Author Archives: William Bostwick

On Parsnip Yogurt and Sous Vide Pig

WILLIAM’S BULLETIN

Our apprentice farmer William attended the Young Farmers Conference at Stone Barns last week. This is the first of his reports of what he learned there. Stay tuned for more!

All conferences start with Power-Point platitudes, a badge, and a folder of printouts. The Stone Barns Young Farmers Conference was no different: “We’re not growing food, we’re perfecting people.” Perfection? To me, we were already there: Blundstone-clad and dirty-nailed, shorthaired girls and nose-ringed boys, plaidded and scarved, iPhones in Carhartt pockets. We talked about low-delta-T herbicide application and monetizing our CSA Instagram feeds. Two-ply versus one-ply greenhouses and kiwiberries. Invasive species and whether to treat beehives with linseed oil or low VOC paint (admittedly, this was my question).

We talked about small ideas and big ideas, the minutiae of farming and the grandeur of food, and that’s what made the YFC so dizzying, so exciting, and so exhausting, like juggling a bowling ball and a handful of organic, local chestnuts. Are young farmers going to change the world? Probably, but first they have a few emails to write, a grant to edit, that podcast interview to do, and the arugula has to get covered before the frost tonight.

When you look at a farm, what do you see? Self sufficiency. A happy homestead, its own planet spinning from day to night to day, soil to plant to soil. Ranchers say they’re grass farmers; the cow just a caloric layover between the energy in a grass blade and the energy, one life cycle later, in another. A farm like Stone Barns is a unique kind of microcosm. On the menu that night was a farm-raised pork chop sous vide cooked in a water bath heated by compost.

And so, we Young Farmers grow food, but not just any food. Bloomsdale spinach and Western Front kale. Tunisian sheep and Honeynut squash. “Do you grow GoldRush?” a girl asked when I mentioned the orchard. That’s a warm-honey-sweet, late-season beauty even I had never heard of until I started working here. Our Day One Breakfast was yogurt, but not just any yogurt. “I didn’t know what to expect with parsnip flavor, but it’s pretty good,” my friend said, digging into her cup. “The other choice was tomato.”

The night I arrived, before the conference started, dinner was a choice between the hotel’s greasy ceasar salad and the grocery store next door, so I crossed the parking lot fields. Inside, I bumped baskets with a kindred spirit, both ours overflowing with greenery and wholeness, we nodded, invasives in a monoculture.

And that’s the Young Farmer. When you look from a farm, it’s a different story. You see the unperfected world beyond. Factory farms see acres and acres of more of the same, almond trees within and without, an orchard the size of Rhode Island. Our small farms see the east side of Pittsburgh, maybe, or Brooklyn rooftops, or other farms, or parking lots, or houses, or, if you’re lucky to be on Quarry Hill, the tangled woods of the Erie County MetroParks.

You see, in other words, the world. Conferences can feel insular, their own self-sufficient organisms. The worst are feedback loops; the best are supportive. The life-changing are something more: they reach beyond, from their dirt to the sky, from small actions to big changes. As Steinbeck wrote in his personal motto: Ad astra per alas porci. “To the stars on the wings of a (heritage, local, compost-sous-vide-cooked) pig.”

Two Hundred Days of Sun

WILLIAM’S BULLETIN

William is our newest farmhand, apprenticing in all things apples. He’ll be adding his thoughts, observations, and reports to this blog as he learns more. Stay tuned!

“OK, so the first question is, can you drive a manual transmission?” I didn’t say yes, but I knew not to say no. We were busy. The grading line was chugging away, dripping and steaming and rattling like any good piece of a-little-too-old-but-it-still-works machinery should. Down a few key hands, those on board were scrambling. Not much talking in the barn that day. Our on-line gift box store was on the verge of opening its e-doors, QuickBooks was growling, hungry for a teetering stack of invoices, and the Pink Lady bin out front was empty.

One thing about a farm is, you can predict everything and you can predict nothing. Pink Ladies, like most apples, are not like most apples. That is, what makes a Pink Lady a Pink Lady, and nothing else, is a specifically engineered set of characteristics, from the sugar-to-tannin balance (prickly, sharply sweet) to the color (a faint green field flushed ruddy red like windburned cheeks). The name is trademarked. When you get a Pink Lady, you know what you’re getting.

When you plant a Pink Lady, you follow the rules: trellis the trees so the branches catch more sun, and wait for the extra-long growing period. First to bloom and last to ripen, Pink Ladies take 200 days of good light. Northern Ohio gets as many clear-sky days as Austin — Pinks grow well here.

And so, under a deep clear blue November sky, I jumped into the pickup truck to get some. “Be sure to sample, so you know you’re picking the good ones,” Ben said, as I revved away in first gear.

Driving through corn country as a kid, I’d watch the rows rattle past the window: staring straight ahead, a blur; tracking them as they moved past, combed fields like record grooves in the earth. A dream, to walk through that biological Midtown of green walls. And now here I was, driving through the rows of trees, afraid to shift gears (no, I didn’t know how to drive manual — but I do now), mirrors slapping branches, bugs chirping their last before the winter hits, trees framing the sky, drowning in apples. The truck stalled, the world quieted, and I picked: twist and lift and place, gently, in my bag, then — gently — in a crate, then — gently — in the truck bed.

“We’ll get ‘em logged, graded, and boxed,” Ben said when I thudded to a stop back at the barn. Two hundred days of slowly soaking in the sun, blushing red, red, redder and then, one unpredictable afternoon, a thumping truck ride, a roll down an ancient conveyor, a grade, a name, and out the door. Time moves slow on an orchard, except when it doesn’t. The life of an apple changes fast. I’m just along for the bumpy ride.

Low Temps, High Harvest

WILLIAM’S BULLETIN

William is our newest farmhand, apprenticing in all things apples. He’ll be adding his thoughts, observations, and reports to this blog as he learns more. Stay tuned!

My first job was inspecting Winesaps. A guy called in to ask about them, about Winesaps specifically. Said he was driving in from Cleveland; said he wanted a peck; said his name was Bob Morris. “Name’s Bob Morris.” Only diehards give their full names. Only diehards ask about Winesaps, about if there were any russeting on them, and drive an hour each way to get them. These were my people.

By the time Bob Morris arrived, my toes had long gone numb, I was on my second coffee, third sweatshirt, fifth cider. It was cold. Downed apples burst into frosty fireworks when I kicked them. Satisfying, if worrisome not to feel it. The women wore pink or purple Carhartt overalls, matching hats; guys in camo, plaid, or both. Note to self: buy some insulated bibs. Underdressed and un-color-coordinated, I hunkered over cup after paper cup of cider at the pick-your-own signup table, passing out bags to the brave, bunched-together families who shivered up and out toward the nearest rows, back in ten or fifteen, bags full of Fujis, teetering to their cars. Most pawed through the bins out front, apples cool from the storage barn getting colder in the open air. “We’re getting a mix,” one told me. “I didn’t love the Suncrisp. I’ll give that one to mom.” I don’t blame her. Mutsus are better. “That’s the biggest apple I’ve ever seen!” said a kid, red-cheeked as a Jonathan back from a tractor ride with farmer Ben. It was a Melrose, Ohio’s state apple, and it’s true — you could carve that sucker like a pumpkin. A wet summer made bigger fruit. One would make a meal. Two would fill a pie. They’re good: Aromatic, nice cookers, great with roast chicken.

Apples in reds and golds and greens and yellows and striped and speckled all over. Bin after bin. This was peak harvest — only a few left on the trees, late-bloomers like Pink Ladys, the rubies of November. The rest were here, piled in the Market Barn. Our quirky Goldens blushed with red; Crimson Crisps, dark and shiny like wet fall leaves, Ben’s favorite, kind of spicy; Mutsus zesty, bright lime-fresh. “But they’re ornery. Ornery,” Ben says. They fall early, bruise.

Bob Morris got his peck. Parents filled and refilled cider mugs from the hot pot by the fritters as kiddos played with Walter and Hudson, the barn golden retrievers. The sun swung lower; air still cold. The crowds thinned, the sky decomposed into clumped knots of clouds, and I took a break to wander the empty rows, boot prints rough in frozen mud. Fujis, picked clean (crowdpleasers), Mutsus on the ground (ornery), Pink Ladys just coming ripe, bending the trees. Peach trees with their long cateye leaves green and stiff. Then way back toward the end of B Field, rows of trial trees. The Midwest Apple Improvement Guild sends us code-named samples of what they’re working on, trial trees we can grow and taste and test. I picked one at random and bit in as I walked back alone and quiet. Hard, thick red skin like an Arkansas black, pink streaked flesh, a creamy, middle range sweetness like a marshmallow, blooming into cinnamon. Give it a few decades and I’ll be calling the farm myself to ask for it. Name’s William Bostwick, I’d say. I want a peck.