Rain Dances, Sister Love and Chicken Capers

watermelons

squash

Okay, nobody panic.

It’s dry. Dry, dry, dry. And our driveway kicks up a dust storm whenever you drive up it. But the vegetables are okay.

tomatoes

transplants

The transplants are ready for market. The plants in the field are growly slowly but surely. After two years of dragging my feet, we set up irrigation in the field. And not a moment too soon. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, right? Do some dances for us.

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Our little hydrant runs through the woods and out to the field.irrigation

We roll the main line back and forth so one half of the field is irrigated at a time. We haven’t had to try to stretch across the hedgerow to the plantings on the other side…not yet.

Even Willow Haven’s alfalfa – where our chickens live – is beautiful. It’s surprising how resilient these plants can be in this sort-of desert climate.

lucia

Lucia, the awesome Willow Haven intern, pauses to admire the view.

In other news, our farm pups are growing by leaps and bounds. Well, Chase is. Arya is pretty full grown at like a third of his size. Jess can barely lift him!

chase bobcat

He thinks he’s the Navigator. Silly puppy.

jess and chase

Speaking of Jess, a Wagner is back in South Philly and all is right in the Universe.

We ran Broad Street the weekend she moved in, and I even managed to keep up with her for the first five miles! I even got to hitch a ride to the starting line with her Students Run Philly Style Team, and I was so proud to be the big sister while she handed out Gatorade and rallied her kids.

broad street

How Liz Got Her Groove Back.

Broad Street is ten miles of the happiest, most community-centric city event I’ve had the honor to attend, and the montage of my Philly life played out I moved South, the way it does every time. We start where I went to college, we run through my migration to the South. And the friends and neighbors and amazing water station volunteers are truly incredible.

Jess, her darling Jon and I run our first trio race together since like 2012.

Jess, her darling Jon and I run our first trio race together since like 2012.

I haven’t been able to run a race with Jess in a few years. Having her back on our Coast is delightful, and she’s up to amazing things. She is mentoring teens through a couple of running programs in the city and launching her first batch of motivational running apparel – totally made in PA. She’s so cool. A percentage of proceeds will go to the programs she helps with, so once she has product, get ready to represent! Follow her blog at Run Life Co. for her journey.

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Can’t keep those Wagner Warrior Women down.

But back to the farm. Today my mom, aunt and I are putting up our deer fence, seeding greens and weeding everything. I’ll be getting my signs cleaned up and my tent out for MARKET! WHICH STARTS IN TWO WEEKS! AH!

I’m excited, if you couldn’t tell.

I’ve been drying herbs like mad, getting ready for teas and spices. The dehydrator smells amazing.

The anise hyssop shot up immediately once mom cleared away the leaves, and we've dried a few batches already

The anise hyssop shot up immediately once mom cleared away the leaves, and we’ve dried a few batches

And the chickens have been keeping us on our toes. The egg count is incredible, and I’m looking forward to sharing these incredible, almost-orange eggs with you this season.

I have promised a more in-depth article about the price of great eggs, and I stand by that promise. Stay tuned. Last night I was looking at our estimated costs and returns spreadsheets, and seeing how much we’ll make (and that’s with NO labor costs), makes me stand by my pricing.

eggs

Trust me when I say these eggs are worth every penny – our chickens are moved to a new section of the alfalfa fields each week, and they live in a camper and get to roam within their portable fence as they please. We’ve had a run in with a predator – a weasel? A bird? We’re still trying to determine this – and it’s pegged some of our girls over the last couple weeks. But we’re trying to be vigilant and take care of this pest problem before it gets out of hand.

Happy Camper Chickens, or "It's moooooving day!" Secret of Nimh, anyone?

Happy Camper Chickens, or “It’s moooooving day!” Secret of Nimh, anyone?

I have an egg share in the works – contact me at liz.m.wagner@gmail.com for details. Or if you’d just like eggs now, these are $5/dozen (which is the going price for these caliber eggs in a market setting). Let me know if you want some and I’ll get them to you.

In other news, so many of my friends and I are in this crazy cosmic upswing where all our projects and dreams and goals are manifesting around us. It would be so much more surprising if last year hadn’t been what it was.

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The world is out there for you. You just need to start reaching for it.

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Happy National CSA Sign-Up Day!

What better day to start blogging for the 2015 season than one that promotes our small, local farm and CSA programs?

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We still have some shares available for the 2015 season! Check out the CSA Tabs on the site for more info. Not in Philly or the Lehigh Valley areas we deliver to? Check out the area’s Buy Fresh Buy Local page for other great CSA farm listings! Our current drop-off locations are:

In the Lehigh Valley: Health Habits in Schnecksville, Wagner’s Auto Body in Orefield, personal home deliveries and other locations that would generate enough share-holders to warrant a spot. So rally your friends!

In Philly: Mt. Airy Read & Eat (Wednesdays), La Salle University (Wednesdays), The Support Center for Child Advocates (Wednesdays), The East Falls Farmers’ Market (Saturdays), South Philly (location pending – Wednesdays or Saturdays, TBA).

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We’re also spectacularly excited to announce our collaboration with St. Luke’s Hospital Quakertown Campus this season! St. Luke’s started to provide its staff with local farm CSA options a couple years ago, and the program has flourished. We’re looking forward to meeting the wonderful folks at the Quakertown campus and sharing some green bounty.

One of last year's half shares, for primavera love

One of last year’s half shares, for primavera love

Welcome back, friends. Sorry to have been away so long. I can’t say it was all farm-related work keeping me from WordPress, or all vacation, but the point is I’m here to share the watershed season with you in 2015, happy green pictures and all!

Okay, not quite green...yet. But we're getting there!

Look familiar? Filling our passive solar bunker, Round II!

seeds in bunker

Okay, not quite green…yet. These onions and greens need a couple more days. But soon. Reallllllly soon.

We have an irrigation system (only three years in the making!). We have proper soil amendments. We have a CSA that we believe will be doubling in production size this year and two growing markets in the city. We’re getting organized for the bigger side projects (here’s looking at you, tea blends), and getting more in the greenhouse earlier.

Snow? What snow? Spring is almost here, folks. Keep your chin up.

easton table

Our table with teas and herbs at Monday night’s Buy Fresh Buy Local Greater Lehigh Valley farm to table event in Easton. Awesome farmers, awesome promotion, awesome night.

I’m off to build some more grow boxes in the greenhouses. We’ve got a lot of greens and herbs to start! Catch up with you again soon.

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

Next week is the last CSA delivery of the season.

radishes

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.

ocf

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.

market kitten

Farm Fresh, Local Kitten!

melon faces

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.

tea

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.

logo design

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.

carrot

 

broccoli

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.

lexi tiller

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

ladies ergonomics

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

lexi and liz

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.
board papers

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.

learning

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

 

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.

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.

Home is Wherever I’m With You, Part I: Coming Back

12/30/12, 7:30am (Most of this was written in real time as I wandered through Philly yesterday)

I am sitting in Chapterhouse, a coffee shop in South Philadelphia, drinking a Dominican Mocha and eating pizzelles from Sarcone’s Bakery, and my brain is have this strange, double life, mashed up meeting of worlds hemorrhage.

I finally got to see The Silver Linings Playbook last night, which is a move that is particularly dear to me because the author of the book, Matt Quick, was a Collegian editor, writing man from La Salle whom I’ve met with his writer wife before. I wrote a book review of Sorta Like a Rock Star, his kick ass young adult book that came out a couple years back. This couple gives me hope and brings me home to the a place that was so defining to me as an adult, and seeing the Philly skyline on the movie screen may mean nothing to everyone else, but it got me, right down in the pit of my little college girl, writer, big dreamer heart.

So I got up at six this morning, dressed in the dark, and drove down. As I rounded the bend on 76 and the skyline came into view, even on a gray, unassuming morning like today, something in my brain stilled. Some part of me that was and is always moving in high gear just…calmed down. It was weird, but it was most welcome.

I searched for free parking down off Washington and began my trek through my old lands. I haven’t been here for some time, and I guess overall I did spend a lot of time in New York City over the past eight months. But Philly is the one that feels like my city.

But I know I have been gone. I went searching for Benna’s coffee shop – the dream of one of their Open Fire steamers hasn’t left me since last May – but the storefront appears to be a young, hip website design company now (unless I got lost and went to the wrong intersection, which is highly possible. Even when I lived here I was always losing track of Benna’s). I walked through the Italian market, mouthwatering at all the cheap produce the vendors were setting up, and laughing at the burning trash cans they always set up in winter. Derek loved the thought of a farmer’s market full of smoky burn barrels. I hope he has the chance to come see them and get a good laugh.

But I feel like I have one foot in the city and one still stretched out across the state lines at Keith’s farm. I ripped open the bag of pizzelles before the door to Sarcone’s closed behind me, and as soon as the mild taste of anise hit my tongue a dozen memories flashed into my brain. Hanging out in the herb beds up in the 09 field in my first couple weeks, planting anise, the smell and taste of its purple flowers.

This has been happening constantly. And most of the time, it’s okay. I keep walking past stores in the Italian market with garlic in my bag and a half sheet about Keith’s farm and the garlic and my forthcoming farm, but I keep panicking and walking past. I am sitting in my old coffee shops but instead of working on papers or trying to write mediocre fiction or working on something for Child Advocates, I’m researching tax-exempt status forms and IRS paperwork for new farms. I haven’t adjusted to not seeing my farmers constantly and continue to have some pathetic minor dialogue with them in my head when I make a joke no one gets or the like.

And then Sara walks in.

sara

Sara has known me for longer than almost anyone at this point in my life. We met at the PA Governor’s School for the Arts, RIP, the summer before my senior year of high school. I was a scared little fiction writer who from the country who had never left town, and she was the Philly artist since the day she was born. She has been with me and supported me through the toughest, most defining moments of my life, and she is the person who sees my best self. Because that is who she is. She lights up the room, or the coffee shop, or the subway station, and then she lights you up, and you want to be that smiley, playful, loving person she draws out of you. She was the first person to show me this – back when I was 17 and awash with kid emotions – and she does it now, still. I can tell her anything and she can assess and process me and my next tentative moves about men, about my family, about my farm and about myself, in a way that is as efficient as a seasoned therapist with as much love as anyone who has ever loved me – which is why she is and has always been my wife.

She is an incredibly grounding, beautiful person. When I am lonely or upset or ecstatic and in love with my life, I just want to talk to her. So that is what I did. And things that have been so very hazy for me in my personal world for the past few months have sharpened in clarity. The one foot stuck in Keith’s farm is slowly rising to join the rest of me back here, in this new era of my life.

Sara is also an artist in the whole sense of the word. I am writing this portion of this post lying in her bed (I loiter here a lot. Her family tolerates me, to the point that they all asked about the farm when I walked in, and I love them for it), which has an instant, calming effect on me. Her walls are painted with sunflowers and trees and poetry, every nook holds a plant or a candle or an old air conditioner or a guitar or a clay sculpture. And we have this thing about her shoes. When I start new chapters of my life, Sara retires a pair of her worn, paint-covered Converse and bestows them upon me, sometimes filled with hand-sewn dolls and teddy bears, or, as in the case this holiday season, with a pot of basil to plant in them. This is a weird, quirky thing that we do as strange, silly women, but it is impossible to articulate what this means to me since the last pair six years ago. This is the ending of so much, and a shiny new start on even more. And she has almost more excited for Wagner Farmstead than I have since its outset, and that feels good.

I leave Sara’s and catch a ride around the block with Jess, who drove in for lunch, aka bottomless mimosas.

jess r

This Jess is a gal I met about a year and a half ago, right as I was starting adulthood in Philly, whose presence and attitude also helped change the course of my future. I was just starting to work at Child Advocates and looking for some new scenes when I signed up to run with Back on My Feet (and if you read back to the very beginning of this blog, you will see how this program made me who I am), and Jess and Sarah and Scott and Erin and Caitlin and all the runner guys I met helped me become this confident, loving person I had forgotten about during a college. And running with these guys gave me the strength to take the plunge on this whole adventure in the first place.

Scott and Sarah, my other lovely farmer/runner friends who grew up near the farm.

Scott and Sarah, my other lovely farmer/runner friends who grew up near the farm.

Jess is hilarious and sweet and interesting and interested and practical, and a million other great things. It was great to see her and catch up.

And then I arrived at the home of my old, dear friend Nate Adams. We watched some West Wing, grabbed some dinner and then headed off to see The Hold Steady, who may once again be my favorite band of life. If you like rock music, and guitars, and positive jams and narrative stories about druggie kids in the Midwest, you would and will love The Hold Steady. Watch this, and this, and this, and then you will understand. Craig Finn is the happiest frontman in rock music, and this kick ass rock has been a part of my history and growth for six years now. The show was awesome, and it was great to share it with someone who has always been on the ground floor of my life and has supported me and this insane endeavor from the start.

Do you need a best man? Rock star? Great friend? Secret agent? Constant chore? Here he is.

Do you need a best man? Rock star? Great friend? Secret agent? Constant chore? Here he is.

To come back to this city and see this band and spend time with such excellent and admirable people was the perfect real beginning to my time back in Pennsylvania. And tomorrow, in Philly Part II: The New Year’s Sequel, it will continue again with Olivia Biagi, my college love of my life and the girl who wrote an article for the La Salle alumni magazine about my farm adventures.

And here is that hilarious nugget, for those without Facebook.

And here is that hilarious nugget, for those without Facebook.

In the new year I know I will have to knuckle down and start my planning. These things aren’t just going to fall into place. But for these few brief days, just to rehash the Keith’s farm experience with the people who matter and dream big dreams with the people who care about the adventure is all that I could ask for.

-Farmer Liz

Needed a farm picture in here somewhere. Cutting watercress at runner Sarah's childhood home.

Needed a farm picture in here somewhere. Cutting watercress at runner Sarah’s childhood home.