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Where Grundsaus Die of Whooping Cough


Down at Oley Valley Feed the other day, I overheard some old timers talking about the blizzard of March 1958.  I looked it up and, sure enough, the unpredicted ’58 blizzard, with its death toll estimated at half a million, made our present weather look like a walk in the sunshine by comparison.   See for yourself: 

Half a million?   Perhaps that figure was revised downward over time?  Or maybe they were talking about groundhogs?

At any rate, I’m tired of the weather and I’m sure you are, too, unless you are a snowboarding fanatic or a cross country skier.  So I will talk about groundhogs instead, and in particular, poems about groundhogs.   Punxsutawney Phil is too affiliated with winter to deserve mention here and everybody knows the tongue twister How much wood would a woodchuck chuck ….  So I’ll start out with an old Pennsylvania Dutch couplet I remember hearing when I was a kid:

Remember me when far, far off

Where grundsaus die of whooping cough. 

As this couplet suggests, the death of the cuddly little garden terror stirs up all kinds of literary passions.  Believe it or not, I farmed for ten years without killing a single groundhog, even though the comically obese vegetarian had cleaned me out of peas and frisee and romaine lettuce on numerous occasions.  When a groundhog snuck into my heated greenhouse one March afternoon to sup on my ready-to-harvest mesclun greens, I finally retaliated.  I wrote about the experience and showed what I had written to a chef, Dave Pasternack, who was grumbling over the absence of mesclun greens in his delivery that week and he, unbeknownst to me, passed on what I had written to Ruth Reichl, the editor of Gourmet magazine, who published the piece in Gourmet.   As everybody except me figured would happen, the piece unleashed a barrage of letters to the editor, with 99.9% of those letters falling under the classification of hate mail.   I belonged in the lowest depths of hell for murdering the adorable little creature whose only mistake was that he enjoyed my lettuce. People were canceling their subscriptions to Gourmet and sponsoring a boycott of all of my vegetables and all of the restaurants who purchased my vegetables.  

So much for the adoring public I had hoped for on account of Gourmet’s huge circulation!  At last, somebody forwarded to the editor a letter of commiseration for my experience along with a poem, called Woodchucks, by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Maxine Kumin, who died earlier this month at the age of 88.   Here is Kumin’s paeon to the cuddly wuddly garden denizen: 


Gassing the woodchucks didn’t turn out right.
The knockout bomb from the Feed and Grain Exchange
was featured as merciful, quick at the bone
and the case we had against them was airtight,
both exits shoehorned shut with puddingstone,
but they had a sub-sub-basement out of range.

Next morning they turned up again, no worse
for the cyanide than we for our cigarettes
and state-store Scotch, all of us up to scratch.
They brought down the marigolds as a matter of course
and then took over the vegetable patch
nipping the broccoli shoots, beheading the carrots.

The food from our mouths, I said, righteously thrilling
to the feel of the .22, the bullets’ neat noses.
I, a lapsed pacifist fallen from grace
puffed with Darwinian pieties for killing,
now drew a bead on the little woodchuck’s face.
He died down in the everbearing roses.

Ten minutes later I dropped the mother. She
flipflopped in the air and fell, her needle teeth
still hooked in a leaf of early Swiss chard.
Another baby next. O one-two-three
the murderer inside me rose up hard,
the hawkeye killer came on stage forthwith.

There’s one chuck left. Old wily fellow, he keeps
me cocked and ready day after day after day.
All night I hunt his humped-up form. I dream
I sight along the barrel in my sleep.
If only they’d all consented to die unseen
gassed underground the quiet Nazi way.

From Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief, by Maxine Kumin, published by Penguin Books. Copyright © 1972, 1982 by Maxine Kumin.  Online Source

 And here, with utmost humility, is my own contribution to the genre of dead groundhog poems, written back when the war was raging in Iraq: 


In his hour of tumble and mirth,

amid fields knee-high with budding grasses,

someone clocked him on one of the farm roads.

Early on, I looked for him each day

when I passed. Heat inflated him:

That much he had in common with the mealy, splay-

legged soldiers Matthew Brady

captured at Antietam.

December now, two Decembers since:

Old bone tooth is propped up

next to the road,


scuff proof,

shrink wrapped in his

sun-toughened leather.

His changes have become more gradual.

A thousand some-odd soldiers

have fallen since he fell. On my way to wherever,

I forget to watch out for him.

Perseveres, this monument

to a chuckling appetite, well-wisher

for the passing motorist, survivor

beyond his years: Carcass


In spite of the weather, your shares this week are full of the kind of greenhouse grown greens Punxsutawney Phil would love to sink his needle teeth into, if only he had not seen his shadow earlier this month!   Pea shoots, spinach, broccoli rabe, kale, mache.   Thanks to the cold, the carrots are sweeter than ever.  Stay warm and don’t forget to sign up for the Summer CSA!



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Farmer in Winter


When rumor has it the Nor’easter to end all Nor’easters is rearing up its head, bread and milk are always first to go at the grocery store.  Canned goods take a major hit, too:  Chunky soup and Ham n’ beans and spam spam spam.  Not the undesirable stuff that infiltrates your e-mail in box, the stuff you eat.   Like air borne frisbees, the frozen pizzas go zinging out of their upright display freezers.  Ogling the decimated grocery shelves during the calm before the storm, the tardy consumer must rely on something called survivor’s imagination to peace together a meal from the meager selection:  torn open bags of lentils, a leaky container of butter milk.   Dented cans of hairball formula cat food in abundance, yes, but… here the late comer shrieks at an apocalyptic vision:  Cripes!  Don’t tell me I’m going to be chowing on a casserole of lentils and hair ball formula cat food as the snow drifts higher than my chimney? 

Here at the farm, where we produce our own groceries, the uncooperative weather has surely forced one tomato farmer to be a multi-tasker.   The tractor broke down in the middle of a snowy field.


One amputated tire had to be evacuated by sled:


Inside the barn, Maisey delivered her calf a month earlier than the veterinarian predicted she would, so farmer Tim hunkered down in the cold and milked Maisey while Ricardo the calf, glutted on the same milk, rested:


With milk in abundance, the stove is kept busy with cheese production.   Ricotta curds: 


And mozzarella curds:


Tractor repair man, milker, fromagere.  The farmer also needs to be a carpenter: 


No, this isn’t a stage set for a Lobachsville version of “Little House on the Prairie”.  In spite of the vagaries of the weather, the bread oven is enclosed at last!   And as you can see from the smoke chuffing out of the chimney, old man winter hasn’t put a damper on bread production at the farm. 

In March, we are planning to plant red fife wheat, a spring wheat that bakes up into some mighty fine bread.   We will also need to get one of Oley Valley’s old mills up and running so we can grind our red fife into flour of the quality our Colonial forbears once enjoyed.  A free loaf of bread for the first person to guess the name of this mill:


Here is a hint:  An unlikely candidate for improvement any time soon, she stands beside the mighty Manatawny, proud in all her slowly crumbling glory, anchoring our past the way the coliseum anchors the Roman past, her musty insides exhaling so much history that we can only guess at… 

The many hats worn by the new, twenty first century multi taskin’ farmer:  Tractor repair man, milker, fromagere, baker, miller, story teller…

Yet another Nor’easter to be hurdled with spring on the horizon.  And tons of skiing and sledding and snowboarding to get in before those hearty asparagus tips begin poking through the once frozen earth.  If you can’t fight it, join it! 

Rest assured, members.   You don’t have to elbow somebody out of the way for that last bag of spinach.  And your spinach, like the carrots accompanying them, are sweeter than any imported from the balmier climes of California.  Freshly baked bread is plentiful, too.  Just pick up your bag before the snow starts to fall.  And read my lips:  No dented cans of hairball formula cat food in your shares this week!  

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Tomatoes and Mozzerella


Tomatoes on the coldest day of the year?    I know what you must be thinking.  We have gone Frankenstein on you, extracting cold-tolerant genes from the blubbery flanks of our swine and injecting them into tomatoplasm, thereby creating a GMO variety that stands up to sub-zero weather and renders unnecessary the addition of bacon in the classic BLT sandwich.

Or worse:  we’ve sold our soul to the devil and scored those love apples at the nearest Wal-Mart.  I feel compelled to explain this glaringly unseasonal addition to your CSA shares this week, especially since I had to veto the objections of the younger, more idealistic folks here at the farm to include them.   Let’s just say my English Major genes have not been fully bred out of me by nearly twenty years of farming:  I need to have my irony fix from time to time.

I think these are better tomatoes than any you will find in a grocery store this time of year.  They grew in Ethan Burkholder’s wood fire heated greenhouse just outside of Kutztown.  An astonishing achievement, if you ask me, since we are barely able to keep cold loving crops like radishes and broccoli alive out here on the Arctic Tundra.


Anyhow, if you are emotionally committed to the idealistic camp, you can always pelt me with the softest tomato in your share.

But check out those carrots:  the freezing temperatures they have been subjected to inside an unheated greenhouse bring out their sugars.  Those are not storage carrots.  They were picked yesterday during a brief thaw inside the greenhouse.

At any rate, we are going to need some tomatoes to go with the mozzarella that we anticipate making just as soon as Maisey and Delilah deliver their calves and begin to offer up that butterfat rich milk for which Jersey cows are famous.


That’s Maisey on the right.  Her utter has swollen up taut as a balloon and we are praying that she will wait for this cold snap to end to have her baby.  Maisey herself suffered frost bitten ears as a calf.  Delilah is so big around the middle that I fear she is harboring twins.   Maisey and Delilah are the life of the farm these days.   On one of those frigid mornings a few weeks ago, I came in the house after breaking up the icy crust on their water container and felt inspired to write a poem, reprinted herewith.   (If you don’t like my poem, of course,  just go ahead and pelt me with tomatoes)

Heifer in Winter

Life on the hill is satisfactory, predictable. Ample supply of

second cutting hay for the belly, first cutting

so plentiful I lay down upon it. I am mild, gargantuan, impregnated,

eminently ruralized among my fellow creatures: pigs bullying and squealing

for a share of grub; the dapper snow white goat poised for another

snap shot; the densely housed over-dramatic hens

pecking and scattering, their vehement leader recklessly

cock-a-doodle-doing, as if the petulant sun had randomly

chosen this moment out of the infinity of potential moments

to invade the dark.


Out of the house, regularly,

a heathen appears for skimming ice

from my water bucket. Frosty, yes, but

there is this benefit to winter:

Not a single horse fly to be kept in orbit by repeated

swishing of my tail.


What needs to keep warm

is inside of me. To me,

everything worth knowing,

is known, you see.


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Too many Santas

There are herds out there that need to be thinned, we are reminded by the pap pap pap of gunfire that becomes most vehement round about sunset.   This time of year, the only creature more abundant than the deer in the valley would have to be Santa.


 And apparently a fair number of hunters, frustrated by the absence of Bambi, have taken to bagging a couple of the jolly red men.  Look at the fallen one in this picture:


I agree we are overwhelmed with Santas but what is shameful is the way hunters will leave the affable fella right where he fell:


Aha! you say.  So this is how a tomato farmer amuses himself in winter! 

None of my business what the hunters are shooting at these days.  We’re in the vegetable business, trying our best to pretend it’s still summer out there.  The pigs are doing a pretty good job of it, gorging on the very last of the spotty tomatoes:


And here is Jessi, knocking snow off the roof of the greenhouse while Chris harvests Pak Choi for this week’s share.     


We have overstocked some of the share items to make up for blemishes wrought by the Arctic conditions.  And even though work on the bake oven has been temporarily postponed, Chris is out there doing his thing this morning:


Zounds!  Winter has not even arrived yet!  This roller coaster ride is supposed to bring us a balmy weekend so hopefully we’ll have a roof on the oven by my next post. 

All right, so maybe I’ve extrapolated a bit maliciously on the theme of Christmas kitsch.  I’ve been naughty, as Santa would say. 

If we can put a man on the moon, I’ve always said, surely we can place a cold tolerant inflatable Santa in our front yards!   

Now there’s a locavore’s mantra!  And here’s another:  Got any recipes for poached Santa? 








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Rite of Succession

“April is the cruelest month,” wrote TS Eliot in what is arguably the only comprehensible line in his most famous poem, “The Wasteland”.  He was being ironic, of course, pointing out the cruelty of fresh tendrils of spring-borne life gaining succor from the death and rot of a previous generation. 

This year on the farm, November proved to be the cruelest month for similarly ironic reasons.  Let me explain:


If you have been to the farm, you have already met Maisey and Delilah, our Jersey heifers, our great white hope.  By great white hope, I refer to the anticipated flow of butterfat rich milk, for which Jerseys are renowned.  For the past year and a half we have been trying like mad to get the heifers knocked up so that we can proceed with the business of making butter and aging cheese. 


And here, rendered by the deft hand of my daughter Gwendolyn, is Cecilia, our resident calico cat, taking time out from her favorite pastimes:  hauling in rodents half her size, rolling around on her back and ambushing our black cat, Alice.   A transplant from New York City, Cecilia arrived at the farm three years ago and quickly earned a reputation for wide-eyed curiosity, pattering about the packing shed at 3 in the morning as we loaded the truck for market.  Or watching at a sly distance in the barn as the heifers and goats butted heads over the hay piled up before them, her instincts grasping that one day, the entitlements due a seasoned barn cat would include a daily bowl of warm fresh milk…

Ah, that milk!   How to get it?  Plan A had been to watch for one of the heifers to come into heat and then call the Select Sire man to insert “sexed” semen that has been mined from some hunky Jersey bull.   “Sexed” semen is a technological breakthrough that has come on the market in the past decade:  imbued with superior genetics, the semen is run through a centrifuge that separates the X  (female) chromosomes from the Y (male) chromosomes.   Inserted into a cow’s uterus, “X” laden semen promises a 93% chance of female offspring, an outcome which would not only increase the size of our milking herd but would spare me a future confrontation with my conscientious daughters over my refusal to keep a young male calf in the pasture as if he were a pet.   

Here is a painting of Delilah done by Gwendolyn when Delilah was less than a year old:


One thing I have learned is how to tell when a cow is in heat:  she will bawl incessantly.  Or one of the cows will try to mount another cow.  If Maisey tries to mount Delilah and Delilah scoots away, Maisey is in heat.  But if Delilah stays there, Delilah is the one in heat.  

Three times when one of the heifers came into heat, I called the Select Sire man to come out and artificially insert “sexed” semen.

And thrice they refused.  I called a Veterinarian, who reached deep into both heifers to check on the plumbing and shrugged:  “They should be able to bear.  Keep trying.”  

Well, I was paying good money for those elite gender biased genetics.   It may be the case, I thought, that what the heifers would respond to was….the real thing. 

So enter Plan B, aka Squirt.


Squirt was a yearling bull in my friend Harold’s pasture, a randy young creature whose growing passions were making life difficult for the other inhabitants of Harold’s pasture.   Squirt stood a good hand and a half shorter than Maisey and Delilah when he entered my pasture back in April.   And boy, what an introduction ensued:  the spit firing hormones, the charade of emotions, the beefy animals circling and crooning, their motivational centers gone haywire on account of some musk that provoked no sense of rapture from me. 

The new approach seemed messy, random, unscientific.  Squirt brought to mind another Nobel laureate poet, Seamus Heaney, who, drawing much of his inspiration from the farm he was raised on, published his first collection, Death of a Naturalist, a year after TS Eliot’s death.  The outlaw in Heaney’s poem, “The Outlaw”, is an unlicensed service bull.  Heaney describes the brief business transaction that transpires the day he takes a cow to visit this bull:

His knobbled forelegs straddling her flank,

He slammed life home, impassive as a tank,

Dropping off like a tipped-up load of sand. 

There’s no ambiguity about Heaney’s word choice here.   Years ago, before he won the Nobel Prize, when I was just out of college and I fancied myself a budding poet, I met Seamus Heaney at Grasmere, in England’s Lake District.  I was riding my bicycle through the region and was lucky enough to have a friend who was presenting a paper at the William Wordsworth Conference there.  He was a big man, as I recall, a framework fit for farm chores, a big man with a magical voice and a genius for teasing perfect meanings out of his words.  A very different poet from TS Eliot.  In retrospect, I must have imagined myself, just out of college, to be more in the metaphysical, opaque camp of a TS Eliot.  But these days, I keep a collection of Heaney by my bedside. 

At any rate, I would never have imagined back then that I would one day earn my keep as a farmer.   I watched the interactions between Maisey and Delilah and Squirt, watched to see the young stud “slam life home”, but every time Squirt tried to straddle one of them with his “knobbled forelegs,” my girls slipped out from under him.  Maisey and Delilah just ignored him, as though he was some pesky little brother.

Whatever.  The demands of a vegetable farm distracted me from the pasture as spring gave way to summer but every so often I wandered absent-mindedly into Squirt’s realm, to mow the pasture or to retrieve a water container, only to find myself resorting to rodeo clown antics for survival, shooing and waving and backing away from this hoofing beast that wanted to square off with me.   By summer’s end, Squirt stood as tall as the gals he had been brought in to mount.   And yet, every time he tried to do his thing they scooted away coquettishly and then held counsel among themselves.  Clearly, we had a dearth of fertility up here on the hill.  Or maybe the girls just wanted to hang out and chew cud a little while longer, without the burden of  raising children.  Like so many twenty and thirty and forty somethings out there still living with mom and pop, Maisey and Delilah longed for an extended adolescence.

And poor feckless Squirt took to bawling his nearly soundless bawl, having been metaphorically castrated by two heartless heifers.  By the time we were pulling tomato stakes out of the ground, I deemed him too dangerous to keep in my pasture.  My God, what if a fallen tree broke the fence down and he raced into the neighbor’s yard to enact his sexual frustration?  Harold informed me that he wanted to put Squirt to the auction, which made me sad because I had grown fond of the rambunctious beast and there was virtually no chance anyone would buy him, horns and all, for a service bull.   In exchange for his reproductive services to me, I had fattened him on my pasture.  Within a few weeks, he would be meat.  

Hetrick was called in.  Hetrick is the guy with the trailer who shuttles livestock to an fro for a reasonable fee.  Everybody calls him Hetrick but he prefers to be called Brian to his face.  I sequestered Squirt in the barnyard and Hetrick backed his trailer up and together, Harold, Hetrick and I began coaxing and teasing Squirt, who must have known where all of this was leading because he reared and bucked and ransacked the barn in his efforts to stay put.  But Hetrick was a pro at these situations and somehow managed to get a frantic Squirt to gallop thunderously up the ramp into his trailer.    

After Hetrick pulled away, I was overcome with gloom.  Of course, I know that on a farm it is business as usual to send livestock males to the butcher but I was new to livestock farming.  Plus, to make matters worse, I found poor Cecilia dead in the barn, probably trampled to death by Squirt in his last fight to stay alive.   A victim of her own insatiable curiosity.   

Well, I thought, time to get all of my bad news over and done with.  I called for the veterinarian to get a pregnancy test for my two prudes, knowing full well that it is business as usual on a farm to send sterile cows to the butcher, too.   Maisey was easy to rope to a fence but Delilah put up her usual fight.  She was almost as tenacious as Squirt in preventing me from tying her down for the preg test but the Vet helped out and soon we had her, too, under control. 

Well…all I can say is that Squirt did not venture into my pasture solely to put on weight.  And like most of us, they went about their business with the utmost discretion because none of us even knew.  I suppose Squirt had to grow some more to gain my girls’ respect because it took about two and a half months from his first day on my farm to make them both pregnant, which is a lucky thing because the calves are due in early March and not the dead of winter. 

Needless to say, we are all celebrating on the farm: thumbing through cheese recipes and studying the chemistry behind mold and shopping for butter churns and pasteurizers and cheese molds.  Blueprints are being cobbled together for a makeshift milking parlor and a cheese room.   The cheese room is the bovine equivalent of a nursery.  Who cares whether it’s a boy or girl?

Two lives taken, and two given.   Goodbye Squirt.  Goodbye Cecilia.

And goodbye Seamus Heaney, who died in August at the age of 74.  Somewhere on the planet, a future Nobel Laureate is submitting his first collection of poetry.   All I know is it ain’t gonna be me.

Happy Thanksgiving!







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Indian Summer

Deeper into radish season we go and dang nammit, those tomatoes refuse to die. We did suffer some ice burn on the plant tips but our southern facing hillside with its perpetual breezes kept King Frost from doing his ashes to ashes dust to dust thing. All hail the belated arrival of Indian Summer:  pale blue sky unblemished by cloud but for the manmade one rising stealthily to the south of us from the ever chuffing Limerick towers.  Out on the horizon, the wind had sculpted our endearing nuclear puff  into what  looked to me like a mirror image of the boot of Italy so I tried to take a picture of it with my iphone but somehow it didn’t come out so well. Image

So I settled on more organic pictures reminiscent of Italy:  one of the cold loving Italian chicories growing in the field. Image

 Another of CSA manager Stefanie Angstadt nourishing herself from the same soil that has nourished her ancestors since the 1700s.


Here she gnoshes on a tangy esoteric red mottled green named after the Italian village, Castelfranco, where it is famous.  Full heads of radicchio should make it into your shares by next week.   Although Stefanie is staying in the area to complete the book she is working on, she is stepping down from her duties at Eckerton Hill Farm.   We are grateful for her energy and her ability to organize a farm that was a bit overrun with weeds, both literal and methaphorical, when she arrived.   

A huge thanks goes out to the Eckerton Hill crew, to Maryann Terillo and especially to Mario Juarez, for the amazing food that was served Sunday at our annual pot luck/pig roast.  And thanks to all of you who contributed to a splendid event.   Mario, too, is moving on to work in the kitchen at Bolete, so those of you who pick up your shares there will still have him around.  Thanks for your creativity in the kitchen, Mario!

Don’t be surprised if Santa drops some sungolds into your stockings come December!

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Frost is on the Pumpkin


Season of zinfandel sunsets and great blank sheets of morning miasma dissipating soundlessly above the burbling streams that form the backbone of the Oley Valley.   Watch you don’t run over the wooly bear making its madcap trek across Lobachsville Road!  Or that wooly bear!  Or that one!  Yikes!  Now that tomato season has given way to radish season, the blood has begun to thicken and I have time to contemplate things like the mortality of reckless young wooly bears.   Ah, the luxuries of farming!  You will be wishing those wooly bears were cabbage worms when you see the broccoli in your shares this week.  And gladly would you run them down!  Hopefully we dropped cabbage worm- free broccoli in your share. But just in case, we gave you two heads each.  When we take the broccoli to Greenmarket in New York City, the sparrows descend from park trees to clean the worms for us.  Like you, they prefer their broccoli organic.  Anyhow, that’s how you know we didn’t spray! Dunk your broccoli in cold water to get them out.

Ok, to get away from wormy subjects:  We are finally getting around to forking out the potatoes that we abandoned back when the tomatoes started to bomb.  And it’s been such a phenomenal tomato season that WE STILL HAVE TOMATOES!  Potatoes, beets, broccoli, bread still warm from the hearth.  Make yourself a hearty warm meal tonight and think of us up on the hill as the wind swarms down out of the north to finish off the tomatoes and basil and eggplant and peppers.   Luckily we have lots of cold hardy crops and nine greenhouses still in operation to keep our ark afloat through the cold dark days ahead. 

Don’t forget our annual pot luck and pig roast at the farm this Sunday.  Let us know if you can make it.  


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we love to hear what you have to say

Beloved CSA members…


We want to hear from you!  

Remember, we are just beginners. Although we have been a farm for nearly 20 years, we are only in our second CSA season, and we are still learning. It was only last winter that we dipped our proverbial toes into the CSA water with our pilot 35-member program. We received overwhelming positive feedback from this courageous inaugural group, and so, we decided to do it again…

…with you: our cherished 80 members that are the reason we wake up every morning. Here we find ourselves in the second season, this time, full of summer’s bounty, and we have to stop and ask all of you, how the heck are we doing? Whatever we can do to make it better, please let us know. We are doers. We act on your suggestions as best as we can, as our winter CSA members can attest. We are committed to making you 100% happy in this CSA experience, and we welcome any feedback you may have – positive or negative. So, don’t hold back!

Click below to answer the 8-question survey. It will only take a few  minutes and will help us forever! And we hope it well help you, too!

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Peace, Love, and Really Good Sweet Corn

Everyone thinks they are special. But we folks at Eckerton Hill Farm really think we’ve got it going on. Tim’s no-spray sweet corn is a rare find in this valley, and it was all worth the grind. No pesticides or fertilizers were used in the making of this food; the sweet kernels were born from peat and reared in soil nourished with mushroom compost. Pests were kept at bay by carnivorous insects and transistor radios. And each ear was lovingly hand-picked by a human.

Enjoy it raw, roasted, steamed or grilled. Read on to learn more about the beginnings of Tim’s sweet corn here


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you say potato, i say potato beetle

New potatoes:  those ineffably delicate-as-butter spud nuggets pulled out of the ground in pre-adolescent condition, before their skins have even been able to form completely.  Here are Mario and Chris forking out red-gold new potatoes for this week’s share.  IMG_0745

While marching around the grounds, offering my two cents to Chris and Mario as they toiled away, I quickly became aware that I was not the only pest in the potato field.  The dreaded Colorado potato beetle had found us.  IMG_0754  It does not take long for a phalanx of these slimy orange creatures to reduce a field of potatoes to leafless stems.   So oozy and disgusting are they that even the most organic of growers will feel an urge to unleash an arsenal of chemicals aimed at saving the spud.

Well, there are chemicals acceptable to organic standards that some farmers use on the potato beetle.  There is even a GMO potato with an organic pesticide, Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT), genetically inserted into the cells of the potato plant.  The potato beetle takes one bite out of the plant and drops dead.   The savvy consumer is left with the question:  What happens when I take a bite out of the same plant?

So I  wish I could impress you with my own patented super sophisticated organic technique for doing away with this icky pest but I am sorry to inform you that my methods are a little more uh…shall we say…cave man-like.  In the past, I would wade through the potato field and squish the little buggers between my thumb and forefinger until my hands were stained a sickly yellow.  This method is a throwback to my gardening days, when the potato section of my garden consisted of a couple dozen plants.  As my potato patch grew larger over the years and I began to hire employees I found that squishing Colorado Potato Beetles between thumb and forefinger was one job the help unanimously refused to do at Eckerton Hill Farm.   So I spent hours and hours squishing the little buggers and dropping them amidst the growing potatoes.

This year, as the potato patch has grown to one full acre, I have settled upon a new tactic.  From the sink, I snagged a spent strawberry yogurt container, drying yogurt still adhering to its sides.  Then I began knocking potato beetles live into the yogurt container.  Many years ago, when the rose garden would become infested with Japanese Beetles, we used to put gasoline into a glass container and then fill the container up with Japanese Beetles, which magnified like splendid metallic gems as they drowsed permanently in the fumes behind the glass.  Gas was cheap back then, I guess.  No way I was going to enlist petroleum in my so-called sustainable methods.  To pick all of the potato beetles off my plants took me as long as it took Mario and Chris to fork out all of the new potatoes for this week’s share.  I was left with quite a stash of live Colorado Potato Beetles.  IMG_1879

What to do with my Colorado  Potato Beetles?  It did cross my mind that I could include the affable critters in this week’s share.  Live yogurt coated potato beetles?  The chefs in New York City pay mucho dinero for a delicacy like this one.  And here we are offering it to our valued CSA members….

OK, ok.  Time for a Plan B.  “Why not feed them to the chickens?” suggested Jessi, which made me think of the potato beetles’ vibrant orange color and how the same beetles ingested by our layer hens might make for some downright neon yolks in the frying pan.  So into a feed bowl went my pests.  But alas!  Our hens nibbled on a few of them and then lost interest.  So over to the pigs they went, where the pigs trampelled more of the beetles than they actually snorted up.

Not one to give up easily – after all I have been farming for 18 years  — I decided to try and enhance the flavor of the Colorado Potato Beetles for the palates of my most discriminating hens.   In fact I kicked off my own cooking show for the benefit of those hens, which you can view at the bottom of this post.

If only I could speak with Julia Child’s accent, maybe I could convince those hens….

Sorry, no potato beetles in this week’s share.

Nothing’s so rare as a day in June…..