Jill Forrester’s roots in the soil around Memphis are deep. Both a farmer and a city girl, she’s stayed close to her Arkansas upbringing — and close to the foods she and her family grow and bring to people across the region. As co-owner of Trolley Stop Market with her husband, Keith, Jill spends her days, nights and basically all but the five hours of sleep she gets each night living out her farm-to-table dreams. “If someone would’ve told me 10 years ago this would be my future, I would’ve surely laughed,” Forrester says. “Despite the struggles we face during our work week, I love my life. I have the ability to call my own shots and can be as creative as I like in the realm of agriculture and food. I like dreaming big, but finding out what works best realistically.”
Jill, Keith and their son, Fox, live on Keith’s family farm in Whitton, AR, where they grow everything from asparagus to eggplant, potatoes to pumpkins, and much more – and where Jill nurtures her love of flower growing. “We moved to the farm shortly after we married, and it’s been a pretty wild ride ever since,” she says. Along with Trolley Stop, Jill and Keith own a restaurant near their farm called Tyboogie’s, and they’re zealous supporters of the Memphis Farmers Market. As we move into Downtown Dining Week, hear more from this down-to-earth and dynamic voice in the city’s foodie scene.
One of your goals with Trolley Stop Market is to bring locally grown foods to the public. Why is this mission key for you?
As farmers, we are committed to furthering the local food movement to the best of our abilities. We love attending the Memphis Farmers Market each Saturday and talking about why locally grown food and flowers are the way to go. Having that direct connection to people to talk about the farm makes all the difference. By opening Trolley Stop, we’ve essentially been able to make our farm a much more sustainable operation. We grow produce specifically for the restaurant, which results in very little waste. We source our beef, catfish, pork, rice and more from local farmers in the region. We love the fact that Trolley Stop can be a source of revenue for folks we’ve been working alongside at the farmers’ market each weekend for several years. It’s all about building community. The best way to do that is through food.
Tell us more about Whitton Farms. Where is it, what do you grow, and how do your roles as farmer and restaurant owner work together?
Whitton Farms is located in a little Arkansas Delta town by the name of Whitton. It’s approximately 35 miles north of Downtown Memphis. At the farm, we grow a wide assortment of chemical-free vegetables, fruits, herbs and cut flowers. Over the years we’ve been able to revolve a large portion of our Trolley Stop menu around what we’re growing at the farm and what we can source from other farmers in the region.
Keith and I share many hats between the farm and restaurants. I am primarily over greenhouse management, marketing and flower production at the farm. I also handle the operations at Trolley Stop, while Keith focuses on growing our soil, vegetables, herbs and operating Tyboogie’s, which is located four miles from our farm in Tyronza, AR.
How would you describe Trolley Stop Market? What do you feel makes it most unique?
Trolley Stop Market is the only farmer-owned and -operated restaurant in the city, to my knowledge. Trolley Stop Market would not exist if it were not for the Memphis Farmers Market. It was there we were able to save our money for six years to open Trolley, and invest in a city that has given so much to us. Trolley pumps a wide assortment of locally grown and raised food through its kitchen. We offer a great little artisan market for our customers, and we cater, deliver and host large parties, so to me Trolley Stop is its own working organism.
What moment or achievements in your career are you proudest of?
Creating 48 jobs between the three businesses we operate, and being named Northeast Arkansas Farm Family of the Year 2014. Working alongside my husband every day, raising our beautiful boy and building our future together.
What are your three favorite things about Memphis?
The river, Memphis Farmers Market and the Edge District.
What would other people be most surprised to learn about you?
Keith and I used to live in a school bus on Summer, and I’m a self-taught farmer and floral designer. I knew nothing about chemical-free farming when we moved to the farm. Keith was raised on the farm, so we had a wonderful jump-start, but I really developed a passion for growing flowers and food shortly after Keith and I were married and moved to Whitton.
What do you do when you’re not working … as in, what hobbies do you have outside of farming and feeding people?
I collect seeds, run, explore the farm with my son and listen to Keith play guitar.
Describe the best trip you’ve ever taken. What made it so perfect?
Just before Keith and I were married, we took a 14-state road trip that lasted two months one summer. It was incredible. We charted our own path and just explored the West Coast and did whatever we wanted to do. It was amazing to make those memories together in places we had both never been before.
What (or who) most inspires you, and why?
My son Fox, and my husband Keith. They both inspire me to be a better person, better than I was the day before. Everything I do is in their honor. I love my little family.
What’s your best piece of advice for others?
Never lose touch with your creative spirit. Be prepared to work 110 hours a week or more if you have a dream you’re chasing.
What are three things you can’t live without excluding faith, family and friends?
I love collecting seeds and plants. When a holiday rolls around, I always tell my family to just get me some seeds or a neat plant. I love Mama Dee’s Italian Ice Chocolate Sea Salt pop, and my good friend Elia Buice owns Apothecary Fairy and she makes the most amazing soaps. I like simple things. Plants, chocolate, soap!
Heading down for Downtown Dining Week? Stop by and stay hi to Jill and her team at Trolley Stop Market, which is one of Downtown Dining Week’s participating restaurants. And thanks to Julie Wage Ross for the photos!
To catch more FACES of Memphis, subscribe to StyleBlueprint. (It’s free!)