A trained chef, Nolan Schmidt plants his urban farm in the Tower District with visions of recipes in his head.
Schmidt carefully selects the herbs and vegetables for his organic farm based on their flavor, how it looks on a plate and how well they produce. Some plants, like pineapple sage, he grows just for himself.
"It has a great citrus flavor when used fresh and works very well in a vinaigrette," Schmidt says.
As the grower in charge of the Tower Urban Family Farm, Schmidt and his fellow urban farmers grow organic produce on five home sites in Fresno. Last year, they raised a bounty of items, including 55 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, created a neighborhood seasonal farmers market and hosted two farm-to-table dinners using a majority of their homegrown food.
The operation also began supplying herbs and greens to four local restaurants, which also appreciate Schmidt's use of interesting ingredients like red Russian kale, Bloomsdale spinach and speckled peach tomatoes.
This year, the Tower Urban Family Farm, or TUFF, is expanding to two more sites, boosting its size to five acres, and growing its distribution to six restaurants.
Schmidt also added a winter garden and is preparing for his first farm-to-table brunch on Sunday at Lela's Restaurant in Fresno, 7089 N. Marks Ave. Suite 101, Fresno.
Chef Manuel Carr at Lela's has been a regular buyer of Schmidt's herbs, salad greens, tomatoes, eggplant and squash. Carr and Schmidt often consult, poring over seed catalogs to find something new and interesting to grow.
"Last year he grew some purple asparagus and lemon cucumbers that not only looked beautiful on the plate but had great flavor," Carr said. "And as a chef, having access to Nolan's farm also gives me the opportunity to try different things."
Carr has become such a fan of TUFF that he agreed to allow Schmidt to use his restaurant for the brunch. And Carr has no plans to help out in the kitchen.
"Nolan is a great chef and I enjoy food so much more when other people cook it for me," Carr says with a laugh. "I am very much looking forward to the brunch."
On the menu will be poached eggs from River Roots farm in Laton and Schmidt's own spin on biscuits and gravy, complete with TUFF rabbit sausage. There will also be mimosas with orange or grapefruit juice. Dessert has yet to be decided.
"I like to leave some things up in the air," says Schmidt, who has worked at Slates Restaurant, the former Daily Planet and Jovia in New York.
For more information about the brunch, visit TUFF's website.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6327, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FresnoBeeBob on Twitter.