Years ago, I learned the lesson that food makes classes go better. Cookies, chocolate, licorice, pretzels, it doesn’t seem to matter. I learned that hungry students are cranky students. Much better to acknowledge that and offer something to take the edge off the hunger. But as these essays will show, our connection to food is deeper than that. Certainly we need food to function, but we have emotional ties to food–to the taste of chocolate, the texture of mac and cheese, the smell of dad’s marinara sauce…. Memories of family members, summers on the boardwalk, Thanksgiving gatherings, are often infused with food. The authors of these essays have explored some of these memories in the narratives you find here.
I interviewed a neighbor of mine, Craig Dahlin, who makes wine out of his basement. He is a member of the New York State Farm Bureau and a U.S. Government Fishermen and Farmer Consultant. Originally I had some questions about the logistics, dedication, and legality of this. All of this, from start to finish, happens in his home. Craig produces some of the most unique, flavorful wines I have experienced.
“Great wines taste like they come from somewhere. Lesser wines taste interchangeable; they could come from anywhere. You can’t fake somewhereness. You can’t manufacture it … but when you taste a wine that has it, you know.” — MATT KRAMER, Making Sense of Wine
How did you discover this interest in wine production?
My story and I’m sticking to it, is that we were on vacation up the the Finger Lakes region and I really enjoyed drinking the wine and at the same time that previous summer I was thinking “why am I spending this much time growing tomatoes?” So when we came back I was like “tomatoes are out, more fruit production!” I literally, that year, decided to go off and start planting vines and start learning to make wine.
How did you get started? Was the start up expensive?
It all depends on your approach in life and where you come from. I’m an engineer, I like doing things with equipment so I what I did was I jumped in and got the good gear. Yes, you could make wine with just about anything and a bucket, but I spent the very first year out, I spent $450 to get started and made 18 gallons of wine… 12 of which were worth drinking. So then I got the bug! You’ve got to buy the glass, you’ve got to buy the books, the chemicals, the grapes. Now my costs are not nearly what they were then. I didn’t have a teacher; I really started from all books, I had no clue what I was doing.
So it’s a once and done type of expense?
No, I can’t really say it’s once and done because I also buy bottles. Bottles are like $13 a case but if you bought a case of wine it would be about $120. This weekend I bought 4 carboys [large 6 gallon glass jugs] and picked up local grape juice.
Where do you draw inspiration from for new flavors, tricks, methods?
I read recipe books and what I happen to have in the yard at any given time. Like with the Roasted Pumpkin wine, I went up the field after their harvest and took the left over “baby” pumpkins. I also subscribe to some magazines and enjoy reading about fruits and different kinds of fruits. I’ve had a long experience with flavors and fragrances from my job. Techniques are fun too, so like if I read about a new technique I’ll try it. I’ve got to say I’m really interested in making more formal champagne, it’s hard, but it’s good.
Just a handful of the books I was given from Craig’s collection to look through.
What is your process?
Do you want technical? Emotional? Any yahoo can make booze, the hard part is making it taste good in a bottle a year later. It really starts, honestly… a bucket and sugar water. The process, in a nutshell, is fruit juice of some sort at the right temperature, add yeast. I like to kill off the native yeast with potassium metabisulfite. Then I allow some oxygen into it, control the temperature between 68 and 85, when it gets done with heavy duty bubbling then I take it from the top off the junk at the bottom. That stuff at the bottom is “lees” or basically, dead yeast. I let it sit, take it out off the lees one more time and use a fining agent to really clarify it.
What is your preferred method in production?
I follow suggested practices as established by home winemakers – what I just described to you is my preferred process. Some people believe that you have to make it with just your native yeast and whatever comes, comes; I’m not of that mindset, I believe in tasting it, tweaking it, to make a good wine that I can control. Philosophically I’ve read this discussion that winemaking is turning dirty into clean.
What is country wine?
The Northeast has so many amazing wineries but everybody thinks about those wines from California. There are some amazing wines in this part of the world. Everything I make they call “country wine,” anything that isn’t biased towards grape.
What does it take to grow good wine-quality grapes?
First, there’s lots and lots of varieties. Each one has a different style and where they can grow regionally. Really what you need for good grapes is the right soil which is pretty dry. They like water, but just enough. Grapes vines don’t want really thick wet soil. Grapes are very susceptible to mold and bacteria.
Because it’s hard to grow vines, you don’t grow everything? You source it and buy the juice instead?
You’ve got to remember, too, that I just planted my vineyard out there. This should have been the first year that actually would have gotten any volume of juice but we had two factors working against us – the rain and we got bombarded with birds. So I lost most of my elderberries as well. My plan is to not buy anything, and use what I’ve got here except sugar. I’ve actually contemplated planting sugar beets and making wine utilizing them.
The guy you bought the grape juice from this year, why did you choose him?
I wrote to a few local vineyards and a couple of them suggested this supplier – Jack’s Grapes. [ http://www.JacksGrapes.com]
So eventually you want to do everything right here with only homegrown ingredients, except yeast?
Yeah, well I could make wine with native yeast but.. yeah. I like the chemistry. One of the things I like doing with the fruits, like elderberries, berries, and raspberries is to freeze them. This improves the wine because the freezing breaks down the cell walls so more juice can be produces. It lends to flavor to do this. Grape wines don’t do that.
What is your favorite wine to make? Which is the most fun?
Boy, it’s hard for me to pick but I think I like making the fortified wines in the port style because you have to keep tweaking them and adding stuff. I think the higher alcohol ones are a little bit more fun to make, unfortunately they are more dangerous and I’m finding I’ve got to be careful. You just don’t realize it, you just don’t taste it and it’s not good to have. You think you’re drinking wine and… But it’s more about the style than taste. I love making new stuff, just playing and puttering.
Three carboys of finished wine ready to be blended into unique flavors. From left: Roasted Pumpkin Wine, Rhubarb Elderberry with Brandy, and Rhubarb Elderberry.
Energy. We already talk about expense and I know you say that producing this wine is a lot of intense labor, but what about energy consumption?
That’s a very good question.
I don’t… consider it. I do what it takes to get the job done. I could cheat and be more energy efficient for it but it’s my hobby. One of the best things we’ve got going for us is that we have a basement with a creek so once I move it down there it’s temperature stable and I don’t spend anything but I use a lot of water, I use a lot of hot water, I use air conditioning and heating as required. So could you make really energy efficient wine without all this stuff? Yeah, but would you want to drink it all the time? Maybe, maybe not. It would also limit when I could make wine. For instance, elderberry-rhubarb — we made it in the winter, I had to keep it warm. I mean it’s not like running a nuclear power plant.
I think when something is homemade people have the assumption that it’s more eco-friendly when that’s not always the case —
Yeah, I would not. I mean if you look at the amount of buckets of water..
Is it illegal to sell things you make?
It is, it is.
So if you, or someone else, wanted to, how would you go about selling your wine? Would you need to get a license?
Yes, you need several licenses actually. I’ve looked into this because I helped a winery. You need to have state, federal, and local licenses to start. If that’s not enough just getting the licensing, you have to file monthly. You have to file how much sugar you buy and sell. You have to pay taxes on everything you do. It’s pretty serious about your filing requirements. It really all spins off prohibition. Pennsylvania was one of the last states in the union to repeal the prohibition law, which is a unfortunate because if you go back historically before prohibition, Pennsylvania was a major, major grape producer. So that whole industry got put behind the rest of the nation because they got started up before we did – Ours went to sleep. It’s also really difficult… even if I had a winery here, I couldn’t sell to you across the street; You could come over to my winery and buy it but say there was a local restaurant, I couldn’t take a delivery of my wine and sell it to them like you could in other states. When you see a beer truck drive around to different retailers and distribute? You can’t do that with wine and liquor in this state like you can with beer. I would have to have my wine show up and be approved by the state of Pennsylvania to be sold in liquor stores. Then the restaurant could go to the state store and buy my wine.
I’ve been seriously thinking about and considering bartering.
Um… I’m not really quite sure about the whole ramifications of it but I do know that if you’re bartering something you should technically be reporting it as income for the IRS.
So there are ways around selling your wine with a license?
Yeah. But I don’t sell. I’ve had, many times, people want to buy wine. If you think about it, you get $120 for a case of wine. I get two and a half cases out of one carboy, you already saw how much work goes into this. Now, I enjoy doing this, I enjoy trying it, but really I enjoy making things you can’t buy. Why make something you can buy? So I’m moving more towards the weirder recipes, you know, things you just won’t find in a store. If I really wanted to sell my wine in order to make profit I’d really, really have to change my size and scope of what I make. It’s almost like, I could sell my whole inventory and make a couple thousand dollars, but then I’d be without wine. But we do have websites set up.
So you have a company that makes wine but you just can’t sell it?
Craig and I spent an entire interview night in his kitchen blending, mixing, portioning, and bottling the wine from the photo above. Out of those three carboys came 8 cases of wine. No case had a same mix as any of the others. I am very appreciative of Craig and his teaching me the very basics of making and bottling homemade wines — perhaps this will become a new hobby!
There are many different jobs in the food industry that can be explored and Keith Lorry has become a part of the restaurant business. Keith dropped out of high school and started working in a hospital cafeteria when he was 23. From an early age he was very interested in working in the culinary field, but was in a bad financial situation, therefore he was unable to attend culinary school. Keith worked in the cafeteria for two years before he got a writing position for a community paper inCape Cod,MA. He says that it was a big jump from serving food in a cafeteria because he did not have much writing experience. Eventually, Keith opened up an all organic restaurant in Southern California serving only products that he grows right on the site of the restaurant. He learned about growing food and organic food first hand from his grandparents.
After interviewing Keith I now have a greater respect for what he does with his restaurant. I have a greater interest in what he does at the restaurant. I did not know that these types of places exist and I was very interested in hearing about it. I also learned about what it takes to grow a mass amount of organic food for a large amount of people. I did not know much about organic food because I have never been on that diet and I do not know anyone who eats organic. From learning about the type of restaurant that he runs, I think that it is a great idea. People are becoming more health conscious, but restaurants are quickly steering away from healthy food. It was a great business move for Keith and I think that more restaurant owners may look into found the same in the future.
What made you want to work within the food industry?
Well, I grew up in the south and my grandparents had a farm. They grew all of their fruits and vegetables as well as selling it to local vendors. I spent a lot of time with my grandfather and I was not only able to learn the trade of selling the products, but I also learned a lot about the products themselves. He taught me how to grow different plants and how to take care of them. He grew everything from tomatoes and carrots to apples and pears. He even grew pumpkins on occasion. My grandparents would go out to the garden every morning and cook that night with what they had just picked.
Did your grandparents influence your decision to work in the food industry?
Oh yeah, of course…big time! I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do until I was about 14. That is when I really started getting involved with the farm. I would go around town on my bike selling products from the farm. I had such easy access to it so it just seemed like something I should take interest in. I definitely credit my grandparents for my decision to go into this business and I most certainly give them credit for this restaurant.
Why did you make the transition from cafeteria worker to food writer? Is that really something you wanted to do?
Writing was not something I ever thought I was going to do. I essentially just wanted to try something different and it sounded right up my ally. It was definitely a big change because I knew nothing about writing, but it did help that I knew a lot about food. I also loved going to local restaurants and cafes and I would always critique them to myself. I eventually thought it would be great to get my reviews out there. I just submitted one of my personal reviews. I guess they liked it enough! Plus, Cape Cod is a tourist place so I was able to review places for not only the locals but for travelers as well.
After going through so many jobs in the industry, what is it like to finally be a restaurant owner?
I absolutely love it! Because I know that what I am doing with this place may be a rarity, it makes everything more worth it. I love teaching people about organic foods and growing your own food on site. We have several high school kids working here, and it is great to be teaching them the stuff that I learned from my grandparents when I was a kid. And of course, I love being my own boss!
How did you come up with the idea to open such a place?
I have a friend out in Montana that owns an on-the-site restaurant. Like I said, my grandparents influenced me with the type of food, but my friend inspired this place. I went to visit him last summer and I was in awe. I do have to say that I copied him a bit with the layout and the overall looks of it.
How does it look?
Well, the restaurant sits on 8 acres of land. We have an orchard and 11 separate gardens. We actually just started growing corn last year. It is kind of hard to grow on this land, but we haven’t run into any major problems yet. The actual restaurant does have indoor seating, but the patio is very popular. It overlooks the land and you have a great view of the orchard.
What are some of the items on your menu? Are the food choices limited?
Most people think that the menu would be very small, but we do have a lot of food choices. We have everything from soups, to sandwiches, desserts, and we do offer meat that we get from a local butcher. The most popular items that we have here are the vegetable soups. We also have a pumpkin spice soup which is delicious. I would say that 90% of the menu items come from right here.
What is a typical day like for you?
We have a great group of people who go out and pick the fruits and vegetables daily. I am not there every day, but when I am I usually go out and pick with them. After that I take inventory of what we have for that day. On some days we don’t certain items, so occasionally I have to change the menu around according to what we have for that day. That is my favorite part though. I love making up the menu because I know that because it does change repeat customers will come and find something different each time. After I write up the menu, I make sure everything is in order to open up the doors. That pretty much is my day up until opening. I typically don’t stay for the full day, I just stay until I know that everything is ready before opening for the day.
How is your restaurant different from any other?
I’m sure there are other restaurants out there doing what I am doing, but they are hard to come by. As you can see, we are laid out on a farm. Like I said there is the orchard where we get all the fruits that make most of our desserts… apples, peaches, pears, and oranges. Right behind you we are currently growing all of our vegetables. All of the stuff we cannot grow here we get from a local vendor. Everything that we serve here is organic and we know exactly where it comes from. These types of restaurants are still a rarity so right there is a big difference.
What has been the reaction from the locals and the customers?
We have had great feedback because like I said, there really are not many restaurants out there doing what we are and people are curious to see what it’s about. They end up liking it and they come back. You go to these places and you have no idea what you are eating. People love coming here because they actually see where their food is coming from. You are sitting there having a meal, and you are able to see someone picking the vegetable that very well may be on your plate. People love that! We have gotten a lot of positive comments and I know we are doing something right because of that.
What do you think the future is for these types of restaurants?
I know several years ago, you could not find a place like this. They are slowly growing because I think people are becoming more and more conscious about where there food comes from. Give it maybe 10 years, and these places will be everywhere. Hopefully!
Nestled in upper Bucks County, along Route 113, is a farm. This is not a traditional farm: it has evolved at key moments to make itself distinctive and profitable. Torrie Christy (née Bolton) operates Bolton Farm Market (the retail end selling meat products, milk, and local produce.) Farming has become less lucrative over the decades (selling land to developers has given former farmers a solid financial footing and an easier life) but this farm is doing its best to serve the community with natural, local meat and produce.
Torrie agreed to speak with me about the farm’s products and distinctiveness. My biggest interests in this farm regarded its label of natural and not organic, two terms I knew about but, like many other people, used interchangeably. We discussed these issues on a mild autumn day, sitting at a picnic table outside the Bolton Farm Market while the sun rose from its bed below the horizon. Torrie is a former junior high math teacher and a third-generation farmer who has weathered the ups and downs of farming. She has a welcoming personality, an entrepreneurial “can do” attitude, and a ready laugh. Her unique personality is part of what has made the farm and the market successful.
CW: Does the whole family help out on the farm? Or have some said, “No, I’m going do something else.”
TC: My grandpop started the farm in 1933. And my father took it over in the 70s. He was one of seven [children.] And then, I built this. [Torrie points to the red, country store-like building with seasonal gourds and flowers decorating its L-shaped patio.] My husband started a small produce stand along the road and [at that time] I was a schoolteacher. I quit teaching school when we built this. That summer I had my daughter.
It wasn’t near as busy when the kids were small. So it was kind of nice. We got busier as the kids got older. So then I started this and my mom helped me here. My brother graduated from college and started working for dad on the farm. Now he’s kind of taken over the farm and I’ve taken over this; our parents are slowly thinking about retiring. And I have a sister who’s not involved living in Oregon. There were only three of us children.
CW: How long did it take to build the roadside stand into this?
TC: It really didn’t take that long, which surprised me. The roadside stand was mostly produce and we would have some ground sausage and turkey in a cooler for people that wanted to buy it. And the roadside stand did pretty well with just produce. The farm got to a critical point: it was going to go all retail or stop the wholesale. We just weren’t making any money on the wholesale. So it was either do that or sell out: the farm just wasn’t making money. It was time to make a decision.
[Wholesale is when you sell to someone who is going to then resell it for a markup. In the late 80s Bolton Farm was selling product to other stores at a cheap price (wholesale.) Those stores would then retail Bolton turkeys at a much higher price and they would make a big profit – Bolton Farm did not. Now, all turkeys are sold only through the market so the farm can make a profit instead of someone else.]
We were really fortunate, we made the decision to go with this [She gives a wide, sweeping gesture that includes the Bolton Farm Market.] It was a good time for me: I was 30, it was time to have kids, and that’s when turkey really took off. A lot of people didn’t think about eating turkey sausage or turkey anything, but then, about 20 years ago turkey took off and people started thinking, “Ah! Yeah, turkey sausage, turkey-this, and turkey-that is a good idea.” So we hit the market with turkey products at the right moment. And we hit the buy local and natural [movements] at the right moment. People were becoming much more aware when we started, so we were really fortunate.
CW: Your father took over the farm in the 70s, your brother is basically running the farm– [Torrie lets out a burst of laugher. Her expression signals a family joke regarding who really runs the farm.]
TC: Sort of. My dad is 75, works 10-12 hour days – everyday.
CW: And he’s not stopping any time soon?
TC: No, my grandfather worked until he was 92 and then…
CW: And your children?
TC: [More laughter.] No! No interest at all. None. Not yet. I didn’t have any when I was in college either. And we’re not young enough to retire anyway. Who knows?
CW: How long has the market existed?
TC: The market’s been here for 22 years. The produce stand was here for only about three or four years. It was just a little one-sided shack. [I chuckle at the mental picture.] It was!
CW: You’re a relatively small family working this farm.
TC: Right, but it’s not a very big farm. We only have 28 acres. So really, when you think of 28 acres supporting three families (the parents, Torrie and her brother, and their families), it’s pretty incredible. Each of the families get most of their food from the farm and we could all live financially on what is made from the farm.
[Just for reference, imagine 25.5 football fields without end zones, that equates roughly to 28 acres.
Torrie, explains that the property has about 50-60 head of cattle, 8,000-10,000 turkeys, and an innumerable quantity of chickens. The feeds for the cattle and poultry are bought from local farmers. The cattle is grass-fed as much as they can be – her father insists that oats, corn, and soybean (added to the cattle’s diet) improve the meat’s flavor. The poultry, almost free-range, have a large open pen in which to run.
Every other week, the farm receives a fresh order of day-old chicks that, in eight weeks, will be processed into various products. She relates the delivery much the same as Kingsolver’s tale, but dealing with a much bigger quantity. To save money, the farm butchers on-site and sells all its meat in the market building. Everything is fresh and local.]
CW: In your email to me, you explained that you’re not an organic farm – you’re a natural farm. What is the difference between organic and natural?
TC: To be legitimately organic – the key word being legitimately – to be honestly organic, your ground has to be certified by the organic part of the FDA for three years. Our ground is not certified and the ground of the people we buy feed from is not certified. It’s a three-year process – your ground has to be tested and [Torrie makes air-quotes] clean for three years. It would be too hard for us to do that. Now we could certify our ground, here, but we buy feed from lots of local farmers. So we couldn’t certify that all of our corn was organic. Whatever we would feed our animals would have to be from organic sources.
CW: What does being natural mean?
TC: It means we don’t use excess amounts of anything. And really what it means
for the animals is that we don’t use hormones or antibiotics. Antibiotics is the big issue. Most of your commercial farmers feed their animals a very low dose of antibiotic all the time in their feed just to keep them healthy. Because there are such large groups animals, if one of them would get sick the whole thing could go down. That would be a problem, so they just feed a very low dose of antibiotic all the time. We don’t do that. So, antibiotics is really the biggest key. We just don’t feed our animals antibiotics.
CW: Are there any guidelines or official certification necessary for a farm to be labeled natural?
TC: There really aren’t any guidelines. That’s a problem for us because we truly are natural, a lot of other products aren’t as clean as ours and yet they claim to be natural too.
CW: How do you think your product compares to other brands?
TC: One of the biggest differences, with our poultry, is that they’re raised in pens. So they run the length of the pen and get their exercise. Commercial poultry is raised in cages: the lights go on, they stand up and eat; the lights go off, they sit down and sleep. So they don’t get any exercise at all. Ours are fed naturally; we don’t add fat to their feed or any animal byproducts. We only feed them grains, you know, corn, oats, soybeans – that kind of thing.
They’re our own breed. I don’t know if you’ve ever bought a turkey, but sometimes they’re long and go to a point. Well that [the point] is the bone. Ours are square; it’s all meat around the bone. We have a different breed of turkey that takes longer to grow. Most of the commercial turkeys are processed around sixteen weeks. Ours don’t start processing until around twenty or twenty-one weeks. Our turkeys are more mature so they have more meat and a better ratio of meat-to-fat.
CW: What about your beef?
TC: Well, our cattle are not grass-fed 100%. Like I said, my father firmly believes in feeding oats and soybeans and corn to give the meat a better flavor. If you’ve ever eaten purely grass-fed cattle, the meat is often tough and it doesn’t have a lot of flavor. You have to marinade it or tenderize it. The corn, soybeans, and oats give it better flavor, more fat, more marbling – which is what you want to make your beef good. Some people believe in all grass-fed or all grain-fed. But my father believes it’s more in the middle. You have to have a little of this and a little of that.
CW: What do you do with your meat or produce from the deli if it goes bad? Do you throw it away or turn it into feed?
TC: We throw all bad products away. The only thing in our feed is grain, we actually have a mill and we grind all our own feed.
CW: When did you notice people start to say, “We want to go natural. We don’t want chemicals. We don’t want all these things happening with our food,” when did that really start to take off?
TC: It’s been, maybe, in the last five years that it’s been a local movement. There’s such a movement now to buy locally and eat locally and buy direct. ‘Natural’ I’m not sure about. Local has been gradual. It has been more of a boom in the last four to five years. People have become a lot more aware.
CW: Are you involved with farmer’s markets or do you only sell from the store?
TC: We’ve talked about it. But, we’re on such a main road and we’re so easy to find that we just kind of feel like it’s just better if we stay here and let people come here. What we want to sell is meat so going to a farmers’ market with meat is really a challenge with refrigeration and because we sell a lot of sliced things and raw things. It’s just such a challenge. We talked about it a couple times because there’s a couple nice farmers’ markets around but it just doesn’t work logistically. For us it’s just easier to stay here and let people find us. We’re easy to find. This isn’t a farm sitting back in a corner that no one can find. You know, we’re right here, so it makes it easy.
[With my next questions, I change from the farm’s history and ideology to how the farm compares with others. What is Bolton’s different from other farms in the area. This ties its operation together with economics at large. Bolton Farm Market delivers a different product and therefore has to come up with a different operating schema.]
CW: Do you attend conferences to get ideas from other small, local farms?
TC: I have been. I struggle a lot because there aren’t many people like us. You can go to farmers’ market conventions, but they’re people selling just fruits and vegetables and pumpkins and flowers and…and that’s not really us. You know, even yesterday when we went to the sure, we were like, “Ok let’s take the back roads and we’ll stop at farmers’ markets on the way down and the way back to get some ideas.” Well you can’t find any that are [like] us, we really push our meat because that’s what makes us so special, you know, different. And there aren’t many people that are doing what we’re doing – you can’t find them.
Like this time of year, everybody had pumpkins and gourds and mums. And I have that too, but that’s not what I want to see. I want to see how they do their delis and their meat and their prepared food. And I can’t because there aren’t many that are out there like that.
CW: Since your meats are what you are known for, have you ever thought about expanding? It seems as though that would be a challenge because you’re boxed in by developments.
TC: We really don’t want to. We have no desire to get larger or get bigger numbers. We might make more products, but we won’t get more animals to sell. And we can’t afford to expand anymore in Bucks County because the land is way too expensive. What I want to expand is the market.
[Torrie gets a bit of a twinkle in her eye and smiles as she starts telling me about her thoughts and plans for Bolton Farm Market.] But we’ll expand the market with ready-made meals. I want to get a rotisserie. My husband wants to do hand-dipped ice cream. I’d like to get a kitchen out here and expand the space a little to try and do more bake-at-home items like a dish of turkey lasagna or turkey meatballs. And we can advertise that on our sign so people can come in on their way home, buy it, take it home and throw it in the oven. I don’t want to be a restaurant but we make a good meal. So we could make that meal for people to take home.
CW: Do you think you’re doing as well, better, or not doing as well, financially, as other farms?
TC: I don’t know because most other farms don’t sell their own stuff. Really, in this area, in farming, I don’t know how you can make a living in this area if you don’t sell your own product. It’s just too expensive to own a lot of land to produce a lot of product.
CW: What have you noticed since the economy went downhill, has it hindered or helped?
TC: We were worried. We thought, “We’re expensive. We’re not cheap.” I mean, we’re not astronomical, but we’re not cheap. So we were afraid. And people have to make a trip: they have to spend the gas to get here. We were worried that maybe it would, but it doesn’t seem to have. Business is steady. Are we growing at a huge rate, no. But are we declining at a huge rate, no. We’re just steady.
CW: In my email, I mentioned Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Have you heard of it or read it? If so, do you think a book like that has a great impact on people’s mindset?
TC: I have heard of it, but I haven’t read it. What’s really impacted our business more is the movie Food, Inc. I have had probably hundreds of people say, “We saw that movie and now we won’t buy our meat anywhere else.” [Torrie laughs.] I should email the guy and say, “Thank you!” Or I should show the movie. The sad part is: I’ve never seen it. I have a real issue with stuff like that because it tends to be slanted. Yeah. [She puts her hands in the air like she’s weighing two things.] It tends to be way to one side and I don’t think anyone should be weighted to this side or that side. I think there’s a happy medium that you have to find for yourself.
With that last question, I thank Torrie for taking the time to meet with me. She extends her hand, gives one of her brilliant smiles, and laughingly says, “Glad to do it! I had a lot of fun!” And as I pack up my notes, she gives one last interesting comment, “I forgot to mention, we sell eggs from Alderfer Farms that are organic. But they get their feed from India or China. Just because it’s organic, doesn’t mean it’s local. If they bought the feed locally, they’d pay a lot more for it.”
In less than an hour, I’ve learned about Torrie’s history and that of Bolton Farm Market, the farm’s dedication to producing high quality meat products, and about some pretty important vocabulary – organic and natural. By speaking with Torrie, I also discovered why this little farm has remained profitable and family-owned since the 1930s – the clear thinking, objective planning, and attainable dreams of those who care for it.
If you’ve ever been in the tiny town of Royersford, PA, you’ve seen the signs—white, rough, hand-painted boards colorfully advertising the fruits and vegetables of the season, whether they be summer’s succulent strawberries and tomatoes, spring’s fresh asparagus and greens, or fall’s crisp apples and fairytale-like pumpkins. Follow the arrows on those signs a little bit down the road and you’ll reach Renninger’s Farm.
I had watched those signs change with the seasons for the seventeen years that I passed them. I must have driven past the farm itself hundreds of times. But I had never once stopped by, not even to look around. My mother and I had never understood the importance of local foods. Besides that, we were of the working class—why pay more for what we could get for less at the grocery store?
I was raised vegetarian, so the general rule in my home was that animal flesh (and now, as we have moved to veganism, animal product) is the only unethical food. Everything else is fine. Any food in any season is fine to eat. Oranges, peaches and tomatoes in winter? Sure, just don’t go near the hamburgers. As I learn more about the food industry as a whole, however, I am finding it difficult to ignore the plights of farmers in foreign countries who are taken advantage of by US corporations, and the toll that shipping produce across the country or to the US from another country takes on the environment. According to the website LocalHarvest, produce grown in the US is shipped an average of 1,500 miles to get to the grocery store, and this number is much higher when the food comes from out of the country (“Why Buy Local?”). Another individual that suffers is, of course, the United States family farmer. From impossible price competition to
lack of produce selection compared to grocery stores, the businesses of these farmers often suffer as large-scale farming gains an increasing monopoly over food production. Even when food sold in grocery stores is grown in the US, only 18 cents of every dollar goes back to the grower; the other 82 cents goes to corporate middlemen (“Why Buy Local?”). Since it wasn’t possible for me to go down to Costa Rica to find out how difficult it is to pick bananas all day, my best bet to delve into this system on a personal level was to interview a family farmer. Farmer Jay Renninger was a perfect fit.
The First Buds
Renninger’s Farm was established in 1932 on Second Avenue in Royersford, PA. Back then, it was known as the Mingo Stock Farm (the Mingo is a popular creek in Royersford, near the farm). Jay Renniger’s parents, Elmer and Mary, began their business by selling pigs, steers, chickens and milk, which then expanded to include eggs, hay and sweet corn. They provided eggs and corn to many local restaurants in Royersford in the late 1940s. Over the years they phased out pigs and dairy cows due to space restrictions on the farm, and added tomatoes and flowers for extra income. As customer demands grew, Renninger’s began selling a diverse array of vegetables throughout the summer, flowers in the spring, and pumpkins and gourds in the fall. Today, Renninger’s offers most fruits and vegetables throughout their respective seasons, flowers and plants, and a wide variety of yard decorations, from April to November.
I pulled into the tiny parking lot of Renninger’s Farm on a chilly, overcast October day. I had to say that I was delighted—if I could choose any season to be on a farm, it would be fall. Corn husks, kitschy decorations, apples (and just about every product you can get out of apples), pumpkins, chrysanthemums and gourds are a source of much joy for me. As I walked the short distance to the tented farm stand, I took in the deep shades of autumn; yellows, oranges and reds holding onto their lively colors in their short life spans, warm browns waiting for their day to dominate the color spectrum as winter arrives, and the few greens left quietly settling into winter hibernation. The farm stand directly borders the white stone house, and on the other side of the parking spaces there is a large shed decorated with the name of the farm and beautiful fall colors. It is a modestly sized farm, but is filled to the brim with decorations and fall produce and flowers (and gourds! I swear, you could look in any direction and there would be four or five gourds in view).
Jay has the stern, slightly weary face of most farmers, and, I found as we began talking, a similar disposition; it’s not unfriendly, it’s just pragmatic—no nonsense. Once I explained what I was trying to explore—the difficulties of being a family farmer in our world of mass production and corporations—it only took him about half a second to start talking about how the big guys are trying to run the little guys out of business. Perfect—I stopped him and ran to my car to get my notebook. This was going to be good…
I decide to start the interview on a slightly lighter topic: life on the farm. Jay and I sit down at a picnic table (covered, of course, in gourds) as he explains how Renninger’s works. They grow some of their own produce and raise their hens for eggs and beef cattle to sell. “The produce we don’t grow comes from a farm in Lancaster County,” Jay explains, “but our motto is ‘30 yards or 30 miles.’ There’s no other farm in the area that does what we do.” I can attest to the ‘non-locality’ of the other farms in the area; I’ve been to a family farm in the next town over, and much of their produce is from out of the country and/or out of season—bananas, oranges, grapes and the like. Jay isn’t sure how his farm compares in size to these other farms, but he assures me that they have a much larger selection of spring flowers than other farms, and, of course, no other farm in the area is as local as they are. For the Renningers, this commitment to local foods just makes sense. “How can something picked in California and shipped across the country taste the same as something picked a day ago in Pennsylvania? There’s just no comparison.” Jay has the same opinion of locally grown meats and animal products. “Again, there’s no comparison.”
One of the women working gets Jay’s attention and asks him about something on the farm. In this brief break from scrawling down points, I look around and notice how few people work at the farm. I imagine that the majority of them must be family. When Jay has solved whatever problem arose, he turns back to me. I ask Jay if any of his children or other family work on the farm with him. “It’s just my wife and I,” he says. “I have three daughters but they all have off-farm jobs.”
“How much of the food that you grow do you keep for you and your wife to eat?” I ask.
“We just use whatever’s available, mainly from spring to fall,” Jay answers.
Anything essential that Jay and his wife cannot grow or produce, like bread and milk, they buy from a local grocery store. Jay swears they never buy beef or vegetables from the grocery store, which is no surprise. If you can have food fresh from your back yard, what’s the point in buying tasteless, mass-produced produce?
“The feeling of being able to sit down at the dinner table and know that you grew almost everything there is extremely satisfying,” he says proudly.
The produce at Renninger’s Farm certainly is anything but mass-produced. While Jay does not grow organic produce, he uses Integrated Pest Management, a process for killing parasites that uses no more chemicals than are absolutely necessary. I wonder why they don’t just grow organically. It shouldn’t be too difficult on such a small farm, right? “Actually, growing organic produce is pretty labor-intensive,” Jay explains, “and we just don’t have the manpower. Also, my customers buy with their eyes—organic produce simply doesn’t look as appealing as nonorganic produce.” That’s understandable. Even with a commitment to local and natural farming, Jay and his family still need to make a living.
While Jay is extremely proud of his produce and the way it gets to the stand (he says their tomatoes and sweet corn are by far their best products), he says it’s the personal service that really keeps people coming back. “People aren’t overwhelmed by the size, and most people enjoy meeting the grower of their food personally, as well as receiving excellent service.” I wish that these qualities—great food, great service, and being local—were what determined people’s shopping options, but, as Jay explains, that’s far from the truth.
The conversation turns dim and the clouds seem a little darker as Jay talks about the competition between family farmers and large grocery stores. “There’s definitely competition there. We family farmers can’t beat the prices in the grocery stores, even though we check them frequently. Of course, the local farmers have the grocery stores beat in quality.” The real problem, however, is convenience. Jay explains that the local farmers are never going to be as convenient as the grocery stores. “Why should people look anywhere but the grocery stores? They sell everything you could want or need in one place, and of course it’s much easier for them to be open in bad weather.” No one wants to shop outside in the rain. Even though Jay thinks the demand has been getting higher for local foods, “it’s not exceptionally higher.” Grocery stores like Wegmans (which has a location in the town next to Royersford) have tried selling some local produce, but Jay says the variety that the grocery stores want just isn’t available from small farms in southeastern Pennsylvania. I asked him if he thinks that more people would buy local produce if they actually knew or thought about where their food comes from. “People just aren’t concerned,” he explains, frustrated. “The farmers can’t educate everyone. There are too many generations off the farm.” I smiled candidly when he said this, thinking of the child in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle who thought that spaghetti was a root vegetable. I told Jay this story and he smiled and nodded. I had proved his point. He reciprocated with a story about a woman who had tried to buy some cantaloupes at their farm. “She rooted through the entire pile of cantaloupes to find one without a ground mark. I was just thinking, ‘Where do you think cantaloupes come from?’” We shared a laugh. This was a funny anecdote, but even as we chuckled, we knew the gravity of the situation.
Before I left, I asked Jay what his favorite season on the farm was. “Spring,” he said with confidence. “Spring is planting time, and I love to plant. Everything’s so green.” I smiled at the appropriateness of that statement. Planting changes things and causes things to happen, whether it’s a seed in the ground, or an idea into someone’s head. Just as Jay enjoys planting the seeds to be harvested in a
few months, he tells people like me how things are—the truths, struggles and joys of farming in a country almost completely devoid of what anyone would call a ‘farm’: at factory ‘farms’ and large-scale produce ‘farms’ there is no grass, no trees, no fertile soil, no traditional farming tools, and certainly no humanity. As long as people like Jay Renninger are alive, and places like Renninger’s Farm exist, there is hope for change to a more local diet. As the plants grow on Renninger’s Farm this March, perhaps awareness will grow along with them.
Pasqualina’s Italian Market and Deli in Perkasie; not many people know about this quaint little deli, but Sarah Detweiler knows more than most. She’s been working there since she was 15 years old, and it is right next door to her house! This deli is so little known, I thought it would be interesting to learn about—and because I never knew about it before. You walk into the deli and see that it is stocked to the brim with Italian products, but still very well organized. It is bright and cheery, all of the different colored products making it this way. You can smell different cheeses, but also the smell of pizzelles drifts through the air. After this interview, I know more than I did before, and I might even go and see what it is all about, because there seems to be a lot of delicious sounding foods at the deli. Also, it seems like the staff is very close and almost like a family, so they would treat all of their customers the same way.
Sam Dietrich: What is the difference between an American deli and an Italian deli?
Sarah Detweiler: Well for us the only main difference between an American deli and an Italian deli is, other than the type of food we serve, I guess may be the environment of our store. Some of the foods we serve at the deli are: Angelo’s Italino Sandwich, which is made with capicola (dried cured ham), mortadella (Italian bologna with pistachios), and sopprasata (Italian salami). We also have prosciutto de Parma (another type of Italian cured ham) and many homemade dessert items, such as: tiramisu, cannolis, limoncello and gelato. I don’t know about other Italian markets/delis but ours has a very personable environment. We carry so many different products and foods that most Americans who aren’t of Italian heritage probably haven’t heard of, and because of that we let our customers sample things if they aren’t too positive they will like the taste of things. I guess you could say that would be a difference.
Sam: Could you tell me what exactly it is you do at the deli?
Sarah: Well the major thing that I do at the deli is make sandwiches, or what we call submarines [or subs]. Since our deli mostly deals with this, making subs is what I usually do. Besides that, I help with catering items, preparing any hot dishes we have for the day, helping out with any cooking the meatballs or the tomato sauce. Other than that, I do some inventory things, as well as work as a cashier.
Sam: What was your best day working at the deli? Why?
Sarah: [laughs] Well, I’d have to say it was the start of opening up the deli and we just started working with a few new vendors. The one day we had about four companies come into the deli to introduce their products to us. I think we must have been sampling different types of food from all over the world (we carry a lot of product that comes from different places, not just Italy) for at least two hours. One of the foods we tried was toshi, which is fruit with spirits; it was binge cherries soaked in liquor for over two years! We put it on sweet Italian bread, similar to pound cake, and sprinkled it with confectioner’s sugar. Just being able to try food that I probably wouldn’t have ever had if it was not for working at the deli; it was an awesome experience!
Sam: What was your worst day working at the deli? Why?
Sarah: So it was Father’s Day last year, and the owners had decided to go away for the weekend. Other than Patty and Brian (the owners) and I there is only two other employees; my mom and Patty’s nephew, Christopher, so it is not an understatement when I say we are understaffed. Well, this weekend must have been the weekend from hell! There was not one moment where we did not stop making subs. It was so crazy busy we had a line outside the door to order subs; to make matters worse, it felt as if time wasn’t going by fast enough.
Sam: Why did you decide to work at the deli [other than proximity to your house]?
Sarah: I have been working at the deli now since I was about 15. For me at the time, I just wanted money. I really didn’t care too much that I was working with food. But, I guess you could say that the reason why I am still working at the deli is because of the relationships that I have formed with the customers that come into our shop. There are a lot of people that appreciate our food and it’s a good feeling to have someone tell you “hey this is delicious!” and also because I am biased, and refuse to eat any other type of hoagie.
Sam: Would you want to work with food again, knowing the kind of work and things you do at the deli now?
Sarah: This job is great for earning extra cash and helping to pay the school loans, but I think once I graduate from college and am searching for real work, I will probably avoid working with food. Once you have been around it for 5 plus years many hours a week, you kind of get sick of it.
Sam: Would you recommend this job to others? Why or why not?
Sarah: To be honest, I don’t think I would recommend this type of work to others. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I do like working at the deli but you have to have a lot of patience, a high tolerance to any mishaps and mainly low blood pressure. I see firsthand to what this deli does to my mom who manages it. Orders from vendors go wrong and this could cause serious problems if they are the only people who carry the product you really need. Working here can be very stressful and if you are someone that can handle a lot of stress and people who are opinionated about things [laughs] then I give you props.
Sam: What is something people don’t realize or know about working with food?
Sarah: I guess you can say that working with food not only do you have to be cautious about all the procedures you have to follow to safely prepare and run a deli because of all the health reasons, but there’s also a lot of guess work that is involved in the type of job I’m in. Since we are fairly new, we started from scratch and all our recipes are from scratch, and the only person who has worked with food before the deli was my mom, so everything that we created and made is from just “winging it”. We never had a guide to help us along the way; there is a lot of creativity required, well at least for the deli I work at.
Sam: What are some procedures you go through to maintain good hygiene around the food?
Sarah: We are constantly washing our hands; that is our big thing. Once we sign in, we wash our hands. Before we go to make any food we wash our hands. After we use the register we wash our hands, and so on. We are also required to wear our hair back and out of our face and whenever we are making food for other people we are required to wear gloves; another thing is we are always washing dishes.
Sam: What about procedures for maintaining the freshness of food items?
Sarah: We make our food fresh daily so we rarely have any leftovers, but if we do we make sure that we saran wrap everything and place it in the fridge when closing up.
It was so enlightening for me to learn all of this about Sarah herself [since she’s my roommate], and about Pasqualina’s Italian Market and Deli. They sell subs, and allow you to taste all of the products before buying them—that way one is able to know if they like the product or not. It is interesting to know more about this Deli because now more people may want to go there and see what is all about; that is good for them since there are so few people working there, and not a lot of customers since the staff are so close to their current customers. This deli has a very homey Italian kitchen feel, and is wonderful because they are always cooking something! The staff, though limited, is happy and cheerful, and always kind to their customers; but they are very loud…just like a normal, happy Italian family. My hope is that this piece enlightened more than just me about Pasqualina’s.
By: Samantha Dietrich
Meghan and boyfriend John, in the summer of 2011.
“Farming changed my life,” says Meghan Fridirici, a petite and radiant woman who has spent the past five years working on farms. Meghan is a healthy, 25 year old who first became acquainted with the vocation of farming when she was 20. Her life began to change after she responded to a flier for a part-time internship position at Quiet Creek Farm. Meghan’s quest for personal growth has taken her from the organic vegetable farms of Pennsylvania to a commercial orchard in the Florida Keyes. She has also worked on a family-owned animal farm in Ohio, and on a farm in Iowa that had worked to convert the land back to native greens. Meghan approached each farm as an opportunity to learn.
Meghan started farming during her sophomore year at Kutztown University. She worked from 2006 through 2009 at Quiet Creek Farm, located in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. She started there as a part-time employee, working through the season. “You take your winters off,” says Meghan, “from December to February, and start back up in the greenhouse in March.” A couple in their thirties initiated the organic vegetable farm on eight working-acres of the Rodale Institute. So although Meghan was only part-time, she volunteered extra hours every week because the farm needed a lot of help getting started. In 2007, her junior to senior year, Meghan worked there as a full-time employee. Even after graduating from Kutztown University, with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, she continued to work at Quiet Creek Farm.
Meghan has been able to employ her farming skills in a variety of environments. The winter of 2007, Meghan spent one month in Florida, right above the Keyes. She worked on two farms during that time—an organic vegetable farm (with Community Supported Agriculture) and an avocado orchard. “I lived in a tent right on the orchard,” Meghan says with a grin. The orchard sold micro-greens (like kale, chard, arugula, etc) and edible flowers to high-end restaurants in Miami.
Meghan’s experiences have varied from each job. As a result, she has acquired different skills from each farm. In 2009, Meghan took a cross-country road trip with her boyfriend, John Feilmeier. Together they worked on a family-owned farm in Ohio, learning how to milk goats and make butter. They also sold the family’s produce at a farmers’ market. On the same trip, Meghan worked on a vegetable farm in Iowa. The owner was working to revert a square mile of land from corn and soybeans to native grasses, flowers, brushes and sedges. It was a slow process to transform the land from mainstream crops to organically grown grasses. But it was worth the labor, because, Meghan says, “That was one of the most beautiful farms I have ever seen. It had rolling hills, like a faraway land—the way you would imagineIreland to look like.”
Meghan at Blooming Glen Farm in 2010.
“There are so many stereotypes about farmers,” says Meghan. “People picture hicks, or old men working in the field while their wives stay at home. All the farmers I have worked for are extremely intelligent. They are young, in their twenties and thirties, while some have college degrees. I was pleased to learn that farming isn’t just a physical job, it’s an intellectual job.”
The first year Meghan started farming she learned a tremendous amount about the growth process. “Seeing the relationship from seed to plant amazed me,” says Meghan. “I had never experienced that before. One day my mother came to visit me at work, and I showed her around, pointing out each vegetable. I felt so good knowing what each plant was, and how they looked during the different stages of growing.”
Meghan’s duties on the farm consisted of harvesting in the morning while the temperature was cool (because the produce droops in heavy sunlight). Later in the mornings she would plant items from the greenhouse. Afternoons were spent hand-weeding and weeding with hoes, or seeding in the greenhouse. At times the work could be physically demanding. Meghan explains, “Harvesting garlic is a lot of work—you’re doing squats, and pulling the garlic out in that position. Harvesting potatoes is also hard for that same reason.”
For more information on Quiet Creek Farm visit www.quietcreekfarmcsa.com
On Quiet Creek Farm, Meghan would see young families, in their early thirties, bring their children with them to the “You-PickGarden.” She watched a little boy pick a green bean and eat it straight from the plant. She knows it’s rare for kids these days to have that kind of awareness about food, and it made her happy to see a boy know that vegetables are, as she describes, “good to eat, raw and fresh.”
Quiet Creek Farm also has Community Supported Agriculture, or C.S.A. What started at 150 members has now expanded to over 275. Families pay the farmers about $500 in March or April, as an investment to help the farm financially. Even considering that it would take a certain amount of income to be a member of the C.S.A, a share feeds an entire family of four or five. Then, for 24 weeks, from May through October, the members can pick up a weekly allotment of fresh produce. Meghan comments that this method is “not like a farmers’ market [or grocery store]—not everything is going to be perfect and beautiful.” But the quality of produce goes without question. Meghan and John are members, paying for a half share. “Organic vegetables are available to me every year. I couldn’t imagine going a summer without that.” Just go on the pick-up days and collect whatever fruits and vegetables are available for that week. The farm also sells local chicken, pork and beef, as well as fresh yogurt and cheeses.
“Farming is not a competition between farms anymore,” Meghan asserts, “Because now there are more and more people joining the C.S.A. each year. At Quiet Creek they have more than enough members. So if they have wait-lists they will recommend the people to other local farms who offer C.S.A. programs. The farms want as many people in the community to have fresh produce available to them. Community Supported Agriculture is symbiotic.” The members financially support the farmers so that they in turn can provide the members with fresh produce. But the demand for fresh produce is essential for the continuation of the farm.
“People need food every day; people don’t need to buy sweaters everyday,” Meghan remarks. In a society where material goods are advertised as necessity, people lose sight of how crucial farmers are. “Some people just don’t know or don’t care,” Meghan says. For instance, Meghan has an ample backyard garden. One summer she shared her house with another couple. Meghan was harvesting her tomatoes, of which there were many—“tomatoes were everywhere, practically pouring in the door,” she says, and laughs. “And I opened the fridge to see those shrink-wrapped tomatoes from the grocery store. I couldn’t believe it. Those tomatoes don’t even taste like anything. This is the time of the year for fresh produce—you can go to the farmers’ markets or the roadside stands, and the produce tastes a lot better and is cheaper. And then I think, ‘Do they even realize?’ No, because they don’t even know what the seasons are for vegetables. It makes me sad that they are missing out on healthy and delicious food.”
For more information on C.S.A visit www.localharvest.org/csa/
Meghan admits that she too was once unaware of the importance of food choices. “I was so ignorant I had no clue about this sort of world. I never felt well, in high school and the beginning of college. I was depressed—sad, tired, lazy. And then I started eating things directly out of the ground, and realized ‘this is good, my body needs this.’ I was physically feeling better because I was eating more nutritiously. Now I am more particular about food—what I eat, what goes into my body. I am really making the connection between what I eat and how I feel.” Yet it is still common for most people to miss what seems like an obvious correlation.
“I love to cook,” Meghan says. “That’s probably why I started farming. I love cooking and I love cooking with fresh ingredients. I grew up on frozen and instant stuff. Now I grow all my herbs. I love fresh thyme—picking it and putting it in a sauce or on roasted chicken. I love fresh basil, and make my own pesto sauces. I also freeze my basil flat, so that I can break off pieces and add it to my seasonal [winter] soups.”
Even people “in the know” about fresh produce can exhibit ignorance. It was frustrating for Meghan to watch a farmer disregard Brussels sprouts because he viewed them as unfavorable. “On Blooming Glen Farm, the boss had spent four years attempting to weed fall cabbages (Brussels sprouts, kale, chard, etc) but never followed through. He would let them get over-grown with weeds until he eventually just plowed over them. He didn’t care about the lost crop. It was disheartening. I couldn’t save them—or, some people won’t let you. He would say, ‘No body likes Brussels sprouts anyway.’ But I would be thinking, ‘I do! I like Brussels sprouts. I love these vegetables! And if I do, other people do too.’”
In 2010 Meghan worked at Blooming Glen Farm, located in Perkasie, Pennsylvania. Her experiences there were much different than at the other farms. While Meghan had commuted to Quiet Creek, she lived on Blooming Glen. The employees of the farm stayed in a twin house owned by their employers. Meghan and the other “interns” would get up at7 a.m.and work side by side. She explains, “You would work together all day, sometimes 12 hours, and then at the end of the day be fighting over the kitchen and the shower. Then you would go to bed exhausted at9 p.m., and wake up to see the same people in the morning, fighting to make breakfast. It was tortuous. I’m friends with them now, actually,” Meghan says and chuckles. “We got along fine, but it’s always stressful when you live with someone you work with.”
For more information on Blooming Glen Farm visit www.bloomingglenfarm.com
A positive aspect of farming is “working with and around other people,” Meghan adds. The camaraderie often times led to “good conversation…whatever made the time go by quickly.” But at Quiet Creek, unlike at Blooming Glen, the end of the day meant “you could go home and have your own space and time.”
Blooming Glen was the only farm Meghan lived on. “If you want the full experience of working on a farm, living and breathing, then on-farm housing might be preferred,” says Meghan. “But for a young person it’s really difficult to have that be your whole life, unless you want to experience it in every aspect of your life—including socially. When you commute you generally enjoy the work more and get along with your colleagues better.”
Meghan’s experiences at Blooming Glen Farm were also negatively affected by how over-extended the operation was. At Blooming Glen they had over 300 C.S.A. members, sold produce to four farmers’ markets, and in addition sold produce in bulk (wholesale) to an independent merchant who then resold and distributed the produce to restaurants. All this work was done by only seven full-time employees—four “interns” and three hourly workers—who labored from7 a.m.to 7 or 8 p.m. They worked basically “however many hours it took,” Meghan explains. Interns were making only $800 a month ($700 after taxes) for 12 hour days doing physical labor.
Meghan clarifies that if you were working towards a degree in environmental science you could get an internship to a farm and receive school credits in addition to pay. Interns get paid a stipend a month, not hourly. That last year at Blooming Glen Farm, Meghan explains, “The three other interns and I were not actually in school, but we were considered “interns” basically so the employer could pay us less.”
“But for young people,” she continues, “an internship is a good way to start out. Quite often farmers will favor the interns by making more learning opportunities available to them. At Quiet Creek Farm there were workshops with other local farms, so you would be able to see other farms and learn their specialized techniques.”
Meghan is most familiar with organic practices. “Organic means not spraying with pesticides,” she says, “and following the guidelines of organic practices while using Certified Organic Seeds—non-Genetically Modified seeds.” Meghan clarifies that organic seeds are not necessarily heirloom, which are “seeds kept for years and years and then passed down.” Blooming Glen practiced organic methods but was not certified organic. Quiet Creek Farm began with an organic certification, since the farm is located on the Rodale Institute’s property. The institute is certified organic—so long as Quiet Creek continues the organic methods, the farm is certified organic without the costly government fees.
For more information on organic regulations visit www.epa.gov/agriculture/torg.html
“I think eating locally is more important than eating organic,” Meghan affirms. Eating locally is important for a community’s economy. Meghan explains that trying to eat locally can be frustrating, because some farmers’ markets are selling produce that isn’t actually local. As a result, a lot of people don’t know where their produce is actually grown. “I want to try to eat even more locally—like getting everything I need for a meal from the people around me. Including the meat and butter,” she proposes.
Meghan explains that the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle came out in 2007. Meghan was at the height of cultivating her passion for farming when she read Barbara Kingsolver’s novel. She read about the Kingsolver family trying to eat entirely local, “which is incredibly difficult,” Meghan adds, and trying to eat seasonally. This concept made her more excited about growing her own food and eating locally.
For more information on Animal, Vegetable, Miracle visit www.animalvegetablemiracle.com
“This past summer I gorged on tomatoes. I had cold sores from eating so many,” she says with a laugh. “I was trying to get them in while tomatoes were still fresh, because I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to enjoy them all winter. I will never buy produce from the grocery store.”
Meghan reveals that there is a small Growers Only Farmers’ Market that meets every Thursday from3:30pm-7:00pmonMain Street. She explains that going there reminds her of the scene from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle when Barbara Kingsolver bought something from each vendor—to encourage them to come back, and to let them know there is a market for their products. “I buy a little from each person, even if it’s something canned, like from the Mennonite family,” Meghan says. “There are four vendors—two vegetable farmers, an orchard farmer, and the Mennonite family. All the products are affordable, and they will often throw in a little extra.” Meghan contends, “Local produce tastes really good and can be really good for you.”
For more information on farmers’ markets visit www.carrborofarmersmarket.com/pdfs/thomastiemannarticle.pdf
Eating locally has altered Meghan’s perception of what she eats. “I would be out at a restaurant,” she says, “and wonder where the produce came from and how it was grown. I feel the safest eating things I grow.” Meghan also makes sure to purchase meat from local, cage-free farms. “Neidermeyer chicken [from Renninger’s] is really good. I never buy meat I don’t know where it’s from—factory farms scare me.”
“People need to be fed,” Meghan says, “which is why farming is so valuable.” Meghan emphasizes that many people don’t seem to understand how crucial the success of small farms is. She also worries that the majority of people, including children, are uneducated about food and nutrition. Meghan wishes that people would then take the initiative to learn more about food and how food is grown. With a more developed understanding, consumers can then make healthier dietary choices. And with an understanding comes the possibility of a cultivated appreciation for food, and for the farmers who provide that food. So it’s no surprise Meghan feels that farming “is satisfying, as opposed to other jobs.”
“I miss being outside,” she laments. “Now I am inside all the time, not even near a window. I would like to work out my schedule next year so that I can volunteer at a farm one day a week. I miss the courageous work.” Meghan raises a clenched fist for emphasis, “It felt tough and good being out there.”
However, Meghan explains, “I don’t know if I would ever own my own farm. I would like to own enough property to have a very large garden to grow enough food for my family and neighbors. But I couldn’t go into the business of it. I love the satisfaction that comes from starting a few seeds on an indoor porch in April, and then putting them outside in May or June and harvesting them in August.”
Of the people her age she has farmed with, only one had a degree in environmental science. “No one had a degree in agriculture or anything like that. Of the workers with college degrees, they were English majors or poetry majors,” Meghan says.
“Now it seems hip for these young people to try farming. I think this trend is because young people want to be outside, working with their hands, doing physical stuff. It’s really liberating,” Meghan explains. “I think people are realizing that we’re stuck inside all the time, with our jobs, often times sitting at a computer. It’s liberating to learn how to grow your food. Some people view it as hippie-like (to get involved with growing your own food) but it’s just smart to know and farming can teach you a lot—about life, even if you just do it for a summer. You can learn an incredible amount about where food comes from and what it looks like when they’re growing.”
Meghan advises that someone looking to get involved with farming for the first should do the research. “Research the farm before you decide to apply for an internship,” she suggests. “You have to know what you want to learn, for example—animal farming, large scale or small scale vegetable farming, about specializations in farmers’ markets, or in cultivation techniques, etc. Talk to the employees of the farm, and figure out what you will actually be doing on a day to day basis.”
Working on farms, from 2006 to 2010, has made Meghan a credible source on organic farming and Community Supported Agriculture. She has experienced different aspects of farming, such as the laborious process of seed to harvested plant, as well as the distribution of produce in various mediums—farmers’ markets, wholesale, and independent family-owned operations. Meghan’s knowledge of farming has cultivated her awareness of how dietary choices affect one’s life. “Farming changed my life,” she says with a knowing smile. “Farming has made me a better person, physically and mentally.” ■