Bringing Home the Bok Choy:
Lisa MacDougall and the Mighty Food Farm
She may not leap tall buildings in a single bound, have more power than a locomotive, or be faster than a speeding bullet, but Lisa MacDougall still qualifies as a superwoman—at least in the world of organic farming. As the owner of Mighty Food Farm, Lisa and her stalwart crew grow more than 40 different kinds of vegetables in quantities that could feed a small village for a very long time. Last year alone, her Mighty Food Farm produced some 15,000 heads of lettuce, 16,000 pounds of onions, and 25,000 pounds of winter squash.
“A lot of effort goes into growing this food and it takes strength to do the work required. But both the growing and the eating make you strong,” says Lisa, who fittingly chose a perky tomato flexing its biceps as the Mighty Food Farm logo.
This marks Lisa’s seventh year coaxing seeds and seedlings to flourish without the aid of pesticides or herbicides in the rich soil of southern Vermont’s beautiful Shaftsbury Hills. She chose this location because of its proximity to Bennington and Williamstown, as well as to her alma mater, the University of Massachusetts.
“I feel at home here and wanted to stay in the Berkshire vicinity. I like the people and the geography, the gentle rolling hills. New Englanders are kind of tough,” she notes, “but they’re also generous and caring. Plus, I love growing a lot of food and am always inspired by how encouraging the community is, how vocal they are with their support. They understand how much work this is.”
Regional chefs cooking for upscale restaurants are among Mighty Food Farm’s biggest fans. They seek out not only the farm’s glossy wine-toned eggplants and magenta-tinged beets, but also their lesser-known vegetable cousins—think kohlrabi, bok choy, and green garlic—to feature on seasonal menus. And when juicy melons and berries are ripe for the picking, these discriminating chefs line up for Lisa’s fragrant strawberries, cantaloupes, watermelons, and muskmelons.
“It takes more effort to eat in season but the chefs I sell to are flexible and excited to have our produce. If they have anything left over, they pickle or freeze the bounty to preserve it for later,” says Lisa, who readily admits that people can buy cabbage and carrots for less money at a supermarket. However, from her point of view, cost isn’t the only factor to consider when shopping for salad ingredients.
“Most of our fruits and vegetables are trucked in from California and Mexico. For future food security, there’s a need to revive the local agricultural economy. This also decreases our dependence on fossil fuels,” explains Lisa. “Besides that, locally grown food tastes better and gives you the opportunity to eat many different varieties of fruits and vegetables. Things like Lillian’s Yellow heirloom tomatoes and Magic Molly purple fingerling potatoes that you seldom find in supermarkets.”
Barbara Moore and her chefs are proud to be serving Mighty Food Farm’s gorgeous produce in The Good Table’s cafes and at their catered events. In addition, their customers also have the opportunity to join Lisa’s popular CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. CSA members enjoy everything from freshly picked arugula to zucchini in their own homes as the spring-to-fall harvest season progresses.
For farmers as well as customers, CSAs meet mutual needs. According to Lisa, “The CSA insures the food grown is sold and has a home. It also allows customers to buy a farm share at a wholesale price. Since the money is sent early in the year, that helps the farmer with writing those checks so we have a jumpstart on buying seeds and agricultural supplies.”
As someone who is passionate about growing good food and loves what she is doing, Lisa takes no time off between May and October. Those 17-hour days rarely include time even for family visits; but loyal customers help fill that void. They shower Lisa with smiles, hugs, and thank-you’s for her produce and heroic efforts. Wherever she delivers her harvest treasures, or brings them to farmers’ markets, now-familiar faces warmly greet her.
“I have a great relationship with my customers, which is probably a good thing,” adds Lisa, “since I see more of them than my family during peak season.”