To Market, To Market

Kohlrabi! The strangest veggie in town.

Another herb display picture? Can’t help it – it’s just too cute.

I have been slacking – again. But here are some beautiful photos of our produce at market to tide you over. I will give you the breakdown on all these delicious eats soon.

Things are trucking along here. Our newest mission is clove popping – breaking about garlic bulbs and sorting the cloves by size for planting stock. I can talk more about that later as well.

I went back to the lovely city of Philly this past weekend, and realized how much I missed it. But it was great to talk to my friends and be excited and have them be excited with me, and it’s helping me push through the challenges of planning Wagner Farmstead.

Tomatillos, onions and shallots – oh my!

The most beautiful radishes in the world!

Hot Portugal peppers, scapes, parsley.

Pumpkins and basil? We are having some seasonal confusion.

Hakurai Turnips- you can eat them raw. And yes, again our kohlrabi.

TTFN, Ta-Ta For Now!

-Farmer Liz


Adventures in the Tri-State

After a riveting, busy and ultimately amazing Saturday market last week, Derek, Matthew, Chelsea and I went gallivanting out into the world Sunday and had an incredible farm adventure.

After running into Fred Merusi, my dear friend Sarah’s father, at a lovely, solo Liz brunch in Milford, Fred insisted I come see his farm stand over in New Jersey. I have been meaning to get there for some time for a number of other reasons – to visit Sarah, to see the highlanders, etc. – so I rallied my farm troops and we set off on our journey into Jersey.

This is how we learned about local farmers and their farm stands. Sure, I have seen the side of the road farm stands from time to time, but here there were three within five miles of each other. And we stopped to talk at each one.

The first stop led us to some giant carving and Cinderella pumpkins, and a fellow named Gene. Gene has another farm in Pennsylvania where he hires the Amish to work for him. His wife died a few years ago, and this property we stopped at had fallen a bit into decline. Gene grew and grows a number of trees and shrubs for landscaping, but with the economic downturn found himself without a clientele. He was selling his giant pumpkins to a farmer who sells in Union Square, and it seems like these odds and ends are how he supports himself these days. I asked him something about his high tunnels and he lamented that Chelsea and I weren’t around when he was doing serious farming, as we clearly know what we are talking about. He was a friendly, funny guy, and he insisted we take some of his tomatoes with him when we left.

We traveled further down the road, past a few attractions and finally came to Fred’s place. It’s a beautiful, spacious property with wood buildings scattered across it. I roused Fred from the Giants game and he came out and gave us a tour of his grounds.

Oh boy, these Highlanders are BIG.

Fred, as you can see, has highlanders. Three of them – his bull, Mahoney, and two pregnant ladies. As our tour progressed, these three followed us around until they paused to take a dip in the pond that Fred dug years ago to the exact dimensions of a hockey rink for his kids.


One of the mamas.

Swim party.

Fred’s got a sugar shack where he makes maple syrup in the winter, a garden patch for his pumpkins, a double-layer greenhouse and honey bees that a local bee guy cares for. It’s a beautiful place – the kind of place a person dream about having one day.

Fred shows us the grading scale for maple syrup.

Chelsea hanging out in the Sugar Shack.

Derek hanging out in the Sugar Shack.

Matthew hanging out in a tree. Typical.

Cutest greenhouse ever?

Fred shows us his garden space.

Though he can’t spend as much time working on farming as he’d like, he is hoping to soon.

Meanwhile, we soldier on.

This morning my uncle Butch arrived at Wagner Farmstead with a trailer full of pheasant manure that he, Glenn and I unloaded in the afternoon.

I am procrastinating on my field map (and with the blog, can you tell?), but I’ve been reading all sorts of things – Chicken magazines, classifieds for farm equipment and farm stand availabilities at area markets, and even a book called Compact Cabins with floor plans for teeny tiny cabins that one or two people can live in. Big idea scattered wide, because I like thinking about everything at once.

But I’ll start honing down into what’s important and start getting specific plans rolling soon. Promise.

Here are a few scattered farm photos. I’ll try to post more this week.

Fields of squash. These have since all been harvested.

Fields of squash – these have since all been harvested.

Waving fields of green. Kohlrabi, Kale, Cabbage, Broccoli, etc.

One side farm adventure – last week during a pick day our Bantam, who Derek and Matt have jointly named DiAngelo Barksdale (because he is wiley and often being beat up by the bigger rooster), flew the coop! He flew straight up through an opening in the roof of the chicken enclosure. He hung around on the roof and then jumped to the ground to contemplate his freedom briefly before Matt caught him and tossed him back inside. Otherwise, he would have been Kobe dinner.

-Farmer Liz

The Wagner Women and Their Vegetables

On Saturday, Donna Wagner and I took our first real step into farming; we went out to the Farmstead in the awful weather and measured our field. Now we can start planning our plantings based on bed and row size. In theory, of course. We still need a tractor, and we still need to figure out tractor wheel size and slope direction and a thousand other things. But the field is measured, folks, and it looks something like this:

Every art teacher (and everyone on the farm, and, really, anyone with an ounce of artistic ability who has ever known me) cringes when I try to draw. But here it is – the world’s ugliest, messiest field map. Don’t worry. I’m going to clean it up.

Donna has been insistent through and through that we be a ladies only farm, and I am becoming more and more on board with that by the day. More on that, and this incredible woman who is my mother, later this week.

In our excitement, we then proceeded to cook everything we’ve grown. We took some leftover clams from our last family bonanza and used mom’s green peppers, Keith’s garlic and some local onions for clams casino.

Tasty, tasty clams.

Then I roasted some entrepreneur tomatillos and made some badass salsa verde with some Hot Portugal peppers. Mom also made her own fresh salsa with all the ingredients from her garden. It’s scrumptious.

Salsa Verde! It tastes awesome.

Momma Wags's delicious garden salsa.

And then, finally, after weeks of preparation and no delivery on my part, we made pesto. Keith’s garlic and basil, pine nuts from my favorite Syrian bakery in Allentown. It is delicious.

Pesto Party. Throw some olive oil on top and freeze it for later.

Coupled with Jess’s CSA subscription from afar and my grandma’s typical  veg-heavy diet from her garden and ours, the Wagner women have been digging on their local, sustainable veggies pretty hard this year.

Sunday morning we headed over to the Emmaus Farmer’s Market. I wanted to check out the market and talk to some vendors, including folks at the Seed Exchange, who offer are offering a 20-hour a week apprenticeship in 2013 that would sync up nicely with next year’s plans. I spoke with an intern and the director there for a couple minutes – the intern, Marguarite, had been a WOOFer previously, and for her the two-acre production at the Seed Exchange was a huge step up. She said she’s learned a lot about tractors as well. I’m still on the fence here, but it was still really nice just to talk with some other farmers about flea beetles and cipollini onions and things of that sort.

We bought some Bison meat, nitrate-free bacon and artisan bread from various vendors, and I picked up some eggs from BAD Farm in Kempton, a husband and wife dairy operation close to Wagner Farmstead that will supply me with all the raw milk I could ever want once I’m living far away from Freedom Hill in New York. They have some 300 Rhode Island Reds for eggs and were really forthcoming and open to visitors, so I hope I can pick their brains about chickens in the near future.

Back at the farm, I finally finished reading through Richard Wiswall’s Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook and am skimming through a copy of Storey’s I by Gail Damerow. I plan to buy copies of all these for myself in the future, once I’m up and running and will need to refer to these books and their specifics more frequently. But this initial exposure if helping me figure out what I want and need to do in a more general sense. My next big task is to research tractors. Glenn keeps talking about checking some out, but we need to know what will work best for us before we go plunging into a crazy purchase like that.

So yes, today was a food post, but yesterday I went and bought the cheapest camera at Best Buy so I can get back to taking delicious and delightful photos of the farm, our evolving stand and our great-looking produce. Going to head out now and take some kale shots for a post later this week.

Fall is in the air up here. And for the first time that I can remember, I am totally stoked about it.

-Farmer Liz

The Fall of Tomato Kingdom – The Greens Uprising

Well, it came to Pennsylvania, and then it came to New York, and then it came to Orange County, and then it came to Keith’s Farm; late blight. We found some last week while we were harvesting, and now we are in full on tomato harvesting. We must pick as much as we can and Keith has resolved himself to spraying copper on a couple different areas to keep some of the plants going for as long as we can. But our main goal for the past few days has been to harvest everything salvageable and let them finish ripening in our root cellar and cooler.

But late blight was not the beginning of our tomato problems. We began our season with blossom end rot in our heirlooms because someone planted a tomato stake right through the drip tape, so when folks irrigated that field the water gushed out into nothing and some of the tomatoes were never watered. This is how I learned the importance of checking drip lines EVERY TIME you irrigate. Holes and leaks form all the time – from wear and tear, from small critters with sharp little rodent teeth, from tractors and loosely-tied ends. And tomatoes succumb easily to a number of diseases (ours have a few) and need a lot of maintenance for a successful crop.

But when you get tomatoes, it’s totally worth it – in addition to a half dozen variety of regular red tomatoes and four cherries, we had a solid planting of Cherokee Purple, Paul Robeson, Pink and Yellow Brandywine and Amish Paste heirlooms that New York’s tomato connoisseurs gobbled up each market. Keith also sells a low-acid yellow tomato called a Taxi that sort of stinks flavor-wise, but people looking for low-acid tomatoes adore, and we were regularly the only stand picking green tomatoes to sell at market, which were overall very well received.

Though folks are sort of over tomatoes now with our rapid descent into fall, tomato season was still something to behold. I am relieved that it is winding down – some harvest days were extended full hours because there were so many tomatoes to pick – but seeing a truck filled to the brim with such vibrant colors is really a sight to behold.

But our silver lining is our greens. Our kale, mustard greens, broccoli, cabbage and other fall treats look pretty amazing right now. Our chard is spotty from Cercospora leaf spot, which apparently travels on quick weed (which we have in abundance on this farm), but we’ve cut off the diseased leaves and the chard we took to market went over well. We are still struggling to hussle our Mizuna at the stand – which is insane to me, because I could eat Mizuna bunches all day – our Asian greens kick butt, and this one is long and stringy with a mild mustard flavor when you sauté it.

But what are you going to do? As people experiment more with their fall greens, they’ll come around on Mizuna, I’m sure. We also took giant Tatsoi heads to market, which look totally cool. Being down a camera has been a huge drag for the blog, but I’m going to invest in one this weekend so you readers can see the amazing produce we are growing right now. Our fields of kale and broccoli are incredibly to see. And they are fortified behind the Great Wall of Keith’s Farm, so they should be relatively safe from pests.

Our winter squash is also looking incredible. We have huge butternut and acorn ripening in the field, our Delicata looks scrumptious and our Jack-Be-Little pumpkins and cooking pumpkins already make it feel like Halloween up in 09. We took some to market yesterday and some came back, but once it gets a little colder it will allegedly fly off the shelves.

As far as market, Wednesdays have been clipping along nicely. Yesterday it rained heavily twice and the threat of rain made for a slow morning, but after the sun came up business picked up considerably. Not our best day, but still fairly decent. Apparently now that it’s after Labor Day business will fly through the roof because folks have officially returned to the city for work. It’s cool to think of being even busier than we have been, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.

On the personal business end of things, our tomatillos and husk cherries are giving us only small returns at each market, but it’s still fun to have something of our own to take. And the fields of black dirt where Keith started set onions in the spring have given way to two bands of broccoli raab that our coming on nicely. We’ll make good money off those if the field doesn’t flood and if deer don’t eat them – people at market have been clamoring for it since we ran out.

I was too tired for a few weeks to be excited about Wagner Farmstead, but after a day of Wagner picnicking because Jess was home from California this past weekend, I’m totally amped again. We talked to my family about farming all day, and Melissa’s boyfriend Anthony has offered a lot of advice and potential aid that has me feeling excited that we could actually pull this off. I’m going home this weekend to measure my starter field so I can officially start working on a crop plan and field map for the spring. I’m staying on here at Keith’s until the last market before Christmas, and then I’ll be ready and eager to start setting things up for my farm ahead. I can’t wait.

Like I said, I don’t really have any pictures to include of the farm at the moment, but my good friends Lauren and Kevin invited me up to their apartment at Yale a couple weekends back, and I brought them some seconds from market that they turned into a real feast. So here is a before and after shot of that.

A beautiful spread for a beautiful couple.

Fork-crushed blue potatoes, shirazi salad, salmon and a medley of deliciousness. Lauren is an amazing cook.

Lavender cake!

Also, Flavia and Keith had us over for dinner before Parker left to return to Bard for school, and Flavia bought us each a handcrafted hat from a novelty shop in town. Keith adores these hats and always has one on at work, and it was really sweet and thoughtful farm gift for us. I love mine so much that I went to the store and bought one for Jess (who, fashionista that she is, was less receptive). But here’s a few goofy picture of us in our hats Flavia sent around.

Clearly, we are all business.

With the lady of the house!

What were we talking about? No one can remember, but it sure looked serious.

And now, duty calls. But stay tuned. I’ve vowed to start writing more again with my renewed confidence and energy. And the forthcoming photos will be well worth it.

-Farmer Liz



Catching Up and Trying to Write – A Tired Farmer’s Tale by Farmer Liz

In case you couldn’t guess, it has been a busy couple of weeks.

Tomatoes are in full swing – in three different fields, of over a dozen different varieties. We had a bit of a struggle with some initial blossom end rot due to some irrigation mishaps, but the heirlooms looks beautiful, the cherries are everywhere and make you feel like you’re walking through a six-foot high tomato jungle, and our market truck is now stacked high with tomatoes every Tuesday and Friday night. We have squash, cucumbers, peppers in the field and in the tunnel, beans, four different varieties of potatoes, something like ten different types of onions and all our herbs and greens.

The weather hurt us pretty badly at the end of July. Prolonged dryness crisped our greens – we had some beautiful Botavian lettuce heads that tasted so awful we didn’t even pull them from the field. We did some rain last week, finally, but it was too late for a lot of what we normally take to market. Flea beetles desecrated our kale and our chard numbers are down, so interestingly enough, broccoli raab has been selling to the point that Keith gave us two more bands in an old onion field for it. It looks healthier and tastes better than some of the actual crops we’re bringing to market right now. Matt is gearing up to write an invoice for the 75 percent profit we gain from our entrepreneurial crops. Our tomatillos are looking amazing too, and soon we’ll be pinting those for market. We still haven’t planted the chervil (like I said, we’ve been pretty busy), but I’ve already taken a couple cutting from the Moulin Rouge and Soraya sunflowers for the houses (and man, are they beautiful). I direct seeded the rest of the seeds behind Flavia’s studio, and on Tuesday night divided the seedlings so we’ll have separate plants in that garden bed and another three down by the tomatillos and first planting of broccoli raab. What can I say? I dig flowers.

Market has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few weeks. We expanded the size of our stand on both days, and now we have an additional structure (this bulky metal red shelf, to be exact) and more room to display tomatoes.

Garlic is hanging in three different buildings on the farm. Fields that housed our peas and first lettuce plantings have given way to scallions, cilantro and mesclun lettuces.

Yesterday was my first step toward managing the Wednesday market at Union Square. Keith and my dad are painstakingly teaching me how to drive stick – Keith with the Mitsubishi market truck, and Glenn with his six-speed rollback. It’s fun and terrifying and exhilarating, and it’s hilarious to watch these nervous men beside me in the cab, but I think I’m learning quickly. At market the guys tried to step back and let me call more shots on stand layout and organizing, and loading and unloading the truck. It rained three times while we were down there and again while we were loading, so by the end of the day we were all pretty exhausted and ready to boogie. How did I do? We’ll see. But at least I learned a lot about what to do and not do for next week.

This one is a short one, just to get back into the groove of writing. My camera broke a couple weeks ago as well, so I can’t even photograph some of our awesomeness. But here’s a picture of me and Chelsea at our first and only girl market, kicking ass.


Girl Power! Oh yeah, Matt actually ran this market, but didn’t wear his purple color coordinated outfit so it hardly counts.

Garlic Harvest Comes Early!

Garlic. Season. Has. Arrived.

Last week was the dirtiest week of farming to date. Starting Monday morning, we got up and, for hours, pulled garlic.

Pulling garlic goes something like this. Fill the truck up with lugs and drive out to the field. Start on a band with a pile of lugs to your name. Start to pull garlic. Do not break any stalks – if you do, you must use a garden fork to dig up the lost bulb so it doesn’t get left in the field to spring up next season. And garlic doesn’t want to leave the ground. You need to bend down (or really squat down if you don’t want to destroy your back) and yank the plant out with both hands.

Clearing out the fields.

This truck has been filled with garlic more times than we can count now.

You pull about seven to twelve at a time, and then brush off the dirt, pull of the weeds, and pile them vertically into a lug. The leaves of the plant need to shade the bulbs to prevent sun damage. You can also pull up a dozen, lay them on the ground, and then pull up another dozen and lay their leaves on top of the previous bulbs in a wind row.

This is a wind row. Pretty, yes?

Do this for a hundred lugs. Then for sixty more. And then repeat for hours , and then days, and then weeks. By the third day your wrists, legs and back may get sore. Suddenly sleeping eight hours isn’t quite enough. You skin and clothes smell like body odor laced with garlic. You walk into the morning meetings knowing that there will be five items on the list, and two are pulling and hanging garlic.

Hanging garlic is second part of this process. We drive all this garlic down to the tractor shed or the implement shed or the lower barn. Then we take the piles of garlic strings we sorted earlier this season and start to bunch the plants. Other folks stand on   (or are just taller than me) and hang piles of garlic throughout the sheds. Places where tractors and farm equipment used to sit are now floor to ceiling with hanging garlic bunches. It’s like a jungle when you walk inside.

Matthew is a garlic zombie.

It’s a garlic jungle in here. Where is the sun?

Keith grows Rocambole garlic, a hardneck garlic known throughout the city (or at least New York) for its quality. Keith has his own method of sizes the bulbs, which range from $2 a bulb to $1.25 a bulb based on size. Colossal, Super Jumbo, Jumbo and the rest. We pulled a ton of Colossal out of the field, and everyone is pretty stoked about it.

All we do is pull garlic.

Garlic champs.

Garlic is fun and challenging and sweaty and smelly, but it’s totally satisfying. Suddenly I can pick up lugs and weight I could never lift before. Thursday was by far the filthiest day to date – garlic picking and hanging, water wheel transplanting with days old, rancid fish emulsion, Florida Weaving tomatoes (which stains your hands a thick, troll-green color), and then some Deer Stopper, which is rosemary and rotten eggs, essentially. Gross. But still, in a bizarre way, awesome.

Florida Weaving turns you into a troll!

Even your arm hairs turn green.

But the payoff is totally worth it – at market on Saturday Matt, Matthew and I made bank, and Keith was quite pleased. So many people emerged thrilled to see our garlic – one man even called his wife from the stand in his elation. It’s such a cool thing to witness.

There will be lots more to tell soon – even after two days off, it’s still exhausting to think about. But next up is some updates on Wagner Farmstead, stories of squash and potatoes, and more about our farm.

-Farmer Liz

Roosters and Potatoes – Farming Day #1

First off, let me just say that if you are new to this story, you should read this quickly for some context. Now, read on!

Have you ever walked into a place and felt immediately at home?

I haven’t, not really. I am usually totally neurotic in new situations.

But as I got out of the car tonight with Jay and Matt from a trip through the tri-state area, I felt like I’ve been living here for months.

I must admit, when I showed up Sunday morning and discovered that of the five interns I was the only girl, I was a little taken aback. I had prepared myself for the mix of guys and girls, the awkwardness of sharing a house and all that that entails.

I made it to the farm about fifteen minutes before a class from Vassar College arrived for their Contemplation and Landscape class. Conveniently, Keith showed them around and told them all about the property and its history, so I got a helpful updated tour and got to meet Matthew and Matt, two of the other interns who were lounging around on their day off. Matthew is from Massachusetts and had been here for a week. Matt has returned here for a third season. Jay, who I met later in the day, worked here last year and came back to live and work again. We’re roughly the same age, here for similar reasons and have already taken to eating meals and lounging around after work together.

The guys all play guitar, and Matthew and Jay bake bread. What more could I ask for?

As Vassar students asked us and Keith all sorts of questions about the farm and farming and other subjects I couldn’t really speak to yet, I caught myself staring at one of the students. Of 26 20-somethings in this random class at a college I’d never heard of at a farm I’d just arrived at, I ran into Anna, a girl I went to the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts with for a summer back in high school. When these sorts of random things happen, and they have been with some frequency in the past year or so, I feel like I’m being led by some higher force in the right direction.

Matthew offered to show me around the intern space. He was living with Jay in a small intern house on the edge of the property. Matt and the mysterious fourth intern I haven’t met yet have posted up in the two standalone cabins. And beside the house sat am empty modular home with three bedrooms.

“We cleaned for you,” said Matthew as he showed me into their house and offered me some of his freshly-made garlic and rosemary bread. I didn’t even need to see the room at that point – I was throwing my stuff into the third room of their – our – house.

At some point during all this the boys informed me that Keith had a rooster that needed to go. Though Keith typically only keeps chickens for eggs, this extra rooster was causing strife in the henhouse, and sometime since Matt’s arrival he decided he was going to take care of this.

Long story short, I had not expected anything like the escapade that followed, but the guys caught the rooster, gave it as merciful a death as they could manage (they watched an inordinate number of YouTube videos to prepare for this task), and Matthew and Jay made this fantastic stew we had for dinner tonight.

After a brief chase, the culprit was apprehended.

Rosemary, thyme, potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, and yes, our dear rooster. And it was delicious.

I cannot articulate how amazing this was. An honorable end for an honorable bird. And my cook housemates already blow me away.

It was not what I expected on my first day on a vegetable farm. And work hadn’t even started.

I slept straight through the night last night – which is something I haven’t done in months.

This morning we rallied in the greenhouse at 8am for our daily tasks list. Today was potato day, and we spent hours moving half a dozen different types of potatoes from the basement of our house, sorting by size and cutting bigger potatoes into smaller pieces, dunking them in T22 – an organism-based fungicide that is organic and protects the harvest from disease – and planting them in one of the upper lots.

We put 500 pounds of potatoes into the ground today, and that’s only half of what will be in there. I learned more about potatoes than I ever would have expected – I mean, have you ever seen a blue potato? It’s arguably one of the most beautiful blues I’ve ever seen in nature.

This year Keith bought his potatoes from Maine Potato Lady (who is the owner of this particular picture). Beautiful, right?

Today a driver arrived with a 550 pound barrel of fish emulsion. Sounds gross, right? Apparently Neptune’s Harvest is known for its seafood based fertilizers, which will go in the orchard and on some of the crops throughout the season.

Tonight the four of us sat down for dinner – rooster stew, freshly-baked bread and a salad made from mesclun and kale from the high tunnels – and, like I said, it’s like we’ve been here for months. Jay and Matthew sit in the kitchen and take turns playing Andrew Jackson Jihad covers, Matt wanders in and out of the house, they take turns reading, rearranging the furniture and playing Starfox on Jay’s N64. It feels like freshman year of college a little bit, but it’s not an unwelcome feeling right now.

We went for a drive tonight, and it was breathtaking how dark it was after being in the city for so long. I miss Philly, for sure, but the sky out here is incredible, and the air is clear and crisp.

I’ll try to get more technical about the farming as I wrap my mind around all of this. But bear with me as I get my kid giddiness out.

I’m sure things will get tough, rough and dirtier as the season progresses. But right now, I feel nothing but excited.

-Farmer Liz