Leland’s Richard Allen is no stranger to gardening, having grown approximately 40 gardens over the course of his life so far. This past year, he grew a wide variety of produce including lettuce, winter squash, potatoes, and plums which not only feeds him, but family, friends, diners at the Riverside Inn, customers at the Leland Mercantile, and more!
Starting at the ripe age of 21, Richard began honing his gardening skills through working with mentors in their gardens over the years, though he doesn't consider himself a farmer by any means. He is simply a gardener who grows food to sustain himself as his garden provides for roughly 90% of his diet. His house is almost completely surrounded by his garden and at a quick glance one can see the care Richard puts into his work. His garden is lined with fresh straw, covering compost-enriched soil and mulch to control weeds and trap much needed moisture in. He works the soil using only hand tools, nothing motorized, and prefers the use of a broad fork because it loosens the earth to help the soil breathe instead of tearing through it with a till. These organic, hands-on methods aren’t the only unconventional practices employed by Richard. He has also been known to pitch his tent next to various plants and sleep overnight to deter pesky raccoons from getting to his produce before it is ripe and he can harvest it.
The labor-intensive-methods Richard uses require the most work in the spring when prepping and planting take place. Putting all the work in on the front end affords Richard the luxury of sitting back in the summer months to watch his garden grow. He describes it as a “yearly dance” as he takes careful, graceful, steps in the annual planning, planting, and harvest of his garden.
In addition to providing fresh greens such as lettuce, basil, and chard for the Riverside Inn, Richard also sells his produce to the Merc, Figs in Lake Leelanau and the Bogey’s 19th Hole at the Leland Lodge. He isn’t interested in the selling aspect though, he merely wants to share fresh produce with others so they can taste “the real thing”. His love of gardening and fresh produce has even led him to start a community garden at Leland Public School where he enjoys sharing the joys of gardening with the students, even working with them to cook with what they grow.
At the Riverside Inn, we feel fortunate to have Richard as one of our purveyors. We love telling our guests that the greens they are eating or the plum sauce on the cheesecake are grown organically just down the street. We really appreciate the consistency that Richard provides as well, knowing he’d never supply us with anything less than the best - if he says something isn’t good enough, we trust his word.
Next time you dine with us, ask us what we have on the menu from Richard. We’re always excited to see what he’ll show up with next and our servers are happy to pass on the latest from our urban gardener down the street.