In foodie author Michael Pollan's first book Second Nature, he rethinks our relationship with nature. He tries to keep up with his lawn, battles a contrary woodchuck, and, upon discovering an abandoned town covered in forest growth, observes with great poignancy how nature abhors a vacuum. Thankfully Mr. Pollan became a writer and not a farmer. Like many of us with ambitious or small gardens (or house plants), Pollan was impressed how real farmers manage all their responsibilities. In subsequent books, Pollan becomes a great champion for the work of farmers.
Harvest time is a good time to honor nature's bounty and the hardworking farmers who bring it to us. They’ve been plowing, planting, weeding, and pruning back the overgrowth, as well as tending to their communities and ecosystems. All year round there's work to be done. Besides getting produce to market as it comes to harvest, many farms are dabbling, and sometimes specializing, in gourmet goodies such as vinegar, cider, preserves, and honeys, to sell during the dormant season. Here we take a look at what a few small farms have produced.
Rushton Farm, Newtown Square, PA: Honey
In a developing suburb 20 miles outside Philadelphia sits Rushton Farm, a six-acre slice of the 80-acre Willistown Conservation Trust agricultural preserve. The trust was formed primarily to preserve open space and promote community-supported agriculture. These land stewards use every part of the preserve to demonstrate the great benefits of land conservancy. The organic Rushton Farm provides food for its subscribers and sends the leftovers to a local food pantry, as well as providing education programs for local students about farming and beekeeping.
The preserve is part of a global network of open space for migratory birds deemed an IBA (Important Bird Area). The Willistown trust works with Audubon to band and observe up to 70 species of birds. Banding is an important aspect of global bird conservation work. The birds also enjoy safe habitat in the area's hedgerows. Many of the hedgerows are the legacy of a neighboring hunt club, and part of an easement agreement means young equestrians still get to enjoy the expansive space to ride.
Willow Pond Farm, Fairfield, PA: Herb-Infused Vinegar
Madeline Wajda of Willow Pond knows how working with plants can lead to getting involved in many things. She and her husband lived in Paris where she learned to cook. “In France, they cook with a lot more herbs than we do here," says Wajda. Upon her return, she pursued herbs and her kitchen herb garden blossomed into a market garden. She now sells a line of jams, jellies, vinegars, and farm-crafted herbal gifts she calls "everlasting." Her garden, with its wild flower fields and moon, shade, and butterfly gardens, and its annual Pennsylvania Lavender Festival, has become a mecca for herbalists. Willow Pond Farm was selected by The Herb Society of America to host its Salvia collection. Salvia is a sage-like plant group that is the largest genus of the mint tribe and comes in a huge array of colors. They incite an orchid-like madness among collectors. The Wajdas host the collection for the Potomac Unit of the Herb Society.
Lehman's Orchard, Niles, MI: Honey and Cider Vinegar
If you send your Google Earth cursor skittering to the mid-west and up to Niles, Michigan, you will look down on the neat, planted rows of Lehman's Orchard. Steve Lecklider and his parents manage this diverse farm. They use high tunnels and intercropping as part their IPM (Integrated Pest Management) organic farming practices. They also make efficient use of the seasons. When you farm in a four-seasons area known as Winter, Almost Winter, Still Winter and Summer you have to make good use of your sunshine and the dormant season. Lehman’s sells honey, dried fruit and nut mixes, preserves and nut butters, along with their delectable Michigan Tart Cherries, apples, pears, and stone fruit. Steve is also a licensed wine maker who creates fruit wines. His hard cider is a local favorite.
Gabriel Farm, Sebastopol, CA: Honey
Torrey Olson grows a variety of premium Asian Pears, as well as persimmons, feijoas, and lavender. He also grows Gravenstein apples, Golden Delicious, and Romes which are offered to a hungry U-pick crowd. Torrey is one of the few U-pick orchards in the area, filling nostalgic needs of East Coast transplants, and folks seeking farm-food connections. Torrey is a patient teacher, showing guests the proper way to pick. He's worked on Sonoma County Farm Trails, a rich and informative program that supports “sustainable agricultural diversity" through the publication of their maps and guides to farms of Sonoma County. Gabriel Farm also produces honeys, jams, and ciders.
The Apple Farm, Philo, CA: Cider Vinegar
On the West coast you need only open The New York Times Magazine to see coverage of the ever-appealing Apple Farm in Philo. Everything this farm does has an iconic touch. The Schmitt family made Napa Valley history when they opened a little cafe in an old French laundry in Yountville and then sold it to an up and coming chef named Thomas Keller. They bought the old Apple Farm in 1980s and then resurrected heirloom apples such as the Wickson, Pink Pearl, and Spitzenburg. The Apple Farm has also opened their barn doors to guests in the Italian style of Ecotourism. Travelers share the picturesque setting, cooking classes, and the company of a few draft horses. The Apple Farm also produces juices, ciders, vinegars, and preserves for sale.
- Heidi Lewis