Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Farm Tour 2012: Spring Visit to Yarnick's

Here comes spring…

It’s that time of year in which I venture out to meet with our farmers to talk about the upcoming growing season. This is one of my favorite parts of my job, and I so apprieciate these conversations. And trust me, I learn something new each and every visit.

These visits are vital to the farmers as well as the success of our FarmSource program. In addition to discussing how much we need these farmers to produce, we also talk about new items they can grow for us.

It’s amazing how far these farmers have taken us. We’ve nearly doubled our local purchases in the last few years, from $13 million in local foods in 2008 to nearly $23 million in 2011. Our farmers are the ones to credit for the increase; these guys are always looking for ways to better their operations. This is a fact that was highlighted during my recent visit to Yarnick’s Farm in Indiana, PA.

Yarnick's Farm in Indiana, PA

Dan Yarnick has been examining the efficiency of his packing process, and he believes that he can save time by reconsidering the type of box he’s been using to pack his produce. The box he used last year required someone to construct the box. The new box he’s considering is a time saver because it’s already folded; someone just needs to hold it by the corners and voila! – you have a box. Sometimes the smallest of changes can make a big difference in efficiency.

When I got to the Yarnick’s I was greeted by Dan; Lynette, his wife; and Joey, his son. To my delight, just outside of their office is a small kitchen where Dan’s sister Betty was manning the stove. She was making a traditional Polish lunch; homemade pierogies, pork chops, creamed corn, and for dessert, white cake with coconut icing. As I was eating the pierogies I knew something was familiar. I got to talking to Betty and she uses the same secret ingredient in her dough, which is sour cream. The only difference is that they serve their pierogies with light whipping cream, which is actually not bad. Thanks Betty for a great lunch!

After lunch we toured the Yarnick’s greenhouses. Our first stop was the seedling greenhouse. These seedlings will be transplanted to the fields next month. This particular greenhouse had sweet onions and cabbage. The Yarnicks also grow some of their tomatoes in the greenhouse so they can be first to market, but the majority of them are grown outside.

Dan shows me the seedling greenhouse
Joey at work

As we walked through the last greenhouse, I chatted with Joey about the proper spacing of the plants. Some of the greenhouses have very short sides, and Joey explained that you’ll never see tomatoes along the sides; due to their height, they need go down the center. Instead, radishes and beans are planted along the sides since they have a shorter growth habit. And that’s how you make use of all available space in a greenhouse! Like I said, every visit I end up learning something.

Those tomatoes are looking good!

Before I left, Dan handed me box filled with his greenhouse tomatoes and polka CD. Yes - local tomatoes on the 29th of February - and they were delicious. Obviously we would love to have these locally raised tomatoes at Eat’n Park throughout the year, but it’s just not quite feasible to make it happen. At least not yet! We will, however, have them available this summer as soon as the outdoor crop ripens up.

Like I said, he gave me a polka CD as well, I really don’t listen to polka, but since he was one of the accordion players I felt I should at least give it a listen and believe it or not, it’s actually pretty good. Dan never ceases to surprise me.

Greenhouse tomatoes from Dan

Spring is a favorite time for me; not only do I enjoy my farmer visits, but I also look forward to the planting of my own garden. How about you? Have you broken out the gardening gloves already?

Have a happy spring, and be sure to stop back to check out my next farm visit to Brenckle’s in Pittsburgh.


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