This past Sunday's New York Times featured an Editorial Notebook piece by Verlyn Klinkenborg called Death of a Farm. Klinkenborg notes the passing of the Tuttle's Red Barn Farm, America's oldest farm founded in 1632. Here's a link to the Tuttle"s Red Barn Farm website where you can read the Tuttle's letter explaining their decision. To quote from Kilinkenborg's piece: "Each year it has become harder for family farms to compete with industrial scale agriculture -- heavily subsidized by the government -- underselling them at every turn. In a system committed to the health of farms and their integration with local communities, the result would have been different."
On the Road: Farm Stands of Northern Chester & Montgomery Counties, PA
Some things are predictable about my summer excursions in search of farm stands. This includes a cornucopia of seasonal produce currently including peaches, blackberries, zucchini, corn and tomatoes. Not predictable is the path to find this. And frankly, if were only about the produce, there are easier ways to get this stuff than hunting down farm stands. (For instance, my local Saturday Rittenhouse Square Farmers' Market or any day at the Reading Terminal Market.)
As I drove over hill and dale in search of the perfect farm stand, I had to remind myself of the importance of the journey and not just the fruit and vegetables. My carefully researched and exhaustive list of farm addresses offered no assurance that I would actually find that weathered rickety table with hand-lettered signs offering tenderly cared for produce. Sometimes a farm is just a farm.
My drives have provided me with a notion of the best farm stand business model. This includes, in addition to the farm and farmer, a sufficiently dense population that values and is in need of fresh-picked produce. When most of your neighbors are farmers, well maybe that just not the place for a farm stand.
Still, if you stay off the main roads, drive slowly enough to gaze left and right, there is lots to see including beautifully picturesque classic Pennsylvania farms.
And birds of a feather flocking together for a late morning siesta.
And a young family enjoying a late breakfast.
These are primarily serious commercial farms whose business models do not necessarily include roadside stands.
With a long tradition of farming success.
Here is a large field of zucchini but nary a ready-to-stuff zucchini blossom for sale.
Undaunted, I headed north where broad open valleys and long straight roads gave way to creeks, hills and winding roads.
It's interesting how New Jersey seems to have a tradition of showy signs announcing their presence and extolling their produce. By comparison, Pennsylvania's signage is more demure -- and less fun. In addition, Pennsylvania's Buy Fresh. Buy Local program does not quite compete with the "Jersey Fresh" campaign. As with most "orchards," Weaver's is a large scale operation
But they do offer local corn.
A Farmer's Market such as Weaver's typically offer their customers the convenience of produce not locally grown. (I saw no pineapple plantations in my travels.)
Several weeks ago in South Jersey there were only cling peaches -- peaches whose flesh sticks to the pit. Freestones, that come later in the summer, are on sumptuous, picked ripe and ready-to-eat display at Weaver's -- yellow or white. Plus sweet yellow or white doughnut peaches. Weaver's peaches and blackberries became Saturday night's dessert.
As I headed north I passed several gun clubs and sporting "reserves" where, I assume, hunters stalk and shoot their prey and some bring it to Big Bull's Taxidermy for stuffing -- and not the culinary variety.
Corn is America's largest crop -- more than two times that of any other crop. Most of it is used to produce things like corn syrup and feed for animals rather than what we enjoy at our dinner tables and barbecues throughout the summer.
Corn is bi-sexual with each plant having both the male and female components necessary to produce an ear of corn. The spindly stalk is seen here protruding from the plant's top. The stalk at the top is the "male component" and produces the pollen. The pollen is transported by air to surrounding plants. That is one reason corn is grown so close together.
The silk, seen here on an immature ear, is the female component. It catches the pollen. Each strand of silk is a long tube that transports the pollen to the ear and produces the seed. For every kernel of corn there is a strand of silk.
Of course, man does not live by produce alone. Cows seem to have a pretty good life around these parts.
...and why not llamas?
The 35-acre Old Earth Farm in Oley sits behind an 1828 stone farmhouse.
The Reiff Farm, also in Oley, was started in 1732 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today it's a bed & breakfast in 1815 farmhouse. Driving through this area one cannot help but imagine what the area must have looked like 50 years ago...or 250 years ago when all there was were farms carved out of forests.
I began my drive with 15 potential "farm" locations that ultimately yielded four actual farm stands or farmers' market. However, I did discover a number of unexpected "honor system" roadside farm stand.
Here is Pleasant Valley farm stand where my purchases included yellow pear tomatoes -- you don't that often find these -- a sugar baby watermelon not much bigger than a soft ball, and a jar of homemade sweet cherry jam.
Hauseman's modest stand provided the beets that became a cold beet soup that will be Friday's recipe.
And suddenly along a quite and residential road, set-up in his driveway, was this backyard farmer's stand where $1 baskets of sweet and hot peppers yielded my roast marinated pepper hors d'oeuvres.
Cemetaries are always reminders of lives past of those who toiled in these parts. Here the grave of a soldier that dates to 1868. One can only wonder if this soldier fought for the union in the Civil War -- in what other war would he have been a soldier? -- and then returned home to his farm?
Churches spires dot the landscape.
Along with more ominous spires. I have often seen the Limerick nuclear power plant off in the distance as it looms over this area. I am of the Three Mile Island and China Syndrome generation. I remember the day the accident occurred -- not at this plant but the one near Harrisburg. I took the opportunity to drive as close as you can get to the Limerick plant without being arrested for trespassing. It was remarkable how close this plant is to a small airport and how close you can actually get to it. I find myself wrestling with the role of nuclear power in our nation's strategy to move away from the dangers of fossil fuels. These two towers appeared quite benign though I am aware of the potential danger that lies within.
On the other hand, it is hard to ignore other dangers that lurk along the road.
Some farm stands are very modest in scale but inventive in execution. It was at the Stimigo Farm stand that "the farmer's wife" -- sensing I was a cook -- handed me a recipe for Zucchini Pancakes. Over the next few weeks I plan to modify this recipe some and offer you more to do with the avalanche of zucchini likely to appear soon at your neighborhood farm stand.
Clearly the day's "winning" farm stand was Barry Davis Produce. I had been tipped off by a blog ready about how this was a farm stand worth the trip. There was who I imagined was Barry himself, looking much like the guy who I just left the fields, taking the cash while who I assumed was Mrs. Davis stocking the produce with he son's assistance. Certainly a family affair.
The quest for Barry Davis Produce was a key determinant in establishing my day's driving route. However, it's address at the intersection of Germantown Pike and Smith Road in Collegeville -- it had no numbered street address -- proved to be completely perplexing to my GPS as it apparently requires a number and a street. However, through the wonders of an alternate technology, I followed the Google Map displayed on my G3 enabled miracle of an iPad to finely hit pay dirt and Barry Davis Produce!
Which brings me back to Tuttle's Red Barn Farm's last harvest. In no small measure, Tuttle's Farm's demise after nearly 400 years of continuous operation is the result of "progress" aided and abetted by advances in technology. These changes in technology have had major pay-offs hardly limited to mapping routes. Advances in technology led to increases in overall economic productivity and a net reduction in the cost of food as a percentage of our income. In 1929, on average food as a percentage of income in the United States was 24%. By 1970, that had dropped to about 14% and today it is less than 10% -- the lowest in the world. That means that more people can afford to eat better and more money is available for non-food purchases. But "progress" has also resulted in changes in our lives that are not so good. This includes more time spent working and less time to prepare meals at home. And because in supermarkets nearly all farm products are available from some farm somewhere in the world all the time, we have become disconnected from our time and place in the world.
Now here's my point: We are not prisoners of "progress." We are not mere bystanders in some inexorable march into a future. We make choices. These choices include where and how we shop -- the value we place on ingredients -- and whether we prepare meals at home for family and friends. Through our actions we are writing our prescription for the world's future. We decide whether our future world includes small family farms and farm stands and farmers markets offering wonderfully fresh seasonal produce. The fate of Vermont's Tuttle's Red Barn Farm and Collegeville's Barry Davis Produce and Princeton's Z Farm and Salem County's Mr. Tkach is not inevitable.
Front row, left to right: Tiny ears of "un-sprayed" corn, beets, sweet cherry jam, zucchini, sweet onion, patty pan squash, tomatoes, variegated eggplant, leeks, yellow beans, cherry peppers and bi-color corn. Second row: Sugar plums, sugar baby watermelon, blackberries, honeydew, basil, spaghetti squash and sweet and hot peppers. Third row: Little orange and yellow pear tomatoes, yellow watermelon, cantaloupe, white and yellow peaches and yellow doughnut peaches.
Tomorrow -- On the Table: The Farm Stands of Northern Chester & Montgomery Counties, PA
Beginning this week I will divide my weekly excursions and the resulting meal into two blogs rather than a single longer blog. The first post -- On the Road -- will share with you the day's journey. A separate post on the following day -- On the Table -- will include the resulting meal. This will enable me to provide more focus on what you can do with all this stuff as well as provide more coaching on how to put your meal together. So, for instance, tomorrow there will be a post called On the Table: The Farm Stands of Northern Chester & Montgomery Counties, PA. Then, the following day I will post a recipe representing something I prepared. Somewhere in here, maybe earlier in the week I will try to keep the Tips post going.
My goal is to increase your home entertaining and to encourage you to shop locally -- at farm stands or farmers' markets -- and invite friends and family to enjoy the fruits and vegetables of your efforts...At Home.
Friday -- Cold Beet Soup with Cucumbers & Sour Cream
If you're not a fan of beets, it's time to give beets another chance. And if you love beets, you'll love this soup. For access to all of the At Home blog's 80-plus recipes, go to the Recipe Index.
Next week: On the Road: The Farm Stands of Long Island's North Fork
About halfway out on Long Island, at Riverside, the island splits. The South Fork borders the Atlantic Ocean and the North Fork faces the Long Island Sound. The Peconic Bay sits in between and divides the two forks. While the South Fork is home to the Hamptons, the more rural North Fork is home to great wineries and more than 40 farm stands -- not just farms. I don't plan on visiting all, but it should be an interesting and productive trip and I look forward to sharing it with you.
Next I may include Lancaster County. I have already received some good advice from a blog reader, but if anyone can suggest Lancaster County farm stands, I would certainly appreciate it. The internet clearly has its limitations.
Addendum regarding the "blind-folded" horse
My post about Chester County included a photograph of a "blind-folded" white horse. A blog reader and equestrian provided the explanation that an important purpose of the "blind-fold" -- which is actually a mesh through which the horse can see -- is to keep flies off the horse's eyes and, in so doing, make the horse's life more pleasant. I appreciate the explanation as I strayed from my area of knowledge.