Saturday, September 12, 2009

Good Day Sunshine

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
Good day sunshine, Good day sunshine,Good day sunshine

While the sun may have been out more recently than not, Farmer David, and other organic farmers, are still reaping the adverse consequences of all of the rain from previous months. Whether it is disease (basil downy mildew, late blight for tomatoes) or pests (bugs eating carrots or broccoli) or the rain, this has been a very challenging season. One of the consequences of the earlier rains is that certain crops are not presently available, or available in less quantity than would otherwise be the case. People might think that the current drier weather means that all produce should be available. The reality is that the earlier rain wiped out plantings of certain things or prevented the planting of others. So, sadly, just because it is drier now, the damage has been done.
Despite all of this, Farmer David, and other local organic farmers, persevere. While they are obviously not thrilled with what Mother Nature has thrown at them, they accept that the various conditions come with their chosen profession. Perhaps profession is the wrong word. People who choose to go into farming, particularly those who have chosen to be in organic farming, don't view what they do as a job. It is who they are. The reasons that bring a person to farming are many and varied, but the bottom line is that they believe in what they are doing. They have a commitment to what they are doing. Farming is not the type of 'job' that a person can just show up for, go through the motions, and go home at the end of the day. Farming requires a passion for a lifestyle that continually challenges a farmer's resolve. It has been said in this blog before, and it will be said again in the future, when you go to a farmers' market, thank the farmer at whose stand you shop.

The term 'local' has been used frequently in this blog. The context of this has been to promote the notion of the smaller scale farmer who sells their produce within a relatively short distance from where the food is grown. The implication of this is that the closer to home the produce is the fresher it will be for the consumer and the less the carbon footprint will be in bringing the produce to market. This is a concept that over the past few years has become increasingly popular. An article by Kim Severson in the NY Times (May 13, 2009) addresses the issue of what happens when large companies start to promote themselves as embracing the notion of 'local'. It is an interesting article the examines what it does mean to be local and how large companies are trying to use people's belief in the concept to promote their own interests. To read the article go to- Local Makes It Big - Kim Severson&st=cse

Another suggested article, this one by Michael Pollan. The article is adapted from his introduction to Bringing It to the Table, a collection of Wendell Berry's writings. Wendell Berry is someone who, in the early 1970's, began to write about the importance of food and agriculture in American culture. To read the article go to-

Regardless of your thoughts about the meaning of 'local', there is a difference between those farmers who are connected to large corporations and those farmers who operate on a much smaller and much more local level. When possible support your smaller, local, sustainable, and organic farmer. And if the notion of organic is not of large importance to you, buying from local farmers is still a great thing to do.

Peace and good, healthy eating to all.

While the late blight was devastating to the tomato plants, Farmer David was able, for a brief period, to bring an array of tomatoes to market. While the variety may not have matched what was available last season, they were wonderful and colorful. Here's to a better season next year.

Ah, the beauty of nature.

Asian eggplant- less seedy, more creamy, and with less of the traditional eggplant bitterness. And they are gorgeous.

Just your basic, traditional red onion. Tasty raw, wonderful sweet when sauteed.

This is what happens when a farmer spends too much time under the hot sun.

Better watch out for those speeding tractors.

Hope to see you at market. And if unable to come to one of Gravity Hill's markets, run, don't walk to the farmers' market closest to you. Peace to all.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Shelter From The Storm

twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form.
Come in, she said,
Ill give you shelter from the storm.

Whether it be storms or droughts, insects or disease, oppressive heat and humidity, bitter cold with bone chilling wind, farmers have been at the mercy of the elements throughout the course of time. Over the course of time farming changed from small farms that used methods of farming that was conducive to good taste and colorful appearance to large, industrial type farms whose main goal was to make food as inexpensive as possible even at the risk of decreasing the flavor of some of the produce. Farming changed to include the use of chemicals to prevent and treat disease, to protect the plants from bugs, and to allow the produce to be shipped many, many miles and to have a long shelf life. In the process people lost contact with the people who were producing their food and took their food for granted. In recent times, things have started to change back to 'the good old days'; food increasingly grown in a manner that is local, sustainable, and abstains from using chemicals that are less than healthy for the plants, the soil, and the consumer. Organic farmers are thus more vulnerable to the elements. During the current growing season many/most/all organic crops throughout the northeast, including Pennsylvania and areas as far west as Ohio, are being afflicted by various ailments. Two in particular are particularly devastating to organic farmers- late blight and downy mildew. In the previous posting links to two articles were offered to provide information about tomato blight. Another article that addresses the issue of blight and its impact can be reached through the following link- Barber&st=cse

One suggestion from the article to mention- if you are going to do home gardening and you don't want to start your own plants from seed, buy your plants from local farmers or local nursery's who have started their plants from scratch. This point is being made due to the blight being partially the result of diseased plants that were started elsewhere being sold at 'box' stores where the disease went unrecognized. If you are supportive of local, sustainable, organic agriculture and want your own garden, buy your plants from a local supplier of plants. With this in mind the problem with late blight and downy mildew has been exacerbated by the wet weather conditions throughout this farm season. Farmer David is not alone in having his crops effected by disease; this is particularly true for all organic farmers. While there are some substances that are organically approved to combat pests and disease, conventional farmers are much better able to protect their plants from disease. For Farmer David, in addition to the tomato plants being struck by late blight, downy mildew has had a stark impact on cucumbers and summer squash. Basil and winter squash have also been damaged.

Last season Farmer David had head lettuce for sale at the farmers' markets every week but one. He had salad mix almost as often. This season due to wet ground lettuce plants did not get planted, some that were planted were unable to be harvested and salad mix and arugula were unable to be directly seeded into the ground. As you consider the impact of weather and disease on small, local, organic farmers, please make it a point to buy your produce at farmers' market and help local, organic farmers remain a viable alternative to the traditional chain supermarkets. Yes, these stores have a role to play in providing us with food throughout the year when local produce is unavailable and providing a wider diversity of food in an area whose climate is not conducive to certain items.

Remember- Shop at farmers' markets. Buy organic. Get to know your farmer. Ask questions about your food. Enjoying good food is at your finger tips. To all who have enjoyed Gravity Hill produce at the New Hope Market, the Pennington Market, the Lawrenceville Market, and from the farm stand, thank you for your support. Your use of Gravity Hill Organic Farm for your produce needs is greatly appreciated.

Happy and healthy eating to all.

Seeding, germinating, and planting continue. To borrow from the wisdom of Yogi, 'the growing season ain't over 'til it's over'.

From germinating seed into the field. The process is ongoing. From the fields of Gravity Hill to a farmers' market near you.

Now, if can only stop raining all of this wonderful stuff will make it to your table.

This is what downy mildew does to plants. As goes the plants, so goes the fruit being produced by the plant.

Here it is, tomato plants with late blight.

As you can see in this picture, the plants are, despite all odds, attempting to continue to produce fruit. To date David has been able to bring an abundance of tomatoes to market. Not as many as would have been available. Not as many varieties as had been planted. And certainly not lasting as long into the season as they otherwise would have been available. However, plenty of tomatoes nonetheless. In this David and Gravity Hill have been far more fortunate than many other farms throughout the afflicted area.

Pretty as a picture. Oh, it is a picture. It is even prettier in person.

Again, thanks to all who come to market. Remember, farming is hard work and it takes a total effort on the part of Farmer David, David E. and Maria as well as all the people who work at the farm. Thank a farmer, any farmer, for their hard work.

Peace and healthy eating to all.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Here Comes The Sun

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
and I say it's all right

Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
and I say it's all right

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
and I say it's all right

Here it is the beginning of August and for all practical purposes, we are still waiting for the sun in New Jersey and most the the northeast. Records for rainfall were set for the month of June and by all reports the weather has been wetter by 50%-100% in some areas. This is contrasted by the excessive heat in the Pacific Northwest which is having an amazing dry spell. Texas is also beset by excessive heat and cattle farmers are having to sell off their herds due to grazing land drying up. Regardless of the region of the country, farmers are struggling to achieve success. The cool and wet weather in the northeast has contributed to a tomato disease called late blight. In brief this disease is killing tomato plants and, in some cases, potato plants. The blight in question is not all that uncommon late in the season, but the 'normal' hot weather of August is usually able to prevent the disease to spread to the extent that it has. And, considering that as of this date it is still rainy and cool, it is more than likely that the disease will continue to flourish. (A historical side note- the blight in question is the one that ravaged Ireland in the early 1800's and contributed to what was called the Potato Famine and led to the mass exodus of many people out of Ireland.)

As two recent articles in the NY Times indicates, the impact of late blight on some farmers has been depressing. While it is encouraged that you read the articles, the articles report that many farmers are losing their entire crop of tomatoes and some/all of their potatoes. The economic impact on these farmers is quite severe as many of these farmers depend on the tomatoes as the major source of their yearly incomes. The articles also discuss that there is not that much that organic farmers are able to do to combat the blight. Here are the links to the two articles- and

At Gravity Hill there have been some tomatoes at market the past couple of weeks. How long Farmer David is able to bring tomatoes to market remains to be seen. Thus, if you want local, fresh, delicious organic heirloom tomatoes you are strongly encouraged to get to market (New Hope, Pa. (Thursdays, 3:30-7:00), Pennington NJ. (Saturdays, 9am-1pm), or Lawrenceville, NJ (9am-1pm) or at the farm itself on Tuesdays, 1-7, as soon as possible.

In these times of stress for farmers, please do your best to support any and all local farmers.They are an integral part of your local community and these small farms are part of the history of America and help to sustain a sense of community. Though these are difficult economic times for many, you will find the prices of most produce at farmers markets to be comparable to what you will find in large chain stores. The window for you to buy fresh, local produce is fairly small, you are encouraged to take advantage of the produce that is available.

The following are pictures of some of the wonderful produce Farmer David, with the help of his merry band of helpers, has been bringing to market.The pictures will speak for themselves.

(yes, purple broccoli)

(New Jersey Gothic- Emma, Malaika, Val, Farmer David)

Support your local farmer. Support sustainable agriculture. Eat healthy. Thank a farmer.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Rainy Days

" Rainy day, rain all day, Ain't no use gettin' uptight, just let it groove its own way. Let it drain your worries away yeah, lay back and groove on a rainy day hey, lay back and dream on a rainy day."

Ah, rain. A farmer's best friend and a most vexing foe. Too much rain and the fields can't be plowed or prepared for planting. The weight of the tractor would compact the soil, which is not a good thing. And weeding in wet ground is not a fun task. Yet rain is the lifeblood of both the newly planted and the established plants. Yes, Farmer David does have an irrigation system, but rain, a nice steady rain, is a beautiful thing. This type ofo rain allows the water to take its time to soak into the ground thus nurturing the root system of the plants. Too hard a rain can damage the plants and the water tends to not soak in as efficiently. Too little rain and everything gets too dry (duh!) and the need to continually monitor the irrigation system becomes an ongoing challenge. Ultimately the issue of whether or not it rains is an unmanageable and all the farmer can do is the best he/she can. So far this spring the rain ahs been both friend and foe. At times the rain has set back both planting and weeding. At times the rain has been nurturing. And unfortunately on days when it does rain Farmer David and his merry band of gypsies don't have the luxury of layin' back and groovin'. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow stops the oft challenged farmer from completing necessary tasks, indoors or out.

A coule of news articles for your interest. On March 21, 200r the NY Times had an article about sugar in our foods. The article compares and contrast the use of 'real' sugar and high-fructose corn syrup in the foods we eat. The promoters of each are pushing their respective arguments as to which is best/worst for the consumer. However, as Michael Pollan has conveyed (though not in this article, the less processed food you eat the better for your health it owuld be. To read the article go to the online NY Times and search for the article entitled "Sugar Is Back on Food Labels, This Time as a Selling Point", by Kim Severson.

A second article, in case you missed it, pertains to the new White House garden that the Obama's are having place on the grounds of the White House. The hope is that the garden will continue to be publicized as time goes by so that the value and importane of home gardens can be promoted. To read the article go to the NY Times online and search for the article entitled "Obamas to Plant Vegetable Garden at White House", by Marian Burros.

The issues pertaining to organic, local, sustainable food are many and varied. Each individual needs to be as informed as possible and make decisions that they believe to be in their best interests. Whether the debate is what constitutes local, organic food that is sustainable vs. food that is shipped in from hundreds, if not thousands of miles, become informed and make an educated decision about what you believe to be in your best interests.

Peace and healthy eating to all.

Rows of garlic. The straw is intended to assist in keeping weeds at bay. Garlic is planted in late fall and develops its 'root' over the course of the winter. In the spring the greens you see start to show themselves. Soon there will be garlic scapes, shoots that come out of the garlic that can be used just like garlic.

This is a picture of some lettuce that was planted in the 'long house', a green house where the plants are planted directly into the soil. This allows for early planting which allows Farmer David to have crops ready for the first markets.

These are beets that are also growing in the 'long house'. In addition to beets and lettuce, onions, carrots, tomatoes, and spinach are growing there.

This is one of the alpacas after its 'spring cleaning'. Shaving of their coat is an annual event. This year their fleece will be made into hats that will be given to those in need of assistance.

Various plants on the tables outside of the greenhouse. After germinating and developing, the plants are put on the outside table to toughen them up prior to planting them. This allows the plants to adapt to being in the ground.

Tomatoes, tomatoes, and more tomatoes. Last year Farmer David planted 50 varieties of tomatoes. This year there will be 40.

This gives some perspective of the table and plants outside of the green house.

Farmer David is trying a new type of row cover this year. The shiny effect is intended to help keep various bugs and pests away. The theory is that the reflective nature of this cover discourages bugs from coming too close to realize that a good meal is waiting for them.

Knowing how much to seed is a science and an art. Seeds do not germinate at a 100% of what is seeded. And once seeds germinate, not all plants survive. Thus you need to seed more than you need. With this in mind the farmer will often times end up with more plants than will go into the ground. This is the remains of some seedlings that were not needed. A moment of silence for those who did not make it into the ground.

First New Hope Market- Thursday June 4 (3PM-&PM). First Pennington Market- Saturday June 6 (9AM-1PM). First Lawrenceville Market- Sunday June 7 (9AM-1PM). First on site at Gravity Hill Market- Tuesday June 9 (1PM-7PM).

May the force be with you to enjoy healthy foods.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Good To See You

"Good to see you. Good to see you again. Good to see your face again. Good to see you."

The winter is over. There is the scent of spring in the air. There is the whole process of getting ready- get your compost, get your soil. Mix together the compost, the soil, and various other ingredients to have your organic soil mixture. Get the greenhouse cleaned up (sort of), get it organized (for the most part), and then start seeding. And then cross your fingers while waiting for the seeds to start germinating and then start poking their heads through the soil. Ah, so good to see you, so good to see your face again. This is David's third year at Gravity Hill, and the start of his sixth year as a farmer. (Where has the time gone?) And there is still that apprehension, a bit of anxiety about whether or not the seeds will germinate and grow strong and healthy. What a relief when it all works out. Then the new plants need the right balance of warmth and water. To much of one, and too little of the other is not a good combination. Then you kick yourself, reseed, and pick up the pieces and move forward.

As April has moved into May there has been, there still is, a lot of raining going on. Fortunately there were enough dry days and Farmer David was able to do a significant amount of planting the past few days and he is on par to have produce available for the upcoming markets. Speaking of markets- for the coming season Gravity Hill will offer its produce in the following locations: Sunday mornings will be the same as last year at the Lawrenceville Farmers' Market (9AM-1PM). Tuesday afternoons AT THE FARM (1PM-7PM). This is a new addition. Thursdays in New Hope at the high school parking lot. This too is the same as last year (3PM-7PM). And another new addition- Saturday mornings at the Pennington Supermarket parking lot. Last year there was a one off 'green market' in Pennington towards the end of the year. This event turned out to be very popular and it was decided by those who decide these things to have a weekly market. More info about the Gravity Hill farm stand and the Pennington market will be forthcoming.

As you might be aware, Michelle Obama is converting part of the White House lawn into a garden. Michael Pollan (author of "Omnivors Dilemma" among other books pertaining to our relationship with food) wrote an op-ed piece pertaining to this topic in 1991. If you are interested in what Mr. Pollan had to say go to:

Greetings this posting from Edward la Gatta. She has proved proficient in catching mice. While Edward is a pet as well as a hunter, there are a couple of other cats that are roaming around the farm. If they are ever spotted pictures will be taken. For now they are elusive.

On the left is the ever present Hule. On the right is the latest addition to the menagerie at Gravity Hill, Mia Bella the miniature donkey.

As you can see, the green house rapidly filled up. Once the plants have become firmly established they will be moved outside to adapt to 'real' weather. Once the plants have acclimated to the outdoors they will be planted.

This shows plants at various stages of growth and development.

There would be no plants if there was no one to seed them. Below you see David, Marily (Mare), and Val busily placing the seeds in the seeding trays. Last year Valerie was an intern at the farm; this year she is working as a 'regular' employee. Welcome Back! Mare is part of the extended Earling/Nicolo family. Welcome Aboard! Seeding is very time consuming and requires patience and determination. And until you see how small some of the seeds are you can't appreciate the challenges of seeding.

The first picture below shows the pile of compost that gets added with various other soil components and ingredients to make an enriched environment in which to place the seeds. Within the compost are twigs and clumps that would make seeding even more of a challenge. To sort out these impediments the compost is placed in the 'wheel' that is shown in the second picture. The wheel gets spun around, the sifted compost falls through the openings of the wheel leaving behind the clumps and stuff, and falls into the wheelbarrow. As you can see in the third picture the compost is mostly smooth and ready for mixing.

Well, that's all for now. To date the farm season has gotten off to a good start. The rain is somewhat impeding weeding, but then again the newly planted seedlings are happy. In farming there are things which can be controlled; the weather isn't one of them. Peace to all. Happy and healthy eating to all.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Feeling Good-Beginning Again

"Birds flyin' high you know how I feel. Sun in the sky, you know how I feel. Breeze 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 yeah. It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for me, And I'm Feeling Good."

Thus begins Farmer David's third year at Gravity Hill Farm. The months since the end of last farm season have passed and once again it is time to gear up and get going. Do maintenance on the tractors and equipment. Clean out the barn. Get things organized in the green house. Arrange for an intern and hourly workers. Plan for what you are going to grow. Order the seeds. Organize where things are going to get planted. And start seeding. And keep seeding. And keep seeding. Oh, and keep seeding. On Wednesday, March 4 the seeding began and has continued with regularity. To date other seeders have included Maria and Marilyn (a member of the extended Earling/Nicolo) family. Seeding is a time consuming process, as is so much of farming. Yet there is a certain meditative, soothing groove that a person can reach while seeding; something that is present in many of the other aspects of farming. Yes, farming is hard work but there is an intrinsic reward to the time and labor that is part of the process. And, if the weather cooperates, and the pests aren't too destructive, you achieve success and have a crop of local, sustainable, and in this case, organic produce to offer at market and to local restaurants. In addition to this reward Farmer David and Gravity Hill Farm have been recognized by the general public for their efforts.

There is a magazine entitled "Edible Jersey". To quote from its website it is "a new quarterly magazine that celebrates the local, seasonal, food of the Garden State. Edible Jersey tells the story of food, from source to table, spotlighting the growers, producers, fishermen, retailers, chefs, home cooks, and others who energize our culinary community." Last fall readers of the magazine were asked "to vote for the farm, restaurant, food artisan, beverage artisan, and nonprofit organization who, they felt, are making a major contribution to the Garden State's food community." Gravity Hill Farm was voted the Local Hero Farm. (Thanks to Farmer David's friend Mary Jo for nominating him and the farm.) To read the article you can find a copy of Edible Jersey or go to the website, When you get to the website click on the current issue, and then where it says Features on the right side of the page, click on 2009 Local Hero Awards. Congrats to Farmer David and David E. and Maria. Also, congrats to all those who worked and volunteered their time to help make Gravity Hill Farm a 'Local Hero'. Success like this requires teamwork and commitment.

In the March 22, 2009 NY Times there was an article entitled "Eating Food That's Better for You Organic or Not". For those of you interested in the ongoing discussion about the foods you are eating, this article is suggested. (If this doesn't work simply go to the NY Times front page and enter the title of the article in their search engine.)

This is a new 'road'. It will make it easier to drive the tractors down to the lower fields.

At the end of last season, there were three bee hives. As this season got started it seemed as if all three had survived. Sadly, shortly after the hives had awakened, one of them died off. Of the remaining two, one is going strong while the other appears weak. We will hope for the best.

A new addition to the farm this year will be two long greenhouses. One will be used to grow tomatoes, the other, flowers. Once these tunnel greenhouses are completed they will be covered with plastic and the tomatoes and flowers will be planted directly into the ground. The advantage of this is that the length of the growing season can be extended and the conditions in which the plants are grown (how much water they receive) can be better controlled.

At the end of the season the plastic 'tape' and tubes that were used for irrigation were pulled out of the fields. Some of this will be able to be recycled. Some of it, sadly, will end up being thrown away.

Most of these trays that were used for seeding last season will be able to be reused. They will be cleaned and while not as good as new, will still be able to be used.

Garlic was planted last fall and has been quietly biding its time throughout the winter patiently waiting for the spring.

Here's Farmer David getting ready to begin seeding. Hip! Hip! Hooray! for seeding.

This picture was taken on March 4, the first day that seeding was done. While it might not look as if much was accomplished, these are trays of onions and scallions. Depending on the variety of onion, each cell of the tray, and there are 128 cells in each tray, has 4-6 seeds. These 14 trays represents a lot of time and patience.

Within two weeks seeds are germinating and starting to grow. The emergence of the first sprouts is truly an awesome experience. Once the seeds are planted there is a sense of uncertainty about whether or not the seeds will in fact germinate, even if in past seasons there were no problems with germination. And this sense of the unknown and then wonderment when germination has been achieved continues throughout the entire season. Farming is not for the faint of heart.

A few days before the above picture was taken, below was the scene at the farm. What a beautiful sight.

Farmer David giving a big thumbs up for a good days work.

If you have a chance, thank a farmer. Peace and happy and healthy eating to all.