Sunday, August 19, 2007

Give Me The Good Earth

"Give me the good earth to rest my mind on, Give me the rainfall that fills empty stream, Give me the life in the hills and the meadows, Give me the seasons all the changes they bring."

Good things continue to grow at Gravity Hill and David is as busy as ever. In addition to the market in Lawrenceville, NJ on Sunday mornings, David is now doing a second market Thursdays from 3-7PM in New Hope, Pa. This is a first year market, and though David wasn't able to participate at the markets inception, he is excited to now be a participant. So, now there are two opportunities to purchase the great produce of Gravity Hill Farm. If you are able to come to either of the markets, make it a point to say hello. David loves to extol the virtues of his produce.

In general, lettuce and salad mix do not do well as a hot weather crop. Despite this, David has managed to have some lettuce and salad mix throughout the summer. As the weather begins to cool he will again have an increasing amount of both. Spinach and arugula will be making a reappearance after an absence of the past few weeks. The cucumber and summer squash plants have produced in great abundance. They are, however, reaching the end of their season. One of the upsides of a local, sustainable farmers' market is that you get produce that is fresh and delicious. One of the downsides is that the availability of stuff is limited to the lifespan of the specific variety of plant. However, that's why coming to a farmers' market is such an adventure, you never know what you are going to find.

At market on Sunday, August 19 the available items included: onions, carrots, fingerling potatoes, Swiss chard, beets (golden and bulls blood), Asian eggplant, Hungarian hot peppers, cilantro, basil, beans, summer squash (patty pans, zephyrs, zucchini, yellow zucchini, and magda), some lettuce and salad mix, and purple peppers (like a green pepper only purple in color). {Pictures of most of these will follow.} And TOMATOES. Not just any old tomato, but many varieties of what are known as heirloom tomatoes as well as red cherry tomatoes and a specialty cherry tomato named sun gold.

At Gravity Hill David is growing some 20 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. [In the next blog I will list some of the varieties. Their names are as unique as their appearance and taste. For those not familiar the following info about heirlooms is offered. The term is used for a variety of vegetables and is not limited to tomatoes. The description comes from Rodale's Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening- Heirloom plants are those whose seeds come from plants grown in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries. Heirloom plants are not suited to large-scale production because they cannot be harvested mechanically or transported long distances to market. Many heirloom crops taste better or are more tender than hybrid replacements. (FYI- hybrids are what are most commonly sold in supermarkets. They are developed to be mass marketed. You are encouraged to do a taste comparison between what you get at a store and what you can get at a local farmers' market. There is very little comparison. Store bought tomatoes do not compare to heirloom tomatoes.) Apart from taste, heirloom plants represent a vast and diverse pool of genetic characteristics, one that will be lost forever if these plants are allowed to become extinct.

When you eat an heirloom you are connected to the past and the present. When you eat local you are connected to your community and helping to preserve the culture and heritage that is part of the history of your community. Support your local farmer. Get to know your local farmer. Get to know and better appreciate where your food is coming from.

One last thing before pictures. There was an article in todays' New York Times about farmers' markets. If interested in reading the article go to:

Happy and healthy eating to all.

Yes, these are all tomatoes; heirloom tomatoes- even the yellow and orange ones. A future post will describe some of the multitude of heirloom tomatoes that David has. He is growing upwards of 20 varieties. Oh, what you can't tell from the picture is that the yellow ones have a peach like fuzz.

Sun gold cherry tomatoes (on the left) are one of the great treats of summer. To give you an idea- last year a young child, about 5, was eating a donut and came to the table with his mom. He sampled a sun gold and then stood there eating the tomatoes, the donut in his hand all but forgotten. Last week at the New Hope market someone who had bought three pints of the sun golds the previous week bought seven pints! Wow! The bright red cherry tomatoes were the equal of the sun golds. This isn't heaven, it's Gravity Hill Farm.

Asian eggplants. They tend to be sweeter than regular eggplant. If you buy them you should use them as soon as possible.

A variety of bell pepper named 'islander'. Taste is very similar to that of the regular green pepper. However, sometimes one of the fun things about eating is the appearance of your food. Add a little color to your salad, saute, or casserole.

These are a variety of beet known as 'bulls blood'. According to information at Seedsavers Exchange the juice from the beets is used to make the only red food coloring allowed by Swedish law. It is a sweet tasting beet.

Does not bleed like the traditional Red Ace beets that are what people most often think of when they think beets. Tends to be sweet and tender. Another change of pace when it comes to appearance.

If you like potatoes, you'll love these fingerling potatoes. While it might be hard to tell from the picture, they are smaller in size, and in fact many look like fingers. What makes them special, apart from their size, is their taste and texture. They tend to be more tender and creamy than the typical potato. You can roast, grill, boil, or roast them.

This is a basket of spring salad mix. David has six different types of lettuce in his mix. The greens are cut when they are younger/smaller. This allows them to be more tender and sweeter to the taste.

Remember, get to know your local farmers. Support local agriculture. When you go to a farmers' market, talk to the farmer. Ask questions. Get to know the food you eat.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Road Goes on Forever

"Born a poor young country boy--mother nature's son. All day long I'm working the farm for everyone. Sit beside a mountain stream--see her waters rise. Listen to the pretty sound of music as she flies."

There really is no rest for the small, sustainable farmer, let alone an organic farmer whose challenge is greater due to limiting their use of fertilizer and bug spray that is natural. With market day being on Sunday, most of the harvesting is done on Saturday. A couple of crops are harvested earlier. Cucumber, squash, and beans need to be harvested on a regular basis in order to encourage the plant to continue producing more cukes, squash, and beans. (Please note, David brings the recently harvested of these crops to market.) Just about everything else is picked and cleaned on Saturday. This means David is in the field at sunrise and doesn't finish until it is dark. This past week, even with a little help from his friends, David didn't get finished in the fields until past 9 o'clock and finished cleaning that last batch at 11. Then he got up Sunday morning to pick basil at 6AM, packed up his van and got to market by 8. Cleaning entails putting the freshly picked produce in a cold water bath and then rinsing the soil off of the crops. Thus, when they get to market they are fresh and clean. Unless you have your own garden, you won't get fresher produce.

There is a book entitled Fatal Harvest that is the basis of the Organic and Beyond Campaign. The book takes a look at issues pertaining to making our food safer for ourselves and for the planet. The Organic and Beyond Mission Statement states that it "seeks to maintain strong organic standards and to promote agriculture that is":
  • Local
  • Small-scale and family operated
  • Biologically diverse
  • Humane
  • Socially just
The ultimate goal of this campaign is to replace the industrial agriculture model with a new vision of farming and the natural world.
For more information you can go to the Fatal Harvest website.

At Gravity Hill; good food grows there.

You might not need a weatherman in order to know which way the wind is blowing, but this weather vane shows the symbol of Gravity Hill.

David in action. Here he is harvesting some beans. To maximize production, beans need to be picked on a regular basis. David's position in the above picture only minimally conveys how much bending David does. Whether it is to harvest or weed or plant, a farmer spends a lot of their time bending over. It is not an overstatement to say that farming is a back breaking endeavor.

After the produce is harvested it is put into a cold bath to both clean it and to freshen it up after being cut. Above is some head lettuce enjoying a nice, refreshing dip. Below is an indication of the soil that is on some of the produce.

After being washed, the lettuce (in this case) is put in crates. The lettuce is not packed tightly to avoid, as best as possible, any damage to the produce. Once in the crates, the produce will then be covered with a wet piece of burlap. This is intended to help keep the produce moist and fresh.

After the produce is harvested and washed, it is put into the cooler to keep it fresh and happy. Prior to getting his own cooler, Farmer Matt at Cherry Grove Organic Farm (where David apprenticed the past three years) shared some space in his cooler. Matt's graciousness and generosity is much appreciated.

What follows are some more pictures of the vegetables at market waiting to be taken home by some discerning gastronome - not a glutton, but someone who appreciates food that is good and good for you; someone who takes pleasure in the enjoying of a good meal; someone who values biological diversity and the hard work of the small farmer. (Ideas and quote from Slow Food Nation, Carlo Petrini)

Picture above: Left bottom - cipollini onions (sweet); top left - fennel; top right - basil; bottom right - parsley.

Picture below: top (left to right) - scallions (yes, the deep purple ones), swiss chard, broccoli rabb (peppery in taste), beets (red ace and chioggia); bottom (left to right) - summer squashes (zucchini, magda, zephyr), and kale (eat more kale).

Top row - tropea onions (long believed by men in Italy to enhance lovemaking, research now shows that the chemical compound of the onion is similar to that of Viagra. Never mind, eat more kale, eat more tropea onions) and carrots.
Bottom row - summer squash, cippolini onions, kohlrabi (in the cabbage family), and cabbage.

Holy! Moly! What a great day for market! What a great day to be a farmer! All the hard work and it pays off at market. Gravity Hill - Great Food Grows There. Stop by the Lawrenceville Farmers' Market and get to know your farmer and learn more about the food you eat.

In addition to the Lawrenceville Farmers' Market, Sunday mornings from 9-1, Farmer David is now going to be setting up his stand at the New Hope, Pa. farmers' market on Thursday afternoons, from 3-7. Hope to see you at market.

Happy and healthy eating to all.