Year-Round Agriculture in Milwaukee? Look No Further Than Big City Greens

An indoor farm north of Brady Street is a model of year-round city agriculture.

After eight years selling eggs, pickles and produce out of their farmhouse in California’s Napa Valley, Bryan De Stefanis and Deborah Diaz moved back to Wisconsin with their daughter in 2015 to be close to family and to launch a farming business in, yep, the city of Milwaukee.

De Stefanis found a location for a greenhouse a few blocks north of Brady Street, close enough to the city’s farm-supporting restaurants so he could deliver within hours. One of his earliest visits was to Sanford Restaurant, where chef/co-owner Justin Aprahamian’s culinary philosophy embraces locally grown food and uses the kitchen as a lab for preserving and fermenting all manner of ingredients. Soon after making the Sanford connection, De Stefanis’ Big City Greens (906 E. Hamilton St.) supplied 20 flats of micro-arugula for Aprahamian’s 2015 gig cooking at the James Beard Foundation Awards.

In addition to heirloom vegetables, herbs and microgreens from the indoor farm, De Stefanis delivers foraged wild edibles he unearths at their property in central Wisconsin. It’s “all very fresh and great quality,” says Buckley’s restaurant chef Thi Cao, a regular customer. Big City’s ingredients and preserved foods, including those featured below, are also available at the weekly farmers markets in Shorewood and Greenfield or by emailing Big City Greens

Deborah Diaz and Bryan De Stefanis of Big City Greens. Photo by Jessi Paetzke
Photo by Getty Images

Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms: Sauté in butter and serve as a side dish or add it to risotto.

Hickory Syrup: Made from the bark of hickory trees, it can be used over pancakes and ice cream.

Pickled Ramps (Wild Onions): Add to salad dressing; serve with a cheese-meat plate or a sandwich.

‘Green City’ appears in the August 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.