Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Reimagining positivity from The Depression?

migrant mother by Dorothea Lange
How many of us remember The Depression? Our great grandparents lived through an era of austerity, a time when excess was unimaginable. For our grandparents it continued as a part of their psyche. Up until the eighties people were still washing plastic bags and glass containers to reuse and repurpose. What changed? The current animosity for plastic seems a little pretentious when we've been the generation that blithely consumes more than any previous group. This hot topic has states rewriting the regulation of plastic bags. While in California 10 years ago, I remember being charged ten cents for a bag at the grocery store. For many, ten cents is miniscule, it’s nothing, but the action of being asked by your cashier, “Do you want to purchase a bag for ten cents?” creates a sense of awareness, that no, this is not free, and yes, we should think about the cost to the environment.
For my generation, we grew up in an era of excess. The business model for growing food and industry, has been geared towards consumerism. In this business model externalities also known as, the cost of water, energy, and pollution was subsidized in tax breaks to corporations by the government and as a result, hidden from the cost to the consumer. What we are realizing now, through education and a resurgence of sustainable business practices is the understanding that these costs are not external, they are integral as we have limited resources and an environment that needs our help and time to renew itself.  
There are exciting new replacements for plastic that are being engineered by students and start-ups in the form of edible packaging made from corn oil, there are foam shipping blocks being made from mycelium, mushroom fungus. Still, plastic is king when it comes to consumerism. Most things we buy are wrapped in plastic, or transported in plastic, which doesn’t biodegrade, and fills landfills. In this transitional period where legislation is slow to ensure environmental sustainability, it comes down to us as consumers. As the ones buying these products for convenience and using single-use plastic for convenience, as individuals how do we take it upon ourselves to life-hack convenient sustainability? As a business how do we make it more convenient for people to re-use?
At the farm a lot of people bring us their plastic bags that we re-use for others. We carry a product by an artisan named Carolyn who makes the Feel-Good Bags by crocheting plastic into reusable totes. We encouraged people to use the baskets and boxes that we sold our fruit in at our store when we gave back a small deposit of fifty cents if they brought them back for re-use. What we found with this though was people weren’t using the same basket over and over again, rather, they were forgetting to bring them back and after the fifth trip or so to our place they might remember and bring back five baskets at once and want a refund. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily but it makes it harder for us to know if the baskets are still clean. For example, I’ve found cat hair in some baskets and after laughing at what must be a cozy space for a cat, threw them away rather than reused these baskets.   Going into this years’ growing season as a business we would eventually like to phase out plastic bags completely but firstly, limit their circulation at our store. The first step is to have more reusable cloth bags for purchase that can be put in the fridge to store and transport the fruit for customers. Secondly, to create greater awareness through signage like “Did you forget your bags in the car?” Because we’ve all done that. For certain fruits like apples, people really want to know which variety they’re eating. Many people will take a separate bag and label each which is really wasteful considering how many varieties we have. A quick fix for those inclined to nomenclature is to give them name labels that they can stick on the fruit. A better way might be to actually educate through an identification sheet of all the varieties with pictures and descriptions which can be handed to people and they can stick on their fridge or, they can take a picture of. We’ve got a lot of ideas but the truth of sustainability depends a lot on individual responsibility. That little bit of effort, that’s hard for us now, because we’re not used to austerity, will eventually become habit. Our conscious choices now, can become good habits that contribute to sustainability in the long run.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

A Quality Drink from Tree to Pint

Gary and Maher planting hard cider specific apple trees

Tractor and auger for drilling the holes for trees

The saying goes, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, but what it doesn't say is that those seeds will be completely different apple trees. We are all similar but different from our parents no?

If you plant an apple seed it has all the genetic variation of its forebears, meaning, the tree could be any combination of these genetics and result in an apple quite unlike the tree it came from. To ensure the variety of tree that we want, farmers use a technique called grafting. This is where the scion (the desired bud wood) is cut and sealed onto a root stock. The scion is the trees' mini me, a genetic copy that will grow into the same variety of apple. The purpose of grafting this scion onto a different root stock (such as Bud 9) serves two main purposes. Firstly, the root stock is often dwarfing, which enables the spindle system of growing orchard trees close together. Secondly, it often has improved disease resistance raising the bar for the clones' successful establishment. So what's with the Johnny Appleseed folk character? Why is he spreading seeds?   

In Elementary school, I remembered some vague mention of Johnny Appleseed. Looking back, the nursery-school version left out some details. John Chapman born 1774, became an orchardist and nurseryman along the Northeast; establishing apple trees that were used primarily for hard cider and applejack (distilled apple ferment). Interestingly, orchards were one way to mark land claims along the frontier at this time. Somewhat of a quirky character, he was nomadic, religiously pious, but had wealth from his economic business of establishing and selling hard cider orchards.[1]

The common apples we know today have been selectively bred for sweetness, texture, and other qualities that appeal to consumers. Traditionally, Crabapple trees and tart apples were more common. From the Middle Ages (dating before this too), when lack of fresh clean water led to deaths from dysentery, people drank hard (alcoholic) cider. Fermentation has always been a way for people to survive through unfavorable seasons and scarcity. The preservation of food and drink that enabled perseverance and social bonding became tradition in many cultures. Britain, where tradition is staunch, still serves local hard cider at every pub. My parents took a cider tour of Britain, because in their minds, when they travel, they're still not off the clock. They wanted to get a business sense of traditional hand-crafted cider. After meeting fellow hard cider farmers who hosted and shared their knowledge they returned enthusiastic, repeating, "They're our kind of people!"

The simplicity of cider ferment becomes more of a craft when you want a replicable taste, smell, and quality to each brew. At home, you can just add cider yeast and let your cider bubble. If it tastes right, then it's right and if it's tastes off, then you might have cider vinegar. Here at the farm, the planning has started. Gary and his crew planted new varieties of apple trees that are hard cider specific, reaching back to the genetics of Johnny Appleseed's time, such as, Cox Orange Pippin, Albaramaryle, Arkansas Black, Newton Pippon, Harrison, Ashmeads Kernel, Yarlington Mill.

Some hard cider varieties we already grow because about half of our customer base prefers the tart apples for eating and baking. Varieties such as Gold Rush, Stayman, Winesap, and Crimson Crisp all make good hard cider. Amy has been putting in weeks of paperwork and research to complete every step that needs doing for a license to sell hard cider here at the farm. And Gary has a couple of single vintage varieties brewing, as well as table blends, spending days, weeks, months, perfecting and tweaking to create a quality drink from tree to pint.

If you are interested in being the first to sample or learn about when we launch our product there is a special email list that you can get onto. Send a message with the subject HARD CIDER, with your interest to

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Apple butter and the wisdom of Bob Marley

I took a trip last week to Bauman's, a traditional apple butter business run by a husband and wife near Kutztown. We dropped 10 mixed bushels of apples off two weeks prior and received the rich brown butter jarred in return. Apple butter does not contain butter; it is made simply, crushing the apples and cooking them until they are reduced to the consistency of butter. Its tart-sweet flavor lends itself well to a meat marinade or a breakfast topping for toast or oats. I also make my own vegan, gluten-free baked goods and I find that adding a couple tablespoons to my flour and oil mixtures helps combine the baked goods for a better consistency.

After squeezing the truck into a parking space, the processing building takes up a small acre lot in between houses and a narrow lane, I unloaded the boxes into the truck and introduced myself to Mr. Bauman, "Harvey," he said. If it had been a younger person I might have paid and left, but the older generations approve of small talk. The weather was the main subject; spring is variable, the winter was hard, but the crops will pull through, they usually do. Then he asked, "So you're working on the farm, did you go to college?" Tentatively, "Yes," I said, "I went to college for communication and got my masters in development communication. I'm working on the farm, helping with the retail side, but also learning more about the outdoor work involved in the fruit." And with a smile that couldn't lift the corner creases of his hurt eyes Harvey said, "That's nice, my children decided not to continue the family business." Where could I go with that? I think that any family business suffers some degree of hurt when the next generation fails to continue their legacy, but there is a special kind of sadness that I've seen and read about for farmers. Maybe because, for most farmers, work is more than an occupation, it is one's blood and bone, blessing and curse. There's a reason most farmers as they age, look like the land they tend to; like a geologic natural progression, the sun, the earth, the wind and the rain work away at a farmer's solid form. Man starts out fine skinned and pale and ends looking more like an obsidian arrowhead than a polished marble bust, polished through work rather than refinement.  

It's not just farming that's threatened; any skilled trade that takes time to learn is perceived as obsolete. I say perceived, because like the bumper stickers say, "No Farmers, No Food." Not only do we need farmers, and other skilled trades, I would argue that there is a growing trend amongst the younger generations for these products and eagerness to learn these skills. Our reliance on large commercial agriculture owned by a few big names isn't what I mean by farmers. The younger generation in this farming trend doesn't follow the traditional model of taking on their parents work, as it used to be done in the early 1900's, rather they often arrive at this line of work because of personal convictions or exposure through traveling, for example, (WWOOF) World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Popularity and interest in CSA's, Community Supported Agriculture, where one pays a certain amount upfront and gets a fair share of whatever crops the farmer harvests that season, are another way that we can see local resurgence in small-scale farms. Organic is another buzzword that hit the mainstream media and has been taken up by many new young farmers with an interest in integrated often, non-profit driven farming. You can find them at the local farmer's market with their Michael Pollan books, hipster attire and vegetarian inclinations. I kid. But by far, there are less farmers in the United States then there ever have been since it was conquered by our forefather immigrants, not settled as it was land taken by force.  

I can't deny the importance of the work farmers do but the question I wanted to ask Harvey, was, "Is a legacy more important than your kid's happiness?" People tell their kids, you can be anything you want to be, but what most mean is, Do something that makes us look good so we can brag about you, Carry on my legacy because why else have I put in all this effort for if not for your stability? The message is not usually so clear-cut, at least in white suburbia, normally it's disguised in good intentions. Truly, in contrast I picture an image of Buddhist monks, living symbols of non-attachment, and through ritual remind themselves of this non-attachment. For example in their works of sand art, huge mandalas made from painstakingly placed grains of sand laid in whirling precise patterns, which, upon completion, are swept away by the own artisans hands. Why? All that effort for something so beautiful, and they intentionally don't keep it. Then again, monks don't have kids, so this comparison may be unfair.

For me, I feel a physical pain when I am asked this question of carrying on the farm. My parents have spent 30 plus years growing this farm, but I have spent 28 of them here too; I don't have the same skilled knowledge and experience, but the farm has always been a responsibility that I've felt tied to. I can sympathize with both parties, the grown child who feels guilt from parents, and the parents who can't imagine a life on the farm without their children. I see both and the only happy message I can pull from it, is that we all die. HA. We all have a choice to leave our mark in the world whether we choose to pour our efforts into careers, children, charities, but for each and every one of us, that is our choice. Maybe that's optimistic, we don't always have a choice about the things that happen to us, but we have a choice as Bob Marley so wisely wailed, "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds."

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Education and Regulation

I spent yesterday at a food safety plan writing class that the Penn State Agricultural Extension service workshops for farmers in the area. The Agricultural Extension Service has passed its one-hundredth year of funding from the USDA to educate farmers and conduct research for better agricultural practices.[1] However, their funding for education and research has been shrinking. Near Kutztown, two hours drive along highway 222 puts into perspective the rural nature of Pennsylvania that is still a reality for many. The back roads that twist and branch off among steep hills run perpendicular to a busy four lane highway. The duality of commuting in a rural place with so much traffic is what most New Yorkers traveling to New Hope for the weekend must feel; we are so off the beaten path! Yet, we are only 30 minutes from highway 95.

Entering the conference room, the spectrum of farmers highlighted the range that Agricultural Extension services have to accommodate and prepare for. Two men in their early thirties sat together with their laptops, their clothes too new and their faces too bright, ahhh the educated hipsters that are moving the organic CSA movement, I thought. The man to their left, middle-aged with a jack'o'latern smile and brittle eyes, boasted of his massive pumpkin crop, soon to be exported to Europe; maybe I am too harsh but after the third time of me stretching from sitting and him checking out my breasts, I decided he could play the antagonist role in this column. Adjoining the corner of Mr. Cucurbit, a young Mennonite couple, him, in his staid button-up, jeans, and suspenders, her, in her prairie dress and bonnet. Their behavior affable, but his speech was slow and swallowed, giving me the impression that his biggest worries were about dirt and God; while her speech was clear, concise, business-like. My respect went out to her, without really knowing her. Here was a young woman who probably raised the children, looked after the house, ran the business and still had time to guide her husbands' thoughts on dirt and God.  An old 'salt of the earth' farmer sat beside them; the only one aside from the Mennonites' that mailed in his RSVP instead of emailing and of course they couldn't find his registration. I felt badly, here was a man of an older time, and older generation; I hoped he had a woman beside him at home still, keeping track of important papers and submitting the information to keep up to date with new regulations and audits, but reality can be bleaker than fiction. He was like a lean-to barn in his worn trucker cap and earth crusted clothes, with hands common to old farmers, strong stumps and square fingers dirt caked through the deep wrinkles where even when washed it remains. Beside my mom, Amy, and myself, sat Brett. A familiar face, he apprenticed with my Dad before starting his own farm called Bedminster Orchard selling his diversified produce and value added products like cider and apple butter at farmers markets. For introductions, Brett was first and it says a lot about his self-esteem and maturity for someone in his early twenties to calmly deliver a brief informative introduction to a room of strangers. I, for example, get nervous, stumble and inevitably finish a little more red in the face than when I started. Brett shares an assuredness with many older farmers, a reservoir they draw upon from knowing what they want in life, learning the skills and having the tenacity to stick with it.

All of us, this miniature farmer sample gathered to learn how to comply with USDA Farm Food Safety Plan measures. It was a good review, not just about washing your hands; the speaker shared a lot of insight from his auditing years, about how the details of managing and working a farm fit into the bigger picture of food safety. Each farm is going to have its own unique risks depending upon the type, size and sales model it has, but the themes, of cleanliness, orderliness, logging records, and writing down and educating workers on procedures no matter how obvious they may seem, remain the same. It's about prevention of food borne illness but more so about traceability. About half the farmers in the room used auctions or brokers to move their wholesale produce. All grocery stores require farmers they source from be audited by a third party and subject to one or more of the three food and safety standards. For the other half of us who market directly to customers auditing is voluntary though I believe one of the food and health safety classes is mandatory. The auditing process for us at Manoff Market will be mandatory to get our license to sell our hard cider. However, this class for me is a useful reminder that the record keeping and training and organizing for cleanliness will actually help us in the long run. It will help us to see trends in our business and business practices, help new employees familiarize themselves by making training routine and second nature, and when everything is labeled and has its place and space we become more efficient and some might say sane. Agricultural extension service agents contribute by helping us farmers create better practices in the field, which benefits consumers, as well as providing education and resources for navigating the mire of paperwork that can seem overwhelming to any farming enterprise.  

[1] "The Smith Lever Act formalized extension in 1914, establishing USDA's partnership with land-grant universities to apply research and provide education in agriculture. Congress created the extension system to address exclusively rural, agricultural issues. At that time, more than 50 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas, and 30 percent of the workforce was engaged in farming." Accessed 3/28/2018:

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Spring and Socialism?

Please note* The following is the opinion of the writer, Chelsea, and does not necessarily represent the business Manoff Market Gardens.  

Easter (the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Christ),

Passover (the remembrance for the Jewish people of their liberation from slavery and exodus from Egypt),

Isra and Mi-raj (April 13th this year; the ascension of the prophet Muhammad when heaven and hell were revealed to him with other revelations),

With these holy days coming I am reminded of how often our religions align with the seasons and the corresponding symbolism. Symbolism is a reflection of reality that shows human desire for nourishment of the soul. For some, winter is a time of contemplation and hibernation until the busier season of spring, with the rebirth and relief with which we start a season of planting and harvesting. The fact that one season flows so seamlessly into another is a cooperative act between us and nature; one for which I am thankful for when we have food for every season.

I am always struck by those who go without food, who haven't had the same privilege to not know hunger. Tomorrow we will be donating bushels of apples to the local food pantry, Braeburn, of which we have an excess of and are still crispy and sweet. Here in Bucks County we think we are isolated from the crippling poverty that is endemic to the United States, because of the stories that are spun of our successes and the very real successes that we can see in pockets of wealth here. We are not as isolated as we think; when we think about who works in our local restaurants serving and doing dishes, who pumps our gas (in Jersey), who works construction through the winter, who does every other job that greases the wheels of our leisure and daily necessities. Even with esteemed professions like teaching, some can barely make ends meet, and yet we blame the people who "chose" these jobs, that well, it was their choice to be poor. Then there are those who are elderly, who are on welfare or disability, who are homeless due to any number of factors:

Factors such as, lack of funding for social services for drug rehabilitation, veteran rehabilitation and support, and general disinterest in empowering communities that have been subject to systemic neglect and poverty because of economic failure, racism, unequal education, inaccessibility to fresh food or food at all, etc. Social services lack funding however, on a legislative level, policies could be changed which no longer serve or protect people, but rather create a cycle of criminal behavior and poverty. For example, for a person who gets prison time for a misdemeanor which goes on one's record, he or she consequently can't get a job which creates a cycle almost impossible to self-alleviate.  All of these contributing factors and more are part of a bigger issue that we have been unwilling to address in this country. We think that any degree of socialism will cripple our economy, our society, but if we look at the trajectory that our country has taken, maybe we should look at socialism as a negotiable space within our government language. We don't have a problem using socialist language in our every day interactions with people, in fact, socialist language can be seen in all religions, "help your brother as you would yourself" and in this case, your symbolic brother, all men, women etc.  

As our society here in the U.S. becomes more and more secular, where is the safety net for those who have none? It's easy to be critical of privilege, my point is not to judge those who have or have not; my point is that on a small scale we can do things like donate food, volunteer our time; but as a people of the United States it would behoove a smarter way of being in the world to start thinking about how we can correct these issues and prevent them for future generations. How we act with our privilege and the laws and money behind policies can affect real change for the have-nots, and have-some's. I am optimistic, for spring, but also, that the heightened awareness of issues that face current and coming generations due to the transparency of knowledge because of the speed, accessibility, and exponential growth of the internet, will create a catalyst for change. Whether this change will create better equality, greater opportunity, more resiliency and less hunger, a rebirth, if you will, we will have to seek and see.

Book List:
On black communities in the U.S. and endemic poverty and empowerment: James Baldwin The Fire Next Time (Written in 1963 and tellingly still applicable today). Sister Souljah The Coldest Winter Ever (1999, fictional perspective but written from experience, really examines empowerment and what that means with limited opportunities). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2012) by Michelle Alexander.
Information technologies: The Medium is the Message (1967) by Marshall McLuhan. Anything by Lawrence Lessig, Code: And other laws of cyberspace (2005), Free Culture (2006). The Master Switch (2010) by Tim Wu.  

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Pruning 101

         The pruning class for apple and peach trees had a great turnout. A few farmers and customers cracked some jokes about us using the class as a way to get our pruning done...but as simple as the concept is, I'm sure the people who showed up for the event soon realized, it takes practice and know-how to prune accurately. To help Gary a few veteran pruners come out, Brett, Buffy, and Maher, so the group of 20 or so students that day split up into manageable groups to get the basics, but also hands-on experience necessary to understand what each tree needs, based on age, variety, and type of fruit tree. The day was bitter, right before that 6 inch random snow we had last week, so around 11, the troupe came in for a coffee break by the fire, then continued until after lunch.

For those of you who missed it, the basics:

Have sharp equipment, depending on how tall your tree is, may need a pole saw to reach those top cuts. Large shears.
-First step, renewing cut. This is where you take out the overly large branches that are at the top or near the top of the tree, while leaving a leader branch at the utmost top. The purpose of this step is to keep the tree clear of old thick wood that isn't fruitful. Peach trees should look like a bowl to allow sunlight to filter into the middle of the tree. Apple trees should look like a triangle with larger supporting branches on bottom and thinner fruitful branches leading upward. 
-Second step, clearing out the muck, remember, two-year old wood fruits so don't prune too many branches that have buds, and leave some for fruiting next year. The purpose of this step is to make room for you to access and pick the fruit, but mostly, so that sunlight can reach all the fruit on the tree after bloom. This will give you riper fruit with a better blush (color).  












Search for it on Amazon for used copies or

By Michael Phillips