Wednesday, December 30, 2015

You Don't Need a Weather Man

-->The seeds of life are not what they once were
Mother Nature and God don’t own them anymore (Neil Young)

This is being written on December 30th, 2015. It is 48º and raining. The mid-west is being hammered with tornadoes and the Mississippi River is escaping into various cities along its path. The scientists are anticipating an El Nino weather event that could be the most powerful on record. Some areas of the country will see record warmth, record storms with attendant flooding and landslides causing devastation. Today the North Pole temperature was 40º above normal.

Last season, despite seasonally cold weather, Z Food Farm continued with its Philadelphia Rittenhouse Square Market through the first Saturday in January 2015. The last farm stand was the Wednesday of Thanksgiving week. The diversity of available produce at market was limited, but it was still cost effective to do the market. This season the weather has been unseasonably warm. This has allowed the farm to continue having a bountiful harvest. Though most of what is being sold is cool/cold weather compatible, the warmer weather has allowed certain crops (kale, chard, spinach) to continue to grow and thrive. This has allowed the farm stand to open for the three Wednesdays after Thanksgiving and to continue at the Rittenhouse market. And on January 2, 2016 we will be providing a wide array of produce at the Rittenhouse market. As the pictures that follow will convey, Z Food Farm will have quite a bit to offer.

As an overview, since this blog has not been kept up to date, farm season 2015 was far more than not successful. There were snap peas in the spring, a great harvest of watermelons, and a great crop of tomatoes, among many other successes. There were a couple of crops that did not fare as well as in previous seasons and for one reason or another there were a few things that never got planted. Farming is an ongoing challenge that requires the farmer to do their best on a daily basis with very little time to sit back and relax. Regardless of where you live, or which farmers’ market you go to, the next time you see a farmer, convey your appreciation for what they are providing. As a general guideline, your local farmer will provide you with produce that is fresher and tastier than what you will purchase at a grocery store.
Support local farmers. Support sustainable farmers. Support certified organic farmers. 

This is the produce that was available for Saturday, December 18. Most of this will be available for the January 2, 2016 market.  What's not pictured are bags of salad mix, spinach, baby red russian kale, and Asian greens.

Sadie and Ernie say hello. Over the course of the season Sadie demonstrated that she is a true successor to our old dog Hule in ridding the farm of ground hogs. Ernie is an able assistant, but he is more of a lover.

Happy and Health Eating To One and All.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Let The Fun Begin

Birds flying high
You know how I feel
Sun in the sky
You know how I feel
Reeds driftin' on by
You know how I feel

It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
For me
And I'm feeling good (Nina Simone)

By the calender spring has officially started. By the actual weather it still seems like it's winter, six inches of snow on March 20 will do that to you. Regardless of the weather seeding needs to begin. And so it has. As has been the case for the past years onions, scallions, shallots, chard, beets, and broccoli are the first to be seeded. Seeding is a time consuming process, but it creates its own sense of focus, a sense of mindfulness. With music in the background you can get into a rhythm where you lose track of time and just move along. Sometimes, in all honesty, it can be boring. Regardless, it is something that once you are done for the day there is a definite sense of satisfaction when you see all the flats that have been seeded. 

I am currently reading the book, The Third Plate, Field Notes On The Future of Food, by Dan Barber. For those of you who are interested in various aspects of farming, the health of soil, the health of the oceans, how food is grown, and where our food comes from, I would highly recommend this book. Mr. Barber, executive chef of Blue Hill Restaurant in Manhattan and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a nonprofit farm just north of NYC, explores various issues pertaining to good farming and good eating. One specific point of emphasis as it pertains to what Z Food Farm is trying to accomplish, is the maintenance of the health of the soil. Healthy soil leads to better tasting food. Healthy soil reduces a farmers challenges with weeds, disease, and insects. We each have choices to make about what we eat and where we get our food. As an organic farm, Z Food Farm believes in the importance of growing food without synthetic ingredients. As in most things in our lives, what you eat is a matter of choice not chance. Choose what's best for your health.

These pictures show the gradual process of the greenhouse filling up. As previously noted in earlier posts, onions have four seeds per cell while scallions have 8 seeds per cell. Each of the onion/scallion flats have 128 cells. You do the math as to how many seeds that is.

And here's Sadie having her first spring at the farm. 'What are you silly people doing, let's go play!' In fact she has started to earn her keep as she caught a mouse the other day, after the mouse had eaten some of the newly seeded flats. Not in Hule's class when it comes to the challenge of taking care of ground hogs, but it is a good start. 

Well, welcome back my friends to the show that never ends. It is hoped that the snow is now behind us and that warmer and drier days are in our near future.

Happy and healthy eating to one and all.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Right Tool For The Job

Wendell Berry
As we felled and burned the forests, so we burned, plowed, and overgrazed the prairies. We came with visions, but not with sight. We did not see or understand where we were or what was there, but destroyed what was there for the sake of what we desired.

I’ve been learning that what some perceive as the good old days of farming, before the onslaught of artificial fertilizers and pesticides, are not as good, are not as soil friendly as might be thought. Upon settling in this country farmers would use the soil until the soil had no more to give. Then the farmers would move west and repeat the process. Once farmers reached the mid-West they encountered the prairies whose native plants ran their roots deep into the ground. This led to soil that was full of nutrients and was less likely to wash or blow away. As new farm implements were developed that allowed farmers to more easily break up the roots of the natural prairie, the native plants were replaced with plants (wheat, soy, corn), whose roots did not run deep. This led, over the years, to a diminishment of the nutrients in the soil and soil that was much more vulnerable to blowing away, the Dust Bowl (an economic, social, and environmental disaster) being the by-product of this long-term process. One change in the modern era of farming, the resurgence of small farms that are organic and sustainable, is a greater appreciation of the health of the soil. One aspect of this increasing respect for the soil is using implements that are not as intrusive to the soil. To phrase it in a different manner, use the right tool for the job and things will go better.

Certainly the task can be completed with the wrong tool, but the quality of the work done will be less. This is as true in farming as it is in any other profession that requires the use of tools or implements. Here are some of the ‘tools’ that David uses at Z Food Farm. The ultimate goal of using specific implements, and when to use and not use the tractor, is to promote the health of the soil. “Healthy soil brings vigorous plants, stronger and smarter people, cultural empowerment, and the wealth of a nation. Bad soil, in short, threatens civilization. We cannot have good food – healthy, sustainable, or delicious – without soil filled with life”. (Dan Barber – The Third Plate- Field Notes on The Future of Food)

On the left is Ernie, now 2. On the right is Sadie, no 6 months. You look at them and see dogs, as do I. But I also see them as 'tools'. Their job is to prevent destruction of crops by ground hogs. Both of them are still in the process of learning how to do their job. In the mean time, and even when effective, we'll just enjoy them as great, loving, and loyal companions.

 Pictured below is a Perfecta 2 Field Cultivator. (Cultivate- to till or prepare the soil for the purpose of planting and growing crops.) To take from the web site where they are sold- the perfecta allows the farmer to till, level, and finish cultivating the soil in a single pass. The advantage is less damage to the soil and the saving of time. The pictures are a before and after demonstration about what the implement accomplishes.

 This is the Williams Tool System. It is very versatile in being able to cultivate between planted beds, as well as cultivate/weed within the bed itself. I am being overly simplistic, but between the Perfecta and the Williams, David saved himself many, many hours of labor. It also allowed him to accomplish more weeding, which allows for better growth of the plants. The addition of these two implements has been simply marvelous.

There is a road that runs from the barn to the fields. When wet it turned into mud and at times would be almost impassable. It would get rutted out and when the road dried out there was a risk of damaging the farm truck if the truck bottomed out. Pictured below is a box scraper or box blade. It is hitched to the back of the tractor and pulled along the road to smooth and level it out. Some rock was then placed on the newly smoothed out road, tamped down, and no more rutted road. This is not to be underestimated.

Roto tillers come in various sizes. If you've done home gardening you are aware that a roto tiller helps to break up  the soil into particles that are much finer in consistency than you would get with regular cultivating such as you would get with the Perfecta or the Williams.This is important when you are doing 'direct seeding'. Most plants are seeded in the greenhouse and the plugs with the baby plants are planted into the ground. However, some plants do not transplant well (carrots and radishes being two examples) and their seeds are directly planted into the soil. In these instances it is important to have the soil as fine as possible.

This is the implement that David uses to directly seed. There are different plates that take into account the variations in the size of the seeds of the different crops. He places the seeds in the clear plastic container seen in the middle, and walks along side the formed bed with the seeded depositing the seed at the right depth and at the right distance from the other seeds. And it will also place soil over the deposited seed. It is not an easy task, but it does a very effective job.

 These have been pictured and described previously. The one on top has a series of 'trowels' which will break up the ground, thus allowing David to come back with the Perfecta. Using the 'celli' is not as invasive or harmful to the soil as the traditional method of first using a chisel plow and then using a disc plow. The second picture is of the water wheel. It allows planting to be while sitting down rather than the back breaking method of bending over for each plant. The water wheel will also water the plant as it is being put into the ground. Unfortunately you do need to do some back tiring work by having someone walk behind and bend over to make sure that the root ball of the plant is not exposed. No matter what you do, there is no getting around the reality that farming is hard work.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


To everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season - turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it's not too late!

Over the eight years I've been helping David, one thing has become crystal clear, each farm season has its successes and its failures. Sometimes the success is small, but you take what you can get. Some years provide you with great bounty with one crop and not so much with others. Sometimes the failures are minimal for which you are thankful, but others have a significant negative impact on what's available to bring to market.
Last season deer ate the first two plantings of beets and Swiss chard. There was record rain in June and near record rain in July. The tractor was out of commission for at least six weeks. Due to the rain and the tractor problems a number of crops did not get planted. Or, when planted, did very poorly. For example, farm season 2012 saw the best winter squash harvest at the farm. Last season the winter squash harvest was virtually non-existent. Other crops, including melons, fared poorly or not at all.

This season David had his best winter squash harvest ever. Also, the watermelon/cantaloupe was the best ever. This was balanced by the eggplants not doing as well as they have in the past for no discernible reason. Also, due to disease, this was not the farms best year for cucumbers. Yet the tomato harvest was great and the first two plantings of summer squash were quite productive.
Sometimes the problems are disease. For example, after a good start, the basil harvest ended quite suddenly due to something called basil downy mildew. (It was first reported in the United States in 2007 and appears to be here to stay. It is located primarily along the eastern seaboard, but there have been outbreaks in Kansas and Missouri. Once it gets on your plants there is little that you can do to stop it. At this time prevention of the disease is a work in progress. I mention all of this so that when you go to your local markets and can’t find basil, you will have an understanding as to why.) The devastation of the basil crop was not specific to Z Food Farm. Various other local farms, and farms throughout the East coast, up into Maine, were ravaged by the disease. These ups and downs are par for the course for farms large and small, but the impact on small-scale operations can be quite significant; yet another reason to appreciate all that goes into the produce available to you at farmers’ markets. And the challenge for organic farms is that they have less available to them to combat bugs and diseases. I know that this point has previously been made, and it is not done to engender sympathy for farmers who operate small, sustainable, organic farms. It is to enhance awareness of all that goes into bringing produce to market. Yes, farmers of all size farms are trying to make a living out of what they do, but for most they have to have a sustaining passion for being a farmer. 

Z Food Farm only sells what it grows. At many markets this is the rule for all produce vendors at a particular market. (If you are uncertain about whether this is the rule at the market you frequent, find the market manager and ask). This means that you will only find produce that is available at that particular time of the season. Some crops do best in the early spring. Some do well in the fall. Some will be available in the spring and fall. Some we’ll have only during the heat of the summer. Having been conditioned to find everything we want year round at grocery stores, please appreciate that small, local farms, organic or conventional, are doing their best to bring you the widest variety of vegetables that are available at that time of the season. If a crop doesn’t do well, or is a complete failure, that failure will have a strong impact on that farm. Prior to my involvement with farming I had no sense of what it takes to bring produce to market. I took for granted the bounty that was available in stores. If you shop at farmers’ markets, whether for produce or some of the other wonderful diversity of goods available, you already have a sense of what the vendors go through to bring their products to market. Most of you who shop at Z Food Farm do convey to us your appreciation of what we offer and for that we thank you. There are numerous choices available to you and we do not take your support for granted.

Winter squash come in all sizes and shapes and colors. There are two things to know about them- they are delicious and they make great decoration until you get around to eating them. Keep out of direct light and direct heat and they will last in your home for weeks if not a few months. Though some will ‘keep’ longer than others, all of them can be saved. As far as cooking them goes, most of them are good for soups, pies, and just plain roasting and eating. Use your favorite search engine and you will find recipes galore.
 This is the harvest of winter squash. A very rough estimate of between 7-8,000 pounds worth of winter squash

 A roadside display.

Galeux d'Eysines - The sweet orange flesh is used in France for soups and also can be baked. Sweet, orange flesh.

Hule and Ernie 'guarding' the winter squash. The beige, somewhat flattened looking pumpkins on the second row up are Long Island Cheese Pumpkins. Have a moderately sweet flesh that is good for pies. Are used by the Bent Spoon in Princeton, NJ to make their pumpkin ice cream.

 Musque de Provence - Also known as the fairy tale squash. Moderately sweet flesh. The skin will start green and over time turn a golden brown. Gorgeous for decoration and then good for eating either roasted or as soup or pie.

 Kabocha - It has an exceptional naturally sweet flavor, even sweeter than butternut squash. Like other squash-family members, it is commonly mixed in side dishes and soups or anywhere pumpkin, potato, or other squash would be. Though the skin color is different the flesh is the same.

Spaghetti Squash- This year David grew this smaller variety of spaghetti squash. Being small they become a little more manageable to cook and use with less waste. For those new to these, after they are cooked and cut in half, if cooked whole, use a fork to scrape out the flesh. You will have strands very similar to spaghetti and you can use the strands just as you would spaghetti.

Acorn Squash- Sweet orange flesh. Good for roasting and eating. Good for making into soup. Just plain good.

Sugar Dumpling- Very sweet flesh. Roast it. Soup it. Enjoy it.

Baby Blue Hubbard- Good for soups, pies, and just simply eating. We grew the baby blue Hubbard. the regular Hubbard can weigh 15-40 pounds.

Kuri Squash- golden flesh is smooth, dry, sweet and rich.

Delicata- delicate, sweet flavor. Good for roasting and eating. Thin skinned.

This is what the greenhouse looked like at the end of the season.

Support local farms. Support organic farms. Eat Healthy.
Farm On!!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

To Every Season

The end as the beginning. It has been a long time coming, but here is a resumption of the happenings at Z Food Farm for the 2014 season. View the prolonged gap since the last post as a combination of laziness, exhaustion, and a lack of time on my part. But, as of today, with things winding down (note that this said winding down, not finished), there is time and a renewed energy to return to this blog.

Winding Down- Over the past five years David would skip the Rittenhouse Square Market in Philly the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend and then return for one last market the following weekend. This year he did the Thanksgiving weekend market and, weather permitting, will do the market on Sat, Dec 6. As of now the plan is to continue doing the Rittenhouse Market on a week to week basis. As of now Z Food Farm will be at Rittenhouse Sat, Dec 13. Though going to market will be ongoing, most things on the farm are winding down. There will be harvesting for market, but for the most part, general clean up and barn organization will begin. And then comes the inventorying of left over seed, going through seed catalogues and deciding what items to not do next year and what new things to try. And then comes ordering the seed and planning where in the field to plant things and then, weather permitting, start seeding about the middle of February. Basically, the winter break is not a very big break and while working the soil does come to an end, there is really no end. The current season may end, but the transition to the next season begins almost immediately. When you farm on a small scale your small, local, sustainable farmer doesn’t have that much of a break. It gets back to a point that’s been made before- farmers such as David do it for the love they have for what they do. Wherever you are, if you shop at your local farmers’ market, take the time to get to know the farmer who is selling you their produce. Most farmers will be happy to talk with you about what they do. They will share their passion and aid you in appreciating the uniqueness of what you get at market as opposed to a grocery store. What you are buying is the end result of hours of effort and a different level of passion and commitment than large-scale commercial farming. And, while there are exceptions, what you are buying is going to be fresher than what you’ll get at a grocery store. Also, if it is certified organic you will know that what you are buying has no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

Specific to Z Food Farm there are two things to mention in this post. The first is the totally redesigned web site ( and the other is the painting of both sides of the truck. This season Z Food Farm did a market at the Andaz Plaza in New York City. The Andaz is a hotel that is part of the Hyatt chain and is located on Water St., one block down from Wall St. Megan is the director of community relations for the Andaz and became a big booster and supporter of the farm. While David provided some ideas and suggestions as to what he wanted the web site to convey, Megan is responsible for the redesign. The original web site was well done, but it was five years old and in need of revitalization. Over the course of the market season Megan invested her time and energy to bring about the overhaul of the site. It contains more pictures, videos, and all sorts of information about David and the farm. You are all invited to visit and check it out. One specific highlight of the website is that all the information about becoming a CSA (community supported agriculture) Member for farm season 2015 is available. The two types of membership, Farm Share and Market Share, are explained in detail. Pricing information for both types of shares is also spelled out. Memberships are available at three locations- at the farm in Lawrenceville on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, at the Rittenhouse Farmers’ Market in Philly on Saturdays, and at the Andaz Plaza Market in NYC on Thursdays. To get to the information about the CSA go to the website and click on the CSA link at the top of the page.

Z Food Farm now has the coolest farm truck. Through Megan David was introduced to the graffiti artist Dmote. He came to the Andaz Market to meet with David and to formulate plans to paint both sides of the truck. (If you google Dmote you will find links to his work and other links giving his background.) And thus it came to be that the truck got painted. If you click on the Dispatches link on the web site you will come to the page that has various videos and pictures about the farm. One of the videos shows one side of the truck being painted. It’s a little over a minute in length. In addition to her work in redesigning the web site, Megan put the videos together. The videos provide a unique perspective into some of the happenings pertaining to Z Food Farm.

Here are some pictures of the truck. The eggplant guy does not have a name. The pumpkin skeleton is Steve The Reaper.

Let me conclude this resumption of the blog with thanking various people without whom this farm season would not have been as successful as it was. 

Thanks to CSA Members. Your commitment to the farm at prior to the beginning of the farm season is crucial for the farms success. Thanks for your investment and faith.

Thanks to all the people who buy from Z Food Farm at the farm in Lawrenceville NJ, in Philly, and in New York City. There is a great deal of choice when it comes to obtaining fresh, local produce and your support is greatly appreciated.
Thanks to Mike and Karel for your assistance in helping to keep various things running smoothly and for general support and camaraderie. In a similar vein, thanks to Tommy. 

Thanks to Dmote (aka. Skank) for his time and artistic vision in painting the truck. 

Thanks to Megan for her time, energy, and creativity. Also thanks for your efforts in promoting the market. Also, thanks to the Andaz Hotel for their support in providing the space for a market in their plaza.

Support local and sustainable agriculture. Support organic farmers. Eat Healthy.

 See you next week at Rittenhouse Square in Philly; 12/13 from 10-2! Farm On!