Have you met Stef? – The Lady Fair and Cheese Queen of Valley Milkhouse

I have been incredibly lucky to meet and become friends with some amazing people in my lifetime, and especially in the last few years. They create, the grow, they shine. It’s so inspiring and so humbling.

And on Sunday, I had the opportunity to take my mom to meet one of my all-time favorite one of these folks – Stefanie Angstadt, at her amazing enterprise, Valley Milkhouse.

Always adorable.

Always adorable.

My love story with Stef started back in 2012, when I moved to New York to work on Keith’s Farm. We met in the Union Square market, where she was working and running markets for Eckerton Hill, a well-known heirloom tomato and vegetable farm right across the county line from me back home. I can truthfully say that my girl crush grew wildly that season, and when I returned to the Lehigh Valley to start Crooked Row Farm, our friendship solidified. She even helped me build the greenhouse this season, as you may recall.

When she decided to venture out on her own with her newly-purchased cheese-making equipment this past winter, I was overjoyed. Stef had experience on a dairy in the past, and spent a lot of time honing her recipes, looking for a business space, and networking with other area cheesemakers.

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In a few short months she was already making the papers. My mom would cut out the clips of my “cheese friend Stef,” and I watched through the Internet as her business grew and grew. This past Sunday she held and open house at the creamery, and it was a stretch to find parking. With chef demos, live music, wine tastings and tables overflowing with cheese (and, in the cheese room, sales), no one could have asked for a better launch party.

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Her cheese in on artisan shelves in Philadelphia, in Frecon Orchard’s store, at the Saucon Valley and Easton farmer’s markets and on-site at the Creamery in Oley Valley. Oh, and maybe at my market stands very soon. We’re testing some sales on Saturday at East Falls, so if you want to try the cheese that fits this romance story, get there early.

Follow Stef @milkhousecheese on Instagram, like her on Facebook, and check out her website for more info. Read her full story about her foray into cheese. Some day we’ll all have a big party with our fare, and you’ll be invited. Then you’ll get to meet her. She’s great.

Until then, here’s to dairy and watching the broccoli grow.

-Farmer Liz

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Awesome ladies unite! Me and mom, Cheese Lady Mistress Stef, And Anne and Liz, the awesome duo who run Green Heron Tools, the one stop shop for lady-friendly farm swag!

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A Start of Fall Catch-Up – The Summer Was Awesome, Let Me Tell You About It

I did that thing I do where I fall off in the summer. But it’s all for good reasons this time. Here at Crooked Row we’ve been working like mad, running two Philly markets and meeting all sorts of wild and interesting people. We’ve been learning about different growing methods, what people are looking for in their farmstands, and what gets people excited about food.

It’s been lots of fun and grossly tiring. It’s September – the marathon is winding down, but I can’t wake up without the sun no matter how many alarms I set, and my back and legs perpetually hurt. I am talking a lot of salt baths and drinking a lot of water with magnesium powder and starting to drop in to hot yoga classes at West End Yoga to fix this. I am catching up on mountains of filing and paperwork and already editing and creating promotional materials for the 2015 season.

This season has already been such a transition from our first foray in 2013. The diversity of growth, the successful and the failed growing experiments, and the prepping of new areas are all setting us up for an even more bolstered season next year. I already can’t wait.

It’s hard to talk specifics after so much lag time in the posts. Here’s some idea of what we’ve been doing.

The tomatoes came in half-heartedly and left quickly.

The brief season of crazy tomatoes

The brief season of crazy tomatoes

Next year, (shakes fist), next year will be better.

Next year, (shakes fist), next year will be better.

The garlic was beautiful and great and this year I’ve got some new seed stock that I just picked up TODAY from the guys Dan and PJ at Garlicspot, out my way. Music, Hungarian Purple, , and of course the staple Keith Stewart Rocambole will be in the CSA bags and at the stand next summer. Jazzed? I surely am.

hanging garlic

Hanging garlic just looks so cool, right?

garlic stock

Chesnok, Rocambole, Music to my ears…

mom garlic

The greens are coming in great for the fall. In a couple weeks I’ll have fall brassicas that got away from me last season. I still haven’t perfected having lettuces and a good pile of salad mix during the hottest months, but I’m working on it.

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And the potatoes. Man. I love growing potatoes. I love how happy they make people, with the colors and the flavors. My dear chef friend at My Grandmother’s Table says the Carolas are second to none when it comes to making gnocchi. And I started digging my fingerlings this week for the CSA, and they look awesome.

fingerling potatoes

I’ve learned about streamlining, and promoting, and marketing, and all that necessary work that you have to do out of the field. I had a really amazing opportunity to attend the Sam Adams ‘Brewing The American Dream’ Business Speed Coaching sessions ten minutes from the farm Tuesday night. I met some incredible folks doing really important work with business incubators, economic development, business strategics and planning and more, and for two and a half hours I had the opportunity to pick their brains, pitch the farm and talk about how to network with food connections, create a stable business plan and, eventually, get myself to a place where I am financially stable doing the thing I love.

My speed session card - each person I sat with had something great to share and teach.

My speed session card – each person I sat with had something great to share and teach. And the food was fantastic. Check out Thomas at the Book Shop when you get a chance.

God, that sounds good. And looks even better in writing.

We’re trying out some dehydrating and dried herb and tea blends. Stay tuned for where you can pick them up.

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Plans, schemes, expansion. We’re winding down and building up at the same time. And the scenery never stops being amazing. This winter will be one of adventures, and I’d love to take the time to share more about Crooked Row and some of my friends who are doing amazing things with their own farm endeavors. Won’t you stay awhile?

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Yours in Purple Majesty, Rocambole and Red Russian,

Farmer Liz

They were diggin’ for something.

“You look so happy.”
“You look so strong and, like, capable.”
“You look so tan!”
“This really seems to suit you.”
“Where’s the broccoli?”

This has been the theme of the last couple months since I’ve fallen off the blogosphere again.

Of course it’s a weedy mess again. It’s July! But I don’t feel that throat-clogging panic of 2013. I feel awesome. Every day I get up – and though it’s a little more of struggle now than previous months to do so – I feel freaking great. I am excited to get over there and get working. Every time I dig my hands into the dirt I feel like I’m learning something and I’m moving forward in the path I’ve chosen. It’s not going to be all farming all the time for me, not forever, but right now is still the high energy work and learn environment.

 I need to hone my skills and get good and streamlined on a handful of vegetables that will be my staples. I want to keep enough of a small variety of everything for my CSA folks, but I don’t need to keep growing some of the same things everyone else is growing. I gotta find my niche. It has taken me some time to get my head around that idea (what do you MEAN bigger isn’t better?), but I think I’ve been figuring that out a lot this year.

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Everyone has been so incredible and supportive with this season. Friends get friends to join the CSA. I have market regulars. Though I didn’t stay long at Rittenhouse, I was there enough to meet some great people and feel really excited about working in Center City. Markets in the park are always a good atmosphere for people watching and feedback.

East Falls is chugging along. I love hanging out with Nancy from McCann’s. The Trolley Car Café folks are supportive customers and awesome team players – I eat there, share homebrews and use the facilities (which incused the coffeemaker) whenever I need. Matt from Farm to City said that my stuff looks world’s better than last year’s crops, which is really encouraging. We could always use more customers – spread the word!

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And last week I started a Wednesday market in West Mt. Airy, near La Salle, and it made me unbelievable happy. I love that neighborhood and I can’t wait to be there more. The Food Trust is an organization I have always admired, so being able to operate in conjunction with them is really thrilling.

But yes, the weeds. We are tackling sections at a time. Whenever I’m not around my mom goes out and weeds the kale patch. This morning we started the peppers. The later tomato planting needs some breathing room. And I think we had onions at the start of the season, but who can say at this point? Aha. Year two of tiny onions. Sorry, guys. All I can say is that some of them are big. I am getting better at a weeding schedule, but only just. But, hey, every year is progress.

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I think tonight will be garlic harvest night. I am really looking forward to some garlic-in-the-pores for a day or two.

The walk in has been such a huge asset. It only works if I load the truck right before market, but that’s okay. Vegetable quality is just so enhanced with the cold storage. So grateful to Justin for the help there.

And to everyone. My dear friends pop in to visit and weed and pull garlic and spread encouragement. Green Heron Tools, who are letting me play with their lady-friendly till and bring us such delicious eggs. My aunt and grandma, who are bringing pies and lunch so I don’t have to stop too long to eat and so I can enjoy my life in this way. It is so vital. Donna Wagner is killin’ it every day, even on days when I’m not. Thanks, team.

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See you in Philly?

The broadest of smiles, the tastiest potatoes, and all the gratitude this little dirtball can muster,

Farmer Liz

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spring onions

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Because Every X-Men Needs an Origin Story or My Quarterly Identity Crisis

I remember the instant I sealed the deal on this future.

I was sitting in a car with my then boss, filled with the nervous conviction teenagers have during break-ups, when I told him I was leaving the city in a month and going to work on a vegetable farm in New York. “I’m not meant to save the world this way,” I said. “I want to feed people.”

Liz Wagner: Queen of Dramatics.

Weeks have gone by when I forget this end goal, this purpose, this reason I had for dropping a 180 on everything and everyone in my life and vanishing into a world of soil and green things. But whenever someone asks me my farm’s mission statement, or I’m faced with the sobering need to defend my new(ish) career choice, I remember why I wanted to do this in the first place.

I want to feed people. I want my friends and family and acquaintances to be able to eat delicious, healthy food and be able to see where it’s growing if they want to come for a visit. I want people to learn how to trellis peas and the best way to weed onions and what hardneck garlic feels and tastes like. I want to get green food to people who haven’t had a grocery store in their neighborhoods in years. I want chefs to expose their customers to new and unusual foods that will make them want to start eating differently or try their hand at growing their own foods.

With the food culture the way it is right now, it’s really easy to lose sight of your purpose in the wake of the social stigmas and villianization that is happening with farmers today. This is something I’ve been thinking about for years now but have never really been able to articulate until now.

I was sitting in a park in Northwest Philadelphia the other day where my newest market will be starting in a month or so. It’s a newly-renovated park with a brand new rec center, benches and trees. The center is run by two women, and I was meeting with two of the awesome women who lead The Food Trust to talk logistics and get to know each other. This amazing organization promotes food accessibility within neighborhoods and institutions, and does a lot of education on a now-national scale.

I sat on a bench reading a book, a collection of stories about new farmers, and the excitement I felt about this upcoming market and the anxiety I felt about being away from the farm all morning still couldn’t compare with the frustration I felt toward many of these new farmer/writers and the sentiments expressed in this anthology.

Don’t get me wrong – I think the program that spearheaded the book years ago is an amazing one, full of opportunities to share ideas, socialize and work with like-minded folks, and their hearts are a thousand percent in the right place. And a fair number of the stories do feature the hardworking, humble, financially-draining trials of folks looking to break into the farm world.

But over and over again there was the same sentiment – this sense that what these new farmers were doing was so novel, and so noble, and so much better than what you do with your life. There were younger, anti-establishment folks who wanted to fight the powers that be. There were folks coming from a white-collar background with years of savings and capital who wanted to set out to start “doing the right thing,” with subtle and not-so-subtle digs at the farmers who had been supplying their food throughout life up to that point.

I took a new farmers class through my extension office last year, and I met a number of people my age who had no hesitation in expressing similar opinions. The farmers renting the land and monocropping in the area were barbarians who gave no thought to what they were doing to the environment and blasted their crops with chemical fertilizers and pesticides just to turn a buck. What we were setting out to do was to fight these evil agricultural tyrants and return to the old world of good, clean food the way it was supposed to be. It’s easy to switch from the mindset of a challenging career and the want to grow food to a crusade, and pick up the swagger that comes with such thoughts. I’ve caught myself doing it from time to time, when I’ve forgotten why I’m really here, but thankfully someone or something has knocked me off that high horse before I’ve made too much of an ass of myself.

Every time someone does this, it’s like they’re scoring a goal into their own team’s net. Farming is farming is farming, and if you’re doing it feed people, or to feed the animals that feed people, or to power the vehicles that get us to places to feed people and your head and your heart are in the right place, you’re on the same team. If you’re trying to start a farm because you think it’s cool to work at a market or because you’ve seen Union Square and Headhouse and thought, “Yeah, I can do this and make fistfuls of money,” or because you want the cred, you’re in the wrong building. And if you think that just because you have this idea the government and crowd-funding and local groups should throw money at you to combat the evils of other food growers, you’re not even in the same complex.

All you’re doing is severing the already tense relationships between the commercial, traditional, conventional, small, sustainable, diversified and local farmers that work – literally, with the geography of our region – side by side in the fields every day.

Our PASA president cautioned against these farmer-on-farmer combative vibes in his address at this year’s conference. Though we can’t maintain a “separate but equal” mentality – not with chemical drift and industrial giant heavy-handedness as it is in marketing and government decisions – we can’t attack each other the way a lot of activist and small-farmer groups are.

Many farmers went to school to learn what they are doing, and continue to follow industry-promoted standards. Many are living hand-to-mouth  and following a path that was laid down for them before they were born. And many don’t have the resources, finances, time for educative reform or, really, time at all, to completely change an operation that is more mechanized, more organic and yielding more product than their counterparts, even if public opinion is swaying away from their practices.

I worked at a dairy this past year that cared adamantly about the quality of their milk and their animals, and many would consider them a commercial or conventional farm. They didn’t feed their calves soy-based milk replacement and would tend meticulously to a sick or injured animal. They cared passionately about their work – it was what they were educated to do and grew up doing. And these farmers talked to me all the time about how they felt they had to be on the defensive with these “new farmers” who came in and tried to tell them they were doing it wrong, and how they were insidious in their actions as supporters of Big Agricultural.

And I hated it. I hated feeling like I fall into that demographic of a young/new farmer who picks fights with their comrades. We’re all heading the same way. We’re all trying to feed people. But we all have different ways of getting to that end result. If science and evolution proves that what one of us is doing is harmful to the other, I want to believe we’ll work together and not in opposition to do what’s best for each party. There are so many combative and differing studies on everything – so many that each side ends up looking (and feeling) like the bad guy at some point. And at this point there’s people saying, “But what about the antibiotics, Liz? And what about the pesticides and the Round-Up Ready corn?” and “How can you say these things and practice what you do?”

To those people, I say, “Hey, look at my broccoli.”

My beautiful, giant – and completely worm-ridden – broccoli. We spent hours cleaning the worms out of the broccoli last season and still didn’t catch them all. I didn’t use a single chemical in my field last year, and that is what I saw. Yes, there are organically approved substances to use. But some of them are just very diluted forms of what conventional folks use. Yes, there are homeopathic and natural remedies that are somewhat effective. But can you imagine the expense and scope, and the time to commit to trial and error needed to use these methods on, say, the amount of broccoli a grocery store needs to supply an area of people? Because let’s be honest – I don’t see a near future (maybe distant, but not near), where the majority of folks are heading out to their local markets once or twice a week for all their needs.

And I can’t imagine cleaning out that many worms, for sure.

I know there’s a middle ground in there somewhere where lots of successful growers reside, but that’s not me, not yet. I didn’t go to school for this – my education if a few years clawing around in the soil – so I can’t pretend to be overly-knowledgeable – but I also can’t be cocky or judgmental in my approaches. There’s just no reason for it.

And not to say roles aren’t reversed, as well. Sometimes I walk into a store around here for cover crop or fish emulsion and am immediately not taken seriously by the staff because I’m the 25-year-old female asking what is the best winter cover to use in my area. Sure, that may be a stupid question to an old hand, but I’m happy and unashamed to admit I’m still new to this. A tattooed friend who comes to help me on occasion gets carded at my hardware store. I’ve had people laugh at me when I tell them what I do. People ask me how my garden is doing at least once a week. At market, people kept asking me who I worked for (until I made my tag-line “Lady-Run,” anyway). And a number of folks didn’t take me seriously until I survived and thrived my first solo year because so many idealists get into this venture without the real drive or plan you need to make it work.

I’m not sure where I fit into all this. I am the mutant of the agricultural world. My parents run an auto body shop. Their parents had family farms, but until we bought the land that I’m farming now, my hands didn’t dig further than our backyard garden. Until I was 22 I thought wholeheartedly that I would be a journalist, and then for another two years I thought I would run a social services program in a city. I got straight A’s in school and ran extra-curriculars. I hug my parents regularly.

I’m not a disgruntled chef, an anarchist, a tattoo-covered train-hopper looking for seasonal work , a girl caught up in the notion of working the land with her romantic partner, or someone who is trying to take down big ag singlehandedly or plunged into this adventure with a blind ideology, a soapbox (but look at me now! Hah!) or a wish to fall off the grid. I wanted to feed people. And this is the way I am choosing to do it.

Maybe I’m talking in circles. I’m sure I’m talking in circles. I think about this stuff for hours at a time in the greenhouse or weeding in the field and don’t draw any significant conclusions or resolutions from it. I’ve straddled this talk from farmers and customers on both sides of the line. Sometimes I just feel like a pretentious bitch. Sometimes I feel defeated. Or exhausted. Mostly just confused. But I keep reminding myself -. practice patience, practice empathy, and keep trying to feed people.

-Farmer Liz

Ode To My Mother

If there is one thing my mom hates, it’s public embarrassment.

Seed those onions!

Clearly, I am a bad daughter for this.

Gifts can be tricky for a woman looking to downsize her life – the CCR tribute band already left town, her lifetime chicken collection has been decimated in the move and she was never one for fancy meals.

But if there’s one thing she can and will have, it is an ode to her awesomeness.

Mom Wagner has a lot on her plate – she’s been roped into Greenhouse Visionary/Master of the Weather/Official Weeding, Seeding and Harvesting Partner of Crooked Row, roles she sort of volunteered for without maybe realizing the full scope of the work to come. And she has to deal with me and dearest Father Wagner on the regular – which means she has the mediation skills that specialists need in hostage situations and the patience of saints (like, not just one saint).

Mama Wagner sorting alliums!

She manages a household, keeps us fed, oversees two sets of business nonsense and still plays around in the soil most days. When she’s out in the field she is constantly waging a very active war on the thistles and dandelions, dropping whatever task she has on hand to fork out a couple in passing and sass them for their insubordination. In the greenhouse she seeds to classic rock and talks to our seedlings, reminding them how pretty they are and urging them to come on out and join the party when they’re slow to germinate.

All this, and she hasn't murdered us yet. Just some raspberries.

All this, and she hasn’t murdered us yet. Just some raspberries.

She has always supported my decisions, even if she was wary of them (read: my overall taste in men), and when I told my family I wanted to leave the city and learn to run a farm, she may have had hesitations, but to me was always on board. And once I was moved home to become a thorough leech and stress, she welcomed me with excitement.

It has been so rewarding and fun to spend this much time with her. As a kid I picked a lot of adversarial roles with my parents on the daily. As an adult, having your mother as a business partner AND a mom is as rewarding and satisfying as I could have ever hoped. She’s thoughtful in her decisions and our discussions, she plans ahead and she has altered her routines to what’s best for the farm. She’s thorough and adorable and did I mention that she’s hilarious? Sometimes we have to pause in our worked, doubled over laughing, no less than a gazillion times a day. She’s goofy and sweet and I see what I like about myself in her every day.

She’s spoiled me terribly, though. I don’t want to work with anyone else – especially a man – again.

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She needs a cape, you know – No rain or potato beetles or blazing sun can keep her down! Super Mom!

So thanks, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day. I know lots of great moms, but there is no one who could put up with my temperament and nonsense, work with me all day – even on those angry and frustrating ones – and still make me coffee and want to hang out and do it all again the next morning. I will never be able to truly express how amazing the last year has been with you, and how excited I am for this one and all the farm adventures ahead. You are my best friend, my guidance counselor, my sounding board, my on-site comedian, my number one partner-in-crime and my rock.

Lady Wagner, The Mom of all Moms. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love you.

The coolest.

The coolest.

Spring springs some tasty things.

Garlic at the start of the week - happy and excited to grow!

Garlic at the start of the week – happy and excited to grow!

Note: this is a different side of the garlic patch. But yes, it was a swamp from The Great Flood.

Note: this is a different side of the garlic patch. But yes, it was a swamp from The Great Flood.

Swamp. Le sigh.

Swamp. Or, really, a running river. Le sigh.

So maybe you heard. It rained.

It rained for days. And as I am a terrible farmer who broke her rain gauge and never mounted its replacement, all I know is that it rained A LOT. I’ve got video of a veritable river running down the side of the field (and sadly, but not too tragically, running through the bottom of my pea rows), and the trenches it left behind are pretty impressive. My dairy boss nearby market it at 4.8 inches – which translates to a mess for a lot of friends and fields in the area. Today has been a soggy day of runoff and assessing any damages, and determining when we can get back on the ground.

Nature, my friends. It’s a heck of a thing.

Thankfully, one of the only upshots to growing on a hill (hah) is that everything above flood level is now really happy. The perennial herbs are stoked.

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My happy perennials – rhubarb, lovage, sorrel, thyme, sage, chives, lavender, and more to come soon.

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The Chive.

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The lovage, which was pretty irate about the severe temperature change two weeks ago, has since recovered and is ready to be celery 2.0 for the masses.

It’s fun to see all these things come back to life.

We’ve had a busy, busy time of things since we last spoke. Lots of seeding, prepping, and now, finally, finally starting to plant. Everything feels so delayed – from the fluctuating temperatures and weird, late-April snow to The Great Flood – but in the next couple days all the happy greens and potatoes should be in the ground, the peas, radishes, spinach, beets and turnips should be a billion times bigger than they were two days ago, and June 1 will be that much closer.

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Some purple passion asparagus popped up yesterday!

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Baby breakfast radishes :)

Mizuna

Our friends Mizuna

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Big tomato country!

Darling dearest wife Olivia came up on her birthday to spend the day potting up tomatoes, peppers and eggplants and planting onions in the field. Momma Wags helped put in onions, scallions and onion sets, and Strider helped with the row cover on the first mesclun planting. Grow, babies, grow.

Liv workin

onion sets

Don’t worry – even if we get the cultivator working for potatoes and greens, we’ll still have some crooked rows of things. But they are less crooked with the Valley Oak Wheel Hoe!

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My dog is better than your employees.

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Stuttgarter and Red Baron sets – for tasty spring onions.

Certain tasks are easier than last year. We got ourselves a Valley Oak Wheel Hoe from Green Heron Tools with a furrowing attachment to make arguably less crooked rows when we do one row of things at a time. Allegedly the cultivator will be up and running for rows of greens and things, but I don’t want to get too excited until it happens.

In the meantime, this guy is great!

In the meantime, this guy is great!

And the hops are happy and alive and growing. As we gear up to bottle a ginger beer this weekend (which I am beyond excited about – Steve has a killer recipe), I can’t help but be stoked to use these guys in the future.

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Hops are hoppy and happy.

My dear compadre and exquisite carpenter friend Justin has been coming up to the property after a full day of work to build me a walk-in fridge. I love guys who can build things, especially when they are friends and like smaller projects. Tomorrow my air conditioner arrives, and once this puppy is insulated and dry-walled, I won’t be quite as crazy about running around hours before market trying to pick last minute mountains of peas and beans and bunches of greens. The Coolbot will allow these veggies to stay happy and fresh despite the summer heat.

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Justin climbs around in the dark being awesome.

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Strider admires Justin’s skills.

On a bittersweet note, Thursday marked my last day official day at the dairy until the cold weather comes around again. I just couldn’t maintain last year’s crazy schedule with another Philly market in play. I am excited to get on the field full time, but I’m really sad to be leaving the hilarious and sweet friends/new family who have helped me grow so much and put up with me for over a year now.

And, of course, I’m going to miss the cows and other assorted farm creatures.

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These punks don’t even care that I’m leaving.

dairy candy

This dairy family even gives me Easter cows. Cows! Good thing they’re stuck with me for life now.

totoro kittens

Goodbye, Totoro kitten!

brown swiss baby

I will especially miss my clan of baby Brown Swiss. Now who will slobber up my ears and hair and hands every day?

So now we’ll be getting down to business – Cue the Mulan!

If at any point next week you are feeling bored or sad or don’t want to be inside, you just let me know. I’ll make a frittata and some tea and put on whatever music makes you happy (because plants like all kinds of music – at least my plants, anyway) and you can come plant or move fencing or seed lettuces or play with the dog. See you there?

See You, Field Cowboys…

dairy and oakley

Photo by Miss Dairy Boss Lady Andrea S-L.

Cue the AC/DC – We’re Back!

You see that down there?

HooooRAYYY!

HOOOORAYYY!

That’s some baby garlic coming up in the field. Yeah, I’m excited. And for those of you who’ve had the Keith Stewart Rocambole, I’m sure you are, too.

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Hello, Starshine. We are so glad you could join us.

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Copyright Sarah Merusi

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Friend Sarah’s crazy fish lens captures the the mom/daughter planting excitement

The spinach is up. So is the kale, lettuce, beets, salad greens, assorted herbs and a plethora of other baby veg. The peppers are almost all up at this point, and every day my mom walks into the greenhouse and speaks softly and sweetly to the eggplants and tomatoes, coaxing them with promises of fun and parties if they hurry up and germinate (which I think Pennywise the Clown did too, right?)

tomato box

Tomato Kingdom

tomato country

And we seeded like 35 types of tomatoes, by the way.

In the field, the sorrel is chugging along, the perennial herbs are making their small and sturdy resurgence and the peas, radishes, beets and spinach I sowed last week should be up soon. Sometimes I find myself standing on the edge of the field wanting to seed and sun dance for them like the sisters in My Neighbor Totoro…but our field is just too close to the road. Too many people slow down to look at what weird things we are doing in the field on a day-to-day without drawing extra attention to ourselves.

And the garlic is up. THE GARLIC IS UP. Did I mention that? You can’t see this but I have paused in my writing to hug myself in excitement.

Two weeks back I took myself on a last grand adventure for the season. I headed out to Pittsburgh – one of my favorite drives and one of my favorite cities – to visit some dear friends, see Neutral Milk Hotel be great and spend hours in the Phipps Conservatory, a huge beautiful greenhouse building full of the most beautiful and exotic plants I’ve ever seen. It was a great way to kickoff a farm bound season in the beautiful LV.

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It’s a banana tree! In the middle of Pittsburgh!

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Oh look, a room full of airplants!

Not that there aren’t things to do in the beautiful Lehigh Valley. My friend Steve and I are slowly working our way through those delightful cases of our  Belgian tripel – and it was really satisfying to take a couple down to Philly and have the boys be surprised at how great it tasted (I am an okay baker, but the Keith boys know I am renowned for big ideas and bad delivery when it comes to cooking – see the twig debacles of 2012). The other day we transferred our maple coffee porter into glass for a couple weeks and added some bacon infused vodka – soooo we’ll see how that goes. But I’m excited nonetheless. I spent part of yesterday reading about herb-infused beers, and I can’t wait to give those a whirl this summer.

And this past weekend I had the pleasure of a lovely dinner with My Grandmother’s Table, a friend’s catering and dining experience company out of Allentown. A bag of sorrel for the dinner got me two seats at her small-party table at Ruby’s Floral Factory in Bethlehem for a night of food and fun that owner Dina Valentini Wanamaker modeled after her childhood Easter Table. I had a blast, made some new friends and she turned my bag of baby sorrel into a fantastic salad with Bulgarian Feta, watercress and garlic vinaigrette.

sorrel

The first field greens of the season. Makes my heart sing.

Add another five courses of pork marsala, chicken roulade with sage and mozz, and homemade raviolis, and you can imagine the evening we had. We’re working on a vegetarian festival meal for September, so stay tuned. We’re talking apps, herb-infused drinks and some amazing vegetable entrees, so get stoked.

sorrel and feta salad

Sorrel and feta salad. Yummm.

It’s been a season with a lot of potential already. It makes me nervous, but I can’t help but feel lucky and excited, too. My cousin got a small cafe in Coopersburg to give me a call about buying vegetables this season. The sous chef at Curious Goods at the Bake Oven Inn reached out a couple days ago on Facebook. My boys have their folks at the Alehouse interested in some after-market vegetables. Tonight The Support Center for Child Advocates is auctioning off a CSA half share for an amazing cause at its Annual Benefit. The guys at Philly Foodworks and I haven’t met in person yet, but we talk frequently and are thrilled to be working together this year.

And for the biggest announcement – The Food Trust has given me a Wednesday Market in the La Salle-ish neighborhood in Philly. I’ll be over at the intersection of Mt. Pleasant and Chew on the Germantown/Mt. Airy border! I can’t wait. After a year of playing the scrappy huckster, I feel almost shell-shocked that folks have reached out to me to learn more and get involved in procuring some vegetables. Coupled with the Farm to City East Falls market, I am looking forward to a full and busy season in the city.

Which, of course, means wayyyy more vegetables need to be up and growing than last year. It’s a little overwhelming to think about, especially with all the weather delays this season, but my dairy boss reminds me regularly that everyone is in the same boat and that you can’t control these things. Which makes me feel better most of the time, aha.

field field work

It can be scary to go out there and seed three or four times as much of a crop than I did last year, but I know it’s well worth it. Folks were so happy with what we had to offer last year, and with a little more experience hopefully there will be more of all the favorites. This is still a big experiment year – I am trying lots of different varieties of each vegetable to discern what works best in my soil and this area – but I hope all this research and studying pays off. People see my hauling this backpack of magazines and books around and ask me if I’m still a student – and while I know what they mean and assert that I’m not, I really am.

class

In other Farmstead news, my folks are more than halfway moved up to the new home. Glenn has dreams of an orchard like the one on his childhood farm, so we ordered a pile of fruit trees from our Willow Haven Farm neighbors and got them in the ground last week. I spent a couple minutes making a cute and readable map for my parents to keep track of these guys, since they technically aren’t part of Crooked Row Farm (until I start stealing fruit in a few years, maybe).

Farmstead Tree Map

Right now they look much less exciting than the photo image

Right now they look much less exciting than the photo image

We’re doing a lot of mulching and they are doing a lot of painting and sanding and cleaning to get the current house in order to sell. Hope these new buyers enjoy all the secret tomatoes that are sure to pop up all around the landscaping by summer.

Glenn is also trying out a new toy – a Bobcat, which is really a glorified golf cart with shocks that drives faster. Matthew came up to seed tomatoes and make me some herb shelves the other day, and we spent a fair bit of time whipping around on this puppy. Old man Strider dog also enjoys a good ride in it.

matthew herb shelf

So excited he made some market shelves!

bobcat

Matthew is excited.

And so our journey continues. I just spent the morning seeding a bunch of herbs, and now I’m off to help landscape for the house sale. Here are some plant babies in almost-real time:

Mizuna

Mizuna! Non nom nom.

Cotelydons

Itty bitties.

Baby RR

Red Russian Kallllleee!

Mesclun Round 1

Mesclun – coming to a salad bowl near you.

All the best!

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