On our trip through New England, Lu was pretty patient in the back seat of the minivan. She had books to read, and books to listen to (may I recommend Kate Winslet reading Matilda? Oh goodness. We drove through an inky black night in Maine, listening to this for the first time.), princess dolls to dress, and fierce scribbling in sketchbooks at all hours of the day. (“I’m a writer like you, Mama!”) But after every hour or so, she called out to us from the back and said, “Can we please stop and take a walk? My butt hurts!”
This kid likes to move.
About every other time, she shouted, almost pleaded, “Please, can we just find a farm and pick some carrots?”
And so we did.
We live on a rural island, so we know the people who grow our food pretty well. Every Saturday, whether the wind is blustery or the only vegetable available at every stand is kale again, we go to the Vashon farmers’ market. In summer, it might fool you into thinking it’s a good-sized market, with all the stands selling wooden bowls and homemade cider and jewelry and dog treats. But by this time of the year, it’s only for the hardy. Seven or eight farmers stand there, braced against the cold, ready to sell us kabocha squash and leeks. We’re farmers’ market geeks. We love them.
And so, it makes sense that Lu looked out the window at the green fields of Pennsylvania and demanded we stop somewhere, anywhere, to pick carrots, please.
Luckily, Erica Lavdanski from B&H Organic Produce bent down beside Lucy to show her the best way to pick carrots from the farm.
Erica kindly took time off from loading CSA boxes with the produce that had been picked that morning to show us around the farm. She spoke quietly, determinedly, pausing to answer Lucy’s questions, and returned to talk with us. Erica thinks, constantly, not only about the best crops to grow to introduce people to good vegetables, and how to replenish the soil with the best nutrients she can find, but she clearly thinks all the time about the way vegetables and fruits can give us health.
This is a variety of spinach Erica was growing, known to be hardier than typical true spinach, more resistant to wilting in the heat. She also said, however, that this plant is reported to be far more mucilaginous in the digestive system than typical spinach. Maybe eating this will help people’s digestion. Why not try it?
I love that farmers like Erica are thinking not just about soil health and growing conditions and profits but also about how the food they grow will truly feed the people who will eat it.
That same day, we had the chance to visit Weaver Family Orchards. For four generations, the Weaver family has been planting orchards of apples, pears, kiwi fruits and peaches to sell to people in the area. What a joy it was to walk down this row of apple trees, smelling the sweet promise of autumn arriving soon. (This was, of course, more than a month ago. We’re tilting toward winter now.)
We rode up and down the rows and rows of orchards with Elizabeth Weaver, her two boys and baby girl on an open-air golf cart. Lu was in heaven.
She especially loved it when Elizabeth told her we could pick apples and eat them as we walked.
These ones were just out of reach.
And the pears were coming into season soon.
(Looking at this photo now makes me happy about the gnarled little pears we have from the farmers here on Vashon, sitting on the table, asking to be baked with star anise and apple cider, plus a little butter.)
These were such lovely people. It was an honor to spend part of the afternoon with them, touring the orchards and hearing their stories. Honestly, Elizabeth Weaver is one of the kindest people I have ever met, gentle with her children and helping to run an enormous farm with her husband, doing the best they can.
(Lu looks so annoyed here. She hated having to stop chasing the boys up and down the rows of apples to take a bunch of photographs.)
All autumn long, as we have been eating crisp Akane apples and honeycrisps, I have thought of the Weavers and what it might be like in their orchard right now.
As robust as business seemed to be, Elizabeth talked calmly about all the thought and work that goes into breaking even. They hire migrant workers to pick the fruit and work hard to give them a good quality of life, including insurance. The same people have worked for them for years now. The Weavers are clear about their pest management system, which isn’t entirely organic, and they explain why clearly. (That’s one topic that came up over and over again on these farm visits, of how the public’s perceptions of organic are often simplistic.)
The Weavers run an orchard store, selling the produce, of course, but also stocking local foods, like meats and cheeses from Conebella Farms and dry-aged beef from Lone Star Beef. There was an entire gluten-free section in the store, as well. We bought enough good food to last us for car snacks for days.
And we drove, and drove, and drove, for two weeks, stopping at farms nearly every day.
Everywhere, everywhere, we saw corn fields.
“Mama, can we just stop and run through those corn fields?”
We haven’t quite tackled the concept of private property yet with Lu.
Of course, not all farms grow vegetables.
The cows that roam on this property sure seemed like happy cows.
And vegetables grow beautifully in places that aren’t farms.
This was from the stunning growing produce display at Stonewall Kitchen in Maine. All the landscaping in this section where we parked seemed to be bunches of robust, enormous chard.
Do you know what kind of farm this is, in the waters off Cape Cod?
It’s Barnstable oyster farm, run by our friends Tamar and Kevin. When we arrived at their home, deep into the evening, they greeted us with enormous hugs and a platter full of fresh oysters they had plucked from their farm that morning. Even Lucy enjoyed a few. (Danny and I happily slurped up over a dozen each, to their great happiness.)
After a long beautiful morning of slowness, talking and looking out at the lake over which their cabin is perched, Tamar and Kevin drove us out to the boat loading dock. Lucy delighted in watching the boat slowly slide into the water. And then we slapped our way over the small waves to the oyster farm. We lifted tarps to peer at them and marvel at the luck of the folks who would be eating these soon in New York restaurants.
Not every farm grows kale.
Some farms have beautiful cows that nuzzle your hand when you approach them gently.
Tamar took us to visit Circle Back Farm, the first licensed dairy farm on Cape Cod. Don Chapin and Tanya Daigneault run a 12-acre farm with some of the most photogenic animals I have ever met. I teased Tanya, “Did you give all these animals a scrub and put the hair dryer on them before we came? They’re so clean!”
“Nope,” she said quite seriously. “We keep our animals clean like this all the time. We have to. They need that.” Danny and I knew this milk was going to taste good.
It did. This was some of the best goat’s milk I’ve ever tasted.
I asked Tanya, after quite a long conversation, what she would most want people to know about farming and the life of a farmer. “It’s such hard work,” she said immediately, letting out her breath. This is one tough, dedicated woman, passionate about creating a good life for her animals. She and her husband wake up far before the sunrise to do the day’s chores, tend to those animals, hack together solutions for the machines that break down, milk the cows and goats, make sure that the milk is the best quality it can be, and work until far after the sun goes down. I don’t think there are many movies, trips to the beach, new cars or new clothes, or manicures in her life. But she loves this life, this hard-working, on-the-land life, which allows her and her husband to be close to the animals they love and feed their community.
And of course, sometimes when a potential customer stops by the new dairy and see this thick, creamy milk for sale, she gasps. “$7 for a half gallon of milk? No thanks.”
For all the work that goes into that milk or those spinach or apples or grass-fed beef or chard or oysters that’s a fair and reasonable price, ma’am.
We loved taking our daughter through New England, showing her how other people live. But the part of this potluck trip that thrilled us the most was when she could stand with her feet in the dirt of a good farm and reach her hand out to experience more.
We want to send out a huge thank you and acknowledgment of the good companies that have come forward to sponsor this American Road Trip Potluck Tour for us all.
Melissas Produce is providing us with great fresh produce for every potluck. We love their fruits and vegetables!
Thank you to these companies for their sponsorship of this tour.