What I Do: Anne Lehman

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Anne Lehman, 54, relocated to St. Louis from her native San Francisco three years ago. The owner of urban farm Dirty Girl Farms may have dirt under her nails, but she has the toned arms of a weightlifter (and competes at the masters level), the greenest thumb on Tower Grove South’s Juniata Street and a heart filled with pride for her new hometown.

Why the name Dirty Girl?
It was something that my husband called me. In California, I’d always come in and be filthy. He’d know when I was working outside because all the light switches would be dirty. Now, it’s kind of a blessing and a curse. I decided to embrace it. There’s a lot of double entendres, sexual stuff. If I go into a restaurant: “Oh, it’s Dirty Girl. Whatcha got?”

How did you start selling to restaurants?
One of my favorite bartenders (John Fausz of Olio) lives down the street. One day, I said to John, “Can I bring you some herbs for the bar?” Ben (Poremba, Olio and Elaia chef-owner) got ahold of everything before John did. He flipped out over one of the herbs I was growing. He was like, “I’ll take however much of this you’ve got. Bring me a list of what you’re selling.”

What do you grow?
A lot of things that I brought from California: lemon verbena, pineapple sage, Mexican tarragon. There’s Cuban oregano, rose geranium. (Food truck) Holy Crepe bought all my Madras podding radish. They don’t grow in the ground. They grow on a vine. Malabar spinach, a lot of Italian greens: erba stella, stridolo...

Any other unusual plantings?
I have a crack project where I grow seeds in cracks. So does my brother. I don’t know why we do it. In the alley, I grew borage this year. I grew zinnias in the alley last year for the woman across the alley. She was recovering from cancer. I wanted to do something nice for her because she couldn’t come outside and garden. She could see them from her window.

Have any chefs asked you to plant something for them?
(Sidney Street Cafe chef-owner) Kevin Nashan. He challenged me. He’s like, “Well, it’s not like you’re growing salt wort.” And I’m like, “Well, I can.” I have a lot of salt wort. I’m going to see if he wants to buy it.

What do you do with herbs you don’t sell?
I turn all the herbs into tinctures. I just sold my tinctures to (Blood & Sand co-owner) TJ Vytlacil. Amanda (Hammond) at Niche is playing around with them. And (my husband makes) ice cream. Cafe Osage featured it one month. It’s like French custard ice cream. My husband has the most amazing recipe and he won’t change it to make it less expensive. I don’t market it any more.

Why do you call yourself Dirty Girl Farms when you only have one farm?
It will be Farms someday. I always start with the big picture.

So you’re staying put in St. Louis?
I made the best decision of my life to move to this city. We’re not going anywhere. Here’s my California snobbiness: When I went to Taste in the Central West End when we were looking for a place to live, I ate there and was blown away. Everyone in my life was telling me I was crazy to move to St. Louis. I just thought, well, everything’s going to be OK. There’s Taste.

Have you discovered other restaurants here that make you feel that way?
I have a huge list. There are way better restaurants here than in San Francisco. I get treated like every human being should be treated when I go to a restaurant here.

-photo by Carmen Troesser