The Golden Lamb: From Farm to Table... With a Small Hollywood Detour
by John Zimkus, Historian of the Golden Lamb
Five years ago, The Golden Lamb made a bold decision. Inspired by the same rich soil that attracted pioneer settlers to the area 220 years ago, it decided to start its own farm.
Located less than 10 miles away the Downtown Lebanon, Ohio restaurant—close to the Little Miami River—is the 350-acre farm that allows the chefs at The Golden Lamb to source the freshest of produce.
As Chef de Cuisine Crystal Coppock said in a 2022 newsletter, “To be able to say that we are farm-to-table is just a dream come true.”
For the last few summers, “Ohio’s most iconic restaurant” has served homemade pickles, cucumbers, green beans, zucchini, squash, lettuce, and more—all directly from the farm. The honey produced from the Golden Lamb Farm’s beehives last year was so good it was awarded the First Prize Blue Ribbon at the Warren County Fair!
One reason why the Golden Lamb Farm has been able to grow such great produce is the soil conservation methods now practiced throughout the country. However, this was not always the case.
Among the folks we have to thank for its introduction is one of the earliest proponents of sustainable organic agriculture in the United States, who happened to have lunch at the Golden Lamb on Saturday, August 28, 1943.
At the time, however, he was better known as a best-selling novelist and the winner of the 1927 Pulitzer Prize for his novel Early Autumn. His name was Louis Bromfield.
Reporting on Bromfield’s lunch at the Golden Lamb on that Saturday in 1943, The Western Star newspaper in Lebanon stated:
“NOTED AUTHOR AT GOLDEN LAMB
“Celebrities continue to visit the Golden Lamb. Last Saturday afternoon after his broadcast on WLW's Farm Hour, also a short wave broadcast to England, the famous writer, Louis Bromfield, accompanied by Powell Crosley Jr*., Ed Mason, Miss Carol McConaha, Howard R. Chamberlain, George C. Biggar, of WLW; R. B. Howard of London Ohio, Bob Mitchell, Ohio Director of Conservation and Mr. and Mrs. D. W. Fenner of Kansas City, lunched at the Golden Lamb. Mr. Bromfield's broadcast was on soil conservation and the food problem. He has recently written for the Reader's Digest dealing with the same subjects.”
*(Powell Crosley, Jr.’s name may be familiar. He was an American inventor, industrialist, and entrepreneur. A pioneer in radio broadcasting, he owned the clear-channel WLW radio station. He also was the owner of the Cincinnati Reds and, of course, Crosley Field, where they played baseball. In addition, Crosley's companies manufactured Crosley automobiles and Crosley radios. Crosley was once dubbed "The Henry Ford of Radio.”)
He and Malabar Farm, though, are also remembered for a particular wedding, at which Bromfield was best man and the farm, the location of the newlyweds’ honeymoon.
The wedding took place about a year and a half after Bromfield ate lunch at the Golden Lamb on Monday, May 21, 1945. The groom was 45-year-old Humphrey Bogart. The bride was 20-year-old Lauren Bacall. Together, they became a premier Hollywood acting couple in the mid-20th century.
Bromfield’s most critically acclaimed bestselling work was The Rains Came, published in 1937 and set in India. It was while visiting the Indian subcontinent to do research for the book that he was first exposed to some early organic farming methods.
In 1939, 20th Century Fox Studio adapted The Rains Came into a popular film starring Myrna Loy and Tyrone Power. The earthquake and flood depicted in the movie won the first ever Academy Award for special effects, beating out The Wizard of Oz’s tornado and Gone with The Wind’s burning of Atlanta.
In December 1938, after the book was published, Bromfield purchased 600 acres of worn-out farmland near Lucas in Pleasant Valley, Richland County, Ohio—about 150 miles northeast of Lebanon and The Golden Lamb. Here he built a 19-room Greek Revival-style farmhouse. He used proceeds from The Rains Came book to finance the farm, and proceeds from the film adaptation helped make improvements to the property.
He named his new home Malabar Farm after Malabar Coast, the southwestern coast of India. Bromfield once said, “Nothing could be more appropriate than giving the farm an Indian name because India made it possible.”
In 1941, Bromfield became the first vice president of the Friends of the Land, a new national volunteer organization allied with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, which sought to correct the ruinous farming practices that had culminated in the Dust Bowl and other incidents of widespread soil erosion in the 1930s. He turned Malabar into a showcase for “New Agriculture.” Many consider Bromfield a founding father of the modern environmental movement.
Today, Malabar Farm still exists as one of Ohio’s state parks.
As for what Louis Bromfield thought of the Golden Lamb, The Western Star reported in 1943, “This was Mr. Bromfield's first visit to Lebanon and he praised very highly the cuisine at our famed hotel.”
So come to the Golden Lamb, and you too can enjoy a similar meal to the one that was so “very highly” praised by Bogart & Bacall’s best man. However, there is a good chance that this one will be made with Golden Lamb Farm ingredients!