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: https://nifa.usda.gov/cooperative-extension-history

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).  

Resources:
TREES:

ADAMS COUNTY NURSERY
https://www.acnursery.com/

WAFLER NURSERY
http://www.waflernursery.com/

BOYER NURSERIES
www.boyernurseries.com/ 

BERRIES:

INDIANA BERRY & PLANT CO.
www.indianaberry.com

NOURSE
http://www.noursefarms.com

PRUNING TOOLS:

OESCO
www.oescoinc.com

BOOKS/GUIDES:

PENN STATE TREE FRUIT PRODUCTION GUIDE 
https://extension.psu.edu/tree-fruit-production-guide

TREE FRUIT FIELD GUIDE
TO INSECT, MITE, AND DISEASE PESTS AND NATURAL ENIMIES OD EASTERN NORTH AMERICA
Search for it on Amazon for used copies or 
http://palspublishing.cals.cornell.edu

THE APPLE GROWER 
By Michael Phillips

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Seeds of knowledge?

                There are reasons why we use metaphors like, "sowing the seeds of knowledge," our history is intimately linked to the food we produce. Agriculture was the fuel for the rise of civilizations, a scientific and scholarly hypothesis popularized by Jared Diamond in Collapse (2011), where cultivation of grain crops enabled our nomadic ancestors to settle, grow a surplus of food, which led to an increase in population, division of labor, and leisure time for specialized crafts, arts and culture to flourish. Notably, most civilizations followed an exploitative path for both their environment and their workers creating hierarchy rather than equitable distribution of benefits, hence the title of Diamonds' book Collapse. However, in the BBC documentary Lost Kingdoms of South America (2016) it highlights civilizations that pre-date the Aztecs.[1] From the archaeological records as well as current indigenous people that carried on core beliefs and traditions from these early time periods, we can see how their cultures followed a more equitable path and engineered an agriculture that altered the environment without destroying their natural resources. Early trading between cultures was based on natural capital, strengthening cooperation between tribes and different cultures.
                In this new age where globalization favors big companies and offshore accounts, many have taken to their communities, with the message, Buy Local, Support Local. This has been proven to be true; the circulation of one dollar spent in a community will circulate many times rather than funneling into a company with deep pockets and charitable smile.[2] To be sure, globalization is just a bigger word for international trading, but too often it is linked to western ideological expansion and capitalization of developing governments and economies through corporate exploitation and financial aid incentives. I am not saying, that we should stop drinking coffee, 'cause it is grown on the backs of indentured laborers and destroys the rainforest'...no, but maybe if I know how coffee grows,[3] if I know there are bad practices out there, then I will choose to buy from a local supplier who sources their cocoa from smaller certified growers in the supply chain (Homestead Coffee Roasters, Upper Black Eddy, sold at Manoff's; Folk City Roasters, Point Pleasant; Pierre's Chocolate, New Hope, select items sold at Manoff's). There is more knowledge and power contained in a seed than there is in an army.