For four years, Nuri Icgoren gardened in his Grant Park backyard while dreaming of something bigger. That something bigger turned out to be Urban Sprout Farms, 5 acres of land in Atlanta’s Polar Rock neighborhood, all within a stone’s throw of I-75.
Icgoren bought the property out of foreclosure, purchasing acreage that housed an old motel complex and is now home for his 8,000-square foot field of organic crops. He’s got plans to tear down the existing seven buildings and create a live/work agriculture hub, and is looking for funding to make that happen. In the meantime, he’s not quitting his job with Delta Air Lines.
Icgoren welcomes the neighborhood to work with him. “I wanted to be sure we gave access to the people of Polar Rock. We have the neighborhood youth working with us and there are elders with their own plots. We have volunteer works days and an on-site market on Wednesday evenings through October 1 from 5 to 8 p.m. Our neighbors can buy our produce, but they can also buy honey, soap and other locally made and grown products and stay for our chef demo.”
Urban Sprouts also sells its produce at the Sunday morning Grant Park Farmers Market.
They grow a lot of herbs on the farm including about 100 plants each of three varieties of basil: holy basil, dark purple opal basil and Genovese.
Icgoren lists the good qualities of each. “The holy basil flowers after each time you cut it so it’s good for bees. It’s also called ‘tulsi’ and is a medicinal herb used in teas. The dark purple opal basil is an heirloom variety that we like because it’s heat tolerant, grows well here and has a good sweet flavor with a deep earthy tinge to it. And it has anthocyanins from purple color so it’s an antioxidant. It pairs really well with our Sungold tomatoes. The Genovese is just a community favorite. We like to make pesto and to flavor all kinds of Italian dishes. It’s our all-around favorite green basil and also does really well here.”
The farmer and his volunteers succession seed their basil, starting it in the spring and plant every other week. To keep the plants bushy, they harvest by plucking sprigs from the top of the plants. That forces more side growth and can keep the basil going until frost. As the days get shorter, the plants slow down and a frost will kill them immediately.
When they’re harvesting, most often they bundle the basil together making beautiful bunches of purple and green basil that attract customers to their booth. And when they have time to enjoy basil they add it to smoothies or make holy basil tea, appreciating it particularly for its antioxidant qualities. Last year they sold enough basil to The Wrecking Bar that the brewery made it into a seasonal basil beer.
Publik Draft House’s Basil Bramble
When Daniel Schmidtz and Nina Pak were creating this cocktail for Midtown’s Publik Draft House, they decided basil would be a great complement to Bummer & Lazarus gin, an American-style gin out of San Francisco. If you can’t find that particular brand, they suggest using another American-style gin with herb or citrus notes. The drink’s so popular it’s been on the menu now for more than a year.
3 fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
1 1/2 ounces Bummer & Lazarus gin
3/4 ounce pomegranate grenadine
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
Blueberries, for garnish
Tear basil leaves and add them to a cocktail shaker. Add gin, grenadine and lemon juice. Cap shaker and shake vigorously. Fill a highball glass with ice and strain mixture into glass. Top off with champagne and garnish with basil leaf and some blueberries, if desired. Serves: 1
Per serving: 196 calories (percent of calories from fat, 0), trace protein, 17 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, no fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 13 milligrams sodium.
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