A Delta debutante turned unlikely North Mississippi farmer, Elizabeth Heiskell spends her time shuttling fresh produce to conscientious Memphis and Oxford restaurants and consumers through the Woodson Ridge Community Supported Agriculture Shares (CSA) program that she and her husband, Luke, operate. One of her farm’s notable clients is the renowned St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, emphasizing the health benefits of local fresh fruits and vegetables. Elizabeth also is running a successful catering company and raising two daughters to love and appreciate the farm-to-table way of life. We are delighted to introduce you to our FACE of Memphis, Elizabeth Heiskell!
How did you make your cooking debut, and how did that lead you to Oxford, MS?
I owned Elizabeth Heiskell Catering in the Mississippi Delta for about eight years before I became the head chef at Viking Range Corp. Luke was building houses in Cleveland, MS. We were asked to partner in a farm in Oxford. It was a perfect fit because Luke grew up farming, and I was a chef and knew what chefs needed from their farmers.
How do you and your husband make working together “work”?
I know Luke better than anyone, and he knows me better than anyone. Most people who work together don’t have the intimate relationship that you have with someone when you’re married. We push each other to be great because our lives depend on it.
Do your girls enjoy and appreciate the farm life?
Yes, yes, yes! They absolutely love it. They are so free on the farm. There are days when they wish they were living in a subdivision where they could ride their bikes to their friends’ houses or participate in rolling each other’s yards. But I think they will, as adults, look back on their childhood spent on the farm and really appreciate it.
If you could communicate one thing to our readers about nurturing our bodies, what would it be?
Buying local is absolutely one of the most important things you can do. Knowing where your food comes from is a huge part of getting processed foods out of your diet. Also, learn to cook! Buying and eating locally is about eating seasonally. Learning how to make 18 different tomato dishes in the summer or cabbage dishes in the winter is key.
Your CSA program allows people without green thumbs and sprawling farms to feed their families with the bounty from Woodson Ridge Farm. How have you seen this program grow?
Buying a CSA share not only helps sustain the business on the farm, it’s also a commitment. Once you’ve purchased a CSA and pick it up and take it home, it’s there. On your counter. Listening to our CSA members rave about the meal they made with our baby bok choi or say that their kids finally gave eggplant a shot because they got to pick it out … I don’t know. It’s just exciting. Our members get excited about our vegetables, which makes us very happy. All of the information is on our Woodson Ridge Farms website. Signing up on our website is just as easy as buying a pair of shoes online!
What are your favorite places to visit in Memphis? And what are some don’t-miss spots in Oxford?
In Memphis: The Garden District to be inspired, Hog & Hominy and Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, any of Ryan Trimm’s restaurants, and we love to visit our friend Kelly English at Restaurant Iris. In Oxford: The Square, the Grove, Ole Miss baseball games and, of course, Woodson Ridge Farms!
As a Bloody Mary lover, one word comes to mind after tasting your mix: perfection! How did you come up with the catchy name “Debutante Farmer”?
Being a Delta debutante and then moving to the hills of North Mississippi to be a farmer created a huge juxtaposition of who I thought I was and what I actually was becoming. It’s me in a nutshell!
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
I love going into restaurants and seeing our names on menus and seeing what dishes they’ve come up with using our vegetables. Hearing what our CSA members are doing with our veggies is pretty gratifying, too.
What is your favorite culinary memory?
Cooking for Thomas Keller of the famed French Laundry restaurant in California, that was pretty special. We made fried chicken.
So, what’s next for the Debutante Farmer?
Lots of exciting catering with Elizabeth Heiskell Catering and getting ready for all of our fabulous weddings this spring. And we’ve got lots of amazing events at the farm on the horizon. We also are working tirelessly to get Debutante Farmer Bloody Mary Mix in lots of stores across the South.
What are your favorite ways to unwind?
I love hanging out at the Sunday baseball games with my girls and our friends. I exercise. And really, I love cooking. I love cooking meals for my family and friends. I really do.
What’s one interesting fact about you that most people don’t already know?
I’m such a loudmouth without a filter. And I don’t keep secrets well, so I’m not sure what people don’t know about me!
What three lighthearted things can you not live without?
Beer, bloody marys and pimento cheese.
Thank you, Elizabeth, for the important work that you do and for the stylish, tasty way that you do it all through Woodson Ridge Farms!
And to Nathan Latil of Nathan Latil Photography in Oxford, MS, for these lovely photographs!