July 30th, 2010, by Lisa
July 26th, 2010, by Lisa
(Erin, our orcharding assistant, is a full-time helper who has been with us since April 2009)
Background: Originally from Ohio, I majored in Peace & Global Studies in college, with lots of gardening and farming experiences mixed in. After graduating, I lived in Philadelphia for several years, where I worked for a grassroots food security organization and Greensgrow, an urban farm in Kensington. When i decided that I really wanted to farm, I left to do an Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture at the University of California in Santa Cruz.
Why are you working at North Star Orchard?: I wanted to learn more about fruit trees, return to the Philadelphia area for awhile longer, and eat myself sick on Asian pears. But seriously, I had loved North Star’s fruit that I had purchased at markets in Philly, and I was impressed with the diversity of fruit at the orchard and their professionalism.
What do you want to do when you grow up?: I daydream about having my own farm and homestead, very small scale, influenced by permaculture principles, growing lots of unusual crops of all kinds… Whether or not that will make any money is a whole other question.
Favorite farm job (so far!): Harvesting
Least favorite farm job: Heavy lifting.
Favorite vegetable/fruit: arugula & sugar snap peas, purple heart plums & Hosui Asian pears
Favorite ice cream: Caramel
July 21st, 2010, by Lisa
In the film of this name (1966), the basic plot revolves around three gunslingers competing to find a treasure of buried Confederate gold. The film is full of gunfights, hangings, Civil War battles, and prison camps; it’s a real Wild West romp.
Here in the Savage East (2010), we’ve also got our share of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. We grow our fruit on three different properties (two leased, one owned), and they compete (in their own way) to develop a treasure of amazing fruit. Each property has its strengths and weaknesses, and we never know, until the suspenseful ending of harvest season, which one will prevail. Fortunately, there are not often gunfights, hangings, Civil War battles, or prison camps involved in the process.
Perhaps the analogy ends here, but The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly came to mind as Trouble (note the capital ‘T’) appeared in town on Sunday, July 25th around 3:30 PM. We’ll perhaps look at the three in reverse order:
The Ugly: Young fruits practically exploded by golf-ball sized hail. (Ok, so there are explosions in our story, if not actual gunfights). But, some fruits just had flesh wounds, and the majority of by-standing fruit got through the battle completely unscathed.
The Bad: Evil no-good hailstorms (dressed in black with face masks, no doubt) triggered by too-hot weather and the tumultuous weather patterns appeared on the scene. Fortunately, they can only be in one place at one time, so our other two orchard locations saw neither hide nor hair of them.
The Good: The (many) remaining citizen fruits of outstanding character who stood up to the onslaught are still strong and upstanding. We are thankful and awed by their bravery and fortitude. Three cheers to the brave heroes!
Ok, so we’ve seen dry dusty conditions out there this year – even a tumbleweed or two. We’ve just seen some amazing explosions. And earlier in the season, there were plenty of hangings (weighing down tree limbs to train them into the right position). What’s next? Only one thing – the amazing fortune of colors, sugars, and flavors!
July 19th, 2010, by Lisa
(Laura is a full-time seasonal helper this year)
Background: I grew up in Chadds Ford, PA and have always had a great love for food and the outdoors. Although I was quite upset with my mom in elementary school because I had no paper bag lunches with wonder bread sandwiches and juice boxes like my friends, by late high school and college I started educating myself more about environmental issues while getting a bachelor’s degree in psychology and studio art
Why are you working at North Star Orchard?: After working for a year and a half as a mental health case worker with children and families who had little or no access to healthy and sustainable food, and feeling surrounded on all sides by fast food chains on a daily basis, I needed to reconnect with real food and wanted to learn more about small scale agriculture
What do you want to do when you grow up?: I would love to one day design sustainable public spaces as a landscape architect or educate young people about making healthy choices for themselves and the world they live in. I’d also like to have a big, big garden
Favorite farm job (so far!): Harvesting Swiss chard. I completely enjoy it; putting them in bunches is like arranging beautiful flowers!
Least favorite farm job: Putting up row covers on a windy day
Favorite vegetable/fruit: I love love love seckel pears and every kind of fresh beefsteak tomato I’ve ever tried
Favorite ice cream: chocolate fudge brownie
July 5th, 2010, by Lisa
How to pick a peach depends upon who’s picking it: the commercial farmer, the grocery store shopper, the local small farmer, and the farmers’ market shopper. Let’s look at all of them!
The Commercial Farmer: By this, I mean the big mega orchard grower (growing hundreds or even thousands of acres of peach trees!), who wholesales most, if not all of his production. Typically, this grower will pick on a calendar schedule, regardless how not-ripe the peaches are. His goal is to pick a peach which is hard enough to withstand not only shipping over long distances (across country or into a different country altogether) but also can hold up to bouncing around in trucks, ships, and planes for several weeks to a month before it is selected by a customer (usually at a grocery store). To make things easier for this grower, fruit breeders have bred for more and more red skin color on peaches. (By breeding, I don’t mean genetic tomfoolery but good old-fashioned sexual propagation between two peach trees). In heirloom or old traditional varieties of peaches, the little bit of red blush they developed was a sign of ripeness. So, as people grew to equate ‘red’ with ‘ripe’ on a peach, fruit breeders did their darndest to breed peaches that were as red as possible before ripening. To this end, we now have countless varieties of peaches that are practically all red, with little yellow (or white, in the case of white peaches) showing way before when they are truly ripe and ready to be picked. This suits the big mega peach farmer quite well, so he picks when the red color is there and ships them off.
The Grocery Store Shopper: This may have been you at one point or another (it was certainly me many years ago!). You go into a grocery store where they have, piled in tall pyramids of red color, heaps of lovely-looking peaches. Perhaps they’re labeled tree-ripened or local. Perhaps they’re just labeled with a price. Regardless, they look so lovely you just have to take some home. The question next is how to get those rock-hard beauties to soften up? This is where the “ripen in a paper bag” notion came in. As commercial (ie. the aforementioned red-before-they’re-ready) peaches came to the forefront, it became obvious that it was difficult to get the danged things to soften up at home. Fruit gives off ethylene gas, which is a ripening agent. So, by placing the peaches in a paper bag, the notion is the gases will be trapped in the bag and hasten ripening. Problem is, when peaches are picked way-too-early, they essentially die and cannot give off ethylene in the first place. Additionally, since they’ve been shipped and stored in refrigerators for weeks-on-end, any potential flavor components are essentially shot. So, oftentimes those grocery store peaches end up either never softening up properly or they’re mealy or end up moldy before they are eatable. As I always say, just as with grocery store tomatoes…just say NO to grocery store peaches! There’s no point in wasting your money.
The Local Small Farmer: A small farmer (like us!) who sells all (or most, depending on the farm) of their peaches directly to the customer, has a lot more work to do, actually, than the big mega-farmer, in order to pick peaches. For those like us, we want to make sure the peaches are ripe enough that they’ll develop the proper juicy texture and luscious flavors. But in order to do this, we can’t just pick based on red color. We have to look at the ‘undercolor’ of the peach, which can vary from white to brilliant orange depending on the variety. We also have to do some taste-testing (a nice perk of growing fruit, although there really can be too much of a good thing sometimes!). Each and every variety is different in appearance, ripening time, color and undercolor, and flavor, so picking at the optimal time can take several years of learning, evaluating, and note-taking. We also like to make sure that peaches don’t end up already bruised at the farmers’ market or CSA share, so we have to figure out when the optimal time is to pick them that they only have two or three days to go before they’re perfectly juicy and delicious. We have to ‘spot pick’ each tree about 3 times, picking the peaches as they mature instead of all at once. And then we have to get them into the hands of the people who will eat them in fairly short order. Whew!
The Farmers’ Market Shopper: When you shop at a farmers’ market for a peach (remember, you’ve said NO to grocery store peaches!), usually all you need to do is decide which peach to get. If you are buying from a reputable orchardist, the hard part (as mentioned above) has been done for you. Your job is to decide: white or yellow? (whites tend to be sweeter; yellows tend to be ‘peachier’) Peach or nectarine? (nectarines are essentially peaches without fuzz…so give them a try – but not from the grocery store!), large or small fruits (although size doesn’t necessarily matter. Some varieties are genetically smaller and some are larger). If there are several varieties available for sale…which to choose? Most small growers raise many kinds of peaches. Each variety ripens over 7 to 10 days and then the next variety comes into rotation. While many growers just lump them altogether as ‘peaches’, some (like us) like to keep each variety separate and named. Oftentimes, most peaches taste very similar (which is why many growers just lump them together), but sometimes there are standout varieties. So, which to choose? Just ask which one we like the best. You might often get a “well, they’re all pretty much the same and yummy”, but some weeks there will be a definite favorite. Then, just take them home and set them on the counter for a day or two or three (NOT in a bag!). Give them the ‘squeeze’ test. When soft to your liking, grab a napkin and enjoy!
(Genevieve is a full-time seasonal helper this year)
Background: My educational background is in city planning, and I’ve been involved with and passionate about local food in Philly for the past few years. Originally, I grew up in the beautiful mountains of northeast Tennessee, and I’m from a family of 5 (one of whom is a twin brother).
Why are you working at North Star Orchard?: I’m interested in really learning how an organic farm operates; I want literal hands-on experience to understand how it all works and to see if it’s the life and work for me.
What do you want to do when you grow up?: I want to be a happy, compassionate, and productive human being.
Favorite farm job (so far!): At this point, it’s probably transplanting, as you feel like you’re filling out the farm and setting the veggies off to really start growing!
Least favorite farm job: I’d say any task where you’re likely to be surprised by multi-legged insects (like moving a long-standing rock pile) is not on my list of favorites.
Favorite vegetable/fruit: I really love lemon cucumbers and blueberries.
Favorite ice cream: Chocolate chip cookie dough is a great one.