Because Every X-Men Needs an Origin Story or My Quarterly Identity Crisis

I remember the instant I sealed the deal on this future.

I was sitting in a car with my then boss, filled with the nervous conviction teenagers have during break-ups, when I told him I was leaving the city in a month and going to work on a vegetable farm in New York. “I’m not meant to save the world this way,” I said. “I want to feed people.”

Liz Wagner: Queen of Dramatics.

Weeks have gone by when I forget this end goal, this purpose, this reason I had for dropping a 180 on everything and everyone in my life and vanishing into a world of soil and green things. But whenever someone asks me my farm’s mission statement, or I’m faced with the sobering need to defend my new(ish) career choice, I remember why I wanted to do this in the first place.

I want to feed people. I want my friends and family and acquaintances to be able to eat delicious, healthy food and be able to see where it’s growing if they want to come for a visit. I want people to learn how to trellis peas and the best way to weed onions and what hardneck garlic feels and tastes like. I want to get green food to people who haven’t had a grocery store in their neighborhoods in years. I want chefs to expose their customers to new and unusual foods that will make them want to start eating differently or try their hand at growing their own foods.

With the food culture the way it is right now, it’s really easy to lose sight of your purpose in the wake of the social stigmas and villianization that is happening with farmers today. This is something I’ve been thinking about for years now but have never really been able to articulate until now.

I was sitting in a park in Northwest Philadelphia the other day where my newest market will be starting in a month or so. It’s a newly-renovated park with a brand new rec center, benches and trees. The center is run by two women, and I was meeting with two of the awesome women who lead The Food Trust to talk logistics and get to know each other. This amazing organization promotes food accessibility within neighborhoods and institutions, and does a lot of education on a now-national scale.

I sat on a bench reading a book, a collection of stories about new farmers, and the excitement I felt about this upcoming market and the anxiety I felt about being away from the farm all morning still couldn’t compare with the frustration I felt toward many of these new farmer/writers and the sentiments expressed in this anthology.

Don’t get me wrong – I think the program that spearheaded the book years ago is an amazing one, full of opportunities to share ideas, socialize and work with like-minded folks, and their hearts are a thousand percent in the right place. And a fair number of the stories do feature the hardworking, humble, financially-draining trials of folks looking to break into the farm world.

But over and over again there was the same sentiment – this sense that what these new farmers were doing was so novel, and so noble, and so much better than what you do with your life. There were younger, anti-establishment folks who wanted to fight the powers that be. There were folks coming from a white-collar background with years of savings and capital who wanted to set out to start “doing the right thing,” with subtle and not-so-subtle digs at the farmers who had been supplying their food throughout life up to that point.

I took a new farmers class through my extension office last year, and I met a number of people my age who had no hesitation in expressing similar opinions. The farmers renting the land and monocropping in the area were barbarians who gave no thought to what they were doing to the environment and blasted their crops with chemical fertilizers and pesticides just to turn a buck. What we were setting out to do was to fight these evil agricultural tyrants and return to the old world of good, clean food the way it was supposed to be. It’s easy to switch from the mindset of a challenging career and the want to grow food to a crusade, and pick up the swagger that comes with such thoughts. I’ve caught myself doing it from time to time, when I’ve forgotten why I’m really here, but thankfully someone or something has knocked me off that high horse before I’ve made too much of an ass of myself.

Every time someone does this, it’s like they’re scoring a goal into their own team’s net. Farming is farming is farming, and if you’re doing it feed people, or to feed the animals that feed people, or to power the vehicles that get us to places to feed people and your head and your heart are in the right place, you’re on the same team. If you’re trying to start a farm because you think it’s cool to work at a market or because you’ve seen Union Square and Headhouse and thought, “Yeah, I can do this and make fistfuls of money,” or because you want the cred, you’re in the wrong building. And if you think that just because you have this idea the government and crowd-funding and local groups should throw money at you to combat the evils of other food growers, you’re not even in the same complex.

All you’re doing is severing the already tense relationships between the commercial, traditional, conventional, small, sustainable, diversified and local farmers that work – literally, with the geography of our region – side by side in the fields every day.

Our PASA president cautioned against these farmer-on-farmer combative vibes in his address at this year’s conference. Though we can’t maintain a “separate but equal” mentality – not with chemical drift and industrial giant heavy-handedness as it is in marketing and government decisions – we can’t attack each other the way a lot of activist and small-farmer groups are.

Many farmers went to school to learn what they are doing, and continue to follow industry-promoted standards. Many are living hand-to-mouth  and following a path that was laid down for them before they were born. And many don’t have the resources, finances, time for educative reform or, really, time at all, to completely change an operation that is more mechanized, more organic and yielding more product than their counterparts, even if public opinion is swaying away from their practices.

I worked at a dairy this past year that cared adamantly about the quality of their milk and their animals, and many would consider them a commercial or conventional farm. They didn’t feed their calves soy-based milk replacement and would tend meticulously to a sick or injured animal. They cared passionately about their work – it was what they were educated to do and grew up doing. And these farmers talked to me all the time about how they felt they had to be on the defensive with these “new farmers” who came in and tried to tell them they were doing it wrong, and how they were insidious in their actions as supporters of Big Agricultural.

And I hated it. I hated feeling like I fall into that demographic of a young/new farmer who picks fights with their comrades. We’re all heading the same way. We’re all trying to feed people. But we all have different ways of getting to that end result. If science and evolution proves that what one of us is doing is harmful to the other, I want to believe we’ll work together and not in opposition to do what’s best for each party. There are so many combative and differing studies on everything – so many that each side ends up looking (and feeling) like the bad guy at some point. And at this point there’s people saying, “But what about the antibiotics, Liz? And what about the pesticides and the Round-Up Ready corn?” and “How can you say these things and practice what you do?”

To those people, I say, “Hey, look at my broccoli.”

My beautiful, giant – and completely worm-ridden – broccoli. We spent hours cleaning the worms out of the broccoli last season and still didn’t catch them all. I didn’t use a single chemical in my field last year, and that is what I saw. Yes, there are organically approved substances to use. But some of them are just very diluted forms of what conventional folks use. Yes, there are homeopathic and natural remedies that are somewhat effective. But can you imagine the expense and scope, and the time to commit to trial and error needed to use these methods on, say, the amount of broccoli a grocery store needs to supply an area of people? Because let’s be honest – I don’t see a near future (maybe distant, but not near), where the majority of folks are heading out to their local markets once or twice a week for all their needs.

And I can’t imagine cleaning out that many worms, for sure.

I know there’s a middle ground in there somewhere where lots of successful growers reside, but that’s not me, not yet. I didn’t go to school for this – my education if a few years clawing around in the soil – so I can’t pretend to be overly-knowledgeable – but I also can’t be cocky or judgmental in my approaches. There’s just no reason for it.

And not to say roles aren’t reversed, as well. Sometimes I walk into a store around here for cover crop or fish emulsion and am immediately not taken seriously by the staff because I’m the 25-year-old female asking what is the best winter cover to use in my area. Sure, that may be a stupid question to an old hand, but I’m happy and unashamed to admit I’m still new to this. A tattooed friend who comes to help me on occasion gets carded at my hardware store. I’ve had people laugh at me when I tell them what I do. People ask me how my garden is doing at least once a week. At market, people kept asking me who I worked for (until I made my tag-line “Lady-Run,” anyway). And a number of folks didn’t take me seriously until I survived and thrived my first solo year because so many idealists get into this venture without the real drive or plan you need to make it work.

I’m not sure where I fit into all this. I am the mutant of the agricultural world. My parents run an auto body shop. Their parents had family farms, but until we bought the land that I’m farming now, my hands didn’t dig further than our backyard garden. Until I was 22 I thought wholeheartedly that I would be a journalist, and then for another two years I thought I would run a social services program in a city. I got straight A’s in school and ran extra-curriculars. I hug my parents regularly.

I’m not a disgruntled chef, an anarchist, a tattoo-covered train-hopper looking for seasonal work , a girl caught up in the notion of working the land with her romantic partner, or someone who is trying to take down big ag singlehandedly or plunged into this adventure with a blind ideology, a soapbox (but look at me now! Hah!) or a wish to fall off the grid. I wanted to feed people. And this is the way I am choosing to do it.

Maybe I’m talking in circles. I’m sure I’m talking in circles. I think about this stuff for hours at a time in the greenhouse or weeding in the field and don’t draw any significant conclusions or resolutions from it. I’ve straddled this talk from farmers and customers on both sides of the line. Sometimes I just feel like a pretentious bitch. Sometimes I feel defeated. Or exhausted. Mostly just confused. But I keep reminding myself -. practice patience, practice empathy, and keep trying to feed people.

-Farmer Liz


Cue the AC/DC – We’re Back!

You see that down there?



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


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


Copyright Sarah Merusi


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

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

tomato box

Tomato Kingdom

tomato country

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

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

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

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

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

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Oh look, a room full of airplants!

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

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


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

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

sorrel and feta salad

Sorrel and feta salad. Yummm.

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

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

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

field field work

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


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

Farmstead Tree Map

Right now they look much less exciting than the photo image

Right now they look much less exciting than the photo image

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

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

matthew herb shelf

So excited he made some market shelves!


Matthew is excited.

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


Mizuna! Non nom nom.


Itty bitties.

Baby RR

Red Russian Kallllleee!

Mesclun Round 1

Mesclun – coming to a salad bowl near you.

All the best!


Remember How The Blog Stops In Summer?

It’s kind of like that, year two.

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

008 lemon cukes

Okay, let’s try this again.

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


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


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

POTATO patty pan tomatillos

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

By Warrior-Librarian and Farm Friend Lauren Balliet

Pizza Dough
Makes two thin crusts or 1 thick

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

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


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

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

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



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

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

Use your leftover acid whey…

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

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


Farmer Liz


Toiling and Growing – The June Edition

I’d forgotten June 2012. How quickly the weeds grew, how quickly the plants grew, how easy it became to get behind with work. Yep, we’re here.

Once there were onions in my field below the greens. Allegedly they’re still there. My mom spent the hours while I was at market yesterday toiling through a row of them, hand weeding through the heat of the afternoon. She stood up to leave and claims she couldn’t tell what she had done. This is going to be a regular feeling for the next few weeks while we fight the good fight against the fast-growing yellow nut sedge (of course, the biggest patch is in the onion field), quickweed, pigweed and the abundance of broad leaf bastards that are trying to overshadow our transplants with all their might.

Other pests include: The tomato horn worm, that cool but sneaky looking punk who eats all my plants.

Other pests include: The tomato horn worm, that cool but sneaky looking punk who eats all my plants. EDIT: As the worst farmer ever, someone finally pointed out to me that I’m a fool, and this is one o’ dem parsley-eating catepillars that turns into a swallowtail butterfly. I have a tomato hornworm picture somewhere that I’ll actually put up when I find it.

2) Distracting farmers and their motorcycles who want to come do work for free...oh wait. That is the opposite of a pest.

2) Distracting farmers and their motorcycles who want to come do work for free…oh wait. That is the opposite of a pest.

And the war wages on. For the first time in my life I look forward to the fall, when a good frost will freeze the quickweed in its tracks, and I’ll awake to pick kales and fall brassicas amidst its brown, dead foliage. It’s the little things…

But the vegetables and the market (for me) are growing by leaps and bounds. This week mulberries, peas and my first handful of summer squash flew off the tables. A man came into the stand asking after sorrel for a recipe he’s been holding onto for months. When I showed him my bags of it he threw his arms out and embraced me in his excitement. It’s hard to describe the hilarity/satisfaction/excitement of these kinds of interactions, but it’s a rush for sure.

Mama Wagner sorting alliums!

Mama Wagner sorting alliums!

Radishes and spring onions  getting pretty for market.

Radishes and spring onions getting pretty for market.

A radish wreath for all you watermelon radish fans

A radish wreath for all you watermelon radish fans



I still can’t convince folks that endive is the greens wave of the future, but I know we’ll get there (it’s all in the balsamic, I hear, to make this one edible and delicious. Or hot bacon dressing ,if you are of the PA Dutch persuasion – as my mother and her side of the family will swear by).

Everything is growing quickly except my tomatoes, which need irrigation. As you may recall from previous posts, I’ve been struggling with this from the start. The massive amounts of rain over the past few weeks worked for me up on the hill, but hurt some of my friends who had potatoes in standing water for days (as I did with some beans and the onions/weeds in the flat grounds). However, New Tripoli’s well-draining dirt means it’s time for more water, and I don’t have it just yet. Paper Bear Wagner took a generator up to the property to work with the well pump as we still don’t have electricity, and this afternoon we’re going to give it a whirl with the irrigation supplies I inherited from Keith and Tim. With the free drip lines, layflat and a prayer, we may have water. Which means we’ll have tomatoes!


Red potatoes!

Red potatoes!

Carola potatoes! White flowers.

Carola potatoes! White flowers.

Blue potato flowers - not to be confused with red potato flowers

Blue potato flowers – not to be confused with red potato flowers

Our pretty flower patch

Our pretty flower patch



My chard is so pretty it looks like flowers.

My chard is so pretty it looks like flowers.

Walking through the field is instantly calming. I’ve been ripping out tent ads from newspaper flyers, toying with the idea of overnighting up there for my mental health. I’ll pull the trigger on this soon, I expect, once I start sleeping again. Trying to juggle the farm work with a social life is working, but just barely, and involves a lot of late night adventures and early morning return trips. Which can mean slower pick days and planting days and weeding unless I morph into full-on Diesel Mode. Working on this. The store’s New Chapter ‘s Perfect Energy Multivitamin is carrying me through today (in a futile attempt to cut back on coffee).

But it’s an exciting time to play in the dirt. The calendula and cosmos and sunflowers are starting to bloom. The squash is growing big and beautiful . Mom and I are combating the Colorado Potato Beetles as best we can, trying to keep that beautiful potato foliage and flowers as pretty and healthy as possible.  Glenn and I did some fairly-unsafe tractor maneuvering to sort of hill those suckers, and I’ve dug up a couple – they look great.

Okay, less talk and more photos. Huzzah!


Asparagus flowers!


Took this bad boy for a spin last week. Sadly, it doesn’t work so well on my hills. Apparently the answer is a bigger one…

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Oh, and come out to the market at South and Passyunk on Saturdays, 10-2. I’ve got raw cheese, artisan bread, duck and chicken eggs, heritage grain flour and ALL THE VEGETABLES YOU WILL EVER NEED. I got snap peas and squash this week. Nom nom nom.

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

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

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


Liv, the world’s cutest market girl.

Stand 1

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

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

Stand 2

stand 3

Get your tasty spring onions and bitter greens.

stand 4

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


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

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

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

Baby patty pan!

Baby patty pan!

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


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

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

Monday Farming in Real and Rainy Time

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

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

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

Yep. That's right.

Yep. That’s right.

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


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

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

The The tomatoes say,

The tomatoes say, “hey.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Hey, What Happened to April?

Somewhere along the way April came and went. But we’ve go so much done that it’s almost okay that it feels like a whole month has just vanished.

The family has been converging to work on a bunch of different projects up at the property almost daily (Glenn has his real person sized Tonka Toy set to prep his ground for the future retirement home), but yesterday we all rallied farm-side for some afternoon work. Mom weeded the garlic, Glenn dug a trench for 24 blueberrry bushes, and I planted mesclun, sorrel, flowers, fretted over the transplants and watered.


Oh, and Strider watched. He is getting better at walking on the baths and not through the seeded and transplanted areas. He was very excited about the blueberries, clearly.

It’s been amazing to watch things grow – even more so than at Keith’s since these are all my plant babies. We have a bunch of greens in the ground, carrots and beets and peas seeded, and the garlic is already coming up. But it’s nerve wracking as well. I don’t want these guys to get too cold or eaten by the wiley groundhogs up there. There’s a lot of factors at play I don’t have any or very little control over, and it has been challenging to just deal with that.


I’m super stoked about these blueberry plants. They are already so beautiful. We planted them inside the fence – Glenn dug a trench with his New Holland, mom collected bags of pine needles to lay in the bottom of the trench and mulch around the top, and I bought some Espoma soil acidifyer to help amend the PH levels since blueberries prefer crazy acidic soil.


My dear former roommate Olivia became the first non-Wagner to come do some work at the farm. It was also to show someone around and get excited. She planted broccoli raab and mesclun and lettuces, and as of yesterday they were all chugging along nicely. It was so great to have someone from college and Philly and everything before come up and see what’s happening here and be excited. Plus, she’s just the best.

And there it is again! Ruby streaks mustard, please grow big and don't get eaten.

And there it is again! Ruby streaks mustard, please grow big and don’t get eaten.

My friend Lauren as here a few weeks ago also on a rare trip home from New Haven, and she helped me seed in the greenhouse and then we went for a run.I realized how awesome it was to have girlfriends around, and I miss them terribly. Lauren and I have signed up for a run together for Back on My Feet in July, and I hope I’m together enough by then to make this all work.

Mom has been doing tons of whatever needs to be done. Hands down the best co-worker I could have asked for.  She brings my car so Strider can come up (he’s hurt himself somehow so he can’t jump up into my truck right now), leaves to check on the greenhouse when she needs a break, and does everything from seeding to weeding garlic. She’s just the best.

Grandma Wagner even came up to plant peas and give me some grandma advice.

Grandma Wagner even came up to plant peas and give me some grandma advice.

A couple weeks back I went north to pick up some food-grade, 275-gallon water storage takes in lieu of us not having electricity for a well yet, and since I was halfway to Keith’s farm packed his blueberries and headed up for a visit.He’s got a room full of set onions and potatoes, and enjoying having his new manager. He’s trying celery this year and incorporating broccoli raab into his rotation (go us!), and was excited to hear about my projects. He was looking forward to the arrival of his interns – who started work Monday. Derek and Matt and are back and have already created the New Boyhouse in the trailer.

I spent the night in New York with Jay at Peace and Carrots, the farm he is starting with his friend and former Keith’s Farm intern Laura. They’re using some of Laura’s family’s land for a CSA, and they’ve already been written up in Chester’d Dirt Magazine. At the time I visited, Jay was living in a camper while they built a shed/house to live in, and he was tending the greenhouse was Lara was away. They have a woodstove in there for heat and some happy looking plugs. We drank coffee and stayed up for hours talking about what we were nervous and excited about, and bounced ideas and planting notes off each other. It’s hard to explain how amazing it is to know someone pretty much in the same boat – I feel like I’m texting him a few times a week now with questions and to compare progress.


Matthew has his own projects in the works while he’s working at home in Massachusetts as well. He sent me some pictures of the cold frame he built to grow some vegetables. He is doing a small CSA of his own, and hopefully that bum gets down here to visit soon (because visitnig means free labor – you have all been warned).

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The deer fence is up and functioning at 8,000 volts produced by a solar powered energizer. Mom and I put the whole thing up ourselves, and Glenn tweaked our end post so it wouldn’t short out. The fence is around about half the field – most of what I’ll be using to start. The alliums are off on their own because they don’t really get eaten. And after a bit more tweaking, hopefully today, I’ll have the end pushed out to incorporate a tractor path and I won’t have to do anything else but remember to shut it off before I shock myself (again) when I’m in there working.

The fence is up and working!

The fence is up and working!

The greenhouse is well. The onions had a couple haircuts – a Keith trick to make stockier stems – the squash and zucchini is almost ready to be planted, and I’ve set up some plants to go out into the world as potted plants for sale. Going to try that tomorrow at the store, so we’ll see if folks are interested in gardening with kale and broccoli raab and arugula. I put together the Earthway Seeder and have used it for carrots, radishes, beets and spinach. The peas are starting to germinate, so I guess I’m doing it right!

Earthway Seeder! It rules.

Earthway Seeder! It rules.



People are signing up for the CSA! I am so honored and excited and ready to bring you all delicious vegetables. If you’re looking for more info about that, I have some side and top links on this blog that link to the information and CSA agreement.

In other news, I’m moonlight (sunrising?) at a dairy farm, and have been for about a month now. I totally love it.I am now quick enough to dodge a swift cow kick, I have a whole new understanding of how the milking process works, and my boss and her family are really sweet and lovely folks. It’s a dairy right near my house that has over 100 cows – somewhere between 80 and 90 that need to be milked twice a day. The farm sells its milk to Land O’ Lakes, and they are a couple generation dairy farm. It has been fun to learn and work like this so early in the morning, and they’ve been great with everything from offering insight into the new farmer/old farmer mind sets and offering advice on everything from farmer’s markets to Lancaster Farmer articles to read to where to get the most affordable soil amendments.

Feeding heifers. They are so hungry!

Feeding heifers. They are so hungry!

And did I mention the calves and cows are super cute?


The other day Mom, Strider and I sat up where her house is going up and watched the sun set. It was incredible. And now that things are coming together, none of us can wait to be full-time farmers.


Chisel Plows, Seedlings and Getting a Move On

Papa Bear Glenn gets his tractor on.

Papa Bear Glenn gets his tractor on.

Saturday found my father and I seated in his Case IH , with him operating the chisel plow while I tucked myself up on the side of the cab to navigate, trying not to get launched out the back window pushes out but doesn’t lock (don’t tell the folks at my upcoming tractor safety course). Together, we plowed the south-facing slope of my hill.

Back by popular demand - more Strider pictures! He is wondering how the mechanics of a chisel plow work.

Back by popular demand – more Strider pictures! He is wondering how the mechanics of a chisel plow work.

The chisel plow is attached to the back of the tractor with a three-point hitch. It’s actually amazing we got this done Saturday, because we started the morning missing the top link to this hitch. Thankfully, after a handful of phone calls to various tractor supply stores around the county, we found one a couple miles from the farm.

The plow is lowered into the ground and digs up the soil a couple feet down, which in this case was a cover crop of medium red clover.

Glenn and I rode together up in his tractor. He drove and I navigated.

Glenn and I rode together up in his tractor. He drove and I navigated.

My mom and I measured out tractor paths before we started to plow, so there are several sections where we left clover growing to act as a natural erosion barrier and tractor path for both sized tractors and to limit soil compaction. Unlike some chisels,  ours is wide enough that two of the teeth run behind the tractor wheels, preventing compaction and wheel paths.

We let the ground set for a week, giving the organic matter time to break down, and then we’ll go through with the disc to chop of the ground further and smooth and even the areas into workable seed beds. We were missing the hydraulics in the disc, so we’ll be watching the mail and waiting for that to arrive before we can move on. This is just one way to prepare ground. Folks use rototillers or a number of other tractor equipment to similar results, but we decided this would be the most effective with the least amount of negative impact on the ground. Plus, Glenn had a bunch of fun dragging that sucker around the property.

And at the end of the day, we had a plowed field.

And at the end of the day, we had a plowed field.

Beautiful, no?

Last night I drafted my CSA agreement. It’ll be out for the public later today after some experience CSA-purchasers give it a once over. I’m going to be at an Ambler market, and it looks like we’ll be starting in Mid-May. And I have seedlings in the greenhouse that make me smile whenever I walk in.

Who's excited for broccoli raab?!

Who’s excited for broccoli raab?!

Good morning, little onions!

Good morning, little onions!

Yesterday I built a propagation box for tomatoes and peppers. It’s similar to the heating beds, but in a smaller space and with soil instead of sand. The orange cable is buried in the soil and will keep the ground warm. I’ll seed tomatoes and peppers directly into that box, and as the seedlings grow I will transplant them into individual cells.

Painstakingly setting up the soil heating cables in the tomato and pepper propagation box. The wires can't touch or cross or they short out (or so I've heard).

Painstakingly setting up the soil heating cables in the tomato and pepper propagation box. The wires can’t touch or cross or they short out (or so I’ve heard).

Okay, tomatoes. Let's do this.

Okay, tomatoes. Let’s do this.

I also had the opportunity to hang out with some area farmers Sunday night, which was awesome and welcoming and delicious. My friends Mario and Steph, who I met at the Greenmarket last summer, invited me to Eckerton Hill, Tim Stark’s incredible farm over in Berks County, for a farm dinner with their co-workers and Tim. One seafood soup, mesclun mix, roasted carrots and escarole later, my stomach was full and my energy rekindled. Tim and I talked about growing up in this area (his employees are transplants and find our PA-Dutch heavy world quite amusing), and everyone was curious about  my endeavors and encouraging. It was a blast. They have a winter CSA, an upcoming summer CSA, a market stand in Union Square and numerous restaurant relationships that carry the farm.

Their small greenhouse on the property where we had dinner is full of thousands of seedlings, kohlrabi, lettuce heads and amazing greens. It was invigorating to see. And Mario used to be a chef in Manhattan, so his food (and recipes, some of which are on the farm’s website), are incredible.

I am about to head off to my new part-time dairy gig – more on that in an upcoming post. I’m hoping this will help me diversify my skills and will help me learn how to work with bigger animals, which is something I’ve never done before. But we’re rocking and rolling up here in the Lehigh Valley and can’t wait to start working this ground.

The beautiful and peppery ruby streaks mustard. Get ready.

The beautiful and peppery ruby streaks mustard. Get ready.

-Farmer Liz

On Moving Home, Christmas Garlic and Real Person Life

On Sunday I finished packing my car, stuffed any remaining crevices with raw milk from Freedom Hill Dairy for the last time and garlic cloves from Keith (yep, I even filled my boots with them), had a brief cry with Flavia, hugged Keith, Matt and Kobe goodbye, and moved home.

I realized on Christmas Eve, one day later, that I would not be able to settle down. Also I needed a repair foundation service because the foundation was in a really bad shape.

On Christmas day, I coerced Glenn into helping me oil his rototiller, and with the help of my cousins Greg and Allen, we tilled two 40-foot beds in the lot next to my house. That night after the rest of my family left, I went out with my headlamp, my mom’s soil knife, a yardstick and a boot full of garlic, and planted 200 cloves in the first bed.


Late night garlic party!


Yeah, it’s dark. That doesn’t stop us!

It is apparent that Mom Wagner is already concerned about my mental stability.

But with all this garlic sitting around, knowing some if it is in the ground was a huge relief. And the next morning, when everyone in the Wagner house woke up before 5am like a pack of freaks, Jess and Mom decided to join team Farmstead. We suited up, Jess in her second rate running gear and mom in her new muck boots, and went out to the farm where my uncle Butch has been piling pheasant manure for the field. We loaded up buckets and tubs in the back of Glenn’s truck, hauled them back and mom and I worked through the then frozen second bed to plant another 200 cloves and spread manure over both beds. So, 404 cloves in two days. A pretty nice haul for the Wagner women in the midst of the holidays.

The Wagner women working hard.

The Wagner women working hard.

Mom Wags and our trusty sidekick getting our garlic maintenance on.

Mom Wags and our trusty sidekick getting our garlic maintenance on.

Christmas itself was a blast. All my aunts and uncles and cousins come to our house for a day of awesome, and everyone was excited that both Wagner daughters were home and in fighting fit. All of them offered me a couch or a room when I need a break from living at home, to which I am very, very grateful. The family got garlic and veggies and dried herbs, Mom Wagner got Carhartt hats and a Leatherman work knife, and Glenn literally got a mountain of meat from some of my favorite vendor neighbors, like a duck from Ben at Garden of Spices Poultry Farm, skate and tuna steaks from Blue Moon and Amanda and Mike’s incredible meat from Tamarack Hollow in Burlington, Vermont. Farmer Christmas was a huge success.

Christmas braising mix - it warms my heart to hear my family say they like kale.

Christmas braising mix – it warms my heart to hear my family say they like kale.

Meat mountain! And yes, Glenn cut a Keith's Farm-style Christmas tree, so I cleaned it up and gave it a home.

Meat mountain! And yes, Glenn cut a Keith’s Farm-style Christmas tree, so I cleaned it up and gave it a home.

But now there are inches of snow between me and any more progress, and some of my friends are already concerned that I will snap without a task to do. But little do they know, there is always something to be done.

Now that I am confined to a house, I have been 1) forced to unpack (much to my mom’s enjoyment), 2) obligated to set up a bedroom workspace (which used to be reserved for bad fiction writing of the young adult fantasy persuasion, and then just fiction for pseudo-adults, and now farm plans and field maps), 3) coerced into blogging  and listening to the last Pandora quickmix that Matthew left up on my computer before he left (not that I don’t want to blog, just that sleeping forever is so much more appealing in this icy wasteland of Pennsylvania – and the Mountain Goats just came up on this playlist, Matthew so good job), 5) moseying down to the Health Habits, the health food and supplement store where I’ll be putting in some hours to stay busy, and 6) perusing seed catalogs and using some of my sweet, sweet Christmas money to buy seeds.

So, as you can see, there is plenty to do. I just have to get it together and do it. Which can be easier said than done when you are a person who hibernates through the winter months.

But my family is excited, and it’s contagious. Everyone has some anxiety about Glenn and I functioning under the same roof, but on Christmas morning we showed each other that we might survive this. I was out running on the treadmill, he came in and got on his elliptical machine, and we ran side by side for half an hour watching Fiddler on the Roof (which, if you know anything about the musical, is one that Nate Adams refers to as “Daughters Will Kill You: The Movie”). So, you know, that’s something.

It is weird to wake up in my kid bedroom now. I’m having trouble adjusting to being around clean, non-farmer people who believe in taking showers daily and washing their dishes thoroughly. And though I had no idea this would happen so soon, I miss my Tomato Boys. I miss Keith and Flavia. And I’ll never be able to thank them for all they’ve showed me and done for me in the past eight months.

But I have a lot of catching up to do in my home state, and a lot of new adventures to begin. I can’t wait.

Christmas Farmer Liz - Yeah, maybe I wore this for the last week and a half on the farm. But with a Santa sweater like that, wouldn't you?

Christmas Farmer Liz – Yeah, maybe I wore this for the last week and a half on the farm. But with a Santa sweater like that, wouldn’t you? And sure, I look like a hot mess. But so would you if you worked three markets and were an emotional wreck right before the holidays. Womp womp womp.

-Farmer Liz