I Love You, Lehigh Valley. Now, Let Us Feed You.

One of my closest childhood friends gave me a copy of Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking for Christmas this year, and it’s pulling down all these interesting walls in my brain I hadn’t realized were there.


I’m notoriously bad at asking for help. Is everyone? Are you? Even when people offer to help, I backpedal from it (EVEN WHEN I, LIKE, REALLY NEED IT). Amanda writes about her life as a performer, from statueing as a street artist to touring with the Dresden Dolls and Tweeting fans for support, places to sleep, meals after gigs and, later, a financial hand to launch an album without a label.

She also talks about Impostor Syndrome, or what she calls the Fraud Police, which are the voices in your head and, perhaps, within your peripherals that are telling you to get a real job; to not ask others for things; that you are not good at what you are doing and that what you are doing is silly and pointless and certainly not worth another person’s time or support.

One of my farmer friends used the term Impostor Syndrome last year to describe a feeling of inadequacy. I’d never heard that term before but immediately felt it was spot on, nailing down this panicky, insecure feeling inside me that fills me with trepidation instead of elation whenever a CSA share check comes in.

What do you think you’re doing, asking for money for food you haven’t grown yet? that frustrating, internal voice says. You don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t have the chops. You were an ENGLISH major!

end of csa

Truth: I get anxiety when posting CSA bag photos.

Etc., etc.

I imagine a fair amount of humans experience this inside and outside noise.  I felt that way about writing, when I was writing  a lot more, and especially when I was thinking that I would pursue writing professionally. I felt like a hack when I edited the college paper. I felt like a phony the summer I was posted up at the Philadelphia Inquirer, covering bike crimes and murders and municipal meetings. Hell, I would feel like a fraud writing an album review, regardless of my prior experience with the band or with music in general. I didn’t feel that I knew enough, was savvy enough, was critical enough to have opinions that mattered.  

Side note – reading Amanda’s book has me excited about music for the first time in years. As in, I want to make time for young music and new music again. I wish I could explain to you how thrilling this is for me. Hop Along and the New Pornographers used to wreck me in college. I once locked myself in a room at the farm house in New York and listened to the Mountain Goats’ “This Year” for something like three hours straight. When I moved into Little House and was sleeping in a sleeping bag in the living room at night and trying not to be terrified about being alone in this house out in the woods, I would stay up all night painting my walls to Side A of Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City and a rapid succession of everything by The Killers. But it’s been years since I’ve really let the sound in – I think, at least in part, because I didn’t feel like I was a loyal enough fan to be a part of a music scene. And maybe because I’ve let other humans in my peripherals cast judgements on the sounds that make me happy.

I started the farm in 2013. It was, hands down, the most challenging year of my life. Also, the worst, for a whole pile of reasons I’ll tell you about over a beer or three sometime. Also, in moments, the most beautiful. I was living in my childhood bedroom, trying to start a business with minimum experience, trying to grow food and hoping people would want to eat this food and holding down two other jobs because there was no way this food thing was going to be a sure bet.

matthew takes my picture

See this? This right here is a panic face.

And then, in all that chaos, something started to happen. For every woody radish I was tossing into my compost pile and for every beet that didn’t germinate, someone would approach me at market to thank me for the tastiest romaine they’ve had since they were a kid. I spent a whole season without irrigation, but a restaurant bought a trunk load of my heirloom tomatoes. Friends in my life suddenly got excited about broccoli raab. People I’d known for my whole life and people I’d just met were sending me photos of the food they were cooking. They were thanking me for doing what I do.

Something else happened over the last few years, something I didn’t realize was happening at the time: I stopped hearing people when they said these things.

Because I felt like I didn’t deserve it. I can name a dozen growers off the top of my head who grow really amazing, beautiful food that I’ve yet to feel I can measure up to. They are older, more established and, at least in my head, more professional. Their arugula never has flea beetle damage. They are holding down families and lives that don’t consist of making a giant pan of curry with leftover frozen stand veggies to eat for the next seven days. I spent the better part of a week this winter coming home to hit the restart button on my furnace while I simultaneously held my fire extinguisher and my breath because I don’t understand machines or combustion. I feel like adults with their fingers on the pulse of their careers maybe aren’t doing this.

melon faces

#childfarmer? #notadulting?

What The Art of Asking is teaching me, one emotionally-volatile page at a time, is that maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe Crooked Row works because it’s a bit slapstick and messy. Because sometimes carrots decide they don’t want to grow in one field but the strawberries are the best you’ve had in years. Because sometimes you find me on the verge of tears over a tub of red beets because I really don’t know anything about running a store, and WHY CAN’T I GET MY BEETS TO GROW LIKE THESE?! Because somehow I got your kids to like chard. And, most importantly, because each year gets a little better for you and for me. A little tastier, a little more organized, a little more like the farm life that I want. And, once you’re in the door (by which I mean the receiving end of the vegetable bag), we are that much closer.

So here’s me passing the hat, on behalf of myself and for all the other growers here. We all do it differently. We are from every walk of life. We are your classmates, neighbors, employees, market friends. Some of us have been doing this for years, and some of us are still figuring it out. But we are here, and we want to stay here, and we want to grow for you. For every farm sunrise, chicken video, delicious dinner, farmers’ market date, farmland preservation vote, CSA bag you love and remember, support us this season. Please.


This one. Right here.

We are asking you to trust us. We want to feed you. Let us feed you?

These are some of the ways I can feed you this season. These are some of the ways my friends can.

Lehigh Valley, let’s keep growing this food family.

All My Green Love,



Thinking About Food, Dreaming About Spring


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Winter is always a very disorienting time for me. At the start I imagine myself recharging energy packs that I’ve burned out and used up over the course of the previous season. Weeding through July, seeding through May, harvesting each week and wrapping up in November means I get to shut off my alarm for a few weeks, right?

And then the thoughts start trickling in. The food thoughts. As I sat bundled up with my space heater at the stand leading up to the holidays, I daydreamed about butternut squash, roasted apples, hot bean soup. I thought about all the berries I’d been freezing through the summer, tucked away in my freezers and waiting to be blended into summer-nostalgia smoothies in January. I daydreamed about stir fry. All the stir fry.

I’m a quick study in my meal prep. Hand me a vegetable, and I’ll roast it or throw it in a wok. It’s one of my most satisfying activities as a grower and as a homeowner. It’s nearly midnight as I write this and I want to pull out the last of my beets and do this right now.

Anywho. It’s about this time, just past the new year and straight on through February, that I start to feel the first tug of excitement for the growing season again. The seed catalogs begin to arrive. My heart soars. I pull boxes of potatoes out of the basement and assess my seed stock needs. My mind turns to potting soil and tomato stakes.

And tomatoes. So many tomatoes. I’ve reeled myself in over the last few years, paring down my tomato choices to less than a dozen instead of the twenty-plus varieties I used to plant. 2018 marks my sixth growing season in the Lehigh Valley, and I’ve taken a more pragmatic approach to what I am ordering and what I’d like to grow. Of course, I still have a whole box of exciting and hard-to-pronounce herb seeds from Strictly Medicinals, but you have to keep some of your darlings.

Stand 5

My farm stand opens again in April, with organic seeds and organically-grown plants and all folks will need to outfit a solid garden, along with the early spring veggies. I’m already planning, and I’m already stoked. If you had told me three weeks ago I’d be feeling this way, I wouldn’t have believed you.

My style of farming, like the seasons, is cyclical. I’m slowly emerging from the cocoon of exhaustion and into the light of what is sure to be an amazing year. We have a storefront; we have excited supporters and customers; we are about to have a whole room full of chicks and boxes of seeds; we have a renewed commitment to document this adventure for anyone who may be interested.

We can’t wait to share the journey, the dreams, and, most importantly, the food.

Stand 1


Liz is the owner of Crooked Row Farm, a certified organic vegetable, herb and egg farm in New Tripoli and Orefield. Her farm stand is located at 3245 Route 309 in Orefield. Visit http://farrmerliz.com for more info.


Constructive Summer

Craig Finn says it best, as usual:
We’re gonna build something, this summer
We’ll put it back together raise up a giant ladder
With love, and trust, and friends, and hammers, this summer.

It’s a little more than the usual Crooked Row farm season spin this time around. We’re rocking the two-day-a-week Blue Mountain Farm Market in Slatington. We’re slinging teas and herbs and eggs at Trexlertown. The CSA is 50+ strong. The chickens and the veggies in Orefield are happy, and the herbs in New Tripoli are flourishing. We hatched a chick! Heck, we even have two acres of grain to harvest, courtesy of a new friend with some antique combining equipment, for the Wayfare Baker and other interested baking parties.


Redeemer Wheat from Red Cat Farm and Danko Rye, growing growing growing in the field.

Did I mention we’re certified organic now? And we’ve picked up some killer help this year, really phenomenal humans who are self-contained and love being around the farm.


And still, that’s not the big news. Here’s the big news:

We’re opening a stand.

When I was a kid, Wehr’s on 309 in Orefield was a spot we all adored. The farm stand had excellent produce, it was right on the way to visit Dad’s shop, and they always had cool animals we could go visit in the back.

Imagine my surprise when, fast-forwarding to 2017, Dolores Wehr sold the property to my parents just as the season picked up.


Admittedly, I’ve had very little to do with the building end of this magical new project in our lives. I’ve been watching Team Clymer and Dad Wagner and all the other carpenter and door guys for weeks and months transform this barn into a store I’ve been daydreaming of now for years.

And on Saturday we throw the doors open.

It’s an aggregated farm stand, my favorite kind, one that highlights the best of what Crooked Row and all our farmer friends have to offer. We’ll have local fruits and veggies, honey, cheese, meat and eggs. We’ll have organic and conventional food, so there’s something for everyone. We’ll have Monocacy Coffee and Wayfare Baker Bread and Lehigh Valley Kombucha. We’ll have all the people I love, in a space we can share, just for you.

3245 Route 309, Orefield, PA 18066.
Weekdays – 10-6
Weekends – 10-3
(Or whenever the sign is out, for you early birds)

So come on out and see what we’ve got to offer. Come enjoy the Lehigh Valley food scene. We’ll only keep growing from here.


Oh yes. The pawpaws are sprouting. ❤

One last note: We built the Herb Labyrinth at PEX again this year, where it was well-received and full of joy and gratitude. Thanks to all who walked the path and all who helped to build it. We’re trying to bring it to Allentown in the fall, folks. Stay tuned.

Yours in Plant Magic,  Herb Labyrinths and Big Farm Dreams,

Farmer Liz


We are our only saviors. We’re gonna build something this summer.

Happy National CSA Day!


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.


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.


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


This one is a square graphic for Instagrammin’



Yours in Love and Greenhouse Seedlings,

Farmer Liz


In the Winter, We Dream and We Organize

Until I was about 23, I absolutely hated winter, it is always very cold in winter that’s why when I go out to take my baby on the jogging stroller I make sure she is warm so she doesn’t get a cold. 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?


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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

 Cheese (Half/60 or Full/$110) 1 1⁄2 lb block from various local cheese-makers
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.

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.


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.


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

Hugs and Kale,
Farmer Liz


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!


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.