It’s been a typical busy week for Deborah Stone and her daughter and business partner, Alexandra Stone Flowers, of Stone Hollow Farmstead. Their Harpersville farm team is harvesting around the clock, producing goat cheese, canning and pickling veggies from the farm, cutting flowers and making bouquets, extracting essential oils and putting together CSA boxes. This week marks the beginning of their Fall Season CSA program, offering 10 weeks of late summer into fall seasonal wonders: fingerling potatoes, heirloom tomatoes, Delicata squash, bulb fennel, jalapeno bread and melons. “If you follow Alex’s “Savoring the South” blog,” said Deborah, “you can see what’s going into your box every week. We offer thousands of recipes too. People like to know these things!” Over the course of the year, the Stones will deliver boxes up to 200 CSA subscribers, so they know a thing or two about what their customers want.
Their offerings and presentation, in their Market tent and in their Farmstand stores, one at Pepper Place and one in Harpersville, are a case in point. People want fresh, locally grown and produced goods. They want the packaging to be visually appealing. They like a good story. Alex said, “In a way, the story is the most important part of what we’re doing. We share stories about the farm, what we’re planting, how we’re growing it or making it into something fresh and new. This added service makes a big difference.”
“Take the story of our Bloody Mary mixers,” Deborah said. “We started out with a Dirty Mary mix because we had a bunch of green tomatoes. Then Alex thought it would be fun to give “Mary” an identity and make more mixers to go with her moods. So, she came up with the idea of a Sweet Mary and a Loaded Mary mixer. There was a recipe we came across from a Texas chef who put lots of vegetables in his Bloody Mary mix. We had a ton of extra cucumbers, so we figured we’d add them, along with some other veggies and fresh herbs we’d grown, and it came out great! That’s how we came up with all the mixers in the “Mary” series – just experimenting with what we were harvesting and what was fresh from the farm.” She continued, “We didn’t have permanent labels professionally printed because we had no idea what ingredients we’d be working with to make them each week. Eventually the demand got to a point where set recipes were the only way to insure consistency. The Market provided a wonderful platform for the testing period and allowed us to experiment with flavors and get feedback. Now the ingredients are set in stone and printed on beautiful labels! They’ve become really popular.” She added, “I still like to experiment and make special batches of things. Alex designed a label that has space where we can print ingredients, so I can be free to experiment with flavors and play in the kitchen. You can find the limited batches of whatever we’ve been cooking up lately in our tents at farmers markets and in our stores. That’s another reason to come see what we’re up to!”
When asked who creates the recipes for their pickles, jams and other food items, Deborah answered, “We work on everything together, but Alex will be quick to notice “off” notes that I don’t. Lemon verbena can quickly turn from a beautiful lemon aroma into a scent similar to cigarettes when not blended carefully. Alex can catch these sometimes obscure off-notes so we can make the flavor adjustments.” She continued, “The recipe is actually the easiest part of canning. The hard part is figuring out water content, acidity and food safety. If the acidity isn’t high enough, the product won’t be approved by the health department and you can’t sell it. We send everything off to either Auburn or Georgia to be tested. It takes about 2 weeks to get the results, but once it’s approved, you’re good to go. That’s another reason pickling is great. It tastes good and it’s safer.” “Pickling makes everything so beautiful too,” Alex added. “ We’re loving the Romanesco cauliflower pickles right now, and the garden pickles. Pickled beets are really popular too, and pickled lady peas – everyone loves the lady peas. We eat those all the time.”
Stone Hollow Farmstead is probably best known for its award-winning goat cheeses, but Deborah and Alex also make feta cheese, buttermilk and tangy yogurt from Jersey cow’s milk they “import” from a dairyman in Calera. They also produce Botaniko Skin and Farmstead Laboratories, both successful lines of natural skin care, tinctures, CBD products and candles, all made with herbs and plants grown on the farm. “Mom has always been ahead of the curve,” Alex said. “She was studying aromatherapy, herbology and natural perfuming 27 years ago, before it was commonplace.” “Our skin care products are all made in house too,” Deborah said. “We are a vertically integrated company. We grow, process, manufacture and distribute. And we believe we can continue to grow and maintain a small batch facility.”
“Operating and sourcing locally is important to us,” Alex added. “And helping others when they need it – we have also received help from others) – that’s what’s has gotten us all through COVID. Our wholesale business has been good. We’re farmers though, and we have struggled to sell and process our crops like everyone else. But we’re learning from it, we will figure out where the problems are, focus on what has the most potential and not try to do everything.” “No one knows where all this is going,” said Deborah. “In the meantime, we just harvested a ton of cantaloupes and yellow flesh watermelons. So, we’re producing fresh frozen pops that you can get in the Farmstand store, starting today. The cantaloupe pop is made with our fresh buttermilk. The watermelon pop is a brilliant yellow, and flavored with lemon verbena. Both are perfect for these hot summer days.” And for keeping a positive attitude during this crazy COVID season. We recommend buying two pops and sharing one with a favorite female friend, family member, partner, or mentor. You can order any non-frozen items from Stone Hollow Farmstead for pickup at the Market at Pepper Place Drive-Thru every Saturday, sign up for a CSA, shop Stone Hollow Farmstead online, and visit the Farmstand Stores, at Pepper Place and in Harpersville. Deborah and Alex can help with gifting, weddings and events too. Just give them a call or visit their website.