all TNFP volunteers and staff! Hunger eat your heart out because here we come with gloves on and sweat is the only currency!

  2. These pictures are simply breathtaking and make me want to own a farm(complete with all of these helpers of course!)

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