It's a beautiful fall day, and I am heading north to Mercersburg, PA and Bending Bridge Farm. I've been buying gorgeous produce from Farmer Audrey Fisher all summer. This visit is what I hope will be the first in a series about the farmers supplying all the lovely, local, sustainable, seasonal foods in my kitchen and on my table.
It was a sensational drive. I passed Federal style brick homes with the most modern farm buildings (silos, barns, etc etc) and fields of corn stalks drying, soybeans, wheat. Fields filled with lazy cows enjoying the sunshine. Many modest farms, tidy and picturesque, with horses, hay fields, and in one instance, a remarkable planting of sunflowers.
Arriving at the house Audrey shares with fiancé Cameron Pederson, the air smells fresh and the trees have just that hint of red and gold. Clearly, a little slice of paradise. Audrey welcomed me in to a lunch (nice!) of farm fresh savoy cabbage and kale tossed with bacon and a drizzle of brightening vinegar (sherry?), hearty Firehook Bakery bread, sharp cheddar, apples and mulled cider. We sat in her sunny kitchen and talked about farming in 2009.
Bending Bridge is in its first year. Audrey and Cameron met while apprenticing at a large organic farm nearby, and after two years, decided to begin by cultivating one acre. They are working on getting organic certification, a rigorous undertaking of recordkeeping. As though farming isn’t rigorous enough, hm?
Audrey and Cameron work with their local farmer’s cooperative – Tuscarora Organic Growers (TOG) – to supplement the produce they bring to market, and to sell the crops they are raising. It all sounds wonderfully idyllic and I have movie-worthy pictures in my head as she describes this relationship. I realize I am romanticizing it all.
As a gardener, I loved the walk down to the planting field, passing the additional three acres that have recently been mechanically tilled, rocks removed, cover crop of winter rye and vetch planted to enrich the soil, readied for next year. All those rocks in a pile were way too reminiscent of my own garden’s soil, and I felt immediate empathy for both of the farmers!
The one acre patch is producing, still. Beautiful curly heads of savoy cabbage. Peppers still ripening. The last of the tomatoes, the ones that survived the late blight, are a particularly wonderful tiny variety called Matt’s Wild Mexican Cherry. It is everything you want in a tomato, in one tiny bite.
Audrey is passionate about what she does, and very thoughtful. Is this The New Farmer? I certainly hope so. To hear her speak about seed sourcing, soil testing, crop rotation – they so readily take on all the challenges. This is not an easy profession. I also heard an impressive idealism, an interest in being truly connected to their work. We both smiled when Ghandi's “ Be the change you wish to see in the world” was spoken, but we both knew full well that Audrey meant it. Hey, I’m a child of the 60’s – this is right up my alley.
Of course, the current near-political interest is in food that is Local-Sustainable-Seasonal. Dennis and I are trying our best to live that way for so many reasons (maybe another post,) but there’s another aspect we may all be missing. Audrey was veering toward poetic when she addressed sustainability, as her perspective also includes sustaining the farmer.
Currently, Cameron works off the farm to make ends meet, and Audrey is managing the crops and the market (although Cameron's there on Sundays.) How they make the transition to self-sustaining will be a juggling act. If they plant four acres next year, they'll need help during planting and harvest, and maybe more, if attending more farmers markets. It's a balancing act in a tough economy with a narrow margin. And they will need retirement plans and health insurance! Our small farmers are struggling. They need us. And we need them.
Sustaining the Farmer. This idea knocked around my brain for the next several hours. Certainly organic certification is the small farmer’s best chance these days, but we can’t undervalue the benefit of an educated, passionate consumer.
from the USDA -- “Between 2002 and 2007, nearly 75 percent of U.S. agriculture was produced by just 5 percent of farms, forcing less profitable small and mid-sized farmers to supplement their agricultural income with other work. In 2007, 65 percent of farmers held off-farm jobs.”
Support your local, small farmer.
Join a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture. This is the best way to support your farmer, as you can provide funding to help them buy seeds, equipment and more during the winter, to prepare for the following year. In Audrey & Cameron’s case, their CSA will fund a new greenhouse. I know I’ll be signing up and encouraging everyone I know to participate. The winter offerings will include beets, cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, turnips, kale, greens, lettuce and citrus. Contact Audrey at BendingBridgeFarm@gmail.com for more information.
Buy from your farmers market.
Buy at farm stands
It was a wonderful day at the farm. Thank you, Audrey.
Bending Bridge Farm's exceptional produce can be found at the Bethesda Central Farm Market. The displays are artful and there's a wide range of foods. I have been thrilled, just in the last couple of weeks, to find maroon and orange carrots, dinosaur kale, pea shoots, celery root, fantastic shallots, arugula, chard, fancy little potatoes, winter squashes, and all sorts of greens. The beets are as sweet as candy. The onions are perfect. In fact, all the produce is so pretty, I'm usually seduced well past my shopping list. The market is held Thursday afternoons and Sunday mornings through October, then will continue through the winter on Sunday mornings, only.
Bending Bridge Farm Chili
(adapted from my beloved Gourmet magazine, which closed yesterday)
2 medium dried ancho chiles, wiped clean
1 dried chipotle chile, wiped clean
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1-1/2 tsp salt
4-6 tomatoes, charred in a 425 oven for 10 min. and rough chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 small butternut squash, neck only, diced – about 2 cups
1 bunch lacinato kale, stems and ribs discarded, leaves chopped in 1/2" ribbons
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, finely grated
1-1/4 cups vegetable broth
3 cups pinto beans, drained (I used Rancho Gordo pinto beans I had cooked ahead.)
Open up the chilis, removing the seeds and stem and then toast them in a dry skillet VERY QUICKLY so they do not scorch.
Break up the chilis and toss them in a blender with the other spices and the tomatoes. Whir until pureed.
Saute onions in a large heavy pot until softened. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute, then add the chili-tomato mixture.
Add squash and kale and toss quickly to coat. Cook for 5-7 minutes until everything is bubbling.
Add the broth, chocolate and the drained pinto beans.
Simmer 20 minutes.
Serve with cornbread, sour cream, grated cheese, chopped scallion & cilantro.