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.

 

Farm Report – From the Lens of an Orchard Guy

tractorBEN’S BULLETIN

July 2015

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 chBrooke Cherrieserry 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. First Peaches 2015 

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.  2015-07-03 17.28.54

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.

 

House of Cards

apple_7237 (2) (800x692)Brooke’s Bulletin

A monthly update from farmer Brooke about apple happenings, tractor talk, and the everyday encounters of managing an apple orchard.  

USApple2015 (640x424)

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.

USApple

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.  

Reach for a Peach?

tractorBEN’S BULLETIN

November 2014

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. 

west main lse crossing postcard

berlin heights west street 1900As 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. 

Welcome

apple_7237 (2) (800x692)BRooke’s bulletin

November 2014

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 the COSE Small 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 at Stone Barns this 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!Edible Ad

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!