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.