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

 

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.