Sunday, July 29, 2007


"Oh, Mother Earth, with your fields of green, Once more laid down by the hungry hand. How long can you give and not receive, and feed this world ruled by greed. And feed this world ruled by greed." "Respect Mother Earth and her giving ways. Or trade away our children's days."

The following is from Slow Food Nation, by Carlo Petrini- 10 Things Every American Can Do To Strengthen Our Food Communities:
1. Join a local Slow Food convivium.
2. Trace your food sources.
3. Shop at a local farmers' market
4. Join a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture).
5. Invite a friend over to share a meal.
6. Visit a farm in your area.
7. Create a new food memory for a child! Let them plant seeds or harvest greens for a meal.
8. Start a kitchen garden.
9. Learn your local food history!
10. Find a food that is celebrated as being originally from or best grown/produced in your part of the country.

You've seen the seeding. You've seen the planting and the growing. Now it's time to harvest and go to market. It may not be the farmer in the dell, but it is the farmer at Gravity Hill. By the way, if you click on the name, Gravity Hill, at the top of the blog, you will be taken to a web site that will give you the background story about where the name Gravity Hill comes from. And remember, food grows here.

Welcome to the Gravity Hill Farm food stand at the Lawrenceville, NJ Farmers' Market.

Getting set up involves putting up two 'tents' to provide some shelter from the storm and protection from the sun, setting up three tables with tablecloths, putting out the baskets and the produce, and putting up a couple of tarps to provide some extra protection from the sun. This is important not just for David's comfort, but for the comfort of the veggies. They too can suffer from too much direct sun.

Farmer David extolling the virtues of fresh grown, organically grown, local produce. Also, wearing his Bent Spoon t-shirt. If you want the best ice cream in the Princeton area, go to the Bent Spoon. Check out the link to their web site in the Friends section of the blog.

In the foreground is basil. To insure its freshness, David harvests it the day of market. Most of the other produce is harvested on Saturday. In the left background is some head lettuce. In center background is Swiss Chard.

On the left is a big fan favorite, salad mix. On the right is arugula. The salad mix is made up of a blend of six types of baby lettuce, giving the mix a tasty blend of flavors. The arugula has a peppery taste to it. According to information found online, arugula goes back to Roman times and was, at that time, viewed as an aphrodisiac. Seconds anyone?

Broccoli on the left, zucchini on the right, and two varieties of scallions on top. The white are your traditional type. The ones on the right are called Deep Purple. And while smoke is on the water, these scallions taste the same; they simply provide a colorful addition to your favorite salad. Not only should your food be good for you, it can be aesthetically pleasing as well.

Front left is kale, one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. As David is quite fond of saying, "eat more kale." Top right are two varieties of beets. On the left are your traditional red ace beets. On the right is a variety called chioggia. They are an Italian heirloom variety. When you cut one in half you will see a series of candy stripe rings amidst a white background. It has a slightly milder flavor than the traditional beet.

That's it for now. Thanks to all who have supported Gravity Hill Farm and its mission of bringing to market healthy, grown to organic standards, local produce in the first weeks of market. Your support is greatly appreciated. To your health.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

See How They Grow

"Good day sunshine, Good day sunshine, Good day sunshine. I need to laugh, and when the sun is out, I've got something I can laugh about. I feel good, in a special way. I'm in love and it's a sunny day."

It's always a great day at Gravity Hill Farm because great stuff is growing there. While there is an ongoing battle between David and a variety of bugs and beetles (we won't print what David calls the little beasties) David is producing lots of high quality veggies. In this spirit what follows are some thoughts from the book, Slow Food Nation, by Carlo Petrini, founder of the international Slow Food Movement (Slow Food International or Slow Food USA)

"I like to know the history of a food and of the place that it comes from; I like to imagine the hands of the people who grew it, transported it, processed it, and cooked it before it was served to me."

"I like traditional farmers, the relationship they have with the earth and the way they appreciate what is good."

"Few people know about the food they eat and derive enjoyment from that knowledge, a source of pleasure which unites all the people who share it."

Come to the Lawrenceville Farmers Market on Sunday mornings from 9AM-1PM and meet David and learn about the food he grows.

The previous blog displayed pictures showing the process of going from a seed to a ready-to-plant baby vegetable. The following pictures will show planting, and the plants in the field. While it may not be strawberry fields forever, it is vegetable fields at Gravity Hill.

Though some seeds are directly seeded into the ground, most plants are planted the old fashioned way, by hand. The spacing and density of the plantings will be determined by the specific variety being planted. Here you can see that David has laid out some of the plants where he is going to put them. He'll make a hole with his hand, place the plant where it belongs, and then covers up the roots. As you can see in the row behind David, after he is done planting he will place irrigation drip tape along the plant bed.

Multi-tasking. Probably talking with Gab.

The black ground cover, black plastic mulch, was placed over the plant bed by a specialized type of tractor. The purpose of this mulch is to heat the soil for heat-loving plants and to suppress weeds, as does the landscape fabric you might use at home. (Good news - a company in Lancaster, Pa has recently started accepting used mulch for recycling.)

This white covering is referred to as row cover and is suspended over wire hoops that straddle the bed creating a mini-tunnel. This acts as a barrier to protect against beastie bugs and to create a mini greenhouse affect. As you can see on the left side of the picture, the irrigation drip tape runs beneath the covering for the entire length of the plant bed.

Tomato plants as far as the eye can see. All in all, David will have 20 varieties. The stakes are put into the ground with a metal tool that is open on the bottom with the top being closed. There are handles on the side and the stakes are pounded into the ground. As the plants grow David goes down each row adding twine to provide support and stability for the plants. Very time consuming and not fun for your fingers. This will go on as long as the plants are bearing fruit. Some tomatoes have started to ripen and are available at market. Large masses of tomatoes will be shortly forthcoming.

LOOK, a fresh New Jersey tomato, waiting to ripen for your enjoyment!

Swiss Chard. Cut it up, put the stems in first, with some garlic and olive oil, pine nuts if you like, then add the chopped up leaves and sauté.

Cabbage patch kids.

Lettuce eat fresh, locally grown produce.

Hidden among all the green is squash. It really is amazing at how huge squash plants are. Slice them lengthwise, place on a baking sheet, pour on some oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, let sit for a few minutes, then cook on your grill on low. Yummy!

Broccoli. Again, if you are only familiar with what you buy at the store, seeing the plant in the field is an amazing sight. Find a farm to visit and get to know your food.

Potato. Starter potatoes come in bags filled with potatoes. You take each potato, cut it into pieces so that each piece has three 'eyes'. If you have ever bought a potato, you have seen the little bumps on them; those are their eyes.

As the potato is growing below the ground, these wonderful greens are growing above ground. Again, if you are only familiar with what you buy at market or at the store, you are missing the true wonderment of how food grows and gets to your table. If you look closely at the picture on the right you will see a bee enjoying the nectar of the flowers that are part of the potato plant.

As Carlo Petrini said, get to know your farmer. Get to know your produce. Get to know where your food comes from. You can better enjoy what you better appreciate.

Good eating and good health.

Monday, July 9, 2007

From Seed to Ready to Plant

"No need to worry, folks in a hurry, leave them behind you, no one can find you, House in the country, House in the country."

In this first year of operation for Gravity Hill Farm, David's goal is to have produce to sell at the Lawrenceville, NJ Farmer's Market; Sunday mornings from 9am-1pm; starting five weeks ago and lasting through October. For a few reasons beyond David's control, he got a late start in seeding and planting his crops. Over the past weeks he has been working extremely hard in order to catch up. One consequence of the slow start is that he has not had as much as he would have hoped at market. This past week, July 8, was the most bountiful to date and, it is hoped, things will keep getting better. The produce that he has had includes: head lettuce (upwards of six varieties), spinach (which he is hoping to grow through the summer, something not usually done) salad mix, arugula, cipollini onions, scallions (including a variety that is deep purple {smoke on the water} in color), squash, zucchini, Swiss chard, kale (David says, "eat more kale" - one of the most nutritious vegetables out there), collard greens, fennel, broccoli, broccoli rabe, basil, and parsley. Coming soon: tomatoes (upwards of 20 varieties), carrots, various onions, beans, potatoes, celery, cabbage, and cauliflower. Whew!! No wonder David is working long hours on a daily basis. No rest for the weary or for farmers. Warning - do not get into small, local, sustainable farming (organic or conventional) if you are interested in a decent hourly wage. Do it for love. Do it for passion. Do it out of respect for nature. Do it to provide people with better tasting produce than you get at mass market stores. Do it to decrease the distance that the food has to travel from field to market thus reducing the impact on the environment. (Think about the message of the recent Live Earth concert.) (By the way, today the temperature was in the mid-90's, Las Vegas has hit 116, ice caps are melting - support your local farmer; support sustainable agriculture; support organic farming.) What follows are pictures showing the development of the plants from seed to vegetable producing plants. Enjoy. First you need dirt. Not just any dirt, but a soil mixture. You start with a soil mixture that comes in a 3.8 cubic foot bale. You mix 1/3 of this bale with some compost and vermiculite and you have soil in which your seeds will grow.
On the table you see seeding trays. Some have 50 cells and some have 128. Some plants require a larger space as they germinate. The trays are filled with the soil and the soil in each cell is slightly compacted to allow for the seed to be placed inside. After the seed is placed in the cell the seed is then covered with more soil, or in the case of lettuce and flowers, vermiculite. It should be noted that most of the seeds are really, really tiny. Most are smaller than the font of these letters. Some are about twice the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Seeding is a slow and time consuming process.

It was this process of seeding that was delayed at the beginning of the season. At this time David is now on par with where he should be at with his seeding.

After the trays have been filled with seeds they are placed on these 'tables' in the greenhouse. In the greenhouse, the newly planted seeds, the newly germinating plants, and even plants that are more fully developed, are able to grow in relative safety as their roots become established. The absence of a greenhouse is what set David back. It is really cool to see the plants at various stages of their development; from first beginning to break through the dirt to being ready to be planted. Being on a farm leads to a better appreciation of where our food comes from. Too often it is easy to take for granted how much work goes into the process of farming; especially for the small, independent farmers.
Despite being in a heated greenhouse, some newly seeded plants require some extra warmth. The pink stuff is insulation to help keep the bottom of the trays warm. Additionally, the trays you see are on top of a heated mat. On the left side of the front tray you can make out a copper tube. The tube is connected to an electrical cord that is out of the picture and is also connected to the heating mat under the tray. This is done to keep the soil warm; this is essential for certain plants, including tomatoes.

Note here the white 'stakes'. No, they are not grave markers. They identify what has been seeded in that particular tray, or section of tray. Written on each stake is the variety of plant and the date it was seeded. Different species take different lengths of time to germinate. This allows David to know whether or not to panic if something isn't germinating. After spending their time inside the greenhouse the plants are moved to a table outside by the field. They are not immediately placed in the ground. Being outside in the trays for a period of time allows the plants to 'toughen up'. This aids in their survival once in the ground. NOTE: Some plant varieties are 'direct seeded'. This means that they do not go through the whole process that has been described; the seeds are directly planted into the seed beds that have been prepared for them. As can be seen, these plants are 'large' and are ready to be planted. Over the course of the season, there will be a number of plantings of the same vegetables. This staggering allows David to have produce available on a weekly basis throughout the summer. Some varieties, such as spinach, do not like hot weather and is not often seen fresh throughout the summer at local markets; usually just in the spring and fall. Next time: planting, protecting the plants, and fields of veggies. For now, thanks to all who have helped out with weeding and a special shout out to Emily for helping with harvesting. As a one man band David is appreciative of the help he has received. Support your local farmer. Go organic! Go local sustainable agriculture.

Monday, July 2, 2007

And Not A Drop To Spare

"We need water, we need water, Wow yeah good water, wow yeah good water"

To state the obvious, water is the lifeblood of a farm. Too much isn't good. Too little isn't good. The rain needs to be just right. Since mother nature can't be controlled (though it has been clearly injured, by man) the manner in which growing plants receive water requires assistance from the farmer. The pictures that follow will show the irrigation system in place at Gravity Hill.

Bits and pieces - The fourth week of market has come and gone. Much gratitude and appreciation to those that are getting their fresh vegetables from Gravity Hill Farm. Though obtaining organic certification is a work in progress, everything is being done in accordance with USDA code as it pertains to organic farming. David is making headway in catching up to where he would like to be with the range of available produce and the quantity of the produce that he does have. Considering that this is the farm's first year of operation, and that David got a slow start with the whole process of seeding and planting, he is doing a great job.

"In 1970, Americans spent about $6 billion on fast food; in 2001, they spent more than $110 billion. Americans now spend more money on fast food than on higher education, personal computers, computer software, or new cars. They spend more on fast food than on movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, and recorded music - combined." (Eric Schlosser - Fast Food Nation) Eating locally grown, organic produce has the following advantages: you eat food that is healthier for you; you support the local economy, you learn to slow down and not move too fast while you make the morning last; you support a form of agriculture that is good for the land as well as for you; you help preserve the traditions upon which our civilization was founded, in this country and around the world. Creating a healthier world starts at the local level.

At Gravity Hill Farm there is an irrigation system that is designed to provide water and organic fertilization to the thirsty and hungry plants. Here it is, with a brief description of how it all works.

Underneath the property is a well. Connected to the well is this apparatus. When the handle on the right side (as you look at the picture) is turned on, water flows through the pipes that run beneath the ground and goes to the field. Also, on the left side of the picture is a barrel. It is holding organic fertilizer. (More on that later.) As you can see, the fertilizer is hooked into the irrigation system. This allows David to water and fertilize at the same time. A valuable time saver.

This is a spigot that comes out of the ground. The water that is being sent through the system by the pump comes up through a series of these spigots along the side of the field. As you can see, there is a blue handle on top of the spigot that allows David to control which part of the field will be watered at any particular time.

This blue hose/plastic tubing is connected to the spigot. This blue hose/tubing will run along the side of the field. Two hoses run from the spigot and, depending on David's needs, they can run together or separately. Each has its own handle to control whether it is on or off.

The blue hose/plastic tubing by itself isn't the whole story. What you see here is the connecting piece of 'drip' tubing. The connector is punched into the hose coming from the spigot and each piece of drip tubing has its own valve (the red piece in the picture). This allows David to have control over which beds gets watered on any given day. As you will see, the drip tubing runs the length of the bed (no, not a bed to sleep on) of plants.

This is the role of drip tape/tubing. As you peer off down the plant bed you will see that the tubing runs the entire length of the bed. By placing the role of drip tape on the saw horse David is able to walk the drip tape down the length of the bed with a minimal amount of effort.
The tubing has slits that allows the water to slowly drip out into the ground and thus water the plants. This allows the water to be absorbed into the ground with a minimum amount of evaporation. It is a far more efficient means of watering than any type of sprinkler system that you might use at home.

The drip tape in action. You can see the water coming out of the tubing and seeping into the soil. The frequency and the amount of time that David will water is dependent upon weather conditions. The hotter and drier the weather, the more the plants need watering. Think about how farming was done in the past when such sophisticated methods of watering were not available.

This gives a clear picture of how the drip tubing is placed to ensure maximum coverage of the watering of the plants.

This is a gauge that shows the water pressure that is flowing through the tubing. It allows David to determine whether or not enough water is coming through the system to the plants.

And finally: these are barrels of the organic fertilizer that David uses. It is a combination of fish and seaweed and is 100% organic. For more information than you are probably really interested in you can go to the following two web addresses. ( ('s-Information.html)

It is hoped that this provides you with additional information about the process of local farming that is done organically. Small, local farms are labor intensive and very time consuming. Buying local, and buying organic, is good for you and good for the environment. While it is nice to have certain fruits and vegetables year round, this type of produce is not environmentally friendly even if it is grown organically. The impact of having to fly produce thousands of miles contradicts any desire to be more earth friendly. This is not a political issue. It is a matter of farming food in a manner that is friendly and healthy.

Hope to see you at the Lawrenceville Farmers Market on Sundays from 9-1. Happy and healthy eating to one and all.