Big Brains

The Simple Farm: 2013 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Culinary

You submitted nominations for awards given to the Valley's emerging creatives and the results are in. Introducing our Big Brain 2013 Finalists.

Leading up to the Big Brain Award awards announcement and celebration on April 27, Chow Bella and Jackalope Ranch will introduce the finalists.

Up today: The Simple Farm

See also: 2012 Big Brain Awards Winners Announced Meet New Times' 2013 Big Brain Finalists and Celebrate the Winners at Artopia on April 27

Picture Grant Wood's American Gothic with a really, really, really good-looking couple and you've got Lylah and Michael Ledner.

It's amazing that reality TV hasn't snatched these two up -- yet. They've got all the elements: They're baby boomers who met (relatively) late in life, moved to North Scottsdale, and started a church in their home, then leased a few acres of old horse property between ritzy housing developments to start a farm.

"I used to buy designer shoes, now I buy designer seeds," Lylah Ledner says with a smile, pausing for a moment to chat as The Simple Farm's Thursday morning "French Market" winds down and the April day begins to heat up. Lylah's got fresh dirt under her nails from picking weeds; somehow her bubblegum pink lipstick is just as fresh.

She relaxes in a plastic chair at a table draped with black-and-white-checked oilcloth, pausing to empty the big pockets of her apron: a syringe from giving a goat an enema; a French knife given to her by a customer; someone else's business card; and an iPhone with a screen so shattered it's hard to believe Lylah can get it to work. But she does, and you know because she's a frequent poster on Instgram (@thesimplefarm) and Facebook, and you can find The Simple Farm's blog at

The Ledners got a head start on the local farm craze, moving to the Valley in November 2009, ripping out "oleanders to the sky," and planting a garden as a way of connecting with the land. "We're both half-Jewish and we love Jesus," Lylah says, and though she'd gardened and raised animals before, Michael never had.

"I'm a good girl; he's a hippie," she says, trying not to laugh. "Michael went to Woodstock."

There's even a rumor that he actually brought water to Jimi Hendrix. Michael Ledner says it's not true, though his bright blue eyes twinkle at the suggestion. The two tease each other gently -- all the time -- obviously smitten.

Sounds corny, but there's a lot of love on this farm. Love for the customers, the animals (they are now up to six goats that are milked twice a day -- that's a lot of milking), the sweet, ramshackle French décor. Lylah tears up more than once, talking about this business that is clearly much more to these two.

A customer walks by and asks Lylah about a tree.

"It's a Pakistani mulbery tree and it won't make you sneeze," she says, not missing a beat, adding that she gives the leaves to her goats to get their milk to dry up. Another wants to know if you can make ricotta cheese out of goat's milk (yes) and another asks how to make quark (Lylah's got several websites to recommend).

For a while, she and Michael sold what they grew (and milked and made -- Lylah's a whiz at jellies and apple and pumpkin butters and recently started making caramels) at local farmers markets, but they didn't like that so they decided to open their own farm on Thursdays. Crowds have reached 500 a day.

The summer squash is coming in; life is good. And the Ledners' goal, Lylah says, is simple -- like the farm: "To earn a living."

Buy a $10 ticket to enjoy an evening of food, drink, and entertainment Saturday, April 27, at the Monarch Theater in downtown Phoenix. Meet the finalists and learn who won during our Big Brain celebration, Artopia.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at