Ready, Set, Grow
Souper Jenny Westside shows the community how urban farming is done
Souper Jenny Westside has a not-so-hidden secret. Like its funky counterparts in Brookhaven, Buckhead and Decatur, it serves up nutritious soups, salads and sandwiches. But, adjacent to this restaurant, nestled among apartment buildings in the back of a parking lot, is a farm.
The Souper Farm is just under an acre and supplies produce for Souper Jenny’s affiliated nonprofit, the Zadie Project whose mission since 2016 has been to provide soup and urban farming education to under-served populations. But head grower Jeff Collins wants people to know that anyone can visit the farm and learn how to grow their own fruits and vegetables. “Our focus is on children and educating them about where their food comes from, but it’s also for adults and anyone who comes here to see the unlimited possibilities of what you can grow on a parking lot,” Collins says.
When Souper Jenny founder Jenny Levison opened the Westside location in 2015, she knew that she wanted a property to farm on. She had picked the location largely because of its ample parking lot, but the rubble didn’t exactly scream farm . Instead, it was littered with dead trees and trash. But then, an epiphany. “One day we were sitting around talking about finding a piece of property, and I was like, ‘Oh, my god, it’s right here. We should talk to our landlord.’” Levison recruited Collins, a horticulturist by trade, to spearhead the project, and in October 2016 he got to work. By January the farm was up and running, along with the nonprofit.
It’s now hard to believe that the lot was once a cement wasteland. A true learning farm, the beds and containers demonstrate what anyone can do at home in his or her own yard or balcony. Ideas range from the sophisticated rainwater collection system to a basic method of gardening with fabric pots made from spun water bottles and a mixture of hemp and cotton. Collins explains that, unlike a plastic container, these pots allow the roots to breathe. They’re also an ideal way for someone with limited space to grow vegetables. Visitors can wind through the raised beds and glimpse the flourishing produce. Stop by this time of year and you’ll find broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, garlic and carrots. Diners can take their food purchased at Souper Jenny to tables and chairs in the back of the garden. The area also serves as a rustic event space with proceeds going to the nonprofit.
Not sure how to start flexing your green thumb? “Just to get going, I would plant a bunch of stuff,” Collins says. “I would never rely on one item. I would start with some arugula— buy some arugula seeds, it rarely doesn’t come up. And then maybe lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers. I like to recommend that people try cherry tomatoes.” Why cherry tomatoes? So many people have squirrels in their yards and lose tomatoes to them, but planting high-producing cherry tomatoes means a better chance at victory. Collins offers workshops at the farm (you can find a schedule online) and is available every Friday for “office hours.”
Souper Jenny Westside
1082 Huff Rd. N.W., 30318
STORY: Lia Picard
PHOTO: Erik Meadows