Root Cafe: Farm to table food in Temple


Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 12-01-2021 1:22 PM

In 2018, the former owners of the Hilltop, a farm-sustained cafe in Wilton, left a note on their tables notifying customers they had sold the restaurant and would be re-opening at an unknown point in the future in Temple.

“I used to go to Hilltop a lot,” said one of her long-time customers, Lacey Aho, of Rindge, “they had the best croissants that I had ever had, anywhere.”

Christie Reed helped start Hilltop Cafe in Wilton in 2011, and brought that croissant recipe with her when they closed in 2018. Around the same time she and her husband, Ben Reed, purchased a farm in Temple with the dream of creating a cafe and continuing to foster community.

“We both wanted to get more into growing food,” said Reed, “and knowing it’s hard to make a living as a farmer, we came up with the idea for the cafe and a community.”

Reed saw the space for the first time when it was home to the retail shop, Kindred Spirits. “You had to really see through to the vision,” she said. “Before that it was a cow barn — she had done quite a lot of work that we didn’t have to do.”

Large windows — an addition made by Reed — allow light to fill The Root, the much anticipated, and finally renovated, barn-turned-café and farm store.

She didn’t want a big opening. “We started out kind of slow at once a week from 10-3 on Saturday,” she said. “We have a lot of people who have been following us since we left Hilltop.”

Aho was one of those faithful followers anticipating Reed’s return. “In the letter, they said to follow their new venture, at The Root, on Instagram,” said Aho. She immediately followed, and waited “impatiently for updates.”

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Word of mouth and a loyal following have kept the cafe, on Route 101, busy since she extended to her open days to Thursday through Saturday.

Retired farmer Vince Mamone is a customer and friend who Reed while she was still at Hilltop and he was still running his organic farm, Autumn Hill.

“I go there at least twice a week,” he said. “It’s like a meeting spot. You know how teenagers like to hang out at the mall — it’s like that. When I go there I run into several of my friends.”

The Root is designed with community in mind. A large table, an heirloom from Reed’s own home, is in the center of the space.

“Being able to see people sit down at the tables who don’t know each other and walk out smiling and talking...” Reed said it’s about connecting people.

Mamone meets his daughter, who is a public school teacher in Manchester, at the cafe weekly. “It’s a huge table,” he said. “When it’s popular on Saturdays, we’ll sit at one end of the table and end up starting a conversation with someone we have never seen before.”

The cafe isn’t just about connecting customers or even customers to farmers, but also about connecting farmers to each other.

“Farming can be an isolating and under appreciated experience” said Reed. “One of the farmers we work with walked through the woods carrying the potatoes he sold us. Rather than the lonely farmer, we want to create a culture where the farmer is the base. It’s a different form of economy.”

Reed operates the cafe with her children Maija and Kaiden Massey. When they moved to Temple from Portland, Ore., in 2009, she saw a need for community space around food in the area.

Maija said she feels like she grew up in the original Hilltop–babysitting her younger sibling, doing dishes and serving.

“I traveled around for a while doing farming and learning about simple living,” she said. She is still processing her experiences with First Nations tribes in remote areas of Canada and looking at ways to apply what she’s learned to how she works and lives on the farm.

“I’m really interested in learning how to live in harmony with nature,” she said. “I’ve been working on and observing this land for three years. I know the birds. I know where the water is flowing and what plants are already growing here.”

Maija’s desire to work with the earth has her in charge of the garden, her mother in the kitchen and Kaiden on the espresso machine. Reed’s husband did most of the renovation and took a step back once the cafe opened. “We all sort of help out with each element,” Reed said.

Their retired farmer friend, Mamone, offered Maija the opportunity to farm on his already fertile land.

“I talk to Maija and Christie a lot,” said Mamone. “We talk about mineralizing the soil using cover crops, minerals, and organic fertilizer to encourage healthy soil.” Last year, she harvested a crop of garlic and potatoes on the former Autumn Hill farm site.

“The healthier and more medicinal our food is, the healthier we will be,” said Reed. She’s specific about the farms she works with and wants to work with people who also value keeping the land healthy. Nutrition is always the basis for what Reed decides to make.

Her menu is influenced from all around the word but developed based on what is harvested from the garden that week. “I like to taste something I’ve had before, like a curry, and instead of getting the exotic ingredients, make it from what we have the farm.”

She offers an ever changing menu of farm-to-table prepared dishes, bakery and espresso. Her coffee beans, and some of Kaiden’s training, are from N.H. based A&E Coffee & Tea.

Reed has been updating her followers via social media and email newsletters.

“I’m sure they were so sick of me, because I was always messaging them asking for an update,” Aho recalled. “I’m so happy to see them open, and to see that they’re getting the following that they deserve.”

Reed plans to continue to develop the farm, foster relations with local farmers, and eventually extend the hours once she hires additional staff. Maija is anticipating opening trails for walking tours of the farm and developing the outdoor garden seating.

“I can’t wait until it’s fully opene d up with a full offer ing,” said Mamone. “With even more products from around the region — it’s going to be nice.”