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Monthly Archives: October 2013
Telling the story of my time at Side by Side Farm is not an easy thing to do. I know. I’ve tried.
But I’ll try again.
I was an intern at Side by Side Farm in Freeland, Maryland during the summer after my first year of college. Sometime during the winter I got it into my head that I was going to work at a farm – why I do not know. I had limited experience with agriculture, limited experience with gardening, actually. Yet I started searching for farms near my house, and it came down to two possibilities. Then one: Side by Side. I emailed the head farmer, asking if he had any intern positions available and quickly got a reply.
Devin was in charge of the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) part of the farm then. I emailed him in February and visited the farm in mid-March. If I remember correctly he was wearing a fertilizer backpack full of fish emulsion when I met him. We shook hands, he took off the backpack and we went for a tour of the farm. He showed me the “downstairs” greenhouse (Side by Side is composed of a large hill and a small valley), the mushroom mycelium germination area, where the garlic had been last year, where the garlic was going to be this year, where the chickens were, the upstairs greenhouse, etc. Then at one point he turned to me and said:
“You know, farming is really [insert more colorful adjective here] hard work.”
I didn’t hear Devin swear very often, but when he did he seemed to me that he used that word because no other was strong enough. I couldn’t have known so at the time – not from personal experience – but in this case he was right.
Devin had been at Side by Side for three years. This was – unbeknownst to me – destine to be his last season there. He was six years older than me. He was the first farmer I got to know personally.
When I left “the farm” (as it quickly became known to family and circle of friends) with a dozen pastel colored eggs – a gift from Devin – and my head bursting with ideas. A few days later, after much reflection, I emailed Devin: If you’ll have me, I would like intern this summer. We started to organize which days I would be at the farm. He asked if I am a morning person. I am.
Harvesting garlic in July.
Packing the weekly shares.
One of the donkeys.
Devin in the greenhouse.
Sunflower in early August.
Milo the cat.
Devin running the rototiller.
Watch out for Ruby.
At the Farmers’ Market
The Spring House.
My first day at the farm, in May, it was raining. Pouring. Devin lived a short drive away and I arrived before him. I huddled in the greenhouse, listening to the chickens and guinea fowl chattering. Devin arrived several minutes later with a mug of coffee and a strong dose enthusiasm. We set to work clearing out the downstairs greenhouse and preparing the ground. Soon after, we planted ginger roots there.
Two days later, we transplanted tomatoes in one of the upstairs fields. I marveled at all the varieties: pineapple, purple cherokee, green zebra, creme burlee. Before then, I didn’t know that plants species had names of their own, personalities of their own. In between the tomatoes we put in lettuce, peppers and borage flower (for pest control).
By the end of the week, I had weeded, planted, started seeds, started mushrooms, let chickens out in the morning, helped herd escaped donkeys back into their pasture, run a wheel hoe, been shown how to identify weeds, weeded, put out signs for the local farmers’ market and cooked in the farm’s kitchen. I had bug bites down my back, rosy spots of sunburn on my face and arms, and dirt caked under my fingernails. A few more weeks and I would have poison ivy on all of limbs.
I could not have been more thrilled.
And there is no other way to put this: I felt alive.
All summer it was usually just Devin and I in the fields. Sometimes Jean too – she was the lady who owned Side by Side – or various people who came to lend a hand. And there was the resident wonder-dog: Ruby. (She is about the size of a large house cat and could kill a groundhog twice her weight. She is darling.)
When I arrived in the morning, I had to search for Devin. Usually he was in the upstairs fields, and I would join him at whatever he was going. Sometimes he had a list of tasks, sometimes not. There were few noises except for the clucking of chickens, guinea fowl, turkeys and ducks – maybe also a radio set to classical music. Until someone starting running a tractor or a rototiller, that is.
At the end of the day, I left by backing my car up the narrow, gravely path to the main road (it took much trouble to turn around in the driveway). Arriving at my house, I left my red, dirt caked wellies by the door…and my socks, which were dirt stained in no time.
The first harvest amazed me.
We picked sugar snap peas, carrots, kale, beet greens, radishes, cilantro and spinach; all of it for a restaurant (owned by my cousin) in town.
And then we made lunch for ourselves. Devin scrambled a few eggs, produced by the farm’s chickens, with the vegetables we had gathered. I remember chopping cilantro on the butcher’s block counter and brushing it into the skillet with the eggs. (The smell of cilantro still reminds me of Devin and Side by Side.) We warmed tortillas, spread goat cheese (from the farm down the road) on them and topped it all with the egg and veg scramble.
Side by Side is where my taste buds began to be educated. Devin talked jokingly of a “vegetable appreciation school,” and I think – unknowingly – that he was the head teacher of it and I was a student. Nothing tastes so fantastic as things eaten three seconds after they have been picked. Working at Side by Side, I learned that carrots eaten straight from the ground are an entirely different vegetable than the orange things one buys in a grocery store. Eating cherry tomatoes off the vine as the sun comes up can be like a religious experience. There are few things as beautiful as the bounty a farm can produce.
The “upstrairs” fields.
Devin said we were doing “real” farming the day we planted the fall brassicas (broccoli and cauliflower) and lettuce.
Aside from the garlic harvest in July, that may have been my most intense day at the farm. That was the day I ran the rototiller for the first time, preparing a bed that had been let lie fallow for two years.
This was July. The temperature climbed near to a hundred but we kept going. There were times when I thought I was going to have to ask Devin if I could go home – or could we at least take a break?
We chatted as we worked, our conversation flagging as the sun blazed hotter. Then, sometime around noon, dragonflies came out en masse. For the next thirty minutes there were swarms of them, their iridescent wings winking in the light. I know I ached after that day, and I know my cold bath felt wonderful. But what I remember most about the day we planted the brassicas is Devin running the rototiller, the smell of the gasoline, the smell of moist earth, and a thousand shining dragonflies flittering through the air.
One month later, almost to the day, Devin and I harvested everything from that field. It was raining heavily. Devin wore both a rain jacket and a trash bag. I went home soaked through.
The last day I worked at Side by Side, Devin picked a cantaloupe and sliced it in the back of Jean’s truck.
He probably used the same knife he used to harvest kale and basil. That cantaloupe was not the finest melon I’ve ever eaten, but I ate it thirty seconds after it was detached from the vine, in the morning sun, on a farm, with the farmer who grew it. There was undoubtedly dirt on my slice. It was marvelous.
My last day was a harvest day, my favorite day at the farm. Devin and I picked kale, basil, eggplant, sweet peppers, and okra. There was already a quantity of tomatoes ready. I wrote up the chalkboard sign and made a bouquet of zinnias for the spring house. “Mission accomplished,” Devin said. “You have completed a farm internship.” When I left, I carried with me a feast: my final share of vegetables, freshly cut mushrooms, goat cheese and eggs.
Fruits of the first harvest.
Side by Side left me two legacies. Three maybe. Or more. Maybe it left me so many I can’t keep track.
To this day I am not sure why I wanted to be on a farm as badly as I did. Ostensibly, my answer is that I wanted to see where my food came from. That was the beginning – and I haven’t yet seen the end of it. I won’t any time soon. Side by Side set the course for much of what I am doing now; for how I shop, how I cook, what I eat, the classes I take and the projects I pursue. It laid the groundwork. That is why going back to the farm – as I do now and then – is a little like going home.
So I cannot give Devin and everyone at Side by Side a large enough “thank you.”
Here’s to the vegetable literacy school. Here’s to rutabagas, radishes, beets and cilantro.
If you’d like to read more about my time at Side by Side, you can read the blog I kept during my internship.
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We declare that gastronomic permaculture integrates ourselves, our food, our community and our earth. It recognises that every meal is accomplished in an ecosystem, and it is the convergence our three basic needs: nourishment, security and love.
Sunday, 28th of July 2013 – 5:10am
“We’re going to Maine,” Ema said as she turned the key to the green Grand Caravan we had packed with camping materials, food and two other people. We had spent the last month or so preparing for this trip, but it never quite seemed real until the morning we woke at 4:30, drank a mug of tea each and sat the last of our supplies and ourselves in the van. Our journey technically started in June when we began talking about going, but our headlights driving down the alley, in a general northward direction said otherwise.
I had already been to Maine once that summer with three of my friends and my family. One of those friends, Mr. O’Cabbott, sat in the backseat with his counterpart, Mrs. O’Cabbott, as Ema drove the vehicle and I occupied the passenger seat. Both Ema and I had been to Maine numerous times, normally a yearly destination for both of our families. This year however, Ema had been stranded at home, working at a (rather fantastic) cafe while I was interning at a farm. Eventually, I joined her working at the cafe and we talked of Maine. There was much planning; lists were made and meetings were had with both Mr. and Mrs. O’Cabbott. Ema and I went for a love of Maine and food. Mr. O’Cabbott for a love of Maine and Mrs. O’Cabbott for a love of adventure.
(From left to right) Mr. O’Cabbott, Ema, Tim
We spent that summer learning what Gastronomic Permaculture was, we experienced it, tasted it. We spent a week with friends, never eating alone and only once out of twenty-one meals with a mediocre meal.
To meet our needs, we will first source whatever we can from our own piece of the earth, taking care to tread lightly, respect the seasons and observe what is plentiful.
Photo taken by Ema Williamson
Tuesday 23th of July, 2013
We began preparations with what we already had. With all of us being poor high school students (Mr. O’Cabbott), recent high school graduates (Mrs. O’Cabbott and myself) or college students (Ema), we were all rather concerned with not spending everything we had earned over the summer on a single trip to Maine. So we all pooled our resources; Ema had a garden, I had a farm internship, as well as a garden at my own place of residence and Mr. and Mrs. O’Cabbott had unspecified sources for the food they procured (most likely taken from their unknowing families’ pantries).
From Ema’s garden, we gathered beets and carrots. We sliced the beets thin tossed them in oil, sprinkled them with sea salt and threw them in the oven for a while. When we pulled them out, they were crisp and crunchy, some were a bit burnt around the edges and others were still floppy. It was alright, we ate a few and we threw a few into the compost bucket but they were mostly quite good. The carrots were cut into strips and placed into a container to be dipped in hummus later.
From my garden, I brought tomatoes. We didn’t plan to do much with them aside from eat them on bread or with hummus or simply by themselves. I had a large quantity of them, in a number of varieties: Roma, Purple Cherokee and Green Zebras. There was easily enough for four people, the amount chosen forgetting that Mr. O’Cabbott didn’t share Ema and my love of tomatoes.
When we source from elsewhere it will be from people with whom we strike up conversations and form relationships. They are people who care for their own piece of the earth.
Friday 26th of July, 2013 – 4:00pm
I interned at Side By Side Farm/CSA over the summer, clocking between twenty and thirty hours each week. Along with amounts of physical labor that removed any reason to own a gym membership, I was given a small amount of money and a weekly bag of produce. When there was a lot of a particular item, I would often be sent home with an extra bag or three of said excess item. Some weeks I would get pounds of tomatoes, other weeks it would be an entire bag of three kinds of kale. There was one particular time earlier in the year when I was given eight bags of Winterbor kale and they were all turned into kale chips. I ate seven of those eight bags were eaten in about a week.
Before we left for Maine, my bag of produce from Side By Side held:
- bell peppers
- a few squash (both zephyr and yellow)
- green beans (wax and string)
- a single onion.
The cucumber was cut and added to the carrots. The tomatoes were added to the ones I brought from my garden and everything else was stored in the back of the van. Those vegetables eventually became the base for the many meals we created on that trip.
Kale from Side By Side Farm/CSA
We will purchase other goods from shopkeepers and restaurant owners who take into account their customers. They are middle-men who have respect for the entire community.
Thursday, 2nd of August 2013
Thursday began as a chilly morning with three of us wearing an additional layer (Mr. O’Cabbott simply wore a warm hat). It quickly became a beautiful day as we drove towards Portland, ME for the day. After a brief frustrating encounter with a parking garage, we walked out into the city and promptly split up into two groups and went our separate way for a while, plans to meet up at a cafe later in the afternoon.
Ema and I walked around, not really knowing where we wanted to go, sans a few stops to More & Co., Roost House of Juice, The Portland Museum of Art and of course, Rosemont Market & Bakery. It took us most of a morning to look around, neither of us really purchasing anything, rather taking in the sights and sounds and smells of places. We visited More & Co. for a moment or two and marvelled at the design. We purchased smoothies and nori rolls from Roost, two different ones of course, so we could try multiples. The Portland Museum of Art was fantastic, though Ema was disappointed that there was a single Andrew Wyeth, rather than a collection. The city was a collection of these small businesses, ones that would have no place in our own towns where small business seemed to struggle needlessly.
Rosemont, however, was fantastic. We ended up running into Mr. and Mrs. O’Cabbott and decided to reunite our groups. It was good that we did. We searched through Rosemont for produce and we purchased some, checking with everyone that our plans for dinner would be approved by everyone. As we were checking out though, Mr. O’Cabbott remembered that Ema had been looking for a container of honeycomb to try. Looking around he found some that was not only honeycomb, it was local, it was produced in Maine by Maine bees and a local beekeeper. Ema was thrilled, really both of us were thrilled.
Rosemont ended up being one of a few local food businesses we visited on other days, Morning Glory Natural Foods (Brunswick, ME) and Rising Tide Community Market (Damariscotta, ME) being a few of them. Morning Glory was an experience in itself, Ema and I walked around the shop, utterly excited by the eighteen kinds of kombucha, the peanut butter in an upside-down jar and coconut milk ice cream in a dozen strange flavours. At Rising Tide (Damariscotta, ME), we saw an almond butter machine and we wished we could find a way to take it back with us. We went back to Rising Tide on Friday for a dinner of bits and pieces. I’m glad we did, as Rising Tide lists their mission statement and vision statement on their about page and I fully support what they’re trying to do. They are a proper local, small business that wants to make a positive impact on their community. They are people who care for their customers and know their names.
Our final resource will be businesses that cause the least amount of environmental and social impact; they create positive changes in the world.
Wednesday, 24th of July 2013
There were only a few days left until we had to leave. We had gathered much of our cooking equipment and decided what needed to be brought. We searched through spices, deciding what we needed and what we didn’t. We made lists of things to buy from the local grocery stores, what we would scavenge from our gardens. I knew what would be coming in my share from Side By Side later on in the week and so we were covered as far as food we were bringing. Halfway through packing though, we realised we didn’t have any curry powder. Since we use curry powder, even in things one doesn’t normally put curry powder in, we added it to the list to purchase.
I went to the store that afternoon, looking around and happening upon a massive shelf of spices. Being a recent high school graduate who was already working a job at a cafe and an internship at a farm, my funds were a bit lacking. But after digging through to find the cheapest curry powder, I stumbled upon a shelf of Frontier spices. Frontier is a Co-op that specialises in natural and organic spices and herbs. They have a lot of Fair Trade spices and I know a number of people who purchase their products and are always impressed with the quality. I had to think about it for a minute, but I knew that I would use all the curry eventually, I knew it was an important spice for me and I’d rather support small businesses. Frontier isn’t exactly small, you can buy their spices at Giant Food Stores and at shops all across the eastern seaboard, but they make an effort to have a positive impact on the world and the businesses they source from.
I wasn’t able to buy all my spices from Frontier, but I got the ones I valued the most. Curry was one of them.
We will clean and organize our kitchen in ways that take into account natural environments and that are relevant to how we cook and eat.
Image by Ema Williamson
Monday 29th of July 2013
It was a bright red basket. Ema had swiped it from her parents who never used it, determining that the owner should be the one that uses it. We packed it with hummus, carrots, cucumbers, sprouted lentils and various nut butters. There was a knife and cutting board and mason jars for water. We packed a CocaCola crate of spices, the ones we believed to be essentials. There was salt and pepper, curry (from Frontier), a bottle of liquid smoke, cinnamon, nutmeg and a half dozen other spices. We packed only the essentials, but they were customised for our tastes. They were always easy to find in the back of the van, not in the least because there was no longer a half dozen bags on top of them. There was always the spice we needed and very rarely did we say, “this would be better with some _____.” We made do with what we had and if we were lacking, we found a solution or substitute.
We will cook with all of our senses – we will see, hear, touch, smell and certainly taste – and cultivate our culinary instincts.
Monday, 29th of July 2013
We didn’t have a recipe. It really didn’t make much of a difference anyways, Ema and I rarely follow a recipe. A recipe should be a guideline, not a rulebook. It gives you the inspiration you need to create something. A recipe can never be perfectly replicated anyways. There are so many factors between the quality of your ingredients, the region you’re in, if your water is chlorinated or not. We were camping, we weren’t in a kitchen and we had limited resources. So we improvised. We wanted curry, so we made curry. We had green beans and squash, tomatoes and sprouted lentils. We tossed them in a pan and we sautéed them until they were tender. We tossed them in spices, salt and pepper, curry and liquid smoke, perhaps a few other things as well (we didn’t keep a close eye on what went into it). We tasted and experimented as we went and eventually, we were satisfied we had created something we were happy with. We had to put time into figuring out our ingredients and we had to trust that our judgement would make something delicious, but it was worth it to have a meal that was completely ours.
We will cook with what we have, where we have it, sometimes in unorthodox places.
Friday, 2nd of August 2013 – Noon
It had been raining the whole day, always middling between a proper rain and a light drizzle. It was enough to warrant carrying an umbrella, but not enough that I had to walk under it the whole time. Actually, I ended up holding it because whenever Ema held it, she would hit me in the head with the corners.
We had just been visiting to a cafe and farm slightly north of Camden. We were going to eat at a cafe, but couldn’t find a place that seemed either interesting or was what we wanted. We walked around Camden and looked at a few cafes and restaurants. We saw a lot of really good places to eat, but none of them were quite right. Eventually, we found a market that we went into. After looking around for a few minutes, I bought a bowl of curried carrot soup and we walked back to the van to consume it, deciding we wanted sandwiches.
We opened up the back of the van and pulled out our leftover provisions. There was Black Crow bread and walnut butter, honey and fresh ginger. Ema cut a tomato and made a salad out of it. I, of course, had my soup which was put into a metal camp mug and placed over a rocket stove. We heated it, tasted it, adjusted it with some additional salt, pepper and curry and placed it on the dashboard. With bottles of kombucha in hand, we sat up front and ate and talked with the dashboard of the van as our table and the trunk as our kitchen.
We will cook with people we know and people we do not know, people of any age.
From left to right, Mr. O’Cabbott, myself, Mrs. O’Cabbott, Ema
We were quite the eclectic group. Mr. O’Cabbott was the youngest at barely 16. He was my friend that had come along on my earlier trip to Maine. When the two of us returned from that first trip, we talked to our second companion Mrs. O’Cabbott about Maine, about our adventures and the fun we had. Mrs. O’Cabbott was the second youngest at 18, though only a month older than myself. (The O’Cabbott’s weren’t actually married, but they earned their nicknames from their constant bickering like an old married couple.) The three of us had been friends for a number of years and Mr. O’Cabbott and I had enticed Mrs. O’Cabbott into going with us.
Before we left, Ema and I explained to them that they were always welcome to help cook or partake of our food, but if they wanted meat, they were on their own. Ian more than compensated, purchasing chicken while in Maine and cooking it very well (I’ll assume based off of Meg’s compliments, I didn’t partake). Meg was our resident fire-master, able to get a fire started, even during the rainy, damp mornings we had almost every day. Ema and I would generally take care of the main dish and Ian and Meg would help here and there, but if a suggestion was made, we always considered it. We made food democratically. If someone had not been fond of curry, we would have debated on other spices or given them another option. We shared our kitchen, it might have been a picnic table, but it was a place for us all to gather and cook together.
When a mistake is made during cooking it is not the end of the world. We will not waste, we will adapt.
Thursday, 1st of August 2013 – Around Noon
We had forgotten cooking oil. It really didn’t make that much of a difference, but it was disappointing nonetheless. We had hiked to Morse Mountain and then down to the beach below for an afternoon of beach time for Mrs. O’Cabbott. We had packed a backpack of Black Crow bread, goat cheese from Rising Tide, tomato, avocado from Rosemont, Mr. O’Cabbott’s aluminium pan and my rocket stove. Amidst our hurry to get going so we could enjoy our time outdoors, we had left our jar of coconut oil in the van. A good hike back, we decided we would simply make do. The bread toasted slightly unevenly, but Ema had sliced it thin and I played with the flame until the cheese melted properly. It was a very slight mistake, not like a mayonnaise that had separated, but it could be dealt with and adjusted for easily. There was also a strong ocean breeze that threatened to blow out the flame, even from the rocket stove. Mr. O’Cabbott engineered a wall of sand around the stove which ended up helping to keep the pan balanced as well. Even without the oil and with a rowdy flame the sandwiches were still delicious and there was no one who was unsatisfied with that meal.
We will eat in accordance with our body’s needs and quirks, bearing in mind that these will change with the months and years. This is different for everyone.
Tuesday, 30th of August 2013
Ema and I have been quite vocal about what we eat and what we don’t eat before. (In fact, we were vocal enough that another person decided he should voice his opinions as well.) Mr. and Mrs. O’Cabbott, however, didn’t share our dietary choices. We didn’t eat meat. Mr. O’Cabbott survived on meat. Mrs. O’Cabbott generally ate everything that Ema and I made, though she would partake of Mr. O’Cabbott’s meat creations as well. No one was ever hungry though. That night we compromised and made a frittata. There was swiss chard and goat cheese, salt and pepper and liquid smoke. We threw the whole thing in a dutch oven and then into the coals of the campfire. It cooked until the bottom was burnt and the rest was cooked to deliciousness. There were a dozen eggs cracked into that frittata and there was no frittata left when we were finished.
We will remember that this takes time.
Saturday, 3rd of August 2013
We woke rather late that last day, none of us entirely ready to head home but with twelve hours to drive back to Pennsylvania we packed up our things and began our drive south. The ride wasn’t entirely without food, we had leftovers. We had other snacks as well, but they didn’t quite satisfy our hunger for Maine. As we crossed the bridge from Maine into New Hampshire I opened the window to get a final breath of Maine air before closing it at the border. We were officially headed back. It was a week we had lived out our manifesto, even if we hadn’t written it quite yet. Shortly after returning to Pennsylvania, Ema and I began work on Gastronomic Permaculture and continue to dream of Maine.
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