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?)

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Tomato Kingdom

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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So excited he made some market shelves!

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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:

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Mizuna! Non nom nom.

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Itty bitties.

Baby RR

Red Russian Kallllleee!

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Mesclun – coming to a salad bowl near you.

All the best!

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We like to pretend it’s spring here.

Spring has been here for six days already – not that you can tell from all this terrible, cold, dreary weather.

It’s certainly holding up some fairly important tasks – prepping the fields, direct seeding some peas and other crops, etc. It’s just too wet. But soon enough we’ll be rocking and rolling. As my dairy boss regularly reminds me, there’s no point in being upset about the weather.

In the meantime, there are plenty of other tasks to attend to. You’ve seen the new marketing – things like that are perfect on bleak days.

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I’ve been field planning, attending pre-season market meetings, cleaning, packing, unpacking and watching the babies grow.

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The day the first onions germinated – a few weeks ago now – I stood in the greenhouse and did a seriously happy dance.

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Red Russian Kale Babies!

My friends and family are networking me with restaurants and food hubs looking for local food. I’m working on picking up another Philly market – on a weekday! A little cold weather can’t cramp my style too much.

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The greenhouse is toasty enough to feel like the appropriate season for growing. Special Thanks to Teena from Red Cat Farm for the adopted rhubarb and parsley babies. Huzzah!

Nom nom nom. Spinach.

Nom nom nom. Spinach.

 They’re growing a lot slower than they have been. But, hey – they’re growing. And thankfully, I have a spectacular team that likes to proactively seek out tasks at the farm – like seed dozens of trays for hours at a shot.

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Mom Wags and Aunt Susie, killin’ it in the greenhouse.

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Welcome to the jungle.

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Susie placates our needy sidekick.

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Exhausted from a day of greenhouse guarding. Those plants sure do need a lot of protecting.

I’ve had some time to catch up with friends before falling off the grid in another month or so. Steve and I bottled our beer and man, is it delicious. Things like “Belgian tripel” didn’t mean anything to me a couple months ago – I knew I liked IPAs and that was that. But that seems to be changing. On Tuesday we picked up the ingredients for a coffee porter and saw the new Muppet movie. Before 6pm! Success!

And with a pile of organic hops ready to be planted from The Thyme Garden, it looks like we’ll have a fun and thrilling saga ahead of us with that project.

Happy times, hoppy times

Happy times, hoppy times.

My dear friend Sarah can up from Philly for some Lehigh Valley adventures. Armed with a camera and her charming attitude, we drank, we frolicked, we watched Dirty Dancing: Havanah Nights. Sarah is one of the coolest and most collected humans I know, and I’m so grateful and happy to have her in my world.

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Sarah photographs the seedlings – can’t wait to see the pictures.

No, I didn't strategically place this thyme in such a way that you could see the sweet pedicures we went and got. Oh, wait.

No, I didn’t strategically place this thyme in such a way that you could see the sweet pedicures we went and got. Oh, wait.

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We meander through the field on one of the warmer days.

Sarah lounges in a tree at the dairy with her sleepy new friend, Memphis.

Sarah and Memphis the dog lounge while I finish up my dairy chores.

I even had a brief chance to catch up with Stef out in Fleetwood as she preps her spaces for a season of cheese-making. She is setting up shop in a space with amazing potential, and she’s a workin’ girl who has her game plan in place. Listening to her map out where her pasteurizer and her other equipment will be and her plans for this season and in the long-term future is thrilling.

Stef visualizes her cheese room space with Angie from Oley Valley Mushrooms.

Stef visualizes her cheese room space with Angie from Oley Valley Mushrooms.

Beautiful Stef on a swing at the amazing property she'll be making her cheese at.

Beautiful Stef on a swing at the amazing property she’ll be making her cheese at.

I’m about to embark on my last adventure before I’m settled in for the season – my darlingface Elizabeth Adler, freshman year roommate and concert adventurer, got us tickets for Neutral Milk Hotel‘s tour. And I do love me some adventures to Pittsburgh. Hopefully I can catch  up with some other lovelies in the neck of the woods as well.

And even though the weather has been questionable, the plants are ready. I was wandering around the edge of the field the other day, trying to figure out how and where to push back the woods, and I found my thyme, sage and sorrel. It was all mulched naturally with fall leaf cover and survived the winter with next to no help on my end. What an awesome discovery. It’s little catches like this that make all this learning and trial and error so much more exciting.

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Good morning, starshine. The sorrel says hello!

Thyme! How I missed you.

Thyme! How I’ve missed you.

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We’re ready.

I still get to see my cows fairly often, and the lovely folks at the dairy – though I know that time is winding down until the fall. And a couple weeks back I had another round of farm-sitting – hand-milking the cow, drinking milk for every meal, minding the chickens, making cheese with my dear friend Lauren annnnnd checking in on the baby Jacob Sheep!

Lambs are new to me. Thankfully, only one needed real assistance – the lamb Rivel was having trouble nursing so the farmer’s in-laws and I began a bottle-feeding routine. If you know me, you know I like itty bitties, so hanging out with the lamb (and making sure he got fed every three to four hours, and taking it with me on my day-to-day adventures).

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The thing about Jacob Sheep? They are awesome looking. This is Rivel at half a day old.

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Lamb lap!

And it didn’t hurt that Strider liked him, too.

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After an initial ear-cleaning, Strider decided he wanted to keep him.

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Strider: “What a strange dog.”

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I can tell that we are gonna be friends.

Willow Haven Farm‘s market will have an adorable addition this year with their tame little Rivel – come out and meet him if you have the chance!

If you haven’t signed up for the CSA but are thinking about it, please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. I’ve gotten some calls from folks who don’t know me personally – I understand the skepticism of sending a check out into the void if you don’t know the person you are sending it to – and I’m happy to meet up, talk about the farm or give you a tour at any point. Just drop me a line or give me a call.

Sun Dances, Beet Seedlings and Maybe a Market in Germantown(!?),

Liz

Farmer Liz out.

Farmer Liz out.

Rebuilding, Replanting, Reliving.

On Wednesday morning I rolled into the greenhouse at 7am and started to seed some herbs while I waited for my soul twin and partner in crime, one Matthew LaVergne, to arrive from Philadelphia for a day of major seeding projects.

The greenhouse was already warm enough for T-shirt attire. I could hear the woodpeckers in the woods all around. And for the first time since this frigid winter began, I could see the end. And for the first time since packing in Season 2013, I felt like I was home.

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Home sweet home

Two weeks ago my crew of beloved friends and neighbors assembled to help me finally get the greenhouse up at the new place. Stefanie Angstadt, seasoned Eckerton Hill vet and fledgling area cheesemaker (and, let’s be honest, my first farmer crush of 2012) arrived to help put in the center pole and side boards. And she brought coffee, because my friends are the sort of folks who bring breakfast when they come to do favors. I am a blessed human.

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I, on the other hand, am a terrible friend and failed to take a good action shot of dear Stef. But here she is in all her glory.

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Stef documents my successful use of power tools.

The next day my carpenter/substitute/pirate/beer-brewer childhood affiliate Steve rode up to help post up the end walls and make fun of my poor carpentry skills (which, hey, we blamed on the other guy who helped, because we could). After some sketchy work with a hand saw, we got everything where it needed to be. And then we brewed some beer.

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Not only is Steve great at putting up walls and brewing a tasty beer, but he is currently wearing a shirt with an anchor on it and sporting Badfeather, his bird, on his shoulder. At one point as we transferred our beer to the glass container to further ferment, he looked down at himself and said, “Hey, I’m dressed as a pirate!”

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No, this is not the correct order of things in terms of beer making. But my blog, my streamlined memoir. The point is, there is beer. Good beer. And it will be bottled soon, so if you want a happy homebrew, don’t sass me about logistics.

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Notice a pattern here? Next come’s the plastic. The following day Matthew slept in…but thankfully Teena Bailey, local farm-woman extraordinaire and mentor, did not. And as she ran off to collect our neighbor Reuben of Willow Haven Farm for some extra hands and an actually-functioning staple gun, my dear friend and Health Habits co-worker Gina Medvedz arrived with her adorable self to pitch in. Matthew did arrive in time, and the greenhouse finally became a greenhouse.

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Having four of my favorite people in such close proximity created this massive force of good energy across the fields. They were like superheroes.

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Gina, Teena (inside) and Matthew shore up the sides while I clearly do no work and just take pictures.

Teena and Reuben are pivotal folks in the area when it comes to small-scale, low-budget, sustainable vegetable farming. The two of them use composting manure bunkers for passive solar heat to start their seeds and keep their greenhouse warm,  and after some coaching from them, I decided to follow suit. Thus began a several day operation of leaving the dairy after work and picking up truckloads of cinder blocks, building four-foot walls inside the greenhouse for the manure bunker with said blocks, returning to the dairy for work and to collect truckloads of manure, and then up to unload the manure.

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One of the perks of working at a dairy (and having kind and generous bosses), by the way, is free manure. Thank you Excelsior Farm, for once again being awesome.

Repeat this a couple of times, with literally about three tons of manure and 120-some cinder blocks, and you get a bunker.

A bunker that is toasty warm for the onions nestled on it. A bunker that, though a bit smelly at the moment, will continue to heat and break down and become really lovely compost in time. A bunker that provides more room and heat than the manufactured grow cables or heat mats. And all I need is a pitchfork and a shovel to change its size and shape to suit my needs throughout the season.

SCIENCE.

So, there’s a greenhouse. And a bunker. Now it needs to be filled!

Grandma Wagner is always up for a trip to visit our Mennonite friends and supply vendors out in Berks County. We saddled up on a Friday morning and drove out to Meadow View Farm in Fleetwood to pick up a big order of potting mix, tomato stakes and ground cover.

We took Glenn’s truck because it’s cozier, and because his 80-year-old, 4’8″ mother is too short to get into my truck easily. It led to a morning of her shouting things like “Let’s burn rubber, kid!” and me repeatedly shouting back, “Yeah! Not my truck!” Because we are adults.

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Grandma chummed it up with Jay, the nice boy who pulls our orders, and then we dumped everything off at the farm and went for one last truckload of manure. While I stacked blocks of potting mix, Grandma Wagner tried her hand as a graffiti artist and spray painted some water barrels that we then filled in the greenhouse for extra heat retention.

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After a quick call in to my aunt, we reconvened at the house and loaded up my dad’s truck with the greenhouse tables and seeding trays and flats and other greenhouse supplies that had been lingering (much to Glenn’s chagrin) in the garage. We tied it all down and caravaned back to the greenhouse to unpack and settle in. My mom returned the next day to help finish the job, and all of a sudden we had a fully furnished greenhouse.

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With my crew of retired and semi-retired bored women, and a handful of crust punks, we will rule Pennsylvania.

In the midst of all these other things, some other work got done as well. I made business cards; I took a shank off the cultivator and drug it around with me to tractor supply stores and Internet searches until I procured the missing parts I needed for a full set; I finished Season III of Game of Thrones and didn’t cry all that much; I had a Tony Luke’s breakfast sandwich with broccoli rabe in it and missed South Philly. We’re chalking all these up as wins.

I’m talking to a food hub in Philly about selling them lots of greens for their CSA shares. I keep failing to rendezvous with my awesome extension agent to catch up and talk about building my cold storage unit. PASA posted my blog post about the conference on their pages – which was a totally amazing experience when a new friend mentioned how much she liked what she saw on the PASA Facebook Page. Next week I have a phone call with the membership coordinator of the National Young Farmer’s Coalition to discuss opportunities in this area.

What do you do at one in the morning? I replace sweeps.

What do you do at one in the morning? I replace sweeps.

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And so Matthew arrived, ice coffees in hand (see my earlier note about awesome friends), and we cranked out a full day of seeding. He kept seeding when I left him for two hours, and when I returned he had installed a doorknob and organized the space. And added a root vegetable to my 2014 wall (by the way, friends and neighbors mentioned in this post today – you all need to come back and sign the wall).

And that’s the thing. Mom Wagner and I got it done last year, and successfully, but I didn’t realize how lonely and exhausted and overwhelmed I felt so often until these folks were in my life asking what they could do to help. It is awesome to have this kind of community, and it is one that got built in the midst of the insanity of last year.

Working the dairy has taught me all sorts of things about farming in this area and animal care. I’m so much stronger now, and Andy and her family have been nothing but kind and generous with their time and aid. Jerry, the herd manager, is constantly bringing out newspaper articles about small farms and farm-to-table operations. The store gave me my first local following and my cohorts there love to promote the farm, and now even my parents’ chiropractor has joined the CSA.

My parents have tolerated a myriad of things parents shouldn’t need to deal with once their kids move out the first time. They’ve allowed me to stay here and work as much and often as possible to accrue some more business funds. Mom Wagner feeds me and helps fill in the watering, heating and covering gaps in our once again crazy schedule. My college friends, my runner friends, my office friends and now my sister’s college friends are ready for me to be back in Philly, and local caterer Dina at My Grandmother’s Table is the first person asking for spring greens.

Things are going to be crazy again for awhile. I wake up and drive to New Tripoli to uncover the trays. In the middle of the day, sometimes between jobs, they need to be watered. At night, also sometime between jobs, they need to be covered again. There is so much seeding to be done. Once I’m working outside I will be leaving the dairy (or at least incredibly cutting back my time there, because I may miss my new friends and the cows to much to really leave). With the help of Derek, Matthew and some other Philly friends, I am trying to pick up another Philly market.

There’s a lot of good people in my corner. And I’m not the scared, sad, indecisive girl of 2013. There is always the nervous feeling before the plunge, but there is too much excitement overriding everything else.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for reading, and for listening, and for sharing this adventure.

-Farmer Liz

Get ready. We are.

Get ready. We are.

Small Farm Paradise: The 2014 PASA Conference

I’ve had a couple conference experiences – a small business conference and then a journalism conference, full of museum tours, guest speakers, bus trips and a round table chat with Al Neuharth. Then there was the month-long and much beloved PA Governor’s School for the Arts, may it rest in peace and awesomeness forever. In college there were service trips weeks and city events, and a lot of extracurricular nights that replaced the conference experience.

All of these shaped me in some way, and helped me expand my passions at all of these times. I met a bunch of like-minded strangers, and that was always the most exciting part of everything for me – the new friends, the feeling of togetherness united by writing, the world, being a teenager and all that good-vibe stuff.

Last week I headed out to the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture Conference, which was my first conference experience as an (arguable, I know) adult. I had yet to attend a formalized farmer event – Farm Hack in Ithaca was awesome in 2012, but I was still head-over-heels infatuated with farming and didn’t take a lot of practicality and logistics planning into that weekend. Now I was attending two days of small farm workshops with hundreds (thousands?) of other folks from my state and the surrounding area to learn how to streamline my practices, expand my growing opportunities, see what other folks were doing to maintain good yields and soil health, and get super jazzed for this season. I packed a pile of notebooks, some snacks and clean clothes, hopped into Glenn’s Silverado – another awesome caveat to the weekend – and headed out to Penn State.

Look! I got a name tag with the name of the farm - like a legitimate person!

Look! I got a name tag with the name of the farm – like a legitimate person!

Thankfully, I had some seasoned friends in attendance who knew what to expect. Teena Bailey, our area pioneer veggie and small grains farmer, has a lot of experience with this conference and secured us a sweet hotel room at The Penn Stater, the hotel attached to the conference center. Along with our friend Theresa, we visited a couple workshops together, wandered the vendors and picked up growing literature from another available kiosk, attended two mornings of TriYoga and reconvened for lunch and at night to rehash our experiences. Theresa and I kept our eyes peeled for herb workshops and cute, single men (I had a very proactive and supportive fishing team that weekend, providing entertainment and some comic relief after hours of brain overload from the workshops). The ladies had come a day before me for the all-day intensive tracks in grains growing (Teena) and biodynamic farming (Theresa).

But I was here on a mission: to soak up the knowledge of the experience folks around me and hopefully retain some of it to use on my own fields this springs. And judging by the notes I took over the course of the two days, I’d say that was a huge success.

It will take me days to sort through all this info - good thing it's about to snow forever again, right? Now I'll HAVE to do it.

It will take me days to sort through all this info – good thing it’s about to snow forever again, right? Now I’ll HAVE to do it.

I took two commercial herb workshops with Beth Lambert, the CEO of Herbalist & Alchemist. H&A has been a quality herbal company for over 30 years, and we carry a lot of their products at the health food store. Beth discussed adding yourself to the herbal supply chain, the legalities and quality issues herb buyers expect from their producers and, in the advanced class Saturday, some of the specific needs of her company in terms of herbs and quantities. Though I don’t see myself in a position to expand to commercial herbs this year, Beth recommended trialing herbs for some time to be able to provide an estimate yield when in talks for contracts with buyers, and that is what I will be doing in part of my fields this season. And her business partner David Winston teaches herbalism classes, so we’ll see if there’s a world where I can squeeze something like that into my life. I’d love to.

Eric Burkhart, the Program Director of Plant Science at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center in Penn State, offered a workshop called “Good from the Woods,” about foraging and wild crafted products. Beth touched on this in terms of some desirable but difficult to find products – Indian Pipe, etc. – and Eric discussed the specifics of finding, selling and sustainably harvesting ramps and morels from your woodland areas. I have always been vaguely intrigued by consuming and using foraged goods, but I’ve also always been way too terrified to try it because I didn’t want to accidentally poison myself and my family. But if you check out the notes section from this workshop and do a bit of outside research (specifically some photos of these things), you too can feel a little more confident when you dive into the trees to look for seasonal mushrooms and wild leeks. Yum.

Mac Mead of the Pfeiffer Center and Jeff Poppen held a number of workshops on biodynamic farming – and at some point I’ll write an enormous post about these farming methods, because it’s a little much to explain in the midst of other things. I went to two of these – in a poor summation of this practice, biodynamic farming is a “method of organic farming originally developed by Rudolf Steiner that employs what proponents describe as ‘a holistic understanding of agricultural processes’” – thanks, Wikipedia! To expand, these practices focus on microbial soil diversity through some semi-ritualistic compost and manure practices to enhance plant growth, germination rates and stimulate field health. These farmers plant and seed in tandem with lunar and astronomical patterns and, though some of these farmers seem steeped in mysticism, most have come to pick up these practices because they’ve seen major results in their fields. Hard to argue with that, right? There are some composting practices I’d like to explore, but these practices need more study on my end and will be on the back burner until the next off season.

The keynote speakers throughout the weekend were sharp, informative and personable. Tom, of conference sponsor Lady Moon Farms, talked about his dive into farming after “meandering for eight years after college,” – hey, Mom, I only did that for two! He talked about farmers as optimists and how he “always felt a certain privilege to be making my living off the land in the 20th century.” The PASA board member who spoke touched on the joining of PASA and CASA (the ‘C’ being for Chesapeake), to join watersheds, food sources and other resources, and reminded us how grateful we should all be for having the opportunities for small and earth-friendly farms. After a visit to Thailand, she experienced a world of chemical farming with little alternatives.

PASA President Brian Snyder stressed the fact that “separate but equal” will not work for much longer in the world of sustainable and conventional farming. In a world where 24D-ready crops are about to be approved for the market, herbicide drift for up to a mile has been found to decimate tomato and other vegetable crops. The industry has suggested that small farmers need to take out crop insurance in case of such destruction – but why is that okay? But he stressed the need to open the lines of communication between farmers across the spectrum – we need to learn to get along and live together, and to not act with hostility because some farmers follow the “industry guidelines and recommendations.” Manufacturer interests “would rather let nature die than let it lead us to a better tomorrow,” and that cannot be allowed to happen.

Keynote speaker Daphne Miller, MD., made me want to beg her to be my primary physician. She was so cool and such an open, enthusiastic spirit. Miller has written articles and books about all sorts of doctoral things, but Farmacology: What Innovative Family Farming Can Teach Us About Health and Healing is her journey into the health and wellness of farmers and their goods for the world. She founded WholefamilyMD, which is a primary care practice across an entire person’s lifespan. She spent a slew of time working on small farms and believes that sustainable farmers can teach her how to be a better doctor. In her presentation, she discussed the farm as vitamin, immune support, community support and a model for stress management. Microbial activity and diversity in farm kids is off the chart compared to others; urban gardens and farms cut down on crime in parks; in her experience, lack of biodiversity in nature and in our bodies leads to increased allergies, diseases and lack of immunity. Happy animals, happy people, kids playing in the dirt. This is the key to societal health. If you have a moment, you should check her out. She’s got amazing insights.

Vendors lined the halls with lady-friendly tools from Green Heron Tools, a couple of hometown heroes from the area who sell and promote lighter, shorter and more easily-usable tools for us. Folks promoted  milking products, BCS tillers and tools, seeds and fertilizers and agriculture advocacy groups. On Friday night we trekked back downstairs (and, for some, with wine in hand) to watch Symphonies of the Soil or one of the other movies being shown throughout the center.

And then, in the books section of the the PASA shop, I found Keith's book! And then I picked it up and did a little happy dance in the aisles with it.

And then, in the books section of the the PASA shop, I found Keith’s book! And then I picked it up and did a little happy dance in the aisles with it.

And then I got to do something I haven’t done in awhile. I met up with an acquaintance from an extension class and we headed into downtown Penn State to rendezvous with a couple of folks from New Morning Farm.  Young people talking about farms over beers. A new friend offered some scientific explanations for biodynamics and, despite the mental fatigue of information overload, I felt myself getting so very excited for spring.

Thank you, ZBar, for an awesome evening.

Thank you, ZBar, for an awesome evening.

My friend, neighbor and fellow farmer Reuben of Willow Haven Farm popped up every now and again, also excited and mentally exhausted by the end of the conference. My dear friend Stef, previously of Eckerton Hill and now a fledgling cheese maker, attended every cheese and microbial rind class she could get her hands on. Even my friends/bosses/partners from Farm to City were in attendance, checking out workshops concerning GAPs training information and SNAP opportunities at farm markets.

An excellent weekend. An informative couple of days before the snow trapped us in. An exercise in excitement. A stellar conference. Thanks, PASA, for being incredible.

What Do You Do In The Off Season?

Jesus. It’s almost February.

There’s a billion things to do soon enough – but it’s just so hard to think about with all this snow all around. I sleep in my knee-high Carhartt socks and wake up after a major fight with the snooze on my phone to milk cows orrrrr rally to do things like run, sleep more, harass the dog, or try to write this blog post.

Sometimes I can feel like a slug, though I know won’t last for much longer. And it’s not like I’m being totally useless – this week was an over 40 hour work week. But that’s not every week, and it’s at strange hours that give me big gaps of downtime in the middle of the day for…well, slugging around.

But it’s also a time for adventure. California, as I mentioned previously, was great.

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And everyone seems to traveling around. Keith’s Farm alums Jay and Laura of Peace and Carrots Farm (newly-minted in 2013!) have enjoyed their fair share of adventures, too. Jay is just back from a trip down South for some warmth, and is hoping to head back down again before the season starts. Laura has been out West and all around.

All the Keith’s folks have been keeping busy. Matt and Shannon moved down to North Carolina and into a sweet pad with a couple tillable acres.

Homesteadin' USA

Homesteadin’ USA

They just picked up their hoop house from Virginia and are looking for some outlets for their upcoming vegetable operation.

Once they put this back together, they'll be rocking and rolling in the NC

Once they put this back together, they’ll be rocking and rolling in the NC!

And…my boys. Derek and Matthew, of the Keith’s farm 2012 crew, are in Philly. Derek just got a job at a beloved bar in Gray’s Ferry, and Matthew is delivering cookies (which is an actual job – God Bless Philly). Allie is here now, too, and is keeping them in line and being awesome. I have already spent more time on their futons and fighting for Matthew’s blankets than I spent with anyone from June-October 2013.

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Matthew is a goof and has learned a Mountain Goats cover. Best soul twin.

And friend time. So much friend time. All of the friend time.

After a summer of exhaustion and isolation, I get to vagabond around Philadelphia with my favorite people. Olivia and I made breakfast for dinner and watched X-Men last weekend…twice! And then we slept in and make pancakes for breakfast. My friend Steve has instituted Archer Mondays, which is fantastic, and I a, painstakingly moving through Season II of The Wire with Mario (“How do you only watch one episode at a time?” Steve asked, and the answer is with all the willpower I can muster, or I’d sit on that couch next to the fire until Omar was robbing Marlo). It feels surreal to have time for TV again. My friend Stef invited us out to a Cheese Ball Fundraiser for Birchrun Hills Farm, and I took my boys down to meet my old college friends at a Science Club show.

And working has been a great distraction from this depressing weather. I’m learning more and more about dairy processes and cows and the history and culture of dairy in this area. I get to hang out with Andy, who is really cool. I’m learning more about herbs and alternative health at the other job. I get to hang out with Ed, who is hilarious and my other dad (he stares down guys who linger in the store to talk to me). My friend Gina is providing me with strengthening, positive guidance and a healthy dose of gal time. I’m finally, finally starting to take yoga classes again with Sharon Schnyder, who has been my favorite instructor since 2005.

And the farmer time has been absolutely vital. I had coffee with Teena Bailey of Red Cat Farm, and I’m looking forward to the PASA conference almost as much as my incoming UPS shipment of seeds from Fedco! I’m trying to get all my ducks in a row for this season, and having such invigorating, positive and knowledgeable folks around makes it so much more comforting and exciting. My awesone extension agent has some social farmer things on the horizon, and is going to help me with walk-in/washing station upgrades.

Oh, and the cooking. Now that I don’t have many vegetables left, I have time to cook (of course). But I get to eat Excelsior Farm eggs on the regular (that’s the dairy’s name, by the way, because they are awesome), my neighbor has been giving me some fresh milk from his Ayrshire, I still have a couple bags of Teena’s amazing flour in the fridge, and I do have some storage crops lingering on. There have been lots of egg and kale fritattas, vegetables soups and stews, and yesterday I strapped on the old baking apron and baked some Better-Than-Pumpkin Butternut Squash Pies with the handful of winter squash that didn’t get eaten by bugs. Big hit.

This pie was made from Crooked Row butternut squash, Excelsior farm eggs, Willow Haven Farm's donated milk, Red Cat Farm's local heritage grain flour, and spices from Health Habits, where I work. My farm friends are the best, no?

This pie was made from Crooked Row butternut squash, Excelsior farm eggs, Willow Haven Farm’s donated milk, Red Cat Farm’s local heritage grain flour, and spices from Health Habits, where I work. My farm friends are the best, no?

This has inspired me to get ahead of the game on produce recipes, too. I’m going to make a new tab on this blog to catalog some of the more successful recipes, including some that were passed around by my CSA members last year. Just thinking about them is making my mouth water.

And so I leave you with another shot of an adorable, hungry calf. And all the warmest wishes to get you through this snowy winter. We can do it! And to all you farm folks, enjoy the respite for as long as you can. I know I am.

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Shivers, Carrots and Tea with Local Honey,
Farmer Liz

Plants, Plans and Promises – 2014, The Best Year Ever

Let me preface all this by an apology and an explanation – I wrote the first half of this in October annnnnnnd failed to post it. So to expand on our last catch-up post, and give you a look at the now, here we go:

And so came and went the last market of the season. And what a long and crazy ride it was.

So, we’re a couple months behind in all this. Last you heard there was another market and a field full of weeds that we cultivated way more lucratively than the vegetables. Never fear. I sprained my ankle –thankfully the day after the last market – so I had plenty of time to catch up on some of this writing.

After a couple hard days and some help from my dear friend Steve and his trusty John Deere, we took down the problem portions of the field, cured the onions and planted the fall crops. This was all like back in August, which came and went like a whirlwind. One day it was all ragweed and despair, the next the potatoes were all dug, the later broccoli was in and we were panting in the comfort of Katie’s, noshing on burgers and shakes.

And it couldn’t have come at a better time. I picked up a Tuesday afternoon market in the Borough of Northampton and had a lovely time for a few months there. I met some hilarious potato and sweet corn folks at Twin Maples Farm, Mark the kettle corn guy, Tom the Kiffle man, Kelly at Covered Bridge and the meat and eggs couple (who loved my heirlooms) at Sah-lee. It was a challenging new market, as it seems first year markets tend to be, but there is definitely a bit of interest there. It was fun being the girl with the weird stuff – my hometown area is certainly one that wants red beefsteak tomatoes, big peppers and sweet corn, but there seems to be a market for my Hakurei turnips and ground cherries and things customers have to ask questions about. It’s neat to talk to curious people and get them out of their comfort zone, for sure.

And Victor, the borough guy who spearheaded the whole thing, is hoping for the chance to clean up the lot space we set up in and make it a cute little walk-around park for a market. I’m in. Let’s give this a shot.

At some point after I became the only vendor in the South Philly market, we jumped ship to East Falls and that market closed for the season. I was sad to leave South Philly and would love to make it back there some day, but the East Falls market welcomed us with open arms. It was a great crowd and I learned a lot about what I should be growing, and growing more of. There are some big and beautiful plans afoot for 2014.

As the season winded down my mom, aunt and I harvested the last of our available vegetables – carrots, kale, turnips, kohlrabi, broccoli and salad mix. Some went in to the freezer, and we’ve been whipping up some really amazing soups with our stashed produce. Yesterday I experimented with a Tomatillo and Squash Soup from Sunny Anderson, which I was pretty happy with.

Winter has been full of broccoli. Yummmm.

Winter has been full of broccoli. Yummmm.

After that, I got to go on an amazing adventure to visit my sister for a couple weeks in California. We camped in Joshua Tree National Park, hiked, absconded to San Diego, and I spent more times with my feet in the sand of state parks and beaches than the rest of my life combined. It was a beautiful place, with delicious food, a rejuvenating culture and an endless amount of adventures. I saw my favorite author read, hiked the Hollywood sign, and, most importantly, recovered from the season. I came home with Jess at Thanksgiving feeling refreshed and ready to do it all over again – but this time, bigger and better.

Joshue Tree, home of some of the coolest trees on the planet.

Joshue Tree, home of some of the coolest trees on the planet.

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One day I wandered Laguna Beach and pretended I was a neighbor. People had awesome mailboxes, like this one. Between this and the air plant store in Venice, I figured out how I would survive winter in PA.

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Hello, Pacific.

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Yeah, there was a lot of this. For hours and days.

AND NOW, TO THE PRESENT!

Winter has come. But that’s okay. The gigantic Fedco order is in. The 280-pound potato order from the Maine Potato Lady is in. The Johnny’s seed order is here and cataloged. We’re more than doubling our quantities this year, and before this winter got too cold we uprooted the greenhouse that lived next to my house this year and started to rebuild it up at the farm, now that we’ve got water and electricity up there. I’ve ordered dozens and dozens of perennial herbs on the first step toward herbal tea making. The food dehydrator is waiting to be utilized for dip and soup mixes.

Plans on plans are afoot in crop planning, and I’m looking forward to some inspiration at the upcoming PASA (Pennsylvania  Association for Sustainable Agriculture) Farming for the Future Conference next month. I was sick for a couple weeks and spent a lot of that time sleeping, sleeping, watching my get-well hyacinth grow, preparing to move the farm supplies to the field, and sleeping.

Because plants make me happier than pretty much anything ever, and my friends have learned this.

Because plants make me happier than pretty much anything ever, and my friends have learned this.

My childhood friend Scott took me to the Pennsylvania Farm Show on Friday, where I picked up some heirloom herbs, found a honey bee course to sign up for and watched a bunch of cows cowing around. Milkshakes, grilled cheese, mushrooms. Great times abounded.

Tractor Square Dance - only at the PA Farm Show

Tractor Square Dance – only at the PA Farm Show

Followed by a now regular visit to Philly to see Derek and Matthew, my former farm-mate extraordinaires, this weekend has been indicative of how awesome it is to have some down time. While I know that in a couple months I’ll have a half of year of no breaks, for now, we party on. And dream big dreams – Storefront Dreams. More on that in the next few months.

panda calf

Yeah, this is Panda Calf. One of the reasons I love my job.

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I mean, look at him!

I’m still working at the dairy. It’s fun. I like working with cows. And I love my employers, and not just because they tolerate my bit of insanity.

I’m still working at the Health Habits store, which I also love. I ordered an enormous box of air plants have been learning about them and making planters to sell at the store.

Air plants, or tillandsia, are members of the bromeliad family that don’t need dirt for roots. It absorbs its nutrients through the air, and you soak them in water a couple times a week and mist them to keep them alive. The lack of roots leads to some pretty simply but elegant methods of display.

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Tillandsia, or air plants, don’t need soil to live. You soak them in water and mist them to help them absorb their nutrients through the air.

I was enamored with the idea of these in Philly (though admittedly I did kill my first one), and this need to do something with them was reignited at a florist’s in Venice. The store looked more like an art gallery with all these plants in very basic and beautiful displays, and I knew I wanted to do it here.

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Air plants – lighting the candle in 2014

Studies show that caring for plants in a work or home setting improves your quality of life! You should get one. Or a few. For you and all your friends!

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How cool looking are these?! Seriously.

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Start your year off right – with an elegant, beautiful air plant for your home or office. Yeahhhhh, working on some signs like that, haha.

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Prettiest drink plant. Air plants bloom at intervals I still don’t quite understand, but they are beautiful.

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And last week I spent a few days farm-sitting for my neighbors while they took a much-needed vacation. Four days of feeding pigs, sheep, cats, chickens and cows – which including hand milking Nana, a beautiful and docile Ayrshire, twice a day – gave me another new perspective on small-scale family farms. And in some of the coldest days Pennsylvania has seen in years, it was a good reminder of how much work can be involved in this lifestyle – especially while schools are closed and folks are being urged to stay inside around you.

A nighttime phone photo can't do her justice - but Nana is a pretty cow.

A nighttime phone photo can’t do her justice – but Nana is a pretty cow.

Hand milking into a bucket, like a boss.

Hand milking into a bucket, like a boss.

 

The CSA forms exist on the tabs at the top of this webpage. If you have questions like, “Hey, what is a CSA?” I have that answer, too. If you are interested or have any questions, you can give me a ring or an e-mail at liz.m.wagner@gmail.com. And if you have a spot to hang an 8.5×11 poster about this in your office or coffee shop, I’ve got that, too. Let me know if you need copies of anything.

On a side note, I’m also revisiting one of major reasons I made this life switch in the first place. At the start of 2012 I stumbled across this in one of my mom’s magazines. I was feeling lousy, spending most of my time indoors and not taking care of myself. For whatever reason this particular dose of meal planning (coupled with Back on My Feet Philadelphia) really got me, and it helped drive this whole “Liz quits her job to go play in the dirt and grow vegetables” business in the first place. So, since 2014 is going to be the best year ever, and because I want to focus part of this year on really learning how to cook my produce and consume it in new ways that are fun and filling for both me and my CSA shareholders, I’m starting this again.

If you’re having trouble motivating yourself in the weather, or you’re not feeling great about your body or your head space, give this a whirl. At the very least you’ll experiment with some food in new ways. And hey, if you like it, maybe you’ll want some Crooked Row veggies from the CSA this year. Eh?

After the challenges and stress and excitement and everything of 2013, I’m looking forward to 2014 with open eyes and an open heart. This is going to be the best year ever. I can feel it looking at seed catalogs, filing paperwork, waking up in the morning. Thank you for coming along on the next chapter of the adventure.

Hugs, Breatharian Plants and CSA Shares,

Farmer Liz

Crooked Row, A Fall and Winter Recap: We Survived and Thrived!

I had a whole giant post about our adventures over the last few months, and it’s on my laptop, which has been in the shop for the last few weeks. What you need to know most is that we survived and conquered and are feeling great about the 2014 season.Image

Sooooooooooooo in case you were wondering what happened since July, here’s our recap!

  • We made a switch from the South Philly market to the East Falls Market, courtesy of Farm to City. It was the best move for us – we really thrived and gathered a home base for in this young market. The McCanns Farm and the crafters were awesome to work with.
  • We added a Tuesday market in the Borough of Northampton, near home. It was a first-time market but folks seemed really interested in what we had to offer. Grandma Wagner came with food and to hang out often, which was lovely. Fingers crossed we’ll be returning here, and maybe to another weekday market, in 2014.
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  • Our CSA folks seemed to be happy with their season! This was the biggest accomplishment of all. We’re hoping to expand the CSA shares this season. You can find information about the forthcoming CSA here, and see our agreement which you can print and mail in with your payment here.
  • Oh yes, we canned. We canned and canned and canned SO MANY TOMATOES. So if you need tomatoes for whatever, holler at me.
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  • In the last couple months of the farm work my aunt came on Fridays to help with the harvest for the Saturday market. Folks at the store I work at want potatoes – but we sold out! It was great to have such support. My friends continued to stop by and help and encourage, which was a much-needed and priceless boost.
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  • We’re hoping to pick up some new merch in the upcoming season. I got a food dehydrator for Christmas and ordering dozens of herbs so we’re hoping to put together some soup mixes, dip mixes, and tea as additional market items. Look out, world!
  • My mom and I feel great. She looks great and is happy and is ready to be outside again for next season. I’ve already ordered 280 pounds of potatoes, which is three times more than last year’s planting. With actual irrigation, a working tractor and less part-time jobs, this farm is going to thrive. After two weeks in California in November, I can home refreshed and ready for more vegetables and varieties and markets and new CSA friends. And we’re psyched to bring all this to you!

Once the laptop is up, I will pass along our full road to recovery. But this is really all you need to know; we’re still here, we’re happy to be here, and we’re ready for more. See you in 2014.

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