Happy National CSA Day!

facebook_stamp

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.

facebook_logo2

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.

facebook_logo

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

insta_isupportmyfarmer2

This one is a square graphic for Instagrammin’

facebook_isupportmyfarmer2

facebook_isupportmyfarmer5

Yours in Love and Greenhouse Seedlings,

Farmer Liz

liz-and-texas-kids

Advertisements

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!

trexlertown

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.

IMG_20160327_090405409

-Liz

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.

end of csa

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!

hers and hers ad

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.

I6

Hugs and Growing Holidays,

Liz

 

Home Again – The End of Travels, The Beginning of a Season

I arrived back to the States a week and a half ago, and already the trip is starting to take on this dreamlike quality.

I’ve told “The Travel” story about a dozen times already, and it is starting to pick up its own rhythm. But whenever I open the picture folders to send a couple off to some of the friends I’ve made or get some printed just to have, I remember more.

After Christmas, I traveled further inland with Josephine, my Dutch traveling compatriot, to La Fortuna. There we hiked the Cerro Chato, swam in a lake that was once a volcano with our new guy friends from the hostel, and spent an evening by candlelight at the locals’ hot springs.

From there I found myself back in Alajuela, the city outside of San Jose where the airport actually is. During this leg of the journey, from long bus to long bus, I was adopted by a lovely Tica woman who, on realizing I clearly had no idea what I was doing at the bus station, had her husband buy me a bus ticket, loaded me onto the bus with them, and fed me some of the lunch she had packed.

This happened a lot. I don’t know if it’s my constantly half-amused, half-puzzled facial expressions that do it, or just the locals’ general kindheartedness, but I was forever being rescued.

Thanks, Costa Rica. Like so many places with so many people, you are so good to me.

My taxi driver friend from the first day, Jose,  was there to greet me at the airport when I hopped off the bus, and he got me to a city hostel where I spent a couple days adventuring to outer towns (Poas was an accident when I was trying to find the Poas volcano, but it was a lovely little town I was happen to spend the day in), taking myself to see Star Wars, looking around at clothes and food and malls and parks, and spending a lovely evening with Jose and his family, drinking coffee and practicing Spanish and learning that all little kids all over the world love Frozen.

And then the cavalry arrived. Gary flew in and we proceeded to have a whole new dynamic in the adventure, one with four-wheel drive adventures around the Chirripo River at the foothills of the national park and into The Osa, the southernmost peninsula of the country that is mostly just accessible by boat.

We jumped off rocks into rivers, met local chocolateers and cheese makers and yoga instructors, hiked into the jungle for hours, meeting monkeys and agutis and all sorts of birds (and a couple biology classes from Penn State, small world), swam at gorgeous beaches up and down the Pacific Coast, camped in the car and sat around a beach fire outside a hippie hostel in Uvita, and read one of The World Made By Hand books and drank local kombucha at a vegan restaurant in Dominical.

I was starting to fray at the seams by this leg of the journey, exhausted from traveling and thinking about getting home, but it was a truly incredible time. I’ve never had such fun, or seen such beauty.

IMG_20151231_184410194

And then, after hours of customs and an overnight escapade at the Atlanta airport, I was home.

Just in time for the start of season.

“In January?” you ask.

Yes. There is planning to be done, supplies to be ordered, and it’s CSA sign-up season! Three days after I got home I was sitting at the Bethlehem Food Co-Op’s general meeting, explaining my excitement about the forthcoming store to a room full of people and talking about my last four years with Crooked Row.

I’ve been updating flyers, planning for our new chickens, discussing coffee shares with the guys at Monacacy Coffee. A truck delivered minerals to our field and the PASA Conference is just a couple weeks ago, as is my brief return to dairy work. The truck needs a tune-up. Northampton Community College bought more teas for its campus Slow Market on Wednesdays, 10am-2pm. You should check it out.

Planning the season is such a vibrant use of the winter. Hibernating is too, and much warmer, and I highly recommend some of that. A lot of that. But as seed catalogs arrive and e-mails trickle in asking about CSA group buy-ins and new drop-off locations, I can’t help but hop up from the blankets feeling excited.

Looking for a vegetable adventure this year? Join the Crooked Row 2016 CSA. Vegetables, eggs, and some excellent coffee. Holler at me for details.

Oh, and Mom and I will be taking beekeeping classes through the Lehigh Valley Beekeeper’s Association. Who’s excited?!

Hugs, Frozen Kale and “She’s too tan for January,”
Liz

IMG_20160104_181046215_HDR

Sunrise in the Rainforest – One Month Away

mountains2

When I was a kid, I got my hands on every fantasy book I could read. Magical forests, kingdoms and battles and landscapes unbeknownst to this reality. The battles were cool, but the woods were the wizards and creature lived – that was always the kicker.

I wanted to live in a hobbit hole since my first foray with Tolkien. I would sit in the pines behind my house and read for hours, then climb down covered in sap and needles. The books were where the magic lived.

Turns out, Tolkien and my team of beloved writers were maybe all dreaming of this country. I can’t account for the number of times my breath has been snatched away in the last few weeks by the scenery around me. The tears that have come to my eyes, and the wild rush in my stomach and throat and heart.

mountains3

Mountains

As if this magnificant beauty wasn’t enough, I am floored again and again by the beauty and joy of the humans who keep taking care of me.

On my last weekend at the farm, our neighbors and beloved friends took us up into the mountains to spend a weekend with a family on a coffee farm. I was bowled over by the land around us – the steep slopes and hills on which these people have shaped their homes and farms and lives, and the magnitude of happiness and love that just radiated from everyone around. The family we stayed with didn’t know anything about us, but they shuffled us into a bedroom, fed us amazing meals, let us play with their kids and dogs and, Sunday morning, took us with them on their family drive up to the top of the mountain. We stopped at the top to take pictures and pick and eat sweet limes, and on the way back down we stopped to pick fruit and vegetables the whole way down. We caught fish and they fried them for lunch, and one of the daughters cried when we left.

coffee mountain

me and the twins

We walked the hectres of coffee plants and picked some (very, very slowly). My farm and traveling companions, Kaddi and Stephi, two darling twins from Germany, took me to Jaco, adventured around the farm and sent me on my traveling way with hugs and prayers. I had such fun playing along as the third twin during our last days on the farm.

nelson and marlen

Nelson and Marlen, our neighbors at the farm, fed us some lovely dinners, took us to the beach and took us to see their coffee friends.  I already miss them.

monteverde walk

monteverde green

And now I am closing out my stay in Monteverde. Five days of cool weather, a world of rainforest green, and the sheer love of the Ficus trees in the woods behind the neighborhood. Since the second day here, when Jorge took me back up the hill for the first time, I felt what Tolkien must have felt when he created the Ent. A truly magical layer has formed over this trip, one of rainforest walks that make me want to lay down in the mossy green and sleep for hours – climbing into the sky in the skeleton of the Ficus Tree, the adrenaline of climbing a massive living ladder and standing at the top, feeling it sway in the breeze. I. Can’t. Even.

eden tree

Ficus

And, of course, more beautiful people. Everyone here is so welcoming, and so friendly, from our hostel boys to the other travelers. Everyone has helpful advice on good places to stay, where to eat, what to visit and when the buses are running. I almost missed my bus here, and when I dropped into the last seat, I found myself sitting with a young man/writer/rocket scientist from Noway who was well-versed in travel and human dynamics. His book is this year’s English best-seller in Norway.

NOrway

It’s an excellent book, even if you aren’t from Norway. I read it on the bus and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I had Christmas Eve dinner with the hostel boys, my new friend Josephine from Holland and some other roommates floating around. Pizza, ice cream, plantains. Christmas Day lunch was tamales and my sheer hunger joy at these delights. My new-adopted family has been such fun.

el tucan boys2

el tucan boys

I climbed the Ficus Trees with Ticos, Dutch and Israeli friends. I had a traditional Israeli dinner with a magnificent couple who asked if they could adopt me, along with the young man who invited me along in the first place. I sat at the table and let the Hebrew wash over me like music, as I find myself so often doing with the Spanish here.

Every experience is a treasure. Every hug and smile and shared adventure sings with its own clarity of purpose. I have a sign at home that says “The Whole World’s My Hometown,” and I couldn’t be happier to truly feel this way. Next up, La Fortuna and the Carribbean Coast.

orchids

Love, Ents and Ficus,

Liz

top of the ficus

 

Season Endings, Cheese Making and the Upcoming Travel Adventure!

It’s raining today, and I know I have a pallet of cinder blocks in my truck bed that need to go into the greenhouse to expand the solar bunker for February’s early seedlings. I sat here and made a list of errands to run, spreadsheets to make, side projects to buy materials for. I am going to mail a package that has been hanging out in my truck for something like four weeks, waiting to get to a post office. Sorry, Kat and Will. I promise it’s coming.

Instead of doing these things, I stir my tea, slice myself a piece of yesterday-made feta cheese, and think about how to turn my brain down. I talked about this last year, too – teaching yourself how to slow down and detach because deserved rest is allowed and acceptable – and while the mental guilt still battles on in my silly brain every time I sleep in or spend an afternoon reading (even if it’s raining, even if it’s the off-season), I’m getting better at it. Marginally.

End of Season Share! Aka Shameless Plug

End of Season Share! Aka Shameless Plug

The season, as many of you know, is at an end for 2015. Though the season doesn’t truly ever end – field planning for 2016 has already commenced, seed catalogs are being perused, and folks are already signing up for next year’s CSA (WOOHOO!) – the fields are more or less in rest, save some kale and collards for Thanksgiving meals, and the chickens have been pared down for their move to the indoors for winter. Many went to some fabulous local homes to expand some homesteader flocks, and that makes me really happy.

During our last move of the chickens, all the cows decided to come lick Reuben's truck.

During our last move of the chickens, all the cows decided to come lick Reuben’s truck.

I took Mama Wags to Valley Milkhouse‘s beautiful Cheesemaking 101 class yesterday, and we had an awesome morning with Allison Czapp of Buy Fresh Buy Local as we listened to the always-stunning and articulate Stef Angstadt explain cheese production and its translation into a home cheese-making setting. Stef is a young cheesemaker in Oley Valley who has rocked Eastern PA with her dynamic personality and delicious cheese.

Stef and her enormous blue cheese inventory, being awesome.

Stef and her enormous blue cheese inventory, being awesome.

Hooping feta in the giant vat.

Hooping feta in the giant vat.

The cheese class folks give their own a try!

The cheese class folks give their own a try!

After several hours of setting, culturing, hooping, and flipping, along with a creamery tour and cheese tasting of Stef’s amazing eats, we wandered home with huge wedges of fresh feta and recipes, culture and rennet for our own future kitchen creamery escapades. As each group made our own wheel of feta, Stef and her assistant finished off their 25-gallon batch along with us as she explained the nuances of different cheese production, the steps and ingredients necessary for a perfect mold rind and subtle flavors, and her story of home cheese-maker-turned-creamery-extraordinaire.

Allison hoops!

Allison hoops!

Mom uses the sweet knife.

Mom uses the sweet knife.

:) Happiest cheesemaker.

🙂 Happiest cheesemaker.

I can’t wait for Liz and Mom kitchen projects, and judging by that look on her face yesterday, I think she may be in agreement. If you’re looking for an awesome class for you and a friend who likes to cook, homestead or just enjoys cheese and learning, I can’t recommend this class enough. Everyone seemed to have a wonderful time.

The shift into hibernation has afforded me some adventure time, too. My grandma and I watched the Muppets. Liz and Ann of Green Heron Tools cooked me a spectacular meal, followed by hours of spectacular conversation (and the opportunity to read Earth Dreams, written by Liz, which is pretty rad).

Home sweet Keith's

Home sweet Keith’s

I made my annual pilgrimage back to New York, to where it all began over in the Hudson Valley. Visiting Keith’s renews my spirit, and popping cloves with this year’s crew gave me hope of having my own happy, healthy, stable intern or three one day.

Kobe, still being adorable after all these years.

Kobe, still being adorable after all these years.

The man, the myth, the ultimate boss: Mr. Keith Stewart.

The man, the myth, the ultimate boss: Mr. Keith Stewart.

I spent an evening with my aunt and this little bundle of joy earlier this week.

The Return of the Kitten Monster.

The Return of the Kitten Monster.

I’ve been attending some workshops in the Lehigh Valley about all sorts of things, from a Reiki Attunement certification to the Laws of Attraction to, as you see, cheesemaking! I’m spending a couple hours a week helping the Lehigh County Farmland Preservation office with some office work and learning about the process of farm inspections and preserving practices. It’s all pretty cool stuff.

Plus, farm inspections usually include great animals, like this precious girl.

Plus, farm inspections usually include great animals, like this precious girl.

I’m also in the midst of a crash-course in carpentry as I help a dear friend finish off some work on her shed and house before the snow comes. Cedar shingles and insulation are my new best friends.

If only Carpenter Liz could translate straight lines...

If only Carpenter Liz could translate straight lines…

And I’m looking ahead to next season. It’s been such a satisfying and challenging season in a number of ways, and next year is only going to get better. So many of this year’s CSAers sent such beautiful photos and messages throughout the weeks and have already committed to 2016 (I even got some checks already, bless their hearts), and that’s a truly wonderful feeling. I’m feeling confident as a grower and ready to tighten up the fields for better production and streamline some processes for more veggies with less back-breaking labor and mind-numbing schedules. It’s totally possible, and I’m figuring out how.

This week I had a really great meeting with the administration of St. Luke’s CSA program, and we discussed a number of ways to make the 2016 season less stressful for the farmers and more valuable to the customers. I had a call yesterday from an interested potential 2016 member. And I’m looking for a Bethlehem drop-off location, especially since Bethlehem Food Co-Op members receive a 5% discount on share prices when they join! This is an organization I hope to become more involved with as their infrastructure grows, and I want you to be a part of it, too! The co-ops in Philly are so cool, and the thought of having one here, with shelves stocked by farmer friends, not to mention myself, is just so exciting.

Tea party, ahoy!

Tea party, ahoy!

The teas and herbs are moving into the spotlight for me, too. We are currently selling at Northampton Community College’s Wednesday market (10-2 at main campus!), and will have some herbs at the Easton Public Market when that location opens. I’ve been looking for places to give out sample packs around the county to interested stores and cafes, so if you have any ideas, let me know!

I few weeks ago a handful of friends and NCC Good Growers came out to help me dig some raised beds. Shovels flew and two enormous raised beds were formed, moving us ever closer to that permanent raised bed dream. And beautiful Lucia, neighbor intern and beloved soul sister of 2015, has finished her season with Willow Haven and returned home. Applications are open for new guitar-strumming, heart-warming neighbor gals – but know she’s always gonna be the favorite. Follow her family’s adventure as they create a tiny house community outside of Philly!

Lucia, the beloved, and Mislav, the first person to appreciate that my tea kettle whistles a perfect fifth.

Lucia, the beloved, and Mislav, the first person to appreciate that my tea kettle whistles a perfect fifth.

And the biggest news of all: I’m going on an adventure! I’ve talked about it for years and put it off for one reason or another. Too nervous of traveling, not enough funds, afraid to be away for such a long time. But a couple months ago I was surfing some listings through Workaway, a site that offers international work trade experiences, and found a listing for an eco-village on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. St. Michael‘s practices permaculture and sustainable techniques I’ve only ever read about, and their commitment to teaching their workers how to utilize these practices is inspiring. The space looks utterly breathtaking. The owner is incredibly perceptive and welcoming, and even took the time to read my blog before our initial interview. I think we understand each other in terms of mission and future goals at our respective properties. We aren’t necessarily able to grow the same things in our varying climates, but new experiential learning is half the fun!

Plus, the thought of spending any more time in a Pennsylvania winter makes me too tired to think.

I can’t even explain to you how stoked I am. Jess is even lending me a not-duct-taped-together laptop for the journey, so you can all read along with this leg of the Farmer Liz adventure. Stay tuned.

You know you want to...

You know you want to…

I’m about to update all these other blog pages, the ones about teas and herbs and available locations, and the 2016 CSA info. Now’s the time, friends, to step out of your comfort zone and share in a new food experience. Contact me for more info.

Yours in Kale, Love and Coastal Dreaming,
Liz

fall kitchen