In the backyard of a house on Hull Street Road is a bountiful farm filled with plum tomatoes, bell peppers, habanero peppers, jalapeño peppers, cucumbers, delicata squash and cilantro.
The organic farm, known as La Markesita Garden, is located about five minutes down the road from La Milpa, a Mexican restaurant. The farm is in the courtyard of the owners of La Milpa: Monica Chavez and her husband, Martin Gonzalez.
“The plan is to grow for the [La Milpa] kitchen,” Gonzalez said on a recent afternoon at the farm. “For me, the cook, it’s incredible to work with local and fresh ingredients.
Vegetables are used for tacos (Mexican tacos, soft and hard), salsas, burritos, fajitas and more.
The garden, free of chemicals and fertilizers, started three years ago. Each year, it produces larger crops than the previous year.
Growing their own vegetables for the restaurant also honors their Mexican culture and traditions. For example, they honor the Aztecs through their cilantro cultivation technique.
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At home, to grow cilantro, they made milk crates filled with hay and soil that sit on a small body of water. The Aztecs invented chinampas, sometimes called floating gardens, which can grow vegetables and fruits.
“Growing our own food is part of our culture; it’s in our veins,” Gonzalez said.
Chavez added, “We keep the roots in culture and tradition.”
The coriander is harvested in plots, guaranteeing that La Milpa will never be without it.
The couple are looking to completely enclose the cilantro section by creating a greenhouse complete with a wood stove for warmth.
Other next steps include building two ponds, one to grow catfish and the other to harvest bass and trout and grow shiitake mushrooms. From there, Chavez and Gonzalez still have 11 unused acres to work with.
On the sections of the farm that have roofs, including where the cilantro and peppers are, the metal roofs collect rainwater which is transferred through a system of pipes lining the roofs to then be filtered for a agricultural use.
La Milpa seeks to help others learn about agriculture and be able to harvest their own food. Chavez said he wants to open his farm to the community so others can see that they too can have a farm in their home.
Currently, Chavez and Gonzalez are partnering with JA Chalkley Elementary, part of the Chesterfield County Public Schools, to teach students about farming and harvesting. The plan is for the third and fourth graders to visit the farm and adopt a plant, and when it is ready for harvest, the students will take the plant home.
At La Milpa itself, the space is half restaurant, half market. The market is stocked with groceries from Latin American countries and restaurant-prepared cuts of meat, pork crackers, vegetables, fresh fruits and fresh cheeses.
“You can find the things you find at home at La Milpa,” Chavez said.
In addition to garden upgrades, La Milpa is updating its website, www.lamilparestaurant.com. The site will soon offer an online ordering and delivery service.
La Milpa is located at 6925 Hull Street Road in Chesterfield.