Another Season Passes – But We Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

Next week is the last CSA delivery of the season.

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I can hardly believe it. It was just the other day we were setting up the bunker in the greenhouse for the first round of seeding, wasn’t it?

Time moves strangely always for me, but particularly so in the last eight months. Not sure where it all went or how we got here, where I’m wandering Philly before 7am and posting up at a coffee shop in Fairmount in all my winter gear before work at my old office.

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OCF Coffee House – this pot of tea and breakfast sandwich made my whole week. Ya’ll don’t even know.

August-October passed in a straight-up blur. It was really hot for awhile, I remember that. I remember the weeds, of course. And I remember a fair number of markets chock full of awesome and adorable humans. But it was a crazy frenzy, interrupted by bouts with new friends, hilarious market antics and small animals.

Stubbz

Baby Stubbz was a big hit at market.

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Farm Fresh, Local Kitten!

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And then there was that time Steve hosted a coup at the Saturday market.

Both markets ended two weeks back, and last week I had my first Saturday off since May. It was so surreal and so very calm. I think I drove around a little aimlessly in New Tripoli just because I could.

Not that we aren’t without farm work. Not just yet. We are packing up the season – organizing, breaking down supplies, and thinking already about what we need to do better next year. We have over twenty pounds of garlic that went into the ground last week, and another seven to go before we’re through. We’ve been awaiting soil test results, thinking about what the future holds, and printing 2015 CSA pamphlets.

Not that I’m still soldiering on at that manic summer speed. I’m sleeping more. I’m really enjoying nights with Epsom salt baths and movies. I’m moving a little slower to cut the last of the CSA greens in the field. I still work at the health food store three days a week, and now I work 2-3 days in Philadelphia, archiving and helping with Toy Drive business in my old stomping grounds at The Support Center for Child Advocates. I’ve been starting to run again – which I don’t have the time or energy to keep up with in the thick of the season but which makes me happier than I ever really realize until I start doing it again after a period of stagnancy. I’ve been ordering books to read on Amazon. I’ve been lying around, occasionally, trying to learn how to do nothing.

Oh, and working on my house. Did I mention I got a house?

Like I said, it’s been a weird last few months.

My parents, who guide and support me in all things, believe in my endeavor enough to help financially back my soon-to-be home-ownership. The business did expand exponentially this year, and I still love farming, so we figured it made sense to look into buying rather than renting in the area. And when they showed me Little House a few months ago, I lost my mind.

I mean, look at it. It's the most adorable teeny house I've ever seen. And the trees are great. I've already spent an hour reading in one of them.

I mean, look at it. It’s the most adorable teeny house I’ve ever seen. And the trees on the other side of it are great. I’ve already spent an hour reading in one of them.

In the last few weeks since settlement, I’ve spent hours in Home Depot trying to navigate pex fittings and ceiling fans. Two of my oldest and dearest friends from home, Steve and Mike, have decided to invest their time and energy into getting this place in order for me. Electrical and plumbing work for food and beer? Yeah, I think I can manage that.

I truly have some incredible friends. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this love from them and so many of the people close to my soul, but I am so, so grateful to have them.

The end of the season has been exciting for my family, too. Instead of getting bored about winter, Mom was gifted a puppy, and there is warm little ball of light in there house that makes her so happy. And Arya Stark is pretty adorable, even for a Jack Russell.

Strider is probably the least thrilled of the team to have Arya in our midst.

Strider is probably the least thrilled of the team to have Arya in our midst. But he loves her, too. 

But back to Crooked Row. I’ve learned so much again this year, I’m not sure where my brain is storing it all (or rather, I do – I can’t seem to find my car keys, like, ever, and I am constantly setting things down and forgetting where I put them). I had a really supportive and sweet CSA base this year, who didn’t complain when they got piles of summer squash for a few weeks straight or that my corn never grew to fruition. I’m doing an end-of-the-season survey next week to see what folks really thought of the season, and no matter what comes of it, I’ll learn more there, too, about what it is people are looking for in their local food sources.

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Near the end of the season I finally got my act together and started making tea blends. By the last market I had some on the table and folks were ecstatic. Though the blends still need some tweaking in terms of recipes, I ordered some more herbal books and want to take some more courses in this vein to create some really delicious and beneficial tea blends in the next season. And the dried herbs smell amazing. If you have any interest in these things, give me a shout at liz.m.wagner@gmail.com or any other way on the contact page. I’m trying to set up a tab for them on here in the next week or so.

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As usual, there is an enormous list of folks to thank for this season. Many of you know who you are. My mom, dad, grandma, aunt, sis, friends and family for all the helping and guiding hands and motivational support. The Lehigh Valley for all the networking opportunities and support for the local food community. The Philly home base for being supportive customers and beautiful, sweet friends. And the kids of West Mt. Airy for being the most hilarious market pals/pseudo interns I could have hoped for. The Community Art Collective for providing summer activities and support and PR for the Wednesday market throughout the season. If you’re in Philly, check these folks out. They are doing some really cool things over in the Mt. Airy/Germantown area. The Food Trust and Farm to City for allowing me into such lovely markets all season and for hiring such magnificent managers.

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On Tuesday PA WAgN held an event at the farm featuring the beautiful, strong and amazing ladies of Green Heron Tools. Liz and Anne brought their lady-friendly tiller for the women to try out in the fields, and while Liz ran the tests, Anne taught us about ergonomics and the importance of understanding the differences in men and women’s bodies, particularly in terms of agricultural tools. We learned how to use our bodies and equipment more efficiently and safely to protect ourselves over time. It was such a fun event, and ladies came from all over to participate.

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Liz and Lexi, an urban farmer from Easton, running the tiller.

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Anne explains the importance of additional grips and posture while doing even the most basic of farm tasks to protect your body.

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This past summer I was also nominated to the Lehigh Valley’s Farmland Preservation Board, which is a really cool opportunity that both they and I are really jazzed about. We get to help farms get funded for preservation, which offers a financial incentive to owners to give up their developmental rights and preserve farmland as farmland forever in the area. More to come on this development as I learn more about the process, but it is surely a necessary function as farmland continues to disappear all over the state at a rapid rate.
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This winter is set to be a phenomenal one. I have so many projects and mind – from the tea to that lot in North Philly to some oral history projects I’ve had on the back burner for months.

And I want to learn, and not just about farming. I want to see what people love about their crafts and watch passions grow. I want to know my friends and acquaintances better, and learn about people I see every day but never have a chance to talk to. If you’ve got a story, I’d love to hear it.

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If anyone is interested in next year’s CSA, drop me a line. I’ll be posting more on that in a month or so. But if you work in an office or somewhere where you think others would be interested in learning about farm share opportunities or the importance of local food, please let me know! I’d love to come in sometime and talk about this with you guys.

Thanks for everything, folks. If you’re in the Lehigh Valley or Philly and would like to go on some adventure or other, let me know. I’ll be bopping around trying to raise vibrations and spread that good field energy everywhere I go.

Yours in Love and Kale,

Farmer Liz

 

Cue the AC/DC – We’re Back!

You see that down there?

HooooRAYYY!

HOOOORAYYY!

That’s some baby garlic coming up in the field. Yeah, I’m excited. And for those of you who’ve had the Keith Stewart Rocambole, I’m sure you are, too.

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Hello, Starshine. We are so glad you could join us.

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Copyright Sarah Merusi

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Friend Sarah’s crazy fish lens captures the the mom/daughter planting excitement

The spinach is up. So is the kale, lettuce, beets, salad greens, assorted herbs and a plethora of other baby veg. The peppers are almost all up at this point, and every day my mom walks into the greenhouse and speaks softly and sweetly to the eggplants and tomatoes, coaxing them with promises of fun and parties if they hurry up and germinate (which I think Pennywise the Clown did too, right?)

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Tomato Kingdom

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And we seeded like 35 types of tomatoes, by the way.

In the field, the sorrel is chugging along, the perennial herbs are making their small and sturdy resurgence and the peas, radishes, beets and spinach I sowed last week should be up soon. Sometimes I find myself standing on the edge of the field wanting to seed and sun dance for them like the sisters in My Neighbor Totoro…but our field is just too close to the road. Too many people slow down to look at what weird things we are doing in the field on a day-to-day without drawing extra attention to ourselves.

And the garlic is up. THE GARLIC IS UP. Did I mention that? You can’t see this but I have paused in my writing to hug myself in excitement.

Two weeks back I took myself on a last grand adventure for the season. I headed out to Pittsburgh – one of my favorite drives and one of my favorite cities – to visit some dear friends, see Neutral Milk Hotel be great and spend hours in the Phipps Conservatory, a huge beautiful greenhouse building full of the most beautiful and exotic plants I’ve ever seen. It was a great way to kickoff a farm bound season in the beautiful LV.

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It’s a banana tree! In the middle of Pittsburgh!

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Oh look, a room full of airplants!

Not that there aren’t things to do in the beautiful Lehigh Valley. My friend Steve and I are slowly working our way through those delightful cases of our  Belgian tripel – and it was really satisfying to take a couple down to Philly and have the boys be surprised at how great it tasted (I am an okay baker, but the Keith boys know I am renowned for big ideas and bad delivery when it comes to cooking – see the twig debacles of 2012). The other day we transferred our maple coffee porter into glass for a couple weeks and added some bacon infused vodka – soooo we’ll see how that goes. But I’m excited nonetheless. I spent part of yesterday reading about herb-infused beers, and I can’t wait to give those a whirl this summer.

And this past weekend I had the pleasure of a lovely dinner with My Grandmother’s Table, a friend’s catering and dining experience company out of Allentown. A bag of sorrel for the dinner got me two seats at her small-party table at Ruby’s Floral Factory in Bethlehem for a night of food and fun that owner Dina Valentini Wanamaker modeled after her childhood Easter Table. I had a blast, made some new friends and she turned my bag of baby sorrel into a fantastic salad with Bulgarian Feta, watercress and garlic vinaigrette.

sorrel

The first field greens of the season. Makes my heart sing.

Add another five courses of pork marsala, chicken roulade with sage and mozz, and homemade raviolis, and you can imagine the evening we had. We’re working on a vegetarian festival meal for September, so stay tuned. We’re talking apps, herb-infused drinks and some amazing vegetable entrees, so get stoked.

sorrel and feta salad

Sorrel and feta salad. Yummm.

It’s been a season with a lot of potential already. It makes me nervous, but I can’t help but feel lucky and excited, too. My cousin got a small cafe in Coopersburg to give me a call about buying vegetables this season. The sous chef at Curious Goods at the Bake Oven Inn reached out a couple days ago on Facebook. My boys have their folks at the Alehouse interested in some after-market vegetables. Tonight The Support Center for Child Advocates is auctioning off a CSA half share for an amazing cause at its Annual Benefit. The guys at Philly Foodworks and I haven’t met in person yet, but we talk frequently and are thrilled to be working together this year.

And for the biggest announcement – The Food Trust has given me a Wednesday Market in the La Salle-ish neighborhood in Philly. I’ll be over at the intersection of Mt. Pleasant and Chew on the Germantown/Mt. Airy border! I can’t wait. After a year of playing the scrappy huckster, I feel almost shell-shocked that folks have reached out to me to learn more and get involved in procuring some vegetables. Coupled with the Farm to City East Falls market, I am looking forward to a full and busy season in the city.

Which, of course, means wayyyy more vegetables need to be up and growing than last year. It’s a little overwhelming to think about, especially with all the weather delays this season, but my dairy boss reminds me regularly that everyone is in the same boat and that you can’t control these things. Which makes me feel better most of the time, aha.

field field work

It can be scary to go out there and seed three or four times as much of a crop than I did last year, but I know it’s well worth it. Folks were so happy with what we had to offer last year, and with a little more experience hopefully there will be more of all the favorites. This is still a big experiment year – I am trying lots of different varieties of each vegetable to discern what works best in my soil and this area – but I hope all this research and studying pays off. People see my hauling this backpack of magazines and books around and ask me if I’m still a student – and while I know what they mean and assert that I’m not, I really am.

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In other Farmstead news, my folks are more than halfway moved up to the new home. Glenn has dreams of an orchard like the one on his childhood farm, so we ordered a pile of fruit trees from our Willow Haven Farm neighbors and got them in the ground last week. I spent a couple minutes making a cute and readable map for my parents to keep track of these guys, since they technically aren’t part of Crooked Row Farm (until I start stealing fruit in a few years, maybe).

Farmstead Tree Map

Right now they look much less exciting than the photo image

Right now they look much less exciting than the photo image

We’re doing a lot of mulching and they are doing a lot of painting and sanding and cleaning to get the current house in order to sell. Hope these new buyers enjoy all the secret tomatoes that are sure to pop up all around the landscaping by summer.

Glenn is also trying out a new toy – a Bobcat, which is really a glorified golf cart with shocks that drives faster. Matthew came up to seed tomatoes and make me some herb shelves the other day, and we spent a fair bit of time whipping around on this puppy. Old man Strider dog also enjoys a good ride in it.

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So excited he made some market shelves!

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Matthew is excited.

And so our journey continues. I just spent the morning seeding a bunch of herbs, and now I’m off to help landscape for the house sale. Here are some plant babies in almost-real time:

Mizuna

Mizuna! Non nom nom.

Cotelydons

Itty bitties.

Baby RR

Red Russian Kallllleee!

Mesclun Round 1

Mesclun – coming to a salad bowl near you.

All the best!

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

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

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

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

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

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Remember How The Blog Stops In Summer?

It’s kind of like that, year two.

It’s weedy. Last week was insurmountably hot. I am still halfheartedly irrigating due to lack of electricity. The tomatoes are finally turning their appropriate colors. People are digging our sweet, sweet sungolds and the Borough of Northampton is all about lemon cucumbers. Oh, did I mention I picked up another market?

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Okay, let’s try this again.

The Philly market is shaky right now. My partner orchard bailed so it’s just going to be me hanging out with you Philly folks, so get your friends to come buy some stuff. We may be moving over toward Front and Carpenter, I’ll keep you posted. And this week I just picked up a market on Tuesday nights in the Borough of Northampton, right on Main Street in front of the Roxy Theatre (for all you hometown folks). So come visit there, too. Or Health Habits! There’s always a couple items there, and I’m finally getting into the swing of adding recipes to products.

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Weeds. They are everywhere and growing so fast. Ragweed has overtaken the world. It is a pain to pull and is, in some places, taller than me. Quickweed is overshadowing most of the greens (though the lettuce is so better it’s all a lost cause here anyway).

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I have had some amazing friends and family help carry me through this month. Folks checking in, cooking meals and experimenting with vegetables, helping weed while they’re on vacation. You are all so amazing, and I’m so grateful to have you in my life. And for those choice folks (read: uncles who are putting off their vacations because they don’t want to get tricked into doing farm work while they’re here – looking at you, DAVE), you’ll be sad you missed the vegetables.

POTATO patty pan tomatillos

Lauren made us some amazing pizza two weekends ago. I want to include her master recipes here along with the beautiful shots of her.031

CROOKED ROW PIZZA!
By Warrior-Librarian and Farm Friend Lauren Balliet

Pizza Dough
Makes two thin crusts or 1 thick

1 ½ C white flour
1 ½ C whole wheat flour
2 tsp salt
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 packet yeast
1 C water or leftover whey
1 tbsp sugar or honey

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and add the water and oil. Stir in bowl until it begins forming a soft dough – don’t be afraid to add more water/whey to get it to the right consistency. Knead 10 minutes on a lightly-floured countertop and let is rise for an hour or until doubled in size. If you’re in a rush, you can skip the rise- with it just won’t develop as much yeasty flavor.

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Preheat the oven to 425. Baking stone or 10” cast-iron skillet inside. Roll out dough and have your toppings read. Remove your stone/skillet. Transfer dough and top as desired and pop back in the oven for 10-20 minutes, until cheese is melted and lightly-browned and edges of dough are crisp.

PIZZA TOPPINGS!
Use any combination of the following for some amazing pizza toppings. Conveniently, all of these ingredients are available at Crooked Row Farm!

-Sliced Patty Pan or Yellow Crookneck Squash (the Patty Pan is a bit sweeter roasted on top)
-Chopped kale, spinach, arugula or chard (red dandelion or endive will work if you are also using tomato sauce to cut its bitter taste)
-Halved Sungold Cherry Tomatoes
-Basil, Parsley or other tasty herbs
-Chopped and roasted garlic or scapes

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Ricotta

1 gallon whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized – look for a local brand if possible)
¾ C distilled vinegar
Salt (optional)

Combine liquids in large pot on the stove and heat on medium, stirring gently a few times until it’s just about to boil. Take off heat and let sit for 20 minutes. You should have a raft of curds sitting on top of why. Using a skimmer or slotted spoon, gently transfer curds to a colander lines with cheesecloth (or an old pillowcase or cotton t-shirt). Let drain 5-30 minutes, depending how thick you want your ricotta. 10 works well. Transfer to bowl and stir in salt to taste.

Use your leftover acid whey…

-In place of water or milk in bread, pizza dough and other savory baked good to add extra protein and make them chewy.
-To boil your pasta
-As a stock for soup
-To water your acid-loving plants like blueberries and hydrangeas (but dilute it first!)

So hey, there we go. I love you,  I love vegetables, and hopefully when things slow down I can be more attentive to both. Until then, keep checking in. At the very least I’ll try to post lots of happy vegetable photos and recipes.

Love,

Farmer Liz

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To Market. To Market (The Self-Employed Reprise) and Hey, Look at all these Vegetables!

I’ve been thinking about trying to describe the rush of emotions I had at our first market on Saturday. There was the nerves, of course – anyone who knows me is aware that I can be a neurotic mess when prompted. Then there was the overwhelming excitement that comes with traveling to a market with food that you grew, which was a feeling I succumbed to every Wednesday morning at Keith’s Farm as we headed off to NYC.

But Saturday was all that and more. As Liv hopped up into my truck in Manayunk, pumped to come set up at market, I felt so proud to have something of my own like this to even be thrilled about. As my CSA-ers and friends came to pick up their shares and check out the stand, their energy and  their excitement for their food (and for some, even their surprise at how good the stand looked) was so invigorating.

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Liv, the world’s cutest market girl.

Stand 1

We set up right in front of my truck on South and Passyunk. It’s convenient and easy and a great location.

But the most overwhelming feeling of the day was gratitude. With every sale, with every smile, with every question and every customer that walked into the stand, I felt this leap of gratitude in my chest. My friends from college and my old office job and my running group believe in me. Strangers looking for good produce or just wandering Passyunk are intrigued at what this farm has to offer. Bob and Jana, the Farm to City folks, where impressed with the stand layout and the vegetables. The other vendors were all fabulous people, and we’re a good mix for a small market.  I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity.

Stand 2

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Get your tasty spring onions and bitter greens.

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Market Girl Liv. At Keith’s Chelsea and I were the only girls last year, and we were often sent separately to fill the girl role at the stand (some say that people trust women with food more – clearly they haven’t had my cooking). It was relieving and cool to be able to restock and talk to people about the produce while Liv did the charming retail work.

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Who knew yard saled DVD racks would be so handy? Folks loved this display, and we sold an incredible amount of transplants at our first market.

The first market was successful in so many ways, and a great learning experience. I know more of what I need to be doing in terms of quantity, variety, and layout. I have a better understanding of what people are looking for and what they are willing to spend. And I have an interested customer base that, with any luck, will continue to grow in the area.

To all of you who have followed this adventure, or bought into the CSA, or will wander through the market some time this year, thank you. You are the people who make this whole crazy and exhausting life so rewarding. And I can’t wait to continue to bring you excellent goods.

Baby patty pan!

Baby patty pan!

All this good energy came out into the field this week, too. Suddenly we have squash coming on, some of the most beautiful lettuces, and all sorts of greenhouse babies ready to be planted into the ground. It’s a beautiful process, and I hope we can continue on this local food road together.

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This is what asparagus looks like when it ferns out and flowers!

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I can’t wait for Saturday, and all the Saturdays to come. And I can’t wait to show you the farm – come up and see this place. The rows are crooked and we’re starting to get into the weed wars, and I’ll probably try to put you to work, but I would love to share this journey with you.