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Monday, May 23, 2011

Spring Farm Tour 2011

Rain, rain, go away – PLEASE! Ok, maybe you can come back some other day. We do need rain for crops to grow, but this is a little ridiculous. When is it going to stop raining? On the other hand, I hate to complain about getting rain because I know that come the middle of summer, I’ll be praying for it.

I kicked off my spring farm tour a couple weeks ago, and the rain was on everybody’s mind. So I looked into our average rainfall for April - it’s typically 3.01”, but this year, we received close to 10” – and it looks like we’ll finish out May in pretty much the same fashion. For local farmers (and their customers), that’s bad news, because it’s pretty hard to plant your crops when the soil is so wet. As a result, local produce will likely be a little late this year.

Getting back to my farm tour…this year, I had a couple companions with me as I made my rounds. I was joined by my boss, Brooks Broadhurst, and Eat’n Park’s CFO, Dan Wilson. Both of these guys understand what bad weather does to our business. However, it’s hard to really understand how it impacts farmers until you see it firsthand. Luckily, aside from the rain, our farmers had mostly good news to report.

Dawson’s Orchards

Our first stop was to Dawson’s Orchards in Enon Valley, PA. You might remember my trip there last fall, in the middle of harvest season, when the trees were loaded with apples. This time, they were in the midst of pruning their apple trees, which keeps the trees healthy and aids in an abundant production of fruit in the fall. They were also planting white and yellow peach trees. Although their peaches won’t be plentiful this first year, as the trees mature, you may end up seeing fresh local peaches at an Eat’n Park near you.

Dawson’s Orchards – The apple trees are pruned to aid in abundant fruit production.

Riverview Farm and Rippling Brook Farms

After lunch, we headed north to two farms along the Clarion River. One is called Riverview Farm, owned by Sam Byler, and the other is Rippling Brook Farms, owned by Aaron Schwartz. You might remember Aaron’s name from reading about him here on our blog –he’s a great example of a success story that’s come from our FarmSource program. Both of these farmers are Amish and they produce some great products. Sam produces goat cheese from the milk that he receives from his herd of goats. While we were there, we had the opportunity to sample his Goat Cheese Feta, which I have to say was quite good.

Riverview Farm – Sam Byler’s goat herd.

After we left Sam, we stopped over at Aaron’s and had an opportunity to see his ice house. Remember, these guys don’t have the luxury of electricity and plumbing, but trust me, they get by just fine. Aaron is a vegetable farmer and in the heat and sun of the summer, vegetables have field heat. What does that mean? Well, it means that unless the vegetables are cooled soon after harvest, their quality will begin to deteriorate quickly, making them less viable for market. So, Aaron needed to find a way to cool his produce before it was shipped to market. Solution: the ice house.

Rippling Brook Farm – Aaron Schwartz’s ice house.

Last year, I visited Aaron in September, and the cooler in which he stored the ice was 35 degrees. Not bad for having no electricity. So you might ask, “Where does the ice come from?” With no electricity, he’s certainly not making ice cubes in the fridge. The answer lies in the placement of the ice house – which happens to be built in front of a pond. In the winter, when the water freezes, he cuts the ice into large cubes and stacks it in the cooler, essentially building an ice house. Pretty cool, right?

Brenckles Farm and Greenhouse

Our final stop was to Eat’n Park’s 2010 Supplier of the Year, Brenckle’s Farm and Greenhouse. Among other veggies, like corn on the cob, they supplied us with over 50% of our tomatoes last year. Our visit with Brenckle’s was a little different than the other farms, since they actually had something growing – not in their fields, but in their greenhouses. A big portion of this farm’s business comes from selling plants to the general public, so not only were their vegetables in the greenhouse, but also flowers - and a ton of them at that. I guess April showers actually did bring May flowers!

This year, we’ll again be looking to Brenckle’s for the majority of our tomatoes. Additionally, they’ll be providing us with zucchini for our breaded zucchini appetizer, as well as cucumbers, green beans, and yellow squash.

Brenckle’s greenhouse

As I’m sitting here writing this post, all I hear outside is rain hitting our metal roof of our office building. After my visits, my fingers are crossed that our farms have had an opportunity to get some crops in the ground between the rain drops. I’m looking forward to some fresh local produce!

Until next time,


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