reflections from the southeast PA rural underground

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Wild Persimmon Farm Journal

It was Dan's idea. He wanted to start a new New Farm. A magazine/website/community that would start on-line but then take physical shape in the form of a working farm that provides local food and education to the surrounding community and beyond. This is where Tim Stark and Dave Wilson came in. Tim already had the farm and was indeed starting a "new" one up above the Oley valley on a piece of land that had been in the Angstadt family for generations. Dan and Tim being friends as well as writers, things finally boiled down to organizing winter dinners which were partly to get the ball rolling on Dan's project but also to provide a weary farmer/writer with some respit from the winter blues. We could all use that. All of us who put our very souls deep into the earth of work for many months only to be stopped cold when the first flurries fall from a sunless sky.

Dave Wilson had been the main agricultural researcher at Rodale and was interested in continuing his various cover crop projects on new ground. Eventually a group formed which was roughly composed of these three persons as well as a jewelry maker and fabulous cook named Tess, the co-manager from Tim's farm (Eckerton Hill Farm) Wayne, Tianna, a sustainable extension agent from Penn State, and Kim, a person Tim and Wayne knew with seemingly endless talents for fixing, creating, and building up everything from people to engines to bees to garden beds . There too, at those first dinners was Genevieve, another writer with her pulse on the sustainable ag movement coupled with hands-on farming experience and soon to be graduate student at Columbia University. And on occasion Chris, another ex-Rodale man whose expertise were graphics and web design.

Still in the process of figuring out how and when and what to do with all the talents and ideas of all these minds, Wild Persimmon Farm Journal (so- named for the Persimmon trees that stand just yards away from the old Angstadt house) is at its beginning stages and like any organization worth its best idea, is a community of people. Slowly growing. Hoping, in this case, to serve as an example of how community can be found in the food grown and raised in one's own back yard. The cliche of you are what you eat comes to mind as well as all the many trends such as farm-to-table restaurants, farm-to-city, buy-fresh-buy-local, localvore etc. now circulating and overlapping the larger green movement(s). Are they all valid or even sustainable? Only time will tell. It does seem like its time to bring real food back to the table and create some semblance of culture that starts as it once did, down on the farm.

All content including photos and video by Wayne Miller.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

First fruits

There is just too much to write and talk and think about. My thoughts are scattered like dandelion seeds in the afternoon. It's time to just start listing things. Line them up. Broadcast the thoughts you dunce. Grow it and then eat it you fools.

We'd been growing since February and as of the second and third weeks in April had been harvesting 7 different varieties of heirloom radishes, asparagus, tyee and bordeaux spinach, mesclun, and rhubarb. Up on top of the world at the new farm in Lobachsville Dave and Tim had seeded all manners of cover crops including red, white, and yellow clover, peas and oats, and various grasses. We were also now in the business of growing interns at a rate of two for the spring and one more to come that will make a grand total of three extra humans to help us this summer and fall.

There was all the ripping and tearing and nashing to be done at the 1780's stone farmhouse. All the carpets out. New steps to last a life time. Washing away of all metal, glass, cardboard and tin excesses. There had to be moments to stare at the green. So many first things. On Saturday the 9th of May the first fruits would be taken to New York for Lucy to write about. Don't blink. We all had to eat every other Monday. How much rhubarb could one person consume?

On Mother's Day it was way past the second and third weeks of April wasn't it? Waaaaaaaaay past. Catch up. The lines had been drawn up like California vegetable rows. There was now all of the above, go back up there and see that you missed the Tyee!, and romaine, butterhead, red oak, tango, speckled, lolla rosa lettuce heads, bright lights swiss chard, red russian kale, la cinato tuscan kale, baby pac choi, ruby streaks mustard greens, and over heated fired up gone to yellow seedzzzzzzzzzzies broccoli raab. Gobs of the big leaves and the poor men. Eat it. Eat all of it!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Night shades pt. 2


Kate and I walked up to the garden plot in front of the big stone farmhouse at 9:47 am. We were 17 minutes late and James Weaver was already speaking quickly, captivating the group of 20 or so on-lookers who had come to learn about raised bed gardening. The first weekend of May had turned out chilly and gray with a refreshingly soft mist in the air. A much appreciated reprieve from the unseasonable 90 degree days earlier in that week.

James made a few more comments on the morning's topic which lead me to believe we had missed some kind of a greenhouse tour at the beginning of the session. He then introduced a rugged, wirey looking man of about 30 years as Seth. "His is the new way of gardening," James said enthusiastically. "Of course its really the oooooold way, but we're seeing it more and more again today." He was describing the now 100's of years old style of gardening known as raised bed or intensive inter-planting/companion gardening that would be the focus of his "brother's," as he called Seth, portion of the workshop.

Seth got right into explaining how he had set up the three 4ft. by 8ft. beds that bordered one side of the square garden plot. His accent was definitely southern and Kate remarked that he must be from Louisiana. She along with Casey, who were interning at the farm this year, had come along that morning to pick up some gardening know how but also to discover the great operation that was Meadow View Farm. I remembered that this space was formerly used by James's wife Alma for growing flowers to be cut and then sold. Now it would be a model for large scale vegetable gardening. It was immaculately layed out into about 12 slightly different shaped beds seperated by neatly carved rows all leading to a circular center bed. Each area planned for a different family of vegetable. The pathways perfectly sculpted and mulched.

Seth moved slowly down along his three bed presentation answering questions and giving insights through smiles and a somewhat self-deprecating manner. I noticed how clear and straightforward he spoke. How directly he looked at the person he was addressing. Like James, he loved to talk. He said all this was just plain fun for him and that he was indeed learning himself. "Can you just plant spinach then right down in the middle of the sttttrawwwwbuuuries?," asked a serious looking woman with a flower patterned dress and a refined, mild accent that sounded possibly Indian. "Oh yes, for me the texture and color of the garden is just as important as the rotation of vegetables. You can go so many ways with your layout. We know that spinach and strawberries are good to plant with each other," Seth responded. I kept thinking the way he moved his arms and adjusted his worn John Deere cap was so typical of a guy I might see at a Phish show but that the southern accent was altogether original and through off any stereotype. His energy was seemingly never ending. I wondered if he'd still have it when he reached James's age which was somewhere in the mid-50's. But then again, would any of us?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Night shades of Pennsylvania (A weekend in four parts)

Part 1 -- Lancaster

"Surf's up!" screamed the legendary aging punker Mike Watt. Standing strong, going on 50 yrs. old (or already there?!), on Lancaster's famed Chameleon stage, gray haired and flannel shirt adorned, he twisted his fingers and arms as he banged the bass guitar into submission in perfect time with his two band mates who frantically tried to keep up. They were soon pouring with sweat, the drummer pounding and the guitarist chopping frenetic, dissident, high treble chords. This is why I came tonight. This is history living in front of me.

The Missing Men played a blistering 45 min. set in front of an all too tame crowd of mostly 20 somethings who I surmised were most likely at the show to see the more famed but also aging alternative rockers of the band Dinosaur Jr. The place was packed and hot. As I drank two and then three bottles of the Champagne of Beers, the music started to hit me and the fire in my belly started to burn. My whole body craved some dancing time. Its not going to happen in this place, I thought. Oh well, this is a truly amazing scene anyways.

After a long interlude of changing amp heads Dinosaur Jr. finally took the stage. Next to me stood Art Difuria of Philly's Photon Band and a couple friends of his who I could tell had been big fans of Jay and the boys since way back. I was psyched because the second song they played was one from the late 80's. I remembered first hearing it at my friend Skip's house as we watched the G & S skate video Footage. Dinosaur was one of those many bands whose music I knew only a fraction of and even less of the song titles. The songs I knew I loved. We were all singing lyrics into the air by now and at one point I yelled to Art's friend, "C'mon man, split the middle!" He was a bigger guy with shaggy blonde hair and a friendly face underneath the short trimmed beard. His wife was standing next to us as well. "Right on," he said. The two of us plunged heads down up through the crowd of people til' we broke it up pretty well and ended up, dancing and shoving, just about in front of Jay Mascis's big round belly and silver hair. Before coming to the show I had been told by more than one person how loud they were live. Everyone was right. Thanks to James, I had ear plugs in.

Standing just outside the bathroom, waiting for Jen so we could leave the club, James came running up to me and was exclaimed, "Dude! I've been hanging out back stage with Watt the whole Dinosaur set!" How was I not surprised? If there was one fan of The Minutemen who would try as many times as it took to get back stage to meet Mike it was James. And to think he hadn't known that I had invited him specifically because The Missing Men were opening the show. He's relentless I thought. Awesome. We headed back stage passed security which was by now just one guy who really could care less if two more people got by him to meet some old rocker he never heard of. As we entered the dingy room there stood the real leader of this escapade, standing not too far from the band's cooler and smiling like he always is, with that long curly brown hair, denim jacket, and Pottsville accent that never gets old . "Jen, how are ya? Wayne, he said reaching for my hand, good to see ya." "Yeah man," I said, great to see you Billy." We found out quickly that the band was hanging out outside at their van so we shuffled out there but to no avail. They had skipped out. We said our goodbyes and headed out the front entrance and James, good old James, thought it best to run around back one more time and see if they were still there. He was like a little kid, gleefully talking rapid fire about what a night, what a night, and holding on tight to that signed t-shirt like it was a golden Wonka ticket. As we rounded the building we saw the van just pulling out of its space, Mike Watt at the wheel, the guitarist shouting goodbye at us from the passenger side. We all yelled back. There they went. Still in the van after all these years. I thought back to the last words Mike said as his set ended just hours before, holding his bass high in the air and looking up towards the kids in the balcony, "Start a band!!!!!"

All photos and video by Wayne Miller. TMRG, zopocofilms on that.