Monday, June 16, 2014

Farm Day!

The able horses, Bert and Bud.
Rippling Brook Farm.  The place is as serene and pretty as the name suggests.  It is the bucolic farm of Aaron and Priscilla Schwartz and their ten(?) children.  On Saturday morning,  my husband, Bryan, son, James, his friend Jennifer and I piled into our car at 10:20am to make the nearly two hour drive to Sligo, PA to join the others in this CSA for the annual Clarion River Organics Strawberry Picking Festival.  About an hour outside of Pittsburgh, one begins to leave behind the Walmarts, Burger Kings, and Home Depots and enters the pastoral Clarion County with its Clarion River winding through it.  Eventually one comes to the tiny town of Sligo (population 720) and to Shady Lane (also aptly named with its thick crop of trees lining the narrow lane).  Turn off onto Shady Lane where a charming hand painted wooden map tacked to a tree displays the locations of the homes of Aaron Schwartz and two of his sons, slowly drive through the trees, past the little white schoolhouse and a flock of sheep, until you emerge among fields of grass, hear the sounds of roosters, and find the big white farmhouse at the end of the fence.  We parked along the road next to rows and rows of growing kale - curly, red, and lacinato - and walked towards the house where the tables were set up for lunch.  This was a pot luck with all of the CSA families in attendance bringing a dish to share, but our Amish hosts had made some wonderful mashed potatoes with chicken gravy, a big pot of noodles (spelt pasta?) with pesto, and a couple of other casseroles. We sat at lunch with another family who had made the same drive we did - from Mt. Lebanon to Sligo.  This was their first year in the CSA and they seemed quite pleased thus far with the boxes. 
James with his "perfect" strawberry

After lunch, Zeb (co-founder of CRO) led a group of us to the farm of John (sorry, didn't get his last name) and his family to pick strawberries.  I have the feeling that we city-dwellers pick much slower than the veteran pickers.  It took our family about 45 minutes to pick five quarts.   Every moment was enjoyable though.  With the sound of the mooing cows from the not too distant barn, we felt like real farmers. Given our speed, I don't think they will want to hire us anytime soon though!  After our little group had all the strawberries we desired, John and and his wife offered us glazed donuts (yes I had one - delicious!) and coffee.  We offered to pay for the donuts and coffee but they would not take any money.  The Amish are very hospitable and make you feel so welcome - not at all like we are intruding - which I am sure we were!

The rippling brook
Zeb then led took us back to the Schwartz's farm and explained that the farm gets its name from a little "rippling brook" just down the hill behind the farmhouse.   So on a little hike down to that brook we went.  This is where it got interesting.  Initially, we were just walking on a nice level path through the beautiful woods at the rear of the house, but all at once the group stopped and watched Zeb make his way down a very, very steep incline by holding onto a rope and kind of sliding and rappelling down the hill (okay, that is a slight exaggeration, but it was steep!).  And he was holding his toddler son no less!  Obviously he had done this before.  I watched Bryan, James, and Jennifer stumble down no problem so I decided I had nothing to lose, and since I knew I may never get another chance, down I went too.  While I can't say I went as quickly as the others did, I made it without incident.

Following our journey back up to the farmhouse, we climbed onto Aaron Schwartz's hay wagon and took a delightful tour of the farm. His very strong horses, Bert and Bud, pulled us through a track which took us by fields of greens, butternuts, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers and romanesco (think cross between broccoli and cauliflower).  What treats we have in store for us this season!  Aaron truly loves farming as was evident by his enthusiastic description and almost hallowed approach to enriching the soil naturally with various ground covers so that it produces abundantly.  He jumped down from the wagon at one point to scoop up a handful of the "sandy loam" soil to show us just how rich and "earthy smelling" it is.  

The Clarion River
On our way back we saw the ice house (cold!) and the room where the vegetables are washed and packed.  I asked one of Aaron's sons how many workers it takes to farm the 80 acres of the Schwartz property and he smiled and asked "How many does it take or how many do we have?"  I said "how many do you have" and he replied "ten".  Ten people to plow, plant, tend and harvest 80 acres!  Please appreciate what you are eating out there in CRO CSA land!

We had a delightful day with the Aaron and Priscilla Schwartz family along with the other Amish families and their non-Amish helpers, Katie and Zeb.  They could not have been more gracious hosts.  After being with the farmers and their non-Amish helpers, these produce boxes have special meaning for me.  It is not just vegetables.  I have seen the land where they were seeded and grown, I have met the people who work sun up until sun down to produce them for us, and I have seen the love and care that they put into making this CSA a very pleasant and worthwhile experience for all of us.   We have a real gem here folks.  Pray that the Lord will bless them and the work of their hands (Psalm 90:17).

Next post:  Scones with Strawberry Sauce and Macadamia Creme!

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