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The object pictured above doesn’t look much like barbed wire, but if you stretch it a bit, there is a connection.
What you see is an Osage orange I picked up this fall on the road near Jade Family Farm. You can find Osage Orange trees from the Great Plains to here and beyond.
Continue Reading: Osage oranges to provide natural fence for Jade Family Farm
Posted by James Eisenstein on 01/14, 2014 at 09:09 AM
Winter offers unpaid field hands like me respite from the daily toil that spring, summer, and fall days require. It is a good time to reflect on the past year. And when I begin these reveries, the first word that comes to mind is . . . pears.
Continue Reading: Winter is a time of some rest, reminiscing for local farmers
Posted by James Eisenstein on 01/06, 2014 at 09:58 AM
Editor’s Note: While some of us enjoy snow around the holidays, the recent harsh weather might make some long for warmer times. Local Food Journey writer James Eisenstein takes us back to last spring and summer and shares the beauty he sees around Jade Family Farm.
In my previous life when in worked three jobs rolled into one at Penn State, I was especially attuned to the natural beauty surrounding us. To be sure, I admired the blossoms on my fruit trees at home, appreciated the beautiful flowers on my tomato plants, and admired Mt. Nittany from afar. But for the most part, I was preoccupied with thinking about everything I had to do, and spent more time than I should have staring at computer screens. A colleague with whom I did research brought this lifestyle to my attention when he suggested that an appropriate tombstone engraving would read: “Wishes he had spent more time in the office.”
That all changed when I switched careers to that of an unpaid field hand. I spend close to half of my time outdoors at the farm. I make it a point to stop fairly frequently to appreciate the stunning beauty all around me there.
Continue Reading: The natural beauty of a local farm
Posted by James Eisenstein on 12/16, 2013 at 10:07 AM
Working on a farm ties you intimately to the earth’s rhythms like nothing else. Professors begin the new academic year in the fall, then start all over again in January. But what organic vegetable growers do changes dramatically with the seasons.
Usually, farmers are too busy to reflect on much beyond which 20 of the 30 essential tasks that need to be done right away they can do. But I have the luxury of being (supposedly) retired, working only half time, and this allows me to contemplate the passing of the seasons. So as we enter the fall, this is an appropriate time to review this summer, mostly in pictures.
Continue Reading: End of summer reflections…
Posted by James Eisenstein on 09/16, 2013 at 08:32 AM
Fall in Central Pennsylvania brings the bounty, beauty, and variety of the fall harvest. To celebrate the harvest, the Boalsburg Farmers Market in cooperation with the Mount Nittany Winery is sponsoring its “Plow to Plate Harvest Dinner” featuring the vegetables and fruits that ripen as the last of summer’s crops are replaced by those that thrive in the fall. Some of the best chefs in Happy Valley will prepare soups and side dishes from both summer crops, including eggplant, peppers, okra, garlic, onions, melons, and from fall favorites including acorn and butternut squash, pumpkins, kale, spinach, other fall greens, kohlrabi, and apples. They will also offer main dishes using pasture-raised, sustainably produced local meat, and deserts.
The dinner will be held at the beautiful Mt. Nittany Winery on Wednesday, September 11, and will gather a number of our area’s best chefs, including Jamie Steffen (Nittany Lion Inn), Charles Niedemyer (Nola’s Joint), Ben Stanley (El Gringo Tacos), Bob Ricketts (Fasta & Co), Nathan Brungarten (Mount Nittany Inn), Paul Kendeffy (Gamble Mill Restaurant and Brewery), Harrison Schailey (Harrisons), and Andy Rose (Elk Creek Café) to create a variety of dishes from ingredients from the fall harvest of Boalsburg Farmers Market vendors.
Posted by James Eisenstein on 09/09, 2013 at 08:19 AM
How might the proposed Friends and Farmers Food Co-Op Store contribute to making my local food fantasy a reality? (My fantasy envisions a future in which much of the food we eat comes from local farms and producers. The first four installments include Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four. As a member of the interim board of Friends and Farmers, I’ve been thinking about this question off and on for almost a year.
Continue Reading: Local Food Fantasy Revisited: Part V
Posted by James Eisenstein on 08/21, 2013 at 12:57 PM
I’ve been revisiting my 2011 “Local Food Fantasy” piece describing how much of what we eat could be produced locally. The last installment described how the growing demand for local food can be accelerated. Here I want to explore the question of how supplies might rise to meet increasing demand.
Continue Reading: My Local Food Fantasy Revisited Part IV
Posted by James Eisenstein on 08/19, 2013 at 07:00 AM
This is a very good question, one I was asking myself during three or so hours back in mid-July hand-weeding this year’s patch. It was hot! Last year we had no parsnips to sell or use, so I volunteered to take responsibility (with help from John). Most organic farmers don’t grow them. I have no idea how commercial, non-organic large scale growers grow them for a profit, but they evidently do. While we like to farm, it is necessary from time to time to get more money for a crop than you spend in time, effort, and inputs. If I weren’t unpaid, parsnips wouldn’t make the cut. They still might not.
Continue Reading: Why Do We Grow Parsnips?
Posted by James Eisenstein on 08/07, 2013 at 09:12 AM
On Tuesday, July 16, two local chefs will demonstrate how to prepare dishes using fresh ingredients obtained at the Boalsburg Farmers Market. Grace Pilato, an accomplished Italian chef, cookbook author, and teacher of popular cooking classes, will be joined by Nate Brungarten, executive sous chef de cuisine at Zola’s New World Bistro, for the event. Pilato, a local cultural food expert, will present “Farm to Fork,” showing how to incorporate unusual vegetables into everyday menu preparation and Brungarten will utilize fresh garden ingredients to make summer entertaining burst with fresh, local flavor.
Posted by James Eisenstein on 07/15, 2013 at 07:30 AM
This year I’ve revisited my 2011 local food fantasy by describing recent developments that are moving us to a vibrant local food system and sketching the outlines of what it could be like given the variety (but limited quantities) of locally produced food already available. To become a reality, the demand for local food here must grow, but some formidable obstacles loom. Part III identifies the major obstacles and sketches ways to overcome.
Posted by James Eisenstein on 07/08, 2013 at 08:48 AM
Three local chefs will demonstrate how to prepare dishes using fresh ingredients obtained at the Boalsburg Farmers Market Tuesday, June 25 at 2:00 p.m. Mark Johnson, head chef at the Elk Creek Cafe, will showcase dinner ideas for entertaining friends and family, while Sc’Eric Horner and Chris Young (master cocktailians from the Fuji & Jade Garden restaurant) will demonstrate making “Cocktails from the Garden” using garden-fresh and local ingredients to create exciting summer drinks.
Continue Reading: Learning Kitchen #1 at the Boalsburg Farmers Market June 25
Posted by James Eisenstein on 06/24, 2013 at 11:00 AM
Editor’s note: You can read Part One of this post here.
What would a local food system look like? Unless really hard times come when we are unable to import anything, we are likely to continue to draw upon distant sources for such things as olive oil, citrus fruit, avocados, pistachios, and high fructose corn syrup (just testing to see if you are paying attention on that last one).
Continue Reading: My Local Food Fantasy Revisited: Part Two
Posted by James Eisenstein on 04/19, 2013 at 01:20 PM
Several years ago, I shared what I called my “local food fantasy,” one of the results (besides soreness and sweat) of performing repetitive tasks on the farm that require little thought (think weeding and digging carrots). Could we move to a “local food system” here? We live in a rich agricultural setting, have an educated population and some large institutional purchasers of food (Penn State, the hospital, schools, retirement communities), a supportive media, and a small but growing supply of locally grown food. “Why not?” I concluded But this was, as my title indicated, just a daydream.
Continue Reading: My Local Food Fantasy Revisited: Part One
Posted by James Eisenstein on 04/17, 2013 at 03:51 PM
I’ll wager that when most folks buy green beans, radishes, tomatoes, or nearly any other vegetable, they don’t think much about how they were harvested. Gardeners, of course, know better, but even they can forget that almost every vegetable is harvested by hand, usually one at a time.
Continue Reading: Harvesting Tomatoes
Posted by James Eisenstein on 09/04, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Many Americans have lost touch with the land and food production, and know little about what the folks who grow vegetables actually do. A student of mine on a class visit to a farm was amazed when she pulled a carrot out of the ground. So this is where they come from!
People around here often either grew up on a farm or have gardens, and know how carrots grow. Still, I suspect few know the details of growing less common vegetables. Today’s discussion reveals the shocking truth about life in the eggplant patch at harvest.
Continue Reading: Harvesting Eggplant
Posted by James Eisenstein on 08/08, 2012 at 12:42 PM
Customers at our many fine local restaurants place their orders and waiters magically produce delicious food, but most know little about what happens in the kitchen or who is preparing the dishes. Likewise, the chefs working in the kitchen rarely have a chance to meet their guests beyond an occasionally brief hello.
August 4th through 7th is Local Foods Week in Centre County, an appropriate time for restaurant goers and chefs to get acquainted. On Tuesday, August 7th, the Boalsburg Farmers Market is sponsoring an event that provides an excellent opportunity to do so.
Continue Reading: Local Chefs to Compete for Boalsburg Farmers Market Golden Basket Award
Posted by James Eisenstein on 07/31, 2012 at 01:44 PM
When I moved to State College in 1972 and noticed five large plants growing in my backyard in suburban Lemont, I had to ask what they were. Rhubarb, I was told. I had never heard of it. So I took out all but one of them to make room (ironically) for a strawberry patch. Who knew?
I know better now, of course. And judging from the (modest) increase in sales of our Jade Family Farm rhubarb, folks in Happy Valley are catching on, too. Now you can find it from several vendors at most local farmers markets – and sometimes in supermarkets.
Continue Reading: The Amazing (mostly unknown) Rhubarb
Posted by James Eisenstein on 05/25, 2012 at 02:53 PM
You may think that spending some 20 hours hand weeding asparagus would be an onerous task, but only because you haven’t had to slog through grading a big stack of blue books or papers. I’d much prefer the weeding, though my knees and back provide a dissenting view.
Continue Reading: The Zen of Weeding
Posted by James Eisenstein on 05/14, 2012 at 01:14 PM
Two fundamental truths proved most useful to students in my environmental politics class—both from the field of ecology. The first is, “You can’t do just one thing.” The second explains why the first is true: “Everything is connected to everything else.”
Previous parts of this “Why Organic” series illustrate the usefulness of these two principles. A conventional farmer can’t just kill harmful insects or noxious weeds or boost crop growth with chemical fertilizers without doing other not so wonderful things. Not so wonderful things include killing pollinators and other beneficial insects, depleting the soil, reducing the nutritional content of food, and jeopardizing human health with pesticide and herbicide residues in food.
Continue Reading: Why Organic? Part 5: GMOs
Posted by James Eisenstein on 04/16, 2012 at 08:32 AM
Parts 1 through 3 of the “Why Organic?” series explained that organically grown food is more nutritious—reason enough to eat (and produce) it—and contains far fewer pesticide residues, whose effects are not fully known. But if that isn’t enough to convince you to eat organic, perhaps contemplating the ecological damage caused by conventional agriculture will change your mind.
Continue Reading: Why Organic? Part 4: The Biosphere
Posted by James Eisenstein on 04/09, 2012 at 07:11 PM
Most people know that pruning does not consist of attaching prunes to fruit trees and bushes, despite what Amelia Bedelia understood it to mean. But beyond that, I’ll wager that most folks who read Unpaid Field Hand only know that it involves some sort of cutting and thinning of fruit trees and canes.
Of course, you can learn all about it by going on the web and googling “fruit pruning.” But even after reading the 7,280,000 results available, you might be forgiven for still not knowing just how to do it. And for good reason. That’s because even the most knowledgeable experts sometimes give contradictory advice. Even Michael Phillips, whose book The Apple Grower is considered an authority to many apple cultivators, confesses that he hopes to know how to do it by the time he is eighty.
Continue Reading: Farm Diary: Pruning in March
Posted by James Eisenstein on 03/30, 2012 at 09:13 AM
It’s confession time. I made a small mistake, so uncharacteristic of me, as I’m sure you will agree. You see, in Part 3 of my series “Why Organic?” I wanted to talk about how pesticides are bad for our health and the environment, and then do the same for GMOs.
I intended to make a few, short, simple points about the health effects of pesticides—like they aren’t good for us (especially children) and they aren’t adequately tested and regulated.
My mistake? I decided to do a little Google research for the health effects paragraph, anticipating my inquiring readers’ insistent demands for “evidence.” The more I found out, the clearer it became that just one paragraph wouldn’t do.
Continue Reading: Why Organic? Part 3: Pesticides
Posted by James Eisenstein on 03/22, 2012 at 11:10 AM
Seeding is a critical component of farming. No seed flats planted in February means no crops later. It is a laborious and painstaking, but oddly, satisfying task that I tackled two weeks ago. Here is how it works.
Continue Reading: Farm Diary: Seeding Fun in Late February
Posted by James Eisenstein on 03/07, 2012 at 09:00 AM
Every occupation has its rhythm. The rhythms of farming are special because they coincide with earth’s yearly swing around the sun. January and February provide an opportunity to contemplate the prospects of the upcoming growing season. So my unpaid field hand’s diary for 2012 begins with news from winter.
Continue Reading: Farm Diary: Late Winter on the Farm
Posted by James Eisenstein on 02/29, 2012 at 10:40 AM
If, as I argued in Part 1, organically produced food is more nutritious, it makes sense to eat it. It may cost a little more, but you are getting more for your money.
Over the past 15 years, we’ve learned more about complex healthy soils. They are teaming with little critters, beetle grubs, earthworms, bacteria by the billions, and fungi. Together, they facilitate plants’ ability to obtain micro-nutrients and minerals essential to good health. Compost, manures, and other organic substances in the soil provide these organisms with what they need to do their thing.
Continue Reading: Why Organic? Part 2: Nutrition
Posted by James Eisenstein on 02/21, 2012 at 10:39 AM
My brother, a witty fellow indeed, never misses an opportunity to respond to my every utterance of the term “organic food” by saying that he much prefers it to inorganic food like rocks and plastic. His response follows a long tradition of cleverly tormenting his little brother, but it also revives my suspicion that many people don’t actually know what “organic food” is or why anyone would want to produce it or consume it. If this sounds like you (or even if it doesn’t), read on.
Continue Reading: Why Organic? Part 1: Introduction
Posted by James Eisenstein on 01/25, 2012 at 12:09 PM
For most people, the weather gives us something to talk about besides religion and politics. Bad weather can produce gloom, glorious days joy, rainy spells inconvenience. But really, we live indoors and travel mostly in enclosed spaces, so life pretty much goes on regardless of the weather. Not so for folks who work outdoors. Bad weather means no work for roofers and tree trimmers. Rain means less pleasant work for garbage men and traffic police.
But for farmers, the state of the weather has profound consequences that most people are not even aware of. So read on and improve your comprehension of just what a huge impact the weather has on folks who grow your food.
Continue Reading: Weather Woes
Posted by James Eisenstein on 12/07, 2011 at 03:37 PM
It is now late fall on the farm, and the last vegetables have been harvested. Time to sit by the fire, do our nails, and dream of spring, right? Yes? Shows how much you know about life on an organic vegetable farm.
Now is the time to plant next year’s garlic. Notice the nifty planting grid our intrepid intern Hannah is using to make sure the cloves are properly spaced. If you squint and look at the front of the wooden form, you’ll discover both some intact garlic bulbs and some individual cloves ready to stick into the soil.
Continue Reading: Fall Garlic Fun on the Farm
Posted by James Eisenstein on 11/14, 2011 at 09:00 AM
Your chances of identifying this mystery crop increase in direct proportion to how far south you grew up. These plants like really hot weather. In fact, they are not supposed to grow very well in central Pennsylvania. But that doesn’t stop my son, John.
Continue Reading: Unpaid Field Hand: Name this Crop
Posted by James Eisenstein on 09/21, 2011 at 01:12 PM
We have lots of customers who buy lettuce, onions, carrots, and beets. Then there are many who merely stroll by and say, “Everything looks beautiful.” True Fact: People who say, ”Everything looks beautiful” really mean, “I’m not going to buy a single thing.”
What is this wonderful, under-appreciated vegetable?
Continue Reading: Unpaid Field Hand: Name this Crop
Posted by James Eisenstein on 09/14, 2011 at 10:38 AM
I suspect that my faithful followers have been distracted from their routine activities wondering how the various “name this crop” vegetables are doing. Fear not! I have a few updates for you.
Continue Reading: Unpaid Field Hand: Mystery Crop Update
Posted by James Eisenstein on 09/06, 2011 at 12:55 PM
Farm work can enrich your fantasy life. While weeding our new currant and gooseberry patch the other day, I let my mind wonder …
How close could we get to a truly local food system here in central Pennsylvania? Could we become one of the leading centers of the local food movement in the United States?
Continue Reading: A Local Food Fantasy
Posted by James Eisenstein on 08/22, 2011 at 11:36 AM
For those of you who are having trouble falling asleep beset by curiosity over how farmers plan their workdays, this post is for you. Actually, it is a laughably simple two-step process. Step 1: List everything that absolutely must be done. Step 2: Rank the tasks in order of importance and do the work. Ready?
Continue Reading: How to Plan a Day’s Work on a Vegetable Farm
Posted by James Eisenstein on 08/04, 2011 at 01:49 PM
Driving around central Pennsylvania, I typically see entire fields dedicated to neat rows of corn and soybean plants – all instantly recognizable. And photos from mega-agribusinesses show similarly uniform fields. Any media consultant smarter than a brick would advise a farmer client to only depict similarly pristine views of growing crops.
But what do you notice about the photo of this farm field?
Continue Reading: Unpaid Field Hand: Name this Crop
Posted by James Eisenstein on 07/25, 2011 at 01:22 PM
Big hairy spiders, slithering snakes, white-faced hornets and yellow jackets—these are common fears among many people. They know they have them, and they are typically not shy about sharing them with others. I have recently realized, however, that there is one fear many people have that they do not admit to having. Indeed, they might not even know they have it.
I’m talking about food fear, specifically the fear of tasting or cooking something new.
Continue Reading: Unpaid Field Hand: Food Fear Part 1
Posted by James Eisenstein on 07/12, 2011 at 09:11 AM
If you are still reeling from failing to identify the asparagus plants in my first blog post, redemption can be yours. The very immature crop pictured above will produce (with some luck) one of the most sought after food items. What surprises me is that despite their popularity (even though they are pricey), they are not difficult to grow. Anyone reading this who has access to a mostly sunny patch can do it. In addition to being delicious, they contain significant amounts of polyphone antioxidants said to fight cancer and other diseases. One source indicates that one cup provides 69% of the daily requirement for vitamin C.
Continue Reading: Unpaid Field Hand: Name this Crop
Posted by James Eisenstein on 07/01, 2011 at 09:00 AM
Last Tuesday night, Emily Wiley posted a picture of her dinner to the Boalsburg Farmers Market Facebook page. The caption said: “Dinner tonight courtesy of the Boalsburg Farmers Market. Pork chops from Cow-a-Hen Farm. Snap peas from Jade Family Farm. Bread from Gemelli Bakery with lemon-artichoke pesto from Fasta & Ravioli Co. And strawberries from Way Fruit Farm. Happiness on a plate.”
Emily knew the peas she bought were grown at Jade Family Farm, but how did the green pods find their way to our farm and then to the market? Well, this unpaid field hand decided to tackle that question.
Continue Reading: Unpaid Field Hand: The Story of Peas
Posted by James Eisenstein on 06/21, 2011 at 12:20 PM
Can you identify what vegetable growing is pictured? No, really, look carefully and give it try.
Why even ask, you might ask? Because much of the knowledge our grandparents had about the variety names of fruits and vegetables and how they grew has been lost, and I think that is too bad. They knew the names of many apple and tomato varieties, for example, and what each was good for. Part of our renewed interest in what we eat as we embark on a local food journey should involve regaining this knowledge.
Continue Reading: Unpaid Field Hand: Welcome to the Farm
Posted by James Eisenstein on 06/10, 2011 at 12:35 PM
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