Something beautiful grew from the partnership between Brett Jenkins and Jason Wilson–a garden!
The Clonts Memorial Urban Farm is a flourishing 100% vegetable garden that sits on a ½ acre plot to the left of Coldwater Mountain Brewpub in downtown Anniston, Alabama. Fresh organic corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, okra, squash, peppers, a variety of herbs, and more thrive in this wonderful garden, sourcing the dishes at the brewpub, developed by its Executive Chef (and co-owner) Brett Jenkins.
Jenkins already had established himself as an Executive Chef to be reckoned with, being the owner (with his wife Holly Jenkins) of Harp & Clover and Nola on 2nd in Gadsden, Alabama. Originally from Anniston, he had unorthodox training. While other aspiring chefs studied in culinary schools, Brett learned the fine art of crafting flavorful cuisine in the kitchens of his mother Linda, grandmother Margaret, and other female relatives he has dubbed “strong Southern women.”
“I was always on a stool looking and tasting. I would be aggravating at moments and cantankerous, but remembering those tastes and flavors from them.” Those tastes and flavors have made their way into his wealth of recipes, and feature prominently in the dishes served at Coldwater Mountain Brewpub in Anniston.
Jason Wilson, the founder of the Backforty Beer Company, opened Coldwater Brewpub with partner Tommy Stevens and financial investor/philanthropist Earlon McWhorter in February of 2022. Housed in the historic Union and Freight House (which Mr. McWhorter owned), the newly renovated brewpub quickly took off, being a popular hot spot for Calhoun County locals to eat, drink, and enjoy live music, trivia, and other special events. Months into the venture, Jason had the desire to elevate the restaurant service and make further improvements. After meeting Brett at Anniston’s 2nd Annual Chopped Competition (Brett was the emcee), a conversation began on a collaboration.
Brett not only bought into percentage ownership of Coldwater Mountain Brewpub–he also became their new Executive Chef. He was thrilled to be part of an exciting venture right in the town he grew up in, where he could bring his philosophy of a “guest perspective” versus “customer” to the restaurant by helping them change the service model to table service, further develop the menu, and maximize their profits.
“My mind is always just spinning. Not necessarily on the ‘next big thing,’ but how to hone in on the thing–what we have now, how to make it better,..for me, is centered from the guest perspective. At the end of that day, that’s all that matters.”
Soon after coming aboard, Brett’s interest was piqued by a plot of land next to the brewpub (also owned by Earlon McWhorter), whose utilization was up for discussion. While ideas had already been tossed around, Brett said, “My mind saw a garden.” He went on to explain that a ½ acre of land can produce much more than the average person would think.
With Wilson and Stevens on board, plans moved in that direction. However, there was another layer to the idea simmering in Brett’s mind. His lifelong friend, Matt Clonts, passed away suddenly of an illness in 2020, leaving behind a wife and son. Clonts, who was the Vice President of Farmers and Merchants Bank, had made many contributions to the Anniston community–for example, being the President of the Knox Concert Series, the co-Chair of the Sunny King Golf Tournament, and sitting on a variety of other committees. Brett had known him since childhood, played little league sports with him, and their families were friends. Brett would run into Matt periodically when back in Anniston, and as Brett put it, “I don’t think to this day that there’s ever been a bigger champion for Downtown Anniston than Matt.”
Matt was also a huge supporter of the Anniston Downtown Market, purchasing products weekly such as his favorite item–the fried fruit pies. “There was this running joke of getting up early enough to beat Matt to the market because he loved those fried pies.” Brett felt that there would be no better way to honor Matt’s support of the City of Anniston than to create the garden in his name.
Upon receiving approval from Matt’s mother Debbie, his wife Holly, and other Clonts family members, the garden was named The Clonts Memorial Urban Garden. The vegetable garden was developed in a plateau style, and planted with original seeds from Downing and Sons, owned by R.D. and Lewis Downing, who also consulted with the team on the garden development.
Under the watchful eye of Stevens in particular, who has done a lot of the laborious upkeep, the garden produces fresh, organic heirloom vegetables for Coldwater Mountain Brewpub. The vegetables will also be used in Jenkins’ other two restaurants in the coming days. The garden is definitely a 3-way collaboration between Jenkins, Wilson, and Brett. Jason tracks everything in the garden from planting to harvesting with an infographic. Various vegetables are picked every 1-2 days in vast abundance in their “Field of Dreams.” Jenkins finds it therapeutic to pick, sometimes late into the evening, often with his bare hands.
Jenkins incorporates these vegetables into countless recipes. Some favorites include a cold, composed corn salad like his mother and grandmother made in the past, made up of silver king corn, tomatoes, scallions, cucumber, parsley, and other ingredients. He creates many other side dishes, like a fresh cucumber salad, a corn flight, and he even pickles many of the vegetables. There are over 20 menu items at the brewpub that feature something from the garden.
Brett explained that responsibly sourced food carries a lot of weight in the food industry. Many restaurants claim to serve organic food, but sticklers on the topic often discover, upon deeper inquiry, that the products aren’t always as pure as the claims that were made–and these vegetable enthusiasts end up disappointed. In the case of Coldwater Mountain Brewpub, the heirloom vegetables grow in their purest, healthiest form. “The idea that something like that [an organic garden] could be here in my hometown, that I could be a small part of it, is huge.”
A special feature of the Clonts Memorial Urban Farm is a “secret garden” tucked away in the center. Reached by a narrow path, the square area is encased in string lights and houses a grilling station for cooking, and long wooden tables and chairs for a unique outdoor dining experience. It’s a place for special events like the pop-up kitchen Jenkins hosted this past week. Also, it’s a special spot for quiet reflection for people like Clonts family members, who are always welcome to visit.
Besides the Clonts Memorial Urban Farm, the Michael Matthew Clonts Memorial Scholarship was set up as part of the Leadership Calhoun County (LCC). It’s a program of the Calhoun County Area Chamber and Visitors Center that provides leadership resources. This scholarship is awarded to two individuals yearly, being an ongoing tribute to Matt Clonts’s contributions to the LCC program.
You can view this stunning vegetable garden and partake of its bounty on the elevated menu at Coldwater Mountain Brewpub located at 1208 Walnut Ave., Anniston, Alabama.