Chef Martha Stamps Keeps It Local, Seasonal and Delicious at the Café at Thistle Farms Inside the Café at Thistle Farms, the spacious dining room has a number of large tables, intended to encourage groups of people to sit together communally, whether they knew each other before they arrived or not. Though smaller tables are available, the sense of community resonates through the café, a branch of the Thistle Farms organization, which âemploys women survivors of trafficking, prostitution and addiction.â The café serves breakfast, lunch and a special afternoon tea, with a menu that they describe as âglobally inspired, locally sourced.â Many of the menu items are classic southern staples, some with a bit of a twist. A biscuit with gravy is straightforward, but a fried egg on toast is dressed with feta and sriracha. A grilled cheese is brie with apple and bacon or with blueberry jam and basil on challah. The menu selectionâcreated by executive chef Martha Stampsâchanges seasonally and includes a number of daily specials. It all depends on whatâTMs good and available from a variety of local farms and vendors, including Long Hungry Creek Farm, Green Door Gourmet and KellyâTMs Berries. As an eighth generation Nashvillian, Stamps feels itâTMs important to maintain a link to the areaâTMs long history as a farming community and to support the local farmers who continue the tradition. âFood is anthropology,â she says. âAside from the poetic affinity that many southerners have to farmland, local food systems are important so that communities can maintain their connection to the land and sustainably support themselves.â Stamps notes, though, that using local vendors is about more than just supporting the local farm economy. Cooking seasonal produce from local farms just makes good business sense. For one, she says that non-seasonal produce often doesnâTMt taste very good. âIt used to be a big deal, waiting for the local strawberries to come in season. And citrus is in season during the winter, which is why you always had a tangerine in the toe of your stocking.â But now, any kind of produce is available year-round, having been imported from all over the country and even the world, and often picked before its prime. Or itâTMs been stored for days or weeks in transport, no longer fresh. Additionally, âif you have access to everything all the time, then nothing is special,â says Stamps. The local produce, she says, helps her create a menu of delicious food, served at peak freshness. Cooking seasonally and locally is also less expensive. An attempt to source watercress when she worked at the Corner Market years ago led to a revelation. âIâTMd heard all these stories growing up about going out to the creek to pick it, how you have to watch for snakes, and when I tried to buy some for the market, our supplier could only find it from a source in Vietnam and it was going to cost $18 per pound,â she says. She realized âsomething is not right hereâ and it got her interested in the various ways that food is sourced. ThatâTMs when she set about finding better resources through the local farmersâTM markets, and figuring out what to do with what was cheap and abundant from week to week. She does note that inconsistency and quality have been problems in the past, but as more chefs and home cooks use locally farmed goods and distribution has improved with Nashville Grown, farmers can rely on that business and work to improveâincluding using hoop houses to extend their growing seasons. She also notes that the farmers she works with have been really up to the challenge of growing some non-traditional crops to complement the typical produce: for example, growing ginger root for some of her Asian-inspired dishes. Partnerships sheâTMs formed with local farmers such as Jeff Poppen of Long Hungry Creek Farm have enabled her to get the produce she needs and wants for the café. In addition to her regular vendors, Stamps enjoys visiting farmersâTM markets. She says, âI love going through the farmersâTM markets and making those connections with farmers.â In her role as the leader of the kitchen at the Café at Thistle Farms, Stamps ensures that the staff there have the opportunity to feel that same bond with the farmers and food that she does by arranging farm visits. Some of the staffers had never visited a working food farm or picked their own fruits and vegetables, so a trip to the farm of Thistle Farms volunteer Lynn Woodward (affectionately known as Mama Moo) in Nolensville last year was a real treat. âLocal food connects usâ¦to the seasons, the land and to each other,â Stamps says.