by Pete Mazzaccaro
A farm grows in Chestnut Hill.
The farm, dubbed Cherokee Greens by Vanessa Mullen, co-owner of Chestnut Hill’s Campbells Place, 8337 Germantown Ave., is a more than 5,500 square foot vegetable garden on private land near the Philadelphia Cricket Club. Vegetables grown there are fueling a menu of fresh specials at Campbells Place.
The farm, which is now more than halfway through its second full growing season, was previously owned by former Hill resident and Urban Outfitters CEO Dick Haine. who happened to be a neighbor to Mullen’s father, John Noonan, at the place where Vanessa grew up.
So a few years ago, after Noonan decided to add some “storage” to his property that became a small barn, Mullen and her husband, Rob Mullen, the chef and owner of Campbell’s place talked him into housing chickens and the farming “bug” was born.
Currently, Mullen cares has 12 chickens on the property – each one lays an egg a day.
It wasn’t long before Mullen said she started thinking of finding ways for Campbells to grow its own produce.
“Some of the restaurants downtown that had roof gardens,” she said. “I was looking to do something similar.”
She spoke to friends and found a suitable location – the current site of the garden – asked for permission from the current owner and signed a lease for the property (there’s a lease, but no charge), and even though Mullen said she didn’t know anything about growing things, Cherokee Greens was born.
“It’s been a big learning curve,” Mullen told the Local on a recent visit to the farm – a 75 by 75-foot plot off of West Gravers Lane. “It’s been really rewarding to plant things, watch them grow and harvest them.”
Looking around the farm, it’s easy to see she’s learned a lot. Several beds are still full of ripening tomatoes, there are carrots, beets and lettuce. A large basket of cucumbers – the last batch of the summer, is resting in the middle of the plot. There’s a lot of produce.
It’s a lot of work,” Mullen said, who works the garden every day with help from two employees. “It’s a lot more than I thought it was going to be this year.”
Mullen said the gardening really came at a good time for her. Her mother, Patricia Noonan died suddenly lat August.
“She had been really proud of the fact that I was able to grow anything,” she said. “And after she passed I spent a lot of time here and that really helped.”
There are about two more months left to the growing season, Mullen said. She’ll begin again on Mother’s Day in May, bringing plants she’s already seeded in pots at home to begin the summer’s produce.
It’s not enough to provide for all of Campbell’s Place, but enough to feed a feature menu of specials the restaurant has developed. Rob, she said, has been leading the development of that menu, picking things at the garden for things to try as a special at Campbell’s.
That menu includes Caprese salad with fresh basil pesto, cucumber soup, beef ribs with farm fresh tomato jam, baked flounder with farm fresh creole sauce, sautéed green beans, rice and rice seafood pasta with a farm roasted tomato sauce.
“It’s been really gratifying to hear people who have had the specials and love them and know it was grown here a half mile down the street,” Mullen said.