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.

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Hugs and Growing Holidays,

Liz

 

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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

Rebuilding, Replanting, Reliving.

On Wednesday morning I rolled into the greenhouse at 7am and started to seed some herbs while I waited for my soul twin and partner in crime, one Matthew LaVergne, to arrive from Philadelphia for a day of major seeding projects.

The greenhouse was already warm enough for T-shirt attire. I could hear the woodpeckers in the woods all around. And for the first time since this frigid winter began, I could see the end. And for the first time since packing in Season 2013, I felt like I was home.

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Home sweet home

Two weeks ago my crew of beloved friends and neighbors assembled to help me finally get the greenhouse up at the new place. Stefanie Angstadt, seasoned Eckerton Hill vet and fledgling area cheesemaker (and, let’s be honest, my first farmer crush of 2012) arrived to help put in the center pole and side boards. And she brought coffee, because my friends are the sort of folks who bring breakfast when they come to do favors. I am a blessed human.

stef

I, on the other hand, am a terrible friend and failed to take a good action shot of dear Stef. But here she is in all her glory.

power tools

Stef documents my successful use of power tools.

The next day my carpenter/substitute/pirate/beer-brewer childhood affiliate Steve rode up to help post up the end walls and make fun of my poor carpentry skills (which, hey, we blamed on the other guy who helped, because we could). After some sketchy work with a hand saw, we got everything where it needed to be. And then we brewed some beer.

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Not only is Steve great at putting up walls and brewing a tasty beer, but he is currently wearing a shirt with an anchor on it and sporting Badfeather, his bird, on his shoulder. At one point as we transferred our beer to the glass container to further ferment, he looked down at himself and said, “Hey, I’m dressed as a pirate!”

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No, this is not the correct order of things in terms of beer making. But my blog, my streamlined memoir. The point is, there is beer. Good beer. And it will be bottled soon, so if you want a happy homebrew, don’t sass me about logistics.

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Notice a pattern here? Next come’s the plastic. The following day Matthew slept in…but thankfully Teena Bailey, local farm-woman extraordinaire and mentor, did not. And as she ran off to collect our neighbor Reuben of Willow Haven Farm for some extra hands and an actually-functioning staple gun, my dear friend and Health Habits co-worker Gina Medvedz arrived with her adorable self to pitch in. Matthew did arrive in time, and the greenhouse finally became a greenhouse.

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Having four of my favorite people in such close proximity created this massive force of good energy across the fields. They were like superheroes.

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Gina, Teena (inside) and Matthew shore up the sides while I clearly do no work and just take pictures.

Teena and Reuben are pivotal folks in the area when it comes to small-scale, low-budget, sustainable vegetable farming. The two of them use composting manure bunkers for passive solar heat to start their seeds and keep their greenhouse warm,  and after some coaching from them, I decided to follow suit. Thus began a several day operation of leaving the dairy after work and picking up truckloads of cinder blocks, building four-foot walls inside the greenhouse for the manure bunker with said blocks, returning to the dairy for work and to collect truckloads of manure, and then up to unload the manure.

bunker 1 004 bunker 2 bunker 3 bunker 4 bunker 5

One of the perks of working at a dairy (and having kind and generous bosses), by the way, is free manure. Thank you Excelsior Farm, for once again being awesome.

Repeat this a couple of times, with literally about three tons of manure and 120-some cinder blocks, and you get a bunker.

A bunker that is toasty warm for the onions nestled on it. A bunker that, though a bit smelly at the moment, will continue to heat and break down and become really lovely compost in time. A bunker that provides more room and heat than the manufactured grow cables or heat mats. And all I need is a pitchfork and a shovel to change its size and shape to suit my needs throughout the season.

SCIENCE.

So, there’s a greenhouse. And a bunker. Now it needs to be filled!

Grandma Wagner is always up for a trip to visit our Mennonite friends and supply vendors out in Berks County. We saddled up on a Friday morning and drove out to Meadow View Farm in Fleetwood to pick up a big order of potting mix, tomato stakes and ground cover.

We took Glenn’s truck because it’s cozier, and because his 80-year-old, 4’8″ mother is too short to get into my truck easily. It led to a morning of her shouting things like “Let’s burn rubber, kid!” and me repeatedly shouting back, “Yeah! Not my truck!” Because we are adults.

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Grandma chummed it up with Jay, the nice boy who pulls our orders, and then we dumped everything off at the farm and went for one last truckload of manure. While I stacked blocks of potting mix, Grandma Wagner tried her hand as a graffiti artist and spray painted some water barrels that we then filled in the greenhouse for extra heat retention.

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After a quick call in to my aunt, we reconvened at the house and loaded up my dad’s truck with the greenhouse tables and seeding trays and flats and other greenhouse supplies that had been lingering (much to Glenn’s chagrin) in the garage. We tied it all down and caravaned back to the greenhouse to unpack and settle in. My mom returned the next day to help finish the job, and all of a sudden we had a fully furnished greenhouse.

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With my crew of retired and semi-retired bored women, and a handful of crust punks, we will rule Pennsylvania.

In the midst of all these other things, some other work got done as well. I made business cards; I took a shank off the cultivator and drug it around with me to tractor supply stores and Internet searches until I procured the missing parts I needed for a full set; I finished Season III of Game of Thrones and didn’t cry all that much; I had a Tony Luke’s breakfast sandwich with broccoli rabe in it and missed South Philly. We’re chalking all these up as wins.

I’m talking to a food hub in Philly about selling them lots of greens for their CSA shares. I keep failing to rendezvous with my awesome extension agent to catch up and talk about building my cold storage unit. PASA posted my blog post about the conference on their pages – which was a totally amazing experience when a new friend mentioned how much she liked what she saw on the PASA Facebook Page. Next week I have a phone call with the membership coordinator of the National Young Farmer’s Coalition to discuss opportunities in this area.

What do you do at one in the morning? I replace sweeps.

What do you do at one in the morning? I replace sweeps.

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And so Matthew arrived, ice coffees in hand (see my earlier note about awesome friends), and we cranked out a full day of seeding. He kept seeding when I left him for two hours, and when I returned he had installed a doorknob and organized the space. And added a root vegetable to my 2014 wall (by the way, friends and neighbors mentioned in this post today – you all need to come back and sign the wall).

And that’s the thing. Mom Wagner and I got it done last year, and successfully, but I didn’t realize how lonely and exhausted and overwhelmed I felt so often until these folks were in my life asking what they could do to help. It is awesome to have this kind of community, and it is one that got built in the midst of the insanity of last year.

Working the dairy has taught me all sorts of things about farming in this area and animal care. I’m so much stronger now, and Andy and her family have been nothing but kind and generous with their time and aid. Jerry, the herd manager, is constantly bringing out newspaper articles about small farms and farm-to-table operations. The store gave me my first local following and my cohorts there love to promote the farm, and now even my parents’ chiropractor has joined the CSA.

My parents have tolerated a myriad of things parents shouldn’t need to deal with once their kids move out the first time. They’ve allowed me to stay here and work as much and often as possible to accrue some more business funds. Mom Wagner feeds me and helps fill in the watering, heating and covering gaps in our once again crazy schedule. My college friends, my runner friends, my office friends and now my sister’s college friends are ready for me to be back in Philly, and local caterer Dina at My Grandmother’s Table is the first person asking for spring greens.

Things are going to be crazy again for awhile. I wake up and drive to New Tripoli to uncover the trays. In the middle of the day, sometimes between jobs, they need to be watered. At night, also sometime between jobs, they need to be covered again. There is so much seeding to be done. Once I’m working outside I will be leaving the dairy (or at least incredibly cutting back my time there, because I may miss my new friends and the cows to much to really leave). With the help of Derek, Matthew and some other Philly friends, I am trying to pick up another Philly market.

There’s a lot of good people in my corner. And I’m not the scared, sad, indecisive girl of 2013. There is always the nervous feeling before the plunge, but there is too much excitement overriding everything else.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for reading, and for listening, and for sharing this adventure.

-Farmer Liz

Get ready. We are.

Get ready. We are.