Wintertime visits to Katchkie Farm are maybe twice or three times a month compared to weekly trips or overnight stays during growing season. There is no harvest bounty to lug back, or ripe produce to assist in picking. The children's garden is barren and there is no pot of harvest soup simmering in the open-air field house. The skeletons of the last crop stand frozen in place - bizarrely beautiful. Instead of t-shirts, sunscreen and sneakers, it is layers and boots and ski gloves in place of garden gloves. And yet, there is something alluring about our farm in winter. Saturday was a farm day and I drove up with friend and locavore, Barbara Warren.
Farm Manager Bob Walker does not get a real rest in the winter season. A dreamer, builder, amazingly gifted craftsman who gets A's in plumbing, electric work and construction, the winter is when Bob works on building the infrastructure of Katchkie Farm. On the project list this winter:
1. Convert the detached garage space into an office for The Sylvia Center while relocating equipment big and little to the new workshop and barn. (Move the unnamed deer-head from garage to its home in the new workshop.) Rehab, drywall, paint for the old walls. Complete the build out of the storage area that holds the supplies and equipment for the educational programs.
2. The heating of 2 greenhouses - what a complex job this is. From a boiler in the barn, Bob will run heating tubes that will then span both greenhouses, heating the soil and nourishing the plants. Radiant heating - far more efficient than heating the air. In Bob's shorthand: "excavate trench connecting boiler room to all 3 greenhouse heating (hot water) supply and return lines, electrical conduit and wiring. Then, boiler, pumping and electronic control installation." Discarded cooking oil from Great Performances feeds the boiler. Sounds fairly simple - but it is not. The mechanism is a work of art and I have nicknamed it Bob's menorah, as it is both miraculous and multi-pronged. Heat that would have lasted a few days, will stretch into weeks. Bob the Builder/Bob the Macabee.
3. Year one of growing micro-greens for the company; a trial and error process that has yielded the most incredible flavors which we have been enjoying all winter. These extraordinary greens are a burst of color at our weekly Greenmarket in the Port Authority and grace the menus at Mae Mae Café, Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, Wave Hill Café & BAM and the plates at the Plaza Hotel Grand Ballroom. The tables were all hand made, custom designed by Bob, with foam, foil, tubing and valve stations (more mini-menorahs) and electronic controls. Finding the proper growing conditions for these greens this winter has been a major commitment of time and attention.
4. Seed shopping - field planting plans. Working with the chefs to find out what they think the next big vegetable craze will be or which ones will be incorporated into Spring menus. How much to grow - balancing the needs of the expanding CSA, the KF product line, the Greenmarket and farmers markets, the educational programs of Sylvia Center and of course, all the chefs company-wide.
We are days away from launching the stars of the 2010 growing season - and the greenhouse becomes a nursery as the growing process begins all over again. All that energy and food in a single tiny seed.
5. Planning for the deer fence and the animal fence (for the future pig family.) Clearing the woodland trail of the downed trees from the storms of 2009.
6. Complete work in the new workshop - shelving systems, (reinstall deer head), get all equipment set and ready.
7. Complete new washroom water lines, wall bumpers and shelving.
8. General equipment maintenance.
9. Ongoing design and construction of specialized farm equipment.
The day was overcast and cold. We packed a picnic and ate in the greenhouse. Salads for us all topped with freshly snipped micro-greens and a giant brownie for Bob. Then, a walk through the fields, around the frozen pond, to the edge of the woods and back again. A visit to the chicken coop yielded a dozen fresh eggs for each of us, of different sizes and hues. An egg this fresh and delicious is nothing like it pale supermarket cousin. And as it has no competition from tomatoes or other farm veggies, it dominates the meal on Sunday.
There was barely any snow on the ground and the landscape was mostly monochromatic, from the grey skies to the brown frozen fields and dark Catskill mountain range in the background. It was the sort of day when every detail stands out clearly as there were few distractions. The air was crisp, my fingers froze and it was too cold to try to put on my ice skates, which is fine as the surface of the ice looked uninviting. The stream that feeds the frozen pond flowed out the other end into the neighboring pond and from there, to the Kinderhook Creek. The dam the beavers built this fall, a distant memory along with its engineers. A spring chore will include rebuilding the little wooden footpath that crosses the stream as it exits Katchkie Pond.
It was a day of chatting - hearing about Bob's decorating plans for the house, sorely in need of some TLC. In fact, this farmer has plans this coming Sunday to resurface all the kitchen cabinets as phase one of his home renovation.
The home improvement bug, on top of the never-ending list of farm building challenges that Bob creates and accomplishes must be a sign that Spring is in the air - a signal of optimism and renewal. It is an ambitious list to accomplish in 32 days, but then again, that is what defines life on a farm: A never ending list of chores; on-going construction, renovation, repair and revision; and above all else, thinking and dreaming. In what will seem like 32 seconds, wintertime chores will have to be accomplished or set aside for next year, as the long list of growing season tasks takes precedence.
And we will collectively remark with a deep sigh - Where did the quiet months of winter go?
Follow Liz Neumark on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GPfood