Words by Jennifer Kornegay
You could say Lauren Palmer has followed in her parents’ footsteps to become the person she is today, the owner and head farmer at Bloomsbury Farm in Smyrna, Tennessee. But her parents aren’t farmers. Her mom worked in healthcare. Her dad was a landscaper and is a hobby orchid grower.
Until about fifteen years ago, Palmer wasn’t a farmer either. Watching her mom’s career instilled a desire to serve in her, so she studied social work and got a job at a hospital. But in 2009, she dipped her toe into growing produce on some rural property her parents bought, starting when she was a kid. By then, they had amassed four hundred acres, including some parcels perfect for agriculture. “They were wondering what they should do with the land, and I thought, why not try to grow some food?” Palmer says. “So, with their encouragement, I put some seeds in the ground to see what happened. I instantly fell in love with it.”
As her interest in farming flourished, she realized growing food was also a path to serve. And as she fell deeper and deeper into a love affair with working the land, one of her dad’s deep and oft-articulated beliefs, “Bloom where you are planted,” took on new meaning. So, that’s what she did, leaving social work to become a full-time farmer.
Palmer soon had a harvest, so the next step was sharing her bounty with others. A friend pushed her to get a booth at a farmers market in nearby Nashville. She recalled her dad’s stories about going to the market with his grandparents, who were farmers and who raised him. “They’d arrive with a truck bed full of corn and sell every ear,” she says. On her first market day, she had a similar experience. “Everyone was interested in what I brought, asking questions, but I asked them, what can I grow for you?” Palmer says. “It just took off from there.”
Fourteen years and multiple expansions later, Palmer can still see how the farm’s foundation rests on the example of her family. “My first time at the market was special; my dad’s ‘Bloom where you are planted’ mantra really came full circle to me in that moment,” she says. “And then my social work background, inspired by my mom, gave me this ‘How can I help attitude,’ so I think it is natural that I’m growing food for others.”
Today, the farm’s produce graces plates on some of the Music City’s most lauded restaurant tables, spots such as The Catbird Seat and Bastion. It nourishes shoppers at the Franklin Farmers Market and area Whole Foods. And it fills the baskets of its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members, a farm share group that graces the top of Palmer’s love list. “I do a three-season CSA, and these folks have supported me and just trusted me and what I give them,” she says. “They get the small-batch stuff that doesn’t go anywhere else.”
Palmer’s food goes many places, and she keeps tabs on it all. She relishes knowing the many mouths the farm feeds, but it goes beyond filling a basic need to eat. “Farming and food are a connection point for me,” she says. “Our food brings us into the lives of others, and I didn’t realize how much that piece of what the farm does would matter to me. We are part of all these everyday meals, but also factor into celebrations and even sad times, when I hope our food brings comfort.”
Palmer knows her decision to get certified organic brings many of her customers comfort. “That was key from the start,” she says. “It gives people, especially the individuals who may not get to know me the way my chefs know me, the assurance that we are farming the right way, the healthy way, here.” The farm also undergoes routine food-safety audits that take things a step beyond organic. “It’s not the easiest or cheapest way to farm, but it's important to me.”
Palmer’s crop choices stand out too; she describes Bloomsbury’s seasonal selections such as lemon cucumbers, Green Zebra tomatoes, wheatgrass, sunchokes, garlic scapes, and golden beets, as “artisan Southern.” “Looking through the seed catalog is like making a Christmas wish list for me,” she says. “I don’t want to grow the same things as everyone else, and I don’t want to grow the same things all the time. Changing it up keeps things fun and exciting.”
Her customers appreciate the variety, but there are a few bestsellers that she’ll never stop offering. “Our strawberries kick butt, so we’ve got those every spring, and I do a five-color cherry tomato mix that people love,” she says.
Experiencing the farm firsthand is also popular, and swinging Bloomsbury’s gates wide open to welcome guests each week is an additional distinction. “We invite people to come here and meet us and shop onsite every Friday afternoon March through November, and we get Girl Scout troops, elementary school classes, university students, and more,” Palmer says. Bloomsbury also hosts live music events, pop-up dinners, and school fundraisers. There’s a loft onsite available for stays, and many who book it—folks from California all the way to Australia—add on the option to tour the farm with Palmer. “We cruise around on the tractor and talk veggies and farming. That’s been super fun. I love getting creative with what we can do out here, so I say yes to requests as often as I can,” she says. “Having people on the land, we can show off what we do and teach them so much about food, and education has always been a core part of what I wanted Bloomsbury to be.”
The learning on the farm doesn’t finish with school field trips. Bloomsbury has its own school, called Forest School, where five full-time teachers foster and support the creativity, curiosity, and imagination of one hundred homeschool students, kindergarten through fourth grade. There are several options. Some kids attend full school days while others pop in a day or two a week for math, science, art, and social studies lessons, plus enrichment such as outdoor adventures and hands-on, farm-focused activities. A schoolhouse was finished early fall 2023. “It’s grown alongside my now 9-year-old daughter, and this is year three. It’s the best darn thing I’ve ever done,” Palmer says.
Giving people what they want and need is at the heart of Bloomsbury Farm, hearkening back to its early days when Palmer asked her first customers what they’d like her to grow, and evidenced today by her commitment to cultivating an appreciation for the land and its riches. “We’ve been able to touch so many lives with the food we grow, and I love that. It’s a gift for others but also for me,” she says. “I was made for this.”