Sunday, June 30, 2019

Where are the bananas at?

          As customers run home to bake their first quart of peaches and end up dismayed as the pulp squishes and every twist of the wrist to separate the pit brings them farther from a beautifully textured slice; it’s no surprise to us. Education is actually a big part of the retail experience at a farmers market. Every crop, even certain varieties have their schpiel and this too varies. We throw a lot of information at people and it’s certainly hard to keep track of it all. Currently, these early July peaches stick to the pit. These newer varieties have been cultivated to bear fruit earlier and in our opinion, they’re only use is for eating over the kitchen sink! Delicious, small, a sneak-peak taste of summer yet to come. We recommend waiting to bake, can, jam peaches until Late August/Early September. YES, those late varieties are the best for these purposes.

         The convenience of a grocery store and ability to sample produce from all over the world means that I’m no hater when it comes to supplementing for what’s in season. There are arguments for and against grocery store produce; what is more relevant to keep on our radar, is the knowledge of seasonality. There’s certainly a trend where people are starting to ask more about seasonality, when crops grow in our climate and at what time of the year, but the cultural relevance fades as we become more reliant upon grocery store chains. And yet, aren’t we the lucky ones, to have that choice?

          I still remember, we had a group of inner-city school kids come to the farm for a school trip and one boy asked where were the bananas? Our educational system and the inequalities of funding is something we don’t see and experience in the suburbs on the level that inner-city schools face every day. I was able to take a course for my masters on sustainable food systems at Temple University in which the curriculum focused on food justice for inner-city neighborhoods. Historically, crowded living conditions have always been a problem, but when there were jobs and an influx of new immigrants, they created local markets where fresh food and homemade products were bought and sold. A living reminder of this is the small square block on 9th street in Philadelphia home to a few generational Italian markets. The switch to industrialization in our food system began the systematized inequality surrounding food because grocery stores only opened in areas with wealth, or the space to build. In the city, locals in poorer neighborhoods are left with gas stations or bodegas (small stores that carry food items like a wawa, but charge more for the convenience). Why not drive? Well, if you don’t have a car, which in the city is a luxury, then you have to take a bus. If you work full time, and have kids, the extra time, effort, and expense of catching a bus to grocery and back with all your bags may take its toll. Many parents are going to go with McDonalds or some other fast food chain more often, if it’s easier, and seen as tastier than the food they can buy locally. Lack of access, leads to poor nutrition that contributes to health concerns like diabetes and high blood pressure, both preventable diseases.

           Some solutions for this range from top down approaches that have politicians raising taxes on soda (hopefully being redirected towards the following), and initiatives in public schools to increase the food options and exercise available at school. One local business Zone 7 is part of this initiative by contracting with schools to truck in fresh produce from farmers in the country. However, I see more bottom-up approaches changing the landscape of inner-city food deserts. Guerilla gardens are illegal because many city ordinances maintain strict non-agricultural activities in their zone planning. This is not always the case, some cities like Denver, Colorado are actively changing their zoning ordinances to promote sustainable urban farming and local businesses (cottage food act)(Denver policy ). In Philly, and other cities like Trenton, NJ there are communities taking over abandoned spaces and creating raised beds for produce despite the illegality. Non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) that are not-for profit, are legally fighting for these endeavors, and funding spaces for communities to develop urban farms. Young entrepreneurs see an opportunity as well, to make a profit but also make a difference, by providing locals and restaurants with fresh produce. Urban farming is taking root and innovative technologies like utilizing roof spaces, hydroponic systems, and solar are growing in popularity. For that young boy who asked about bananas, he got an introduction to agriculture at our farm, we were a diversion; the hard work of helping him and kids like him needs to start in his neighborhood (Trenton story). For kids as well as adults, education but more importantly, access, is the key to believing in the power of sustainability, good nutrition and the pleasure of eating seasonal food (Fortune magazine).

              An introduction, a diversion, is not enough to change the food landscape. Kids everywhere should have an education about agricultural activities and the science of farming, but unless they get a chance to participate in growing something, or in helping their parents prepare fresh food, they’re not going to believe that this something they can participate in. How do we help the next generation connect to their food sources? How can they be predisposed to sustainability by understanding the building blocks of local versus global? Education, accessibility and participation by growing and tasting fresh food, has the power to regenerate a one sided food system and create politically minded individuals who will choose better options for themselves and their families.

              Here at the farm our brochure and website gives an outline of our seasonal fruit:

Late May/Early June: Strawberries
              We always have berries in the market before pick your own starts in the field. Varieties include, Chandler, Early-Glow, Late Glow, Rutgers, AC Valley, Cabot

Late June-July: Blueberries
              Several varieties allow for extended an extended season, both pick your own and in-market availability

Early July-Mid September: Peaches
              Early varieties include Rich May, Early Scarlet; mid season varieties include Glen Glo, Mountain Rose; Late Season varieties White Hale, J.H. Hale, Sentry, Lady Nancy and many more varieties in between! Nectarines are not always available because they are more sensitive lacking that peach fuzz protection and sustain greater damage from wasps, so call beforehand if that is on your list.

August: Blackberries
             Mainly a pick your own crop

*Many people have noticed by now that we are phasing out raspberries; weather variability and reduced tunnel space have made this crop a liability. Hopefully, in the future we will be able to reintroduce this fruit into our market.

Late August-November: Apples
              But did you know? Late season varieties, Pink Lady, Goldrush, Stayman, Winesap, Granny Smith, Fuji will remain in our store through March? These late season apples store well in our coolers once harvested; they remain fresh for this long because that is the property of these late season apples. Fall crops by nature and human selection, have storage capabilities, for example, potatoes, fall squash, onions, and apples. Our coolers that remain at 35 degrees F. are simply an updated version of a cellar, where root veggies and apples were traditionally kept through the winter months. Enjoy :)

For more information or to get involved with sustainable food systems in this area: Bucks County

FoodShed Alliance:

Carversville Farm Foundation:

Fisherman’s Mark:
           They operate as a food pantry, educational center, and much more Penn State Agricultural

           They have an office center in Doylestown/Warminster area that has educational summer classes for kids. Not to mention a great resource if you are a home gardener.

Weavers Way
          A co-op with several farms near Philadelphia that work with students to actively participate and learn farming skills. Also providing fresh produce to those neighborhoods.

There are many green and food justice initiatives, to find one nearby just search online to volunteer, share your skills, or come to learn. You can also make a difference by supporting for-profit farms in your area, the options are bountiful.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise

We raised the price of strawberries this year. While we are fortunate as a farm to live in a wealthy area we try to keep a balance; for example, pick your own crops such as strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries give an equal opportunity to save some money for our customers and for us to give back to volunteer groups who pick their own and sell the produce for charity. We also participate in SNAP the government supplemental nutrition assistance program that subsidizes the cost for low-income families to purchase fruit and vegetables at farmers markets. Even as we raised the price of strawberries, it has been about a week and half before I have heard a question about our prices. The woman who I talked with on this busy Saturday is a regular and her question seemed more curious than critical. She asked, “You raised the prices from last year, are you having a bad year?” My tone even and nonchalant I replied, “So far so good, just trying to make a little profit.” Thinking back on my response, I don’t think I would have changed it, it somehow felt wrong to explain that no year, is a good year. I could have told her how the hail ripped through our farm just three days earlier, almost every piece of fruit, apple, peach, strawberry marred by the freak ice. If it heals and scars over, instead of dropping, much of our fruit harvest this summer and fall will be what we call special...a touch ugly but still delicious. The strawberry quart she held in her hand as we spoke, perky berries perfect and gleaming came from our high tunnels. These are actually a more expensive input compared to the field berries, but a guaranteed crop, shielded from the harshest weather, which we continually rely upon to bring in spring revenue after the winter drought.

We find ourselves caught on the precipice as a business, after thirty five years my parents have built up clientele that will come to us, known for the diversity of varieties and quality of the fruit, they have created a steady business. The question of wealth is an interesting one. We are wealthy in so much as we continue to work as hard as we can; we are wealthy in abundance of tasty fruit and lush work environment. We are wealthy in the customers who recognize the fruit that we produce is both environmentally sound and immensely delicious. One of the many moments that highlight this for me, was when a father and daughter came by the farm on a rainy Monday at the beginning of strawberry season. The father introduced himself but he lapsed into Ukrainian often, turning to his 7 year old daughter to translate. They had heard of us, that our berries tasted like the ones from home. Could he show his daughter how the berries grew? I gave them a tour, and slowly the daughter began to open up, more confident with her English she explained how she was in English school but still going to Ukrainian school on Saturdays. “That’s good,” I smiled, “Tradition is important, you should know both. How do you say thank you?” “Dyakuyo,” she beamed. My mood for the rest of that rainy, slow day remained lifted. How many other spaces can we create that welcome people the way that food and nature can? The ties that people have to food and culture are rooted in traditions, but the ability for those traditions to translate are numerous if we give them the space and encouragement. We are wealthy and it has nothing to do with our prices, the prices are our encouragement to continue to improve this business that has the potential to cross boundaries in our own small way.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

a room of one's own

“What does this place mean to you?” I asked him, elbow to elbow that chilly spring night.
“Mixed feelings,” he said, “I feel free when I’m here...What does it mean for you?”
Nodding, I said, “The same. The daylight is filled with complicated relationships that come from family, customers, from sharing a space with different people in a business way, but at night I feel the most connected to this space.” 

The stars bright, the curve of the night a brilliant arch above us, thinking about space, environment and a sense of place. In the dark, free from everyday responsibilities we wondered how a place can both free one from identity, and connect one to that space in time, that place of intangibility. Whether one owns the place or not, we humans find places to call our own. Maybe this is somewhat the spirituality of indigenous peoples. We don’t own the place, we make it our own, it informs our identity but in nature’s vastness we can submit to the sublime and our own smallness in the universe. 

“Everyone deserves their own place they can call their own,” my dear friend and neighbor interjected as I sat at her table on a high stool sipping tea, sharing with her news about my Palestinian boyfriend. She was culturally Jewish, raised reformed, and hosted a friendly brisket competition for Passover with my family. The fracturing of Jewish identity has many parts. Orthodox are conservatively religious but there are many different schisms within this branch. Zionists, are pro-Israel as a homeland for Jewish peoples, but not necessarily religious. Reformed, are mostly members of synagogues in Western countries that are open to new ways of practicing Jewish religion such as accepting women rabbis. And culturally Jewish, as am I, means having Jewish heritage within a mixed religious family but identifying less with a strictly Jewish identity, hipster Jews, my brother calls us.

My friend Ellen’s upfront decisiveness about such a complicated issue as Palestinian-Israeli politics made me laugh. This is the heart of what we fight over, a place and a space to call our own and pursue a life with dignity. Territory can have tactical advantages but we as humans give land conceptual weight. The places we call cradles of civilization happened because people found places in their environment that nurtured those monumental building blocks of civilization, access to fresh water leading to irrigation and fertile plains and agriculture. With climate change and other contributing factors such as war, disease, overpopulation, even just desire for change, leads to migrations in people and populations shift over time. But sometimes we choose to stay in places even when the elements are against us. Take Louisiana, after Hurricane Katrina many people stalwartly returned home, rebuilding their communities. “This is our home,” they said. They have a place that carries cultural weight, that connects them to that space and environment, despite the risks.

Like those people from the Bayou, the cultural weight for other displaced peoples is intractably tied to their ancestral homeland. The Palestinian narrative has been undermined and erased at every political opportunity through forcible violence, blockades, walls, limiting permits, controlling water and resources, demolishing homes, and promoting a culture of fear and intolerance, because it is an inconvenient truth for any Jewish person who claims Israel as their homeland. Most Jews will agree that for the safety of our community Israel’s tactics are a necessity born from history and a result of antisemitism and genocide against our people. But I will tell you a story about my first trip to Israel. On a guided tour I mentioned to my brother, talking about Muslims in Israel, “Salaam, means peace. It’s an Abrahamic religion that can carry a message of tolerance and peace or destruction if manipulated by the wrong people, the same as any religion.” The ex-IDF tour guide overheard this and in an effort to control the narrative, brandished his finger in my face and said, “Muslims are all extremists, they only spread terrorism. They are like rats.” His reaction, put a suspicion in my young mind that all is not well with your narrative if you fail to see the humanity in people, even those people you claim as your enemy. This tactic of of dehumanization is used in every genocide to justify atrocities. It’s used as a political tool to make the masses fear anyone who challenges the status quo, even innocents who by religion, ethnicity, gender, sex, or class fail to homogenize with the mainstream. Politically, this is Israel’s best defense to eradicate any Palestinian heritage and to separate Jewish neighbors from non-Jewish Arabs, because if they had good working relationships and saw the other as human, they might want the same rights for them as we have for ourselves.

It’s funny, having married that Palestinian boyfriend, we’re both completely racist together. I’ll ask him where he parked his camel, and he’ll say did I hear the one about that Rabbi in a bar? But ultimately we’re stronger for it, and it brings me so much joy when he experiences some new freedom he’s never had the chance to do before, like surf, snowboard, travel unmolested in an airport, or feel free in a space he could call his own. I don’t mean to try and quantify his agency in the world, but I saw the double standard with my own eyes and heard enough friends sharing their stories to know that to be Palestinian, limits certain freedoms I take for granted. He has so much positivity and flexibility and being Palestinian is a point of pride but carries with it fresh hurt every day he looks at the news. Nature can challenge our perceptions of rightness, in fact the the school where we met in Israel was full of contradictions inherent in an occupied state, but their slogan is “Nature knows no borders.” It’s amazing to me every time I look up from the blinders in my life, and I see the farm in some new way. In this same vein do we choose to conquer our environment and the people in it, or do we choose to nurture both the people and the land we live with? 

-Chelsea Manoff

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.