When you start your own farm, it gives people certain ideas, says Amanda McCleery.

“We do get asked to bring salads everywhere,” Amanda says with a laugh.

It’s fortunate that she and her husband Dante both love salads and are often happy to oblige. That’s part of the reason they founded Farm 99 on a parcel of wooded land on — where else — Ga. Highway 99, just west of Sterling.

Both hail from New Jersey, which tends to get a mite colder than Southeast Georgia. That wasn’t much comfort to the McCleerys at the time they were being interviewed for this column — in the early days of a nearly weeklong cold snap that saw temperatures drop below freezing several nights in a row.

They moved to Georgia in 2019 to get away from the hustle and bustle of New Jersey along with the cold, but both have always been partial to living on the coast. That narrowed down their options somewhat.

Both Amanda and Dante had dreams of starting their own farm at some point as well, which narrowed it down even more. Rural Georgia stood out as the perfect combination of both in an up-and-coming location.

“For us, it’s a win-win. The best of both worlds,” Dante says.

After moving to the area, they discovered only a few options for locally-owned fresh produce.

St. Simons Island boasts a few fresh produce markets. Brunswick hosts a regular farmer’s market, and Potlikker Farm produces fresh veggies for local restaurants and the public at Three Little Birds.

But there was no local produce stand like the McCleerys envisioned, despite the fact you can garden all year round in South Georgia.

“When we asked where the local produce was, they said ‘Winn Dixie,’” Amanda says, pulling a face that clearly indicated her disdain for the produce aisle.

No offense to the supermarket chain, but in Dante’s opinion, there’s no comparison between what you get from a store and what you’ve just pulled out of the ground.

“I’ve never had a good salad out of a bag,” he confirms.

There’s no telling what the future holds, but for now, Farm 99 is focused on growing veggies, not livestock. Local options are limited, but there’s a network of small farmers across the state, you just have to know where to look. Dante freely admits he didn’t when they started Farm 99, but it didn’t take long to get some friendly advice.

Dante has a circuit he runs to other farms for various things they don’t grow or make themselves.

“The farmers really have each other’s backs,” Dante says.

A local farm also has the benefit of being resilient. When the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the globe, it brought to a crashing halt many modern, globalized industries that rely heavily on manufacturing and shipping.

The pandemic brought its fair share of problems and sorrows, but for an open-air farm stand, it could not have been better for business.

“We were actually, at the time, thinking of enclosing this,” Amanda recounts, gesturing to the prefabricated metal structure that shelters the farm stand.

On top of that, it’s been nothing but good for the couple’s children. Their daughter, once quiet and reserved, has grown into a much more outgoing person than she was, and “actually knows how to talk to people now,” Amanda says. Their son has taken a liking to work in the garden. It’s almost therapeutic, what Amanda termed “garden therapy.”

All that plant life they pick is good for you in many ways. Aside from tasting better, it also tends to taste different, Amanda notes.

“The carrots are crazy sweet out of the garden. I’ve never had them this sweet,” she says.

The McCleerys say they’ve been spoiled. There’s no sign of downturn anytime soon — new faces show up every day at the stand — but if anything should force them to close, neither thought they could go back to eating run-of-the-mill veggies.

“I’m a salad guy,” Dante tells GIM. “You can always add fresh fish or chicken to your dish to make it dinner.”

This article is called The Dish, so it’s time to get to the dish — a salad, in case you were wondering. While these ingredients were plucked in winter, they’re all year-round crops. You can find them in stock at the Farm 99 stand.

The lemon kumquats are what Amanda most likes about the dish. They’re something new for the farm and her palate, and the tartness contrasts well with the other flavors in the salad, especially the sweet carrots — which is not a particular type of carrot, but Amanda finds most carrots right out of the garden tend to be sweet.

“I love the sweetness of the carrots with the tartness of the kumquat dressing,” Amanda says.

Sticking to the recipe is not required, and if you ask the McCleerys, it’s not necessarily encouraged either. As Dante put it, “Don’t be afraid, throw different stuff in there and make it a meal.”

• Farm 99 is located at 4023 Ga-99, Brunswick. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Friday. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Lemon kumquat vinaigrette

2 Tbsp. local honey

⅔ cup apple cider vinegar

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

4-5 lemon kumquats, juiced

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Mix together ingredients in a cup or bowl. Stir well until the ingredients are completely mixed together.

Farm 99 spring salad

1 head Gem butter lettuce

1 head La Rosso lettuce

1 head Mayqueen lettuce

3 hard-boiled eggs

2-3 watermelon radishes

2-3 trio heirloom carrots

2-3 golden beets

Directions: Tear lettuce and either slice thin the radish, beets, and carrots or use a mandoline slicer. Quarter hard-boiled eggs. Toss in a large bowl, drizzle vinaigrette over the top and serve.