Happy National CSA Day!

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Yes, technically CSA Day is Friday, but we’ve been celebrating CSA Day all week! And I want to thank everyone who has signed up for the Crooked Row CSA and sent in their payments so far. You are paying off the seed bills and for the new plastic on the greenhouse, the potting mix and the tomato stakes.

You are what makes my season bloom!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term CSA, it stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It’s the idea of investing in a farm before the season begins in exchange for a weekly share of produce through the duration of the season. CSA members pay for an entire season of produce up front so your farmer can plan for the season, purchase new seed, make equipment repairs and other necessary moves for a successful year.

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This will be my 5th year running the Crooked Row Farm CSA, and I’ve loved this growing model. It gives me, a farmer without a permanent farm stand (yet!), and without a really solid place to share my fields with you, to make  lasting relationships with buoyant, excited area residents who love and appreciate local food.

It also allows me to work with amazing food producers like Lehigh Valley Kombucha, the Wayfare Baker, Monocacy Coffee, The Nesting Box, and the other folks who help provide you the best cheese, eggs, meats, desserts, fruit and other edible delights that I can track down.

And you get to meet the folks at your pick-up locations – the beautiful West End Yoga, the welcoming Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, the warm Vitality Natural Healthcare, the delicious Jumbars, the spirited ladies at Beleno, my parents at Wagner’s Auto Body, and so many others.

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This guy needs a little hair to be me, though! 🙂

“2015 was my first time ever as a CSA member. Little did I know of the adventure that awaited me, learning to identify veggies I never heard of and how to prepare them. Farmer Liz’s blog was so helpful with what to expect in each weekly share and links to delicious recipes. Every week I anticipated each delivery to explore more savory flavors for my family meals.”  – Karen, from Mertztown, and a to-be three year CSA member

Whether I see you at the pick-up locations, or we respond over the weekly CSA e-mails, or you come to visit me at my markets, I feel the connection. We are invested in shaping the food community of the Lehigh Valley, and I thank you so much for your support, your constant encouragement, and your patronage.

And if the Crooked Row CSA isn’t what you’re looking for, check out the CSA Day website for other options, or research local CSAs on the Buy Fresh Buy Local Greater Lehigh Valley site – it’s a totally beautiful site and really simplifies your farm research.

Once you’re signed up for a CSA Share, whether it’s with me or another farmer, take one of these graphics below and POST THEM PROUDLY on all your social media outlets. We’re so thankful for and appreciative of you, and we want you to feel that acknowledgement! And we want your friends, family, and co-workers who haven’t yet tried out a CSA to see these and  join our movement. We want to share these connections.

#csaday #csaday2017

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This one is a square graphic for Instagrammin’

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Yours in Love and Greenhouse Seedlings,

Farmer Liz

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In the Winter, We Dream and We Organize

Until I was about 23, I absolutely hated winter. Call it seasonal depression, all it spring fever, call it what you will, but I would skip classes, blow off work and hunker down in my bed, reading the days away and re-watching our old VHS tapes.

But in the last few years I’ve come to embrace this season of hibernation. The farm body is ready for it, and by November and the ending of the CSA season I was collapsing in my bed before dark and sleeping twelve hours a night. It was glorious. As for the cold? I want it – give me more of it. Cold and snow kill pests and disease and weed seed – snow and snow and snow, Winter. I’m ready.

So it’s been great to be enveloped out here on the western edge of the county, if only for a couple of days. I even ventured out with the dogs today – who absolutely love the snow – and they expressed my happiness with hours of crazy dog snow playing antics. Followed by big naps, of course. Did I mention I love winter now?

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I’ve been able to sleep, attempt a home brew for the first time in what feels like forever, and even sit down to work on some of the fiction writing I began back in 2015 with my Francesca Lia Block writing class. Big hugs to Taylor, my excellent cousin who has been reading and editing that particular project with me. I’ve been catching a yoga class, working on my emotional and spiritual health and awareness and, of course, catching up on my beloved kid animation series.  Miyazaki, anyone? Gundam Wing?

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Gundam Wing and singing bowls and dance records – this almost completely sums up November-February.

I even had the chance to road trip out to Illinois to see some of my favorite people, and unwind in a way I struggle to do when I’m in my home environment. Plus, there were great dinosaurs in Chicago. Can’t get enough of the dinosaurs.

It’s given me time to plan, as well. A few weeks ago I attended a Wholesale Success Workshop presented by Buy Fresh By Local Greater Lehigh Valley and taught by Atina Diffley – an extraordinary grower and woman who, with her husband, has run an incredible organic production since the ’70s AND won an eminent domain dispute with the Koch Brothers over her farm – and it reminded me of one very important facet of Crooked Row – the need to stay organized.

Even though I’m not producing on a wholesale scale (yet, anyway -cue the futuristic success music), the lessons Diffley shared were just as important to me as to someone producing for a grocery store – connect to your audience on an interpersonal level with your food, create beautiful, nutritious quality standards, and be consistent. Plan, plan, plan your successions and your schedules and your fields as meticulously as you can before your arms-deep in lettuce and wondering why you didn’t make a field map. Get your paperwork together. Stay organized.

Obviously, not my favorite part of farming. In fact, when I thought that becoming a grower meant I got to throw out all the stuffy, Type-A bits of my personality I felt made me a square, I railed against the organizational aspects, the specifics of planning to seed and plant and harvest.

Unfortunately, every time I work on a non-related farm task, I remember how good I am at all of those things. And, for the first time, I’m trying to embrace that.

It’s hard for me to really describe this disconnect – that I don’t deserve to spend this type of time and mental efforts on my own projects, or that I feel it’s some undesirable part of the farming field so I should disregard it. The previous distaste for ag-organization is something I’ve spent a lot of time reframing mentally mover the last few months, and I’m glad for that. I think all my projects benefit from me  thinking about them and planning for them.

One of these projects was filing some Pennsylvania Certified Organic paperwork for the first time. The paperwork was tedious, but not particularly hard, and I’ve been putting it off for years because my crowd and my customers seem to love my food whether there’s a sticker on it or not. But I am curious as to the benefits of being able to finally, legally be able to use the “O” word and, as previously stated, this allowed space for me to organize my fields and my life in a new way. A better way.

Because I want to grow the herb side of things, you see. And become a better, more responsible grower as a whole. Folks are asking for more – and I want to be able to give it to them without giving away all of myself in the process. I think I can, I think I can.

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The Trexlertown Winter Market has been bustling nicely. We brave flurries and cold feet to come out there on the first and third Saturdays of the month, and the crowd seems happy to have us. This season my herbs and teas will also be available at the Macungie Farmers’ Market on Thursdays – as well as a few other places to be revealed in the near future. 😉

I’ve also been forging new relationships with some also Lehigh Valley folks. This year we’ll be offering CSA pick-up points at the Vitality Natural Healthcare Center in Emmaus and at the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in downtown Allentown. Both centers strive to offer healthy and welcoming education and care to their communities, and I couldn’t be prouder to be partnering with them.

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We are also hosting a pick-up at Lit Roastery and Bakeshop in Southside Bethlehem, run by our friends at Monocacy Coffee and Made By Lino.

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I’ve also been working with the Slatington Main Street Merchants Group to revitalize the town where I grew up. It’s not something that happens overnight, for sure, but the local organizations and the Greater Northern Lehigh Chamber of Commerce has been instrumental in taking these strides. The Blue Mountain Farm Market has run pop-up markets in conjunction with the area’s new First Friday initiative, and it’s been a blast to see so many people in town excited about the area again. Stay tuned for more in this department, and for some possible food collaborations with our dear Jason at Charlotte Fay’sCharlotte Fay’s Diner.

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And National CSA Day is right around the corner! Get ready to check out all the amazing growers in this area and your opportunity to support their farms from the seedlings up. We’re partnered with some awesome folks again this season for share add-ons, and each year I tighten up my production a little more to grow more of what you want.

Click Here for All of the Crooked Row CSA Details!

  Egg Shares: – 22 or 11 weeks of delicious eggs from our pastured, soy-free fed, delightfully happy chickens. $105 for weekly delivery or $55 for every-other week delivery.
The Nesting Box hens live in the shadow of Hawk Mountain, so they are not pastured or they would be very often eaten, but Timi’s family grows their own non-GMO feed on site and is a spectacular chicken mom. Phil Kelly’s chickens roam free in his forested-property in Mertztown. Delicious eggs. And we hope to have our own flock at a new home in Orefield this season! Details TBA.

 Monocacy Coffee ($105) – 2lbs of locally-roasted flavors each month
https://www.facebook.com/monocacycoffeeco/

 Lehigh Valley Kombucha – (Half/$100 or $210, Full/$200 or $420) – a 750ml bottle or a gallon of local, healthy, flavored, freshly-bottled Kombucha.
https://www.facebook.com/LehighValleyKombucha/

 Cheese (Half/60 or Full/$110) 1 1⁄2 lb block from various local cheese-makers
http://kleinfarms.com/
http://www.valleymilkhouse.com/
And so many more!

 Wayfare Baker Bread (Half/$150 Full $300) 2 loaves of John’s unique and varied sourdough flavors. More can be ordered as needed via his website, to be delivered with your shares. Contact him directly for more details.
http://www.thewayfarebaker.com/

Fruit Shares and Meat Shares or a monthly meat buyer’s club from local, pastured sources are also available for CSA participants. Contact me for more info!

I hope you’ll consider joining Crooked Row’s adventure again this season.

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Because that’s what our local growing scene is here for, friends – to bring healthy food from our fields to your tables. To keep our economic dollars within the Lehigh Valley. To support other like-minded businesses. And to bring you closer to the people around you.

There’s some strife in the air right now, and a fair share of worry and tension. But here, there doesn’t have to be. Here is an open space to love each other and love the food we grow and make and share.

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 Because one day all of this will be lettuce and carrots and food for you.

Hugs and Kale,
Farmer Liz

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I love you, and that is why I want to grow your food and build our community.

Need I say more?

I am so grateful for the opportunities presented to us as producers in the Lehigh Valley. I’m participating in the winter Trexlertown Farmers’ Market, which is held on the first and third Saturdays of the month, 10-12 in the Velodrome parking lot. We’re joining forces with  Red Cat Farm and the Wayfare Baker for a cooperative stand that allows for us all to feel like we still get a winter break, so come get your bread, flour mixes and herbs under one tent!

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We were also thrilled to be a part of Slatington’s First Friday a couple weeks back. Bryon Reed, a council member and storefront owner in town, offered us space in one of his buildings for the Blue Mountain Farm Market to set up shop for the day in conjunction with other Main Street events and the town’s tree-lighting ceremony. We had an afternoon of veggies, breads, farm gifts and more as the town came out to visit, stroll and celebrate.

It’s such a thrill and honor to be working in this community. I grew up here, and though I didn’t fully appreciate this place as a kid, as an adult I’ve returned and want to channel my hometown pride into growth. Fortunately, there are other amazing folks moving toward this same goal, and while there are too many to name at this moment, I do want to share my deep appreciation and respect for Alice Wanamaker, who donates so much of her time outside of the Chamber of Commerce to our community, and to Jason Ruff, who took a chance on a local business – Charlotte Fay’s – and is making a real go of it. It’s exciting to meet other folks making big strides in their time, investments and commitments to this area.

And here’s where she gets serious.

In Interstellar Anne Hathaway’s character says that “love is the one thing that we’re capable of perceiving that transcends time and space.” In Everything Is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran describes the sixth sense as memory. When a person experiences something – in his example, it is a pinprick – he or she remembers every pin or pinprick experienced before.

Earlier this year, we opened a cooperative farm stand at the town’s D&L Trailhead, a trailhead dedicated to Asher Boyer, a friend from high school who swam with us and marched with us and was a buoyant, hilarious spirit. Asher died while we were still in school, in a car accident in the midst of band camp that summer, and those memories are as sharp and stark as they were in real time.

To be sharing food in a space that he helped shape as he worked toward Eagle Scout, to be so close to his family’s business and to see them excited for our own endeavors, is a feeling that brings me such humbling, overwhelming joy. It’s a feeling that allows me to still feel connected to a time and space I can only see in my mind’s eye, to be in a space where he is.

And it isn’t just him anymore. The folks from our small town school have lost more than a few of us along the way – young people cut short, friends and friends of friends and school acquaintances who don’t get to grow up the way that we are- and to create new life in this community in their stead, to work for something that their family and their friends and neighbors can benefit from, that is such an incredible opportunity. When I think of what we are making and building here, I think of them. And I think they would be proud with what we’ve accomplished, here and everywhere else.

We wanted to share our thankfulness with the town, so here’s the letter Alice will be reading for us at tomorrow’s Borough meeting:

Dear Borough Council and Greater Slatington Community,

On behalf of the Blue Mountain Farm Market I would like to thank you so much for your support and participation with our pop-up market in conjunction with the First Friday events of December 2nd, as well as your support and encouragement throughout our first farm market season this year.

I grew up in Northern Lehigh and graduated from high school here in 2007. I edited the school paper, played in the marching band, ran cross country, swam and life-guarded at the pool, and participated in a number of community-based extra-curricular organizations. When I moved back to the Lehigh Valley a few years ago, I never guessed I would be blessed with such an opportunity to return to the area that had begun to shape me into the person I am today. I challenged myself in this place, made the closest and most lasting of friends and learned to appreciate the everyday beauty and emotion present in a person’s hometown. I decided that I wanted to come back to the Valley and work to grow food for the people in my community – for the people I care about and who influenced me in such momentous ways. For the people who raised me.

Food is such an integral part of what makes a family and a home, and to be able to help provide local, wholesome produce and farm goods to this area has been such an honor. We can’t thank the Borough, the Venture Group and the residents enough for their support and enthusiasm for this endeavor. And we would especially like to thank Bryon Reed, who opened the doors of his building to us so we could participate in the recent off-season pop-up market. Bryon was so helpful, thoughtful and excited to help us become a part of this event, and his presence on Council and willingness to work with us is a true testament to his commitment to Slatington and its citizens. Bryon, thank you for all that you do for us.

I look forward to working with all of you as we continue to grow and shape this extraordinary community. It has been such a pleasure to meet such dynamic folks who want to see the town move forward and to see the new lifeblood pouring in to this area looking for the same forward momentum. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of this adventure. Have a wonderful holiday season.

All the Best,
Liz Wagner and the Blue Mountain Farm Market

In these strange times we find ourselves living in, here’s some excitement and growth. It’s been over a month since CSA season ended – and I’m again excited for the spring.

Clockwise: We opened a farm market in my hometown! It was incredible; Steve Hoog joined us for a wild food walk on the property; itty bitties from Texas came to play in the field; and some awesome ladies (and men) involved in agriculture presented our stories at Eight Oaks Distillery. These were just a few snapshots in a year full of markets, herb labyrinths, events, joys, and growth. And we aren’t stopping there.

Thanks for the adventure, my friends. As always, we couldn’t do it without you. And, as always, I’m so grateful and thankful to be a part of your lives. We’ve had another year of projects, events, new markets, new friends, new growers and collaborators, and held onto to all you Crooked Row vets and supporters. We’re thrilled and eating green, and we hope you are, too. I wish you warm nights, full bellies, and deep, resounding, time-and-space transcending love.

Yours Always,
Farmer Liz

 

Changing Seasons, Chicken Catastrophes and Chasing the Dream

I am standing in my parents’ kitchen, on their landline, shouting into the phone.

“This has gone on long enough. Do you think I have time to get the magistrate involved in this mess? I don’t want to, but this is not how adults behave. This is not how commerce works, and this has gone on long enough.”

I am shouting this at the boy (some 21-year-olds may be men, but I’ve given this one the benefit of the doubt for far too long), because he is the direct cause of our chicken catastrophe, and my patience in handling this nightmare has expired, and I am just so, so tired.

Let’s back up for a moment.

It’s early July. Our chickens are laying, and laying well, and are happy in their pasture. We had some troubles with foxes and hawks earlier this season, and at least one coyote, and are down about thirty of our girls from sneak attacks.  We’ve moved them across the property to a less hawk-filled territory and are talking about tracking down some layers to get our numbers back up. I find an ad for the type of chicken we already have, from someone nearby who, according to the advertisement, just has too many chickens and is getting too many eggs, and they’ll deliver them to the farm. My neighbor and I collaborate on the chickens, so I tell him about the ad. We agree it’s a good decision.

Perfect, I think. This is perfect.

The chickens arrive the following week at my neighbor’s property, where the chickens live. These new chickens are a little smaller than ours, and a little scrappier, but I chalk that up to the coop syndrome, where too many chickens crowded in get picked on and scruffy from the lack of sun and pasture. We’re doing these new girls a service, I think, and I’m glad.

Since then, I’ve heard from other farmers that you ALWAYS quarantine new animals. It makes sense, of course, after the fact. But also for every farmer who tells me that, there’s another who assures me that they don’t, and that they would have never thought to, either.

The point is, about four days after the new chickens arrive, all of our chickens, all two hundred plus of our happy little flock, stop laying eggs.

Concern, panic and straight confusion set in. Are these newcomers stressing the flock? One of my neighbor’s workers is a seasoned chicken lady, and as we walk around investigating the newcomers and original hens alike, we start to hear sneezing, see glassy eyes and drippy beaks. Something is amiss here, and we round up the questionable girls and move them to a coop offsite to keep an eye on them. We put colloidal silver in their water, Thieves around the coop, and start researching what this could be and how to treat it.

Then the hens start to die. It’s a couple at first – two, then five, then seven. A handful every day. I call the guy who sold us the new hens and he says some obvious nonsense about new chickens not being acclimated to the outside. He assures us none of the other chickens he’s sold have had any problems. After several more days of these inexplicable casualties, the phone calls get more tense, and he discloses that he’s purchased these chickens from a poultry auction and that he has no sense of their history or what could be wrong. The smoldering anger in me starts to catch.

We have researched some diseases and a few seem to fit the bill. We take a couple of our deceased girls to a pathologist in Kennett Square, and she calls a day later with disheartening news – the flock has mycoplasmosis. It’s a contagious disease that causes respiratory infections that lead to death. Lack of eggs is another primary symptom. Once a chicken has it, only antibiotics can alleviate the symptoms (at which point we can’t sell the eggs or the meat) – and the minute you take the flock off the antibiotics, the symptoms and the carnage resumes.

The news is devastating.

“How does this happen?” I ask. I’m sitting in my truck, head pressed against the steering wheel, and that smoldering is getting stronger.

If chickens are on antibiotics while in the poultry houses, they may not exhibit symptoms while the auction is happening. But once off the medications, the symptoms can come back, and that’s what makes the birds contagious. There’s no cure, and no way to manage this problem on the scale we operate on. Except culling the flock.

I call the guy who sold us the chickens and calmly tell him all this information. I tell him that if he has other chickens on his property that he needs to get them tested, so this isn’t spreading any further. I hear his distress and his confusion. I don’t feel he was maliciously trying to unload sick birds on us. But there is an adult, mature way to do business. We aren’t looking for the thousands of dollars in compensation for lost birds, unused feeds, the eggs we’ll have to buy in for the rest of the season. We just want the money back from our purchase with him, a few hundred dollars to close the loose ends on this horrible ordeal. Because who wants to talk about small claims and damage suits with another farmer, especially another young farmer?

The guy resolves to get the money together and we hang up. Shortly thereafter, he blocks my phone number.

Cut back to present. To the world where I’ve had to use a different phone to call these people, to where another human answers the phone and tells me to leave him alone and stop calling and I have to pull out aggression I didn’t know I even had anymore to get my point across and get this issue settled, to a world where the chickens we’ve enjoyed and cared for since the season began have gone to the great green pastures in the sky.

It’s exhausting, and a true part of this lifestyle I have had yet to experience. Working with animals tempers your emotions, I’ve known that since my first season at the dairy, because life and death are the worlds we deal with in agriculture. But this, this is something new. Something that leaves me feeling responsible, under-educated, and angrier than I’ve felt in years. I’ve watched my parents suffer emotionally over the distress of these birds and my subsequent duress. My neighbor and I, already in the throes of summer exhaustion, were just handed an additional hefty plate to handle. This is something that smolders.

We are very lucky to have such a strong community of food in this area. We’ve found several sources of fantastic eggs for the CSA shares and markets to carry us through the rest of the season, and I can’t thank those folks enough for working with us and empathizing with this satiation. My friends and fellow producers and family have been nothing but encouraging and supportive as my emotional turbulence has ebbed and flowed in the last two months. My neighbor and I have been discouraged by this, as I’m sure you can understand, but are talking about what next year could look like with our new education in this realm. Personally, I’m not sure if I can handle it right now. Ask me again in a few months.

But here’s the undercurrent of all this. Those sick chickens came from somewhere, right? Somewhere where hens are cooped up and blasted with medication to suppress these illnesses. And then when the manufacturer is done with them, he dumps them out into the world for us to face the consequences.

I’ve become so much more meticulous about knowing where my meat comes from, and my eggs, and all my animal products in the last few years, but now it feels imperative. It feels like a weight in my stomach that is with me all day, a weight that I’ve been sitting with, scared to talk about, but now it can’t just sit in there anymore. If this is something that happened to us, it has to be happening somewhere else. Maybe many other places. And it deals with the food that you and I put into our bodies every day.

So this is the lesson I’ve learned this year. This is the hard, long, painful lesson. We need to demand food transparency. We should want to know who is raising the animals we rely upon, and how we are raising those animals and that food, and we need to support the growers and producers who are making the responsible, moral choices.

I know the usual Liz on this forum is very bubbly and hopeful and energized. And she’s still here. I’m looking forward to writing more, very soon, about growing the Lehigh Valley food community, about the workshops I’ve been leading and talks and festivals we’ve been attending, about the amazing feedback we’ve had for the Blue Mountain Farm Market in my hometown, and for the growing interest in growing and using herbs. I can’t wait to tell you about how happy the CSA folks have been this year, how much fun I’ve had sprouting fruit trees, and how exhilarating it is to be building infrastructure for next year as we move into the fall.

But today we pause and acknowledge our girls, those lovely hens, and the choices they represent in our food systems.

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-Liz

Growing Up, Growing Out, and Coming Home

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?

Where to begin in all this. Hmmmmmmmm.

Well, I could talk about Slatington’s Blue Mountain Farm Market, our collaborative farm stand in the town where I was raised. A market staffed by enthusiastic food advocates, stocked by responsible, co-creating, wonderful growers and producers, supported immensely by the Borough where it lives, marketed by journalists and TV stations who have done an incredible job of spreading the word about this new and important project, and pieced together by a happily frazzled manager who keeps being visited by her former school teachers, principals, coaches, friends’ parents and old neighbors in the hours she scrambles to be present.

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When I think about how lucky I am to be a part of such a welcomed endeavor, I am bowled over in gratitude. I see the rush of folks on Friday and Saturday mornings, so excited to have fresh, local, responsibly-grown vegetables and perennial flowers and all the well-sourced cheeses, honey, bread, coffee and other goods appear on our tables each weekend. These folks haven’t had a grocery store in their town for what’s approaching a year. We aren’t on that sort of scale, surely, but we’re clearly having an impact when you see how empty the tables are by the end of market day. People are listening, are learning, are making informative decisions about their diets and health and are coming to us.

In. Credible.

I could talk about the Crooked Row CSA, about my fabulous veterans who drummed up support within their own communities to fill out the delivery spots, to create new ones with a core of interested co-workers and friends, and who volunteer to pull weeds and plant tomatoes on their days off. Who make me food with what I give them each week to give back to me. Who purchased my dear friends’ bread, coffee and kombucha shares as well as my vegetables. They save me, they have limitless patience with me, and they appreciate the work I put into this project. I cannot thank you or love you enough.

I could talk about the ridiculously great network of friends I have around me this year. Today my boyfriend and his kids spent the day weeding and planting. My parents are constantly mowing, weeding, watering, and my sister even got into the strawberry picking mood when she was home last. I grill with some of the best new growers in the area, and am catching chickens in the dark with The Wayfare Baker. I catch dinner and swap cheese and herbs with The Valley Milkhouse and spend multiple days of my week stopping by Red Cat and Willow Haven as we continue our adventures in collaboration. I laugh and enjoy my time with the other vendors at The Trexlertown Farmers’ Market. I dream about fields of organic grain and hay, food forests, perennial herb beds and accessible vegetables. I dream about food hubs and farmers’ co-ops and local food networks with these friends, and they don’t all think I’m crazy.

I could talk about my foray into educator this year. It isn’t a role I’m fully comfortable with, not yet, anyway, but one I’m moving into just the same. I spoke at a Bethlehem Food Co-Op meeting earlier this year – it’s one of the first times I addressed a crowd about my farm, mission and story. And then things started to unfold. I’ll be running an herb workshop at the huge Taste event in Bethlehem on July 24th. This Friday I’m hosting a Wild Food Walk with well-known forager Steve Hoog. I’m working on a series of DIY herb workshops with the Beleno Spiritual Healing Center, and the first is on growing your own tea herbs. I’m going to the PEX Festival with some good friends on a grant to set up an herb labyrinth and run meditative walks throughout the weekend.

Some of this is utterly terrifying if I think about it for too long. But with each impromptu interview and with each phone call, I gain a little confidence. I know my mission – it’s to feed people – and when I stick to that conviction, everyone and everything around me falls into place.

I could talk about the challenges of local food. Of the deep hope I have that all of you, in time, will come to see the necessity of stepping out of the comfort zone of the grocery store and its season-less vortex of readily-available foods. That the folks in this Valley who don’t come to markets and participate in CSAs or feel that deep, empowering need to buy local suddenly awaken to the importance of keeping their food dollars within their own community. That we as producers and growers are all so, so deeply satisfied with this part of our lives, but are still faced with the anxieties of marketing and educating and selling what we make and grow on top of our creating, and that’s where the stress kicks in.

Do you know how much we hope you come out each week? Can you feel our anticipation, our joy when you walk past our tables and ask about the season and fill your bags with what we have raised to feed your family? It’s overwhelming to think about the nitty gritty of this game of food – the nutrition you choose to put into your body is what keeps you running on the most basic, physical levels. But it’s the energy of the food around you that needs consideration as well. We have our hearts in these greens, our souls in these handpicked vegetables. Who wouldn’t want that on their plate?

I could thank you, as always, for choosing to be part of this adventure. From the bottom of my very being, I thank you.

Hugs and Kale,

Farmer Lizcsa share

New Adventures in the Spring!

Crooked Row Logo Color

First, a logo. I opened this e-mail at 5:30am a few days back and my heart soared.

It’s just one step on this crazy staircase of forward movement this season. CSA sign-ups went tremendously well. So many returners have come back for another go around, and we’ve amassed newbies from all corners of the Lehigh Valley. We even picked up a Crossfit crowd in Quakertown thanks to one of the awesome cousins, and I’m excited to meet everyone this year.

I’m sad to be pulling out of the Philly scene this year, but as I expand my world and activities here and try to be more sustainable and insular, it is the only way to make sense of my life and still get to have a life in the midst of the insanity of the farm season. But I’m still moving and shaking all around the Valley, with even more surprises on the horizon. More to come on that very soon.

It’s official! Our teas and herbs will be available at The Trexlertown Farmers’ Market this year, Saturdays 9-1 with Opening Day on May 14! We’ll be sharing a tent with Lehigh Valley Kombucha. Like the market Facebook Page to keep updated on community events and special offers throughout market season! We’ll be making an appearance with a lot of the Trexlertown team at Lehigh Valley Farm Fest this year on April 30th, too, so mark those calendars.

Projects are the name of the game at present. Delegated projects. I’ve been holding myself back by thinking I should be knee-deep in every aspect of what is going on up here. But I can still be involved and have others taking the reigns. And, for the first time, I feel comfortable and good about that.

Forrest Quay, freelance mushroom grower, will be performing some outdoor perennial mushroom culturing experiments around the field. If all goes well, by the fall (and definitely by next year), the CSA bags will have oyster mushrooms, wine caps, lion’s mane and more! He’s starting his own spawn on brown rice, and we set up teepees of inoculated logs out in the woods by my field. I don’t know much about our fungus friends (yet), but it’s going to be fun to learn.

Mom Wags has taken the helm on the bee projects. After weeks of classes, phone calls, reading and research, she found the gear she likes, the hive equipment needed, and she even convinced Glenn out to the apiary visit on our last class to see the hives that the Lehigh Valley Beekeepers Association has at LCCC. Our first package of bees arrives next month, as a nuc already happily living on some frames, and the following month a package of bees, some 10,000 in a little wooden box with a marked queen, will arrive.

It’ll take a year to get any quantity of honey, but that’s not really even the primary goal. As pollinators, they’ll help all the plants around the farm, and ecologically, it’s hopeful to try to care for these delicate creatures.

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At the LVBA hive opening, we found a colony of happy bees!

Two weeks back, in a surge of momentum, Gary, our semi-intern Alex (who is looking for work, folks!), and I hammered in ground sleeves, bolstered hoops and ran the purlin on our mini tunnel. Glenn (my dad, for newbies who don’t know the man, myth and legend), came home later that day and put on the finishing touches of the frame.

At Keith’s farm I had the chance to see how happy some of our Zone’s more delicate perennials could be living in a high tunnel. I’m looking forward to planting our years’ worth of rosemary pots and some of the more tropical herbs in this permanent structure.

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Now, if only I can figure out how to build the roll-up sides.

Easter was lovely, full of my family and their own awesome projects. We’ve always been a creative bunch. One cousin showed us around his wood shop, where he is now making custom guitars, and we awaited the arrival of one of his daughters and her return from France. One was in the corner reading a Francesca Lia Block book (and my heart burst), and others offered us some business advice as we munched on the lingering lunch snacks.

And, of course, family time means Jess Wagner time. My favorite. Whether it’s a phone call to commiserate on the challenges of self-employment or to celebrate an awesome step in the right direction, my sister has become a constant collaborator, mentor and friend on this crazy we road we’re on. I’ve gushed about her before, so I’ll hold back here, but if you’re looking for some philanthropic-based, delightful running apparel, check out her company Run Life Co.

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What a cutie.

As for our darling Crooked Row itself – the farm is growing along. The perennial herbs are up and looking beautiful. The greenhouse is almost tipsed, and I’ve got brassicas who are looking very forward to this cold week passing quickly so they can be planted. We are building our raised bed system 100-row feet at a time, which is slow going, but it feels so good be to setting up these permanent systems.

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Our Happy Camper Hens are back, and everyone is so excited. Including them! These girls run toward my truck when I pull up to feed them, eat right out of my hands, and are happy to be out in the fields.

And yesterday Gary and I took a little trip over to a tractor supply store, where he began a new journey of his own.

When people you love gets ducklings, everybody wins. If you follow @thefarmerliz, stay tuned for piles of heart-melting, fuzzy joy.

And if you’re in the CSA this year, stay tuned for an e-mail this week! We’ll be offering some fun add-ons for your viewing, chewing and brewing pleasure for the upcoming season.

 

Stay warm out there today, friends. It’s a wild world we’re living in.

Hugs and Broccoli Starts and Little-Billed Peepers,

Liz

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Happy CSA Day!

FBP5Yes. Turns out we have our own day now – Happy CSA Sign Up Day!

“In 2015, Small Farm Central released the 2014 CSA Farming Annual Report, which gathered data from more than 250 CSA farmers and almost 53,000 memberships. Among other interesting facts, the report showed that the most popular day for CSA Signups in 2014 was Friday February 28. So in 2015, the first National CSA Signup Day was held on Saturday February 28. CSA farmers offered special CSA Signup Day discounts and promotions and enjoyed an influx of signups from members wanting to support local agriculture. This year, CSA Day is about more than getting lots of CSA signups; it’s a whole day dedicated to the celebration of community-supported agriculture.” – csasignupday.com

It’s resources like this that really make me feel like small, local agriculture really is making the strides I imagine it is. That this many folks are involved in creating such a push (including the social networking imagery and skills some of us don’t prioritize) for farmers and shareholders alike to check signing up off their to-do list.

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By the way – sign up here!

If you’ve been waiting – today’s the day! Sign up for our Crooked Row eats today!

This year is the again the year of veggies and eggs, but also bread from the Wayfare Baker in Allentown – a man who grinds his own flour just before he bakes! – coffee from our Bethlehem Food Co-Op friends at Monocacy Coffee Co., and, of course, kombucha from the one and only at Lehigh Valley Kombucha. Once you’ve signed up for your vegetables and egg shares, we’ll be passing along the details of these other phenomenal add-ons. Because collaboration is key, friends. In all life, but most definitely in food.

onion babies

And we are ready for you. The onions are already germinating in the hoophouse. The spring broccoli is right behind. We’re planting to the Stella Natura calendar this year, and I’m looking forward to understanding the Earth and its day-to-day interactions with lunar phases and other energetics in new and exciting ways.

calf and cat

I am making some guest appearances back at the old stomping grounds. Excelsior dairy has all the adorable animals you remember from a couple years back, and more. It’s been loving catching up with them, re-learning how to milk in their barn and work with their animals.

PASA 25 years

A few weeks back I made my way back to Penn State for the 25th annual PASA Conference – the place where small growers get to hang out and feel the love from friends they sometimes only catch up with once a year. It’s like a distant family reunion – one I am always so proud to be a part of year after year. I learned a lot, as usual, and ate some great food. And, for the first time since I started wandering the halls of the Penn Stater, I was able to introduce some of my oldest farm friends to my partner in crime, which felt really wonderful. And, at the Green Heron tool booth, I opened their catalog to find this little gem!

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We’re famous! 

We had an additional opportunity to visit with some farm friends and enjoy some wonderful food and beer at Curious Goods at the Bake Oven Inn in conjunction with Lehigh Valley Beer Week! Farm friends from around the area, including our fan favorites Stef from Valley Milkhouse  and Teena Bailey at Red Cat Farm, set up shop for several hours and talked to folks about our goods and seasonal offerings. Crooked Row herbs shared a space with LV Kombucha, and there was much rejoicing.

liz and gary booth red cat

In other news, my mom moseyed out to Kutztown this week and returned with supplies for two beehives. In two months we should be receiving a nuc, which is a family of bees that has been raised together on hive frames for one, and a package of bees to incorporate into the other. All this is riding on the heels of our bees in the tree, which is a feral honeybee colony (apparently a rare thing these days), that took up residence along our driveway and has been surviving the winter in that rugged tree. It was our catalyst to take these classes int he first place, and we’re looking forward to bringing some more pollinators into the mix.

We’ll come full circle on this one. Happy National CSA Sign Up Day! Hooray! And even if you aren’t looking into a Crooked Row share this season, know that I love you and am just happy you’re considering supporting some beautiful small ag on this lovely morning. There are lots of us out there looking for your support. Take your mind off the chill and daydream about some beautiful veggies.

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Hugs and Growing Holidays,

Liz