We’re fortunate. We can yield to our outdoors for calm and comfort. Morning always seems to start out groggy unlike Hudson and Walter who jump to attention with the urge to eat and be stroked. Walker and I amble up the rise to the West toward the stone house. The sun glistens off the West roof after another shower.
I scrutinize the first flowers (they suffered only minor stings from the 4th frost at dawn) of a three year old apple planting of Northern Spy, Pippin, Pixie Crunch, Pink Pearl, and other oddities that only a gambler would attempt. Walter munches grass along the way before we cross the road to the barn.
It is a wonder how green the world has become after prolonged gloom and cold.
An email from Ben to his best pals, regarding his RSVP to his 40th birthday party in February 2019…….
So the sun has long since set here at the farm. Its just me and the dogs here in the barn office. Harvest is in full swing… the Gala crop has been picked. Honeycrisp will be wrapped up by next week. I usually end the day lining up our wholesale delivery trucks for tomorrow’s routes (that… along with a beer or two and a 3-minute break for a small cat nap on the desk…..). We’ll have 3 drivers rollin’ tomorrow AM. With good weather leading into the weekend, we should see strong retail sales and plenty of folks coming out to pick their own apples. All in all, the crop is looking good. We will finally see good returns off of the trees Dad and I planted the first year I moved home. Production should be the highest since my coming back. Quality yet to be determined…
It is far too frequent during this time of year that I get swept up in the hustle of harvest. This life Brooke and I have chosen has challenged us far beyond what I could have imagined. Many-a-day I question whether my shoulders are broad enough to keep this thing going. There is a constant juggle between managing a payroll of 35+ people, forecasting farm profitability (or lack thereof), making harvest & sales decisions… all while driving the forklift around our packhouse like a mad man. I miss my wife. I miss my kids. I long for the tranquility of farm life that was the picture I painted for Brooke so many years ago. But I don’t think tranquility is my nature.
It is in these moments that leaving Austin, Texas seemed like a damned foolish idea. Maybe because its human nature to look fondly on the past. Maybe because I found confidence in engineering that just isn’t part of farming with Mother Nature. Maybe because the co-workers I met in that town have turned out to be the most meaningful life-long friends. For that last reason, this trip is gonna be epic. I absolutely can’t wait to strap some boards on my feet and earn my turns in some of that fine “Champagne Powder” of Route County, Colorado! After I help my wife settle into life with new baby #4 and life as a family of six – I’ll be on the plane headed Westbound to play hard. See you Gents then. -Ben-
A soggy week. In an invigorating side step to progress. Rainy days are cathartic; they break the routine, give pause, prepare us for renewal. A few stoic “wild” dogwoods peek from the tree line by the old Bailey quarry. While once prolific, the numbers have decreased in the last twenty years. Jacque, Adrianne, Brooke and Bill’s mom count them as favorites…for their bloom orders a sense of reassurance in the seasons of life.
Upon Brooke and Ben’s departure from Arizona and trek to Ohio they posted “Change is good” – a positive challenge to an entrenched older generation. Bill’s Dad once lamented that people don’t change (he might qualify that today). Donald Trump declared last week that the future belongs to the dreamers. Depending on your opinion of our new president, that can be interpreted as illusionary or reactionary or encouraging or confusing, regardless it implies change.
All of us and all of you know it is a constant, but how we cope with the feeling that our precious attention and exhausting behaviors is being blown downwind like this weeks apple blossoms is the hurdle. Hope, anticipation and kids are salves for this affliction. Kids are the best.
Arra (1-1/2 years), Adrianne and Tom’s daughter can indeed, eat soup with fingers and giggles. Payton (6) can scoot across a ball field (and a keyboard) as nimbly as her mom can negotiate three urchins and an overworked husband. Henry (4) asserted himself during an afternoon read with Gigi. A hallway noise made him bellow “show yourself!” That protective urge will endure? Baby Beatrice (6 mo.) softens us with her quiet smile. Despite being born deaf seldom has a child seemed more content and eager.
How do we interpret the past, check the moment and investigate the future and at the same time give credit to everyone’s ability to adapt? We just do it with the whole spectrum of emotion. One truth in the confusion of the demands of time, money, and especially relationships is a May morning. The first step outside unlocks magic. There exists a brief inner feeling of order and rightness. It may or may not endure.
Our family is in flux. Adrianne and Arra have returned to Ohio and Tom from Toronto every other weekend. Their plans to relocate to Michigan are alive, but Adrianne’s passion to grow cut flowers in Berlin Township has been fueled.
Brooke and Ben and kids have assumed so much of the farm’s demands and expectations that their time is always squeezed. Jacque negotiates the parade of family activities and friendships and Bill naps in the tractor and relishes the kid spurts.
It has been proclaimed that “In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are only consequences.” That thought can be argued for this year we have a promising crop of peaches for the first time in four seasons. We are energized to renew our friendship with you. Here’s the plan:
June 15 First Cherries
July 15-20 First Peaches (cling stone); apricots lost to frost
July 10 First apples (Lodi)
August 5 Zestar apples
August 10-20 Red Haven peaches
August 25-30 First white peaches and nectarines
August 26 Ice Cream Social
September 2-30 Plums
Sept. 10 – Nov. 25 Pears
September 1 First cider
September 5-10 First Gala and Honeycrisp PICK YOUR OWN
A seasonal recipe and narrative from our loyal and long-time (25-years) customer Brenda Glasure
“Thank you to all the people who keep spaces, converted pole barns and haywagon harvests. Thank you to the growers and risk-takers, rolling the dice with the wind, the hail, ice, water – or lack thereof. Putting in the work; believing in the work. You nourish us, body and soul. I feel a vast contentment, buying a bushel of apples that grew on trees I have met.”
East Meets West Applesauce, from the kitchen of Brenda Glasure
Peel, core and slice about 25 apples. I like to use one variety that completely breaks down with cooking and one variety that tends to keep it’s shape. Today, I used Fuji and Crimson Crisp.
Place the prepared apples in a large, heavy pot. I add about 1 cup of water or cider, if you have it. Cover and cook on low heat until the apples break down and become *saucy*. Cook down to your liking. We like our applesauce thick, so I cook for a little over an hour.
Add about ¼ teaspoon of salt, ½ cup of brown sugar (this is completely optional. I don’t generally sweeten our sauce, but it is a great addition if you like your sauce as a sweet dessert.)
Add ½ to 1 tablespoon Garam Masala to taste (recipe follows)
Garam Masala Mix:
1 tablespoon cumin
1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
1 ½ teaspoons ground cardamom
1 ½ to 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoons ground cloves
½ teaspoons ground nutmeg
Mix all together. You can purchase this mix already made from various companies. I like to make my own as I like it heavier on the black pepper and cinnamon. ENJOY!
My grandparents had a dairy farm, a mighty Ohio spread, measuring nearly 180 acres in Champaign County. I spent quite a bit of time there while growing up. Farms are not easy. There was always work to be done. Besides the crops and the milking of the cows, there was often food to be harvested, canned, frozen; meals to be cooked. The lessons were simple, primal and deep; lessons of nourishing the people and animals who lived there. From seed to plant, from bloom to fruit, from fruit to harvest, to the kitchen, to the table. Buying fresh and direct from farmers is natural and right to me.
So it begins – the day after buying apples at Quarry Hill – the order of things – putting food by. After a good scrubbing, the apples are divided. Plenty of the bright, snappy fruit will be munched fresh from the fridge. But with a nod to the icy days to come, at least one big batch of apples (usually about 40-50) are peeled, sliced and cooked down with some spices. The homemade apple sauce is unbelievably delicious on cold winter nights, alongside a bowl of hot soup. It reminds us of sunny days and renews a reverence for the vitality the earth provides.
Applesauce – I cook in batches of about 25 apples. I will spice them with either cinnamon, ginger, mace or an Indian spice mix called Garam Masala, which includes black pepper and coriander with cinnamon and ginger and various other spices. Both variations are absolutely delicious. Freeze the sauce in Ziplocs or freezer containers to be meted out for holiday dinners and cold days when you just need a little sunshine.
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.”
Impactful interactions, special stories, and tractor talk from Farmer Ben
This winter was again a set-back for those farmers growing stone fruit (cherries, apricots, plums, peaches, nectarines). The deep cold of early January froze out some of the buds. Our cherry crop came through at around 75% of a crop. We will be lucky to harvest 50% of the total yield potential from our peaches.
And then came spring… no late frosts, which is good… except we were fairly dry for about 3 weeks. Not much rain to speak of for most of May. Some of our new tree plantings suffered as a result. But… wait for it… rain… in amounts unseen in 40 years according to my Dad. The month of June was arguably the wettest on our farm since my Dad began farming…. Over 16 inches of total rainfall. Orchards by and large are resilient to those amounts of rain. We would much rather have rain than not. Our tree root system established enough to endure and our sandy soils help drain water downstream and away from our orchards which have been strategically located on higher ground. There are two negative effects to all this rain:
Our cherry crop, already compromised from the winter, was again negatively affected in that a tree takes up too much water and distributes it to the fruit such that the flesh of a cherry grows faster than the skin and the skin cracks and splits horribly. The crop will end up picking out at around 40%… finishing this weekend.
The peaches, especially early varieties, also have a tendency to split with the uptake of excess moisture. There is also a potential for a less than ideal flavor since the sugars are not as concentrated in a tree that has been drinking a lot of water. But we are blessed with peaches and that in itself is cause for celebration.
The apple tree is perhaps the most resilient critter we have on the farm. Those trees will take a drink whenever they can and just give us larger fruit. In fact, the crop is shaping up to be potentially larger than last year’s harvest. It appears that the entire country will be maximizing yields this year as well. I will get a better handle on other parts of the country when I go to Chicago in August for an annual apple production summit hosted by U.S.Apple.
As far as other crops are concerned… I know the sweetcorn harvest has been pushed at least a week and some fields are compromised because of standing water; the June rains completely wiped out some strawberry harvests. The row-crop guys… that’s corn and beans… will hopefully have enough time through the rest of the summer to get some hot, dry weather to promote strong cropping.
And this rain and cool temperatures are also feeding my lovely wife’s skepticism about any normalcy to weather in this part of the country. Being from Phoenix… she is a bit concerned that her flip-flops and tank tops are not getting enough use. Instead it’s her raincoat and sweaters. She hears my Dad and I talk about “ The coldest winter since… blah, blah, blah” and “We haven’t had this much rain in… blah, blah, blah”. The newest addition to our family, our new pup HUDSON fills our home with love, joy, and little more chaos to keep our lives full.
Milestones this summer will include the weekend of July 18th as the first official weekend we will have homegrown peaches in over two years (no small accomplishment). Freestone peach varieties, including Red Haven, will be starting around the 2nd weekend in August. The first good apples, Gala, will come off the trees by the last weekend in August.
A monthly update from farmer Brooke about apple happenings, tractor talk, and the everyday encounters of managing an apple orchard.
The 2015 Class of Young Apple Leaders (Ben Gammie in the baby blue blazer and bow tie in the middle, Brooke Gammie to his left)
Thank goodness for Ben’s late night affair with episodes from “House of Cards”, otherwise we wouldn’t have known our way around Capitol Hill last week. I started collecting dollars for every time I heard someone say “House of Cards” during our visit and I’m pretty sure I picked up a bar tab by the end of our trip. The news release below gives a great overview of what the heck these two apple farmers were doing in blazers at our Nation’s Capitol.
Huron, Ohio – Ben and Brooke Gammie, ex-corporate Professional Engineers, now current third generation apple farmers from Quarry Hill Orchards (Erie County), were selected by the U.S. Apple Association (USApple) for the 2015 Class of Young Apple Leaders to represent their state at the national level.
The young leaders joined forces with apple leaders from coast-to-coast for USApple’s Capitol Hill Day, an annual event hosted by USApple. They brought a unified message to Capitol Hill; hot topics included: agricultural labor reform, full funding for the Market Access Program (MAP) to retain international trade, support of strong child nutrition re-authorization, improvement of procurement process to maintain the integrity of the fresh fruit & vegetable program, continuation of funding for USDA pesticide data program, and a “thank you” for passing the farm bill and support of Specialty Crop Research Initiatives (SCRI). Gammies met with the offices of Senators Sherrod Brown (D) and Rob Portman (R), as well as Representatives Jim Jordan (R-4th) and March Kaptur (D-9th).
The apple industry is heavily dependent on migrant labor, H-2A, and H-2B workers to grow, harvest, pack and process apples and apple products. For a perishable crop like apples, a delay in the arrival of harvest workers can impact the quality and value of the apples. Growers also emphasized the economic impact they have on the local community and the jobs that harvest workers support. Securing a legal, stable and reliable workforce will continue to be USApple’s top legislative priority.
In its sixth year, USApple’s Young Apple Leaders Program mentors the next generation of American apple growers and leaders. The program provides orientation, understanding and encouragement on public policy issues affecting the apple business. It is designed to foster fellowship and cooperative working relationships across U.S. apple growing regions through discussions about key apple industry issues, trends, research and other activities. “These young people will be the future decision-makers in their businesses, communities, and at USApple,” said USApple Chairman Mark Nicholson.
This year, 16 young growers were selected from across the country, representing seven states. Ohio represents the smallest acreage in the community of growers across the country. For example, the total amount of apple trees growing the state of Ohio is less than or equal to the apple trees within one township in Pennsylvania. Ohio’s apple consumption is also greater than the amount of apples grown in-state. So, make sure to reach for an Ohio apple while they’re still around.
Impactful interactions, special stories, and memorable moments from Farmer Ben
Still recovering from the economic woes of loosing the 2014 peach crop, Bill and Ben have been working diligently at planning a replacement peach block. It should be noted that over one-third of our peach trees were lost to severe cold temperatures last winter. Thankfully, farmers have short memories… we will be planting more peaches this spring! Quarry Hill has occupied all the eligable well-drained ground at high elevation on their own property with other plantings. So we reached out to one of the founding families of Berlin Heights, the Lowry’s, to partner on a new peach block.
After a short deliberation, the family (Jim, Pie, Amy, Terri) decided it would be great to have peaches out their side yard. And so a contract was signed sitting around the kitchen table at the Lowry place this past Monday. Now this was quite an experience for Ben, having been a big-city land development engineer for the past decade. Dialogue did not dwell on the particulars of contract law, but rather steered towards the way things used to be. Such is business in a small town. If there were ever defined a period of prosperity for the small Village of Berlin Heights, that is what Jim Lowry enjoyed reflecting on. He recalls the town as a center for commerce and conversation.
As a boy, Jim noted Berlin Heights was comprised of 3 grocery stores, 2 barber shops, a hotel, countless bars, 2 tractor dealerships and about 3 times as much acreage in orchards as presently found. Bill was quick to fall in step with stories of his youth. It became clear to Ben that on several occasions Mr. Lowry had to reprimand Bill (known as Chip in his grade school days) for tormenting the Lowry chicken coop after school on his walk home. One might say that the glory days of Berlin Heights are in the past… but we won’t.
It was a somber drive back to the farm in the truck for Ben and Bill. Anticipating a new planting yet reflective… the last warm days of November will soon give way to winter’s chill. Please note the southwest corner of Mason Road and Route 61 on your visit to the orchard next season. There you will see the beginnings of our project.
A monthly update from farmer wife Brooke about apple happenings, tractor talk, and the everyday encounters of managing an apple orchard.
Thank you friends and customers for signing up to receive our monthly news, so a big “WELCOME” to my first edition! With harvest wrapping up, we have all been able to catch our breath, and knock a few things off the to-do list…including getting this post up! Thanks for your patience. We would not be a business without the loyal support of our friends and customers, so thank you for being part of the Quarry Hill family. The apple harvest has been bountiful and plentiful. We are grateful.
Ben’s timesheet has been dwindling from 90 hours a week to 75. It’s been absolutely wonderful for me to have him sit around our family dining table eating my food, and helping with the evening routine.
The “seasonality” of a farming business is something that I am struggling with understanding. After two seasons, I am testing my strengths and learning everyday.
I was fortunate to attend a workshop called “Running a Strong Family Business” at theCOSESmall Business Conference – wow, amazing take-aways. Did you know only 12% of family businesses make it through their 2nd generation? We are in our 3rd generation and are faced daily with generational challenges. We will rise to the occasion!
Ben and I will attend the Young Farmer’s Conference atStone Barnsthis December, while also staying with my lifelong childhood friend, Stephie and her troop of 4 kiddos under the age of 5. We are SO happy to be included and have so much to learn!
Launch an online e-commerce platform for selling and shipping our apples? Check. With friends and family across the United States (and Canada, Anne and Tom), we really wanted a way to share our harvest with everyone, local or not. Thank you Mom, Suz, Ade, Bo, Dan, Jackie, and many others for your orders already! We are still working out some kinks and logistics, but so far so good on the gift box front. We’re having so much fun with this project I can hardly stand it! Be looking for more products in this line very soon…up next? An apple pie kit!