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.

Having a part of pet insurance companies allows an individual to make treatment decisions for their pet based on what is best medically, rather than finances.

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

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Your May 1 Update: School Projects and Planting Progress!

I’ve been busy watching the magnolia in the front yard bloom and the peas in the field shoot up and the puppies chomp on each other all day and not writing for this blog.

Here they paused from the chomping to nap.

Here they paused from the chomping to nap.

But I’m sure you can understand why, yes?

Pennsylvania in the spring is truly one of the most remarkable and beautiful places to be. If you’re in the country, you see rolling hills turn green and the tree buds burst and flower wherever you are. If you’re in Philly, you’re surrounded by tulips and secret spring bulbs and so many cherry blossoms.

That West Philly love is strong right now.

That West Philly love is strong right now.

I highly recommend taking the time for both scenes.

Little house is just the prettiest spring cottage.

Little house is just the prettiest spring cottage.

We could use some rain, but otherwise the world of Crooked Row is bustling and strong as ever. I finally changed the fictitious name to Crooked Row Farm, by the way, so stay tuned for that Facebook switch (which has truly been the most complicated switch of this whole process).

This is a little game we like to play called "Alien or Potato?"

This is a little game we like to play called “Alien or Potato?”

The flea beetles woke up and immediately started nibbling the Chinese cabbages, so my cute little field is sheeted with row cover again. But the potatoes and all the onions are in! Which feels stellar.

Mountain Rose!

Mountain Rose!

onion sets

Sets are the easily part – soon we’ll post pics of the thousands of onions we started from seeds. Woof.

potato row

The greenhouse is already on maximum capacity, leading me to believe that I’ll be putting up that second 45-feet of hoops and plastic before this season is out. More room for the perennial medicinal herbs that need to live somewhat inside over winter! Huzzah!

And yesterday I took a day off from the field for this summer’s big Philly project – an urban garden with the fifth grade classes at Southwest Leadership Academy Charter School.

truck

This morning’s adventure begins. And yeah, see that truck cap? That means adventure! When are we going camping?

boys

The fifth grade boys were more than happy to move dirt around and play with worms.

tomato projects

Tomatoes!

Mechele, an old compatriot from the East Pleasant and Chew market last summer, is the school’s art teacher, and we started scheming for an outdoor garden space a couple months back. With some donated pallets from an area company and some Crooked Row and Willow Haven starts and some compost from the Fairmount Park recycling center, we took off today.

The fifth grade boys set up the first of that pallet gardens – taking time to get super excited about worms and to tell me their favorite vegetables, of course – and the fifth grade girls planted kales, chards, lettuces and spinach and potted up tomatoes for the later garden beds.

fifthgrade symmetry

Fifth graders don’t really dig on garden symmetry. But we let them have their planting 🙂

garden start

The before and after pictures of this project are going to be awesome.

It was really incredible to watch these kids in action. I don’t spend much time with youngsters, and these kids were eager to help out, excited to be outside and eager to learn what else we would be growing and doing in the space. It was a more positive response than I could have hoped for, and Mechele and I were beaming when the last of the girls headed out.

fifth grade girls

We have some more beds to put in, some fencing to coordinate and a whole lot of green vertical pallet walls to plant and mount – oh, and more dirt to get, like, always – but we are onto something really cool out in the Southwest. More pictures to come as this project grows!

Until then, grab your Local Food Guide and get ready for some good eats!

local food guide

PS – The Buy Fresh Buy Local Greater Lehigh Valley Food Guides are out! Grab yours today.

crooked row listing

Monday Farming in Real and Rainy Time

I am cold and wet and tired, and I am running.

The legs of my jeans are soaked through and caked with about an inch of mud. Each one of my muck boots has a crack at the big toe where, with each down step, an ooze of muddy water seeps in. My sweatshirt is filthy, and I can feel dried flecks of mud crack on my cheeks as I scrunch my face up to keep water out of my eyes.

I should mention that I’m also belting “Dancing with Myself” at the top of my lungs as I tear through the wet field. Because you need to know that I am enjoying all of this. Keith would kill me right now, I think to myself, watching my boot sink another couple inches into the path between the rows I am planting. He hated us walking on wet fields, compacting the soil. But sometimes these things just can’t be helped. My windows of opportunity to do field work – especially work that won’t require me to water in transplants with the tank on the back of my truck, are truly limited. It has been so dry, and the seedlings haven’t been too excited to be hanging out and growing in the field. But they are drinking this up.

Yep. That's right.

Yep. That’s right.

It’s been raining since midnight. I’m stoked. For days I have been filling this giant white 275-gallon water tank ¼ of the way up on the back of my truck and driving out to the fields to do work and water. So I look like this giant camel-turtle monster truck riding around the Lehigh Valley. It’s unfortunate and not super-efficient, and I’ve been doing it as sparingly as possible, but we are still well-less and the soil on the slope is well-draining and dries out even quicker from the wind we’ve had. So you work with what’s been dealt.

004

It’s a camel? It’s a tortoise? It’s my very confused truck.

This morning I got up and by 6:30am had ordered my much-needed exhaust fan for the greenhouse and several boxes of tomato twine. I seeded in the greenhouse, prepped for some work later and headed off to the field for the day.

The The tomatoes say,

The tomatoes say, “hey.”

These teenage onions are almost ready to rock and roll in the real world.

These teenage onions are almost ready to rock and roll in the real world.

Okay. I have an hour to pack up, drive home, un-mud, unpack, shower, eat and get to my retail job. No problem. I throw my boots in the back (realizing only too late that I’ll now have to get out in my socks to close my gate), strip out of my muddy jeans and toss them back there too (I’ve been wearing shorts underneath my work clothes for just such occasions), and roll out. I switch between rewinding the Billy Idol tape for “Dancing With Myself” a couple more times and the two local pop stations. There is something really fun about being a short, muddy lady driving around in a beat-up Chevy and blasting Taylor Swift’s angry break-up songs or some other party girl specials Something I could never really have appreciated until this moment in my life.

Chelsea, my only female cohort from Keith’s last year, called from Africa while I was down in the dirt. Talking to her while I dumped soil amendments into holes and planted was almost like being back in New York after she arrived on the scene. She loves her job and her dog and her life, and it was incredible to catch up with her. She referred to me as “crazy,” the second former coworker to do so (Derek called me that several times as The Tomato Boys and I planted potatoes with no tractor help Saturday) – soooooo I’m taking it as a compliment. I do feel crazy some of the time, but the satisfaction after hours outside and seeing what I can do alone totally outweighs that scared, flying-without-a-net feeling. Most of the time.

Thankfully, I’ve reconnected with some local friends that have been nothing short of miraculous. They take me to the movies and to grab beers and text me questions like “How long has it been since you’ve seen people?” They offer to help build things and work. I am trying to balance being a sociable adult with work, and last week proved I could do it – if you count twelve hours of sleep last night to catch up as an acceptable trade-off. Oh, and did I mention my awesome boss Ed is letting me sell plants at the store? Also you can find at out stop the finest grass from Artificial Grass Vancouver.

Ready-to-plant greens are here! Come and get 'em.

Ready-to-plant greens are here! Come and get ’em.

“Mony Mony” starts and I hit rewind on the tape. Again. We planted the Carola and Mountain Rose potatoes Saturday, followed by lunch at the ’50s diner down the road. So that’s lettuce, arugula, kales and chards, endive, mesclun patches, sorrel, herbs, beets, sweet corn, flowers, spinach, garlic, set onions and spring turnips in the ground right now. Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of my move to Keith’s Farm last year, and it was nice to lounge about and have a couple root beers in the field with folks who knew me as “the new girl.” I could never go back to the lifestyle of that farm, but I’ll always be grateful for what I learned there in and out of the field.

Okay, wolf down the cold pizza, unload empty trays, take a shower and go. Tonight I’m going to try out SquareSpace.com and make a website. Tomorrow is the dairy and more rainy farming. Can’t wait to see my lady boss and the cows and can’t wait to roll around in the mud again. And then off to the Extension organic vegetable class trip to Liberty Gardens in Coopersburg. Rinse and repeat.

If you had told me then where I would be now…well, I might have believed you. But only just.

007

“As we get older every day feels longer, and although I know I’ll struggle I will do my best to never get tired.” – Jeff Rosenstock, Bomb the Music Industry

Why My College Made It Okay For Me To Become A Farmer

La Salle University celebrated its 150th anniversary on Wednesday. The basketball team also won beat Boise State in March Madness, an opportunity the school hasn’t had in something like 25 years.

I don’t care about sports. Never did. But yesterday, with all the buzz in the world about my alma mater, I couldn’t help but feel excited. When I saw my two of my oldest and dearest friends at my hometown gas station –Lauren and Kevin, who met in high school, went to La Salle, convinced me to go to La Salle, and just got married –I realized for the first time how proud I am to be a graduate from that school.

La Salle made it okay for me to care. I had spent my previous teen years investing my overbearing maternal energies into emotionally-disheveled high school boys with guitars. Now I had places to write and service trips to apply to, University Ministry and Service groups to join – and yes, emotionally-disheveled college boys with guitars to kiss – but there was a whole new world at that school, and a whole city outside the school to explore.

It was the first time outside of my home that I was really encouraged to take ownership of my world and my life. If I didn’t like something, I could change it. I could help improve my environment. I wasn’t sure how to start as a nervous freshman, but when Rob Kirkner, a sophomore on my floor, pushed me to join Project Appalachia, I felt like I was starting something incredible. And that feeling hasn’t stopped.

The service trips were also the first time I realized, "Hey, I really like building things, being outside and working with my hands." Sorry, com and English degrees/

The service trips were also the first time I realized, “Hey, I really like building things, being outside and working with my hands.” Sorry, com and English degrees/

There’s really no way for me to write this without sounding hokey. But at the core of La Salle, though sometimes admittedly it can be hard to see, is a school based on creating generations of people who want to make the world a better place for everyone – and you can’t say that about very many institutions. It’s a bit of an anomaly because this school has created a whole offshoot of alums who have moved on to professional service work, – they’ve grown into Lasallians in many respects, but may never be able to financially support the establishment from whence they came (but that’s what the business school is for, right?). Lasallians are people who fundraise for good causes in their spare time, are friendly to strangers and hold the door for passerby. And this is the kind of person I want to be for the rest of my life.

Through my four years of college, I met some of the most upstanding and excellent people I could have ever hoped to meet. Many of my closest friends coordinated service trips, ran student groups, joined cancer walks and hunger runs. They’ve gone on to run and aid social services across the world, became teachers, started families  moved into graduate schools so they can run future projects or political campaigns to try to fashion some change in this world, are active in their local communities.

My freshmen roommates and RA, who have gone on to be amazing people.

My freshmen roommates and RA, who have gone on to be amazing people.

La Salle women are some of the toughest, strongest women in town.

La Salle women are some of the toughest, strongest women in town.

These people are beyond amazing, and yet they still have time to make me feel proud of myself and what I’ve wandered off to do. There have been over half a dozen instances where I find an e-mail or a Facebook message from an old friend or acquaintance from school who has stumbled upon this blog or heard I was farming and wanted to wish me luck and share their hopes for success. Some of my professors have been following my adventures and offer the most heartening well-wishes for me. La Salle’s alumni magazine and one of my great friends ran an article (albeit with some outrageously embarrassing photos) about my journey into farming. Frank Cervone, my former employer and a La Salle grad himself, helped me see that the path to your destiny isn’t always clear, and he sent me from his offices with his blessing and a box of gardening tools for my crazy farm dreams. The guy I dated for four years still continues to be my biggest sidelines fan, and he is preparing to start his own quest to save the city, and I couldn’t be prouder.

La Salle gave me the chance to work with some awesome people (Like Sam), and hold leadership positions in organizations - which I probably couldn't have done at any other school.

La Salle gave me the chance to work with some awesome people (like Sam), and hold leadership positions in organizations – which I probably couldn’t have done at any other school.

These are people who are excited to be a part of their community, whether it be as a Lasallian or a Philadelphian or simply just a person making the smallest difference in the world. These are the people who keep me moving forward when I get scared, remind me of my mission and who make me believe that I can really do this. They are the ones who taught me how to be a courteous neighbor, an enthusiastic motivator, a wannabe game-changer, a steward of the earth. They greenlit this farm before I knew what I wanted to do. And now that I know, when I hear the name of my school – whether it’s in some morning sports broadcast, a hike gone amok or in regards to its anniversary, I feel nothing but gratitude for the opportuitnies I had and continue to have because of it. I finally get that freshmen lanyard. I am La Salle.

Thanks, La Salle, for thinking I'm worth TWO pages in the Alumni Magazine.

Thanks, La Salle, for thinking I’m worth TWO pages in the Alumni Magazine.