We are so excited to share this interview with female farmer, teacher, and chef, Michelle Aronson! Michelle currently resides on a 10-acre farm near Saxapahaw, North Carolina, where they are cultivating a diverse market garden, as well as teaches different classes! It is really inspiring to see the line of connection from her passion of gardening to now starting her own business and teaching others the art of cooking!
1) Have you always had a passion for working with the land?
I'm originally from the suburbs of St. Louis, and I grew up on a diet of Kraft Mac & Cheese, Hamburger Helper, and scrambled eggs cooked in the microwave. It wasn't until I went off to college that I fell in love with farming and working in the dirt, and I haven't looked back ever since. In the fall of 2019, my husband and I set roots on our dream farm in the piedmont of North Carolina, and we have big dreams for this land. Starting this spring, we'll be growing a diversity of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers, and we'll have pastured laying hens, bee hives, and a few pigs. I've loved getting to know this land over the past several months – watching where the sun rises and sets, how the shadows fall, and the direction water runs when it rains. We see ourselves as stewards of this land for the next generation, and we hope to plant the seeds today that will feed our community for years and years to come.
2) What inspired you to begin your cooking classes?
After several years of working on lots of different small-scale farms, and helping to start an educational farm for the University of Virginia, I realized that I still didn't know how to cook a damn thing! Frustrated by my lack of confidence in the kitchen, I went to culinary school at a place called Ballymaloe – a 100-acre organic farm on the coast of Ireland (aka heaven), and everything we cooked with came directly from the farm or other local producers. Coming from a background in agriculture, that just made sense. When you start with seasonal, local, freshly-harvested ingredients – that's the real secret to making delicious, nourishing food. After culinary school, my husband and I moved to Santa Barbara, where I worked in many sectors of the food + farming world… from being a sales manager at a local food hub, to an elementary garden educator, chef, student garden manager for Westmont College, and eventually I started teaching farm-to-table cooking classes as a “side hustle," which eventually became my full-time gig! As someone who didn't grow up knowing how to cook, I love helping friends, family, and my community gain more confidence + joy in the kitchen.
3) Can you tell us a little bit about Farmbelly and what inspired you to share it with the world?
My mission with Farmbelly is to help people find joy in learning how to grow, cook, and eat like farmers. As someone who didn't grow up cooking, I can really relate to people who have lots of questions and aren't sure where to start in the kitchen. I like to tell people there's no such thing as a stupid question! My classes always start with the basics – things like knife skills, sauces, how to make a simple vinaigrette, and other techniques that folks will use on a daily basis. What made me excited to learn to cook was when I started farming and had a real connection with the ingredients. So in our classes at the farm, we'll go out to the garden and harvest the ingredients that we'll use in the kitchen. People will get to see the bed of carrots, pull them out of the ground, then scrub, cook, and enjoy the fruits of their labor. It's this deep connection to our ingredients that many people are missing, and I want to get people excited about supporting local farmers and cooking with seasonal produce. And while I love teaching classes and workshops in person, I also enjoy sharing my experiences with farming and cooking on instagram and YouTube.
4) What is one of your favorite winter recipes?
On a chilly winter night, I'm all about roasting! My go-to winter meal is a medley of roasted root veggies with a yummy sauce, a big pot of creamy polenta, and a crispy roast chicken. I also love making this butternut squash soup, delicata squash stuffed with moroccan-spiced quinoa, braised cabbage, and balsamic glazed beets + greens in the depths of winter.
5) How has farming and cooking taught you about the seasons and cycles of life?
Now that we've set roots back in North Carolina, I'm so happy to have four distinct seasons again. I love how the vibrant rush of spring bleeds into the chaotic crush of summer, which flows into the crisp autumn cool down, and turns into the slow, reflective pace of winter. Right now, we're in the depths of winter. It's absolutely freezing and dreary outside, and I have at least four layers on, but that's part of what makes the bright green shoots of spring so joyful. Farming and cooking have also taught me to embrace imperfection, and to accept that there will always be forces (like Mother Nature) that are out of my control. Just as every growing season is a fresh start in the garden, every dish is a new opportunity in the kitchen. As a farmer, cook, and teacher, I'm a never-ending student, and I'm so grateful for the opportunity to listen, learn, make mistakes and be a little better each day.
You can follow more of Michelles journey below!