Ramble On

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Page County Grown Farm Tour - Teaser 2: The Farm-to-Table Dinner

As I have promised a couple of times now, I am going to put together a series of posts about the 2011 Page County Grown Farm Tour. For today, another “teaser” about those posts – I want to introduce the tour’s sponsors, and make a note of the Farm-to-Table Dinner hosted at the Mimslyn Inn after the tour was completed.

First, I have a reproduction of the menu from the Mimslyn. The quality may not be great, as I had to save this as a PDF and then translate to JPG, but it should convey well enough. 

Next, our hosts, in a photo outside of the Luray Train Station that serves as the Chamber of Commerce headquarters and tourism visitor center. Pam Flasch and Brianna Campbell are shown behind the welcome station where farm tourists came in for materials and a map. These folks have been involved with Page County Grown since its inception – they are part of the “incubator” for the concept, as Pam calls it.

After getting the 40+ participants under way, both of them joined the tour as well, making multiple stops with us.

Bracketing that tour kick-off is the conclusion – the farm to table dinner paired with Wisteria Farm and Vineyard vintages (Wisteria was also a sponsor of the dinner, and is a charter Page County Grown member). I arrived late to the dinner (I assumed it started at 7pm, but should have paid more attention to the brochure – it started at 5pm!); farmers eat early I guess, and I still retain city habits and schedules!

I have photos of three of the courses served, of the four that were offered – I forgot to snap a photo of the first one. I’ll post the description of each course with the Wisteria wine pairing below, and also will include the wines’ descriptions summarized from web sources with each, along with the summary about the farm that produced key ingredients for that course - these snapshots are taken from my post last week on the participating farms.
First Course: Tomato Plate

“A tasting of tomatoes from Khimaira Farm.” There were three samples included here, including: three spicy cherry tomatoes paired with a slice of a heritage green zebra tomato, complemented by a splash of a balsamic reduction; a sun-dried tomato tart; and a tomato sorbert - a surprise, and a big hit at my table. The wine choice was Wisteria’s Traminette.

Traminette is a hybrid grape, including Gewurztraminer as part of its heritage. It produces a dry wine with a fragrant aroma and floral taste – and the variety is suited to challenging climates. Lately, Wisteria has made an effervescent variety, which we’ve been enjoying around the Hawksbill Pines neighborhood for cookouts and visits. I hope it’s not a limited vintage, because it has really grown on all of us.

Khamaira Farm, the source of the tomatoes in this course, is a working dairy and meat goat farm, focused on sustainable agricultural practices. The family’s home is located just outside of Luray and dates from the Civil War era. Khimaira is also a popular wedding destination in the Shenandoah Valley.

Wisteria, which supplied all of the wines paired with the courses, is a local vineyard located near Stanley; it is also a working farm with a colorful flock of Romney sheep and free-ranging chickens. Wisteria’s current wine offerings include Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, Traminette, Seyval, Merlot, and Norton, as well as a semi-sweet rose blend – Velvet, and a dessert wine – Sweet Daisy.

Second Course: Roasted Chicken

Boneless Chicken Thigh from Public House Produce, served over eggplant risotto and oven-roasted tomato sauce, paired with the Wisteria Steel Barreled Chardonnay.

I take a little personal satisfaction in this serving, as I interned over there at Public House Produce this month; on Tuesday night I had joined David, Heather and their daughter to wrangle the chickens, which we took for processing on Wednesday morning and later delivered to the Mimslyn kitchen. Now, I had planned to go old school on the wrangling, using the Hookinator 2000, if necessary, but their daughter informed me they’d upgraded to the Hookinator 3000.

In the end, we didn’t use the device, which is more suited to chickens on the run; these birds were very cooperative with the process. During this course, David came by to personally reassure me that I had indeed wrangled the bird I was eating.

Chardonnay is a signature white variety with a French heritage. Wisteria produces a traditional oak barreled version, as well as the steel barreled version served at the dinner; Mary and I have become very fond of the steel barreled version.

Public House Produce is a family owned and operated farm located about one mile north of Luray. The farm’s produce is available at the Luray-Page Farmers Market and via their CSA. Over 80 varieties of fresh produce are offered, along with pasture based, heritage chicken and fresh farm eggs. Public House’s goal is high quality produce and poultry from a local source you can trust.

Third Course: Braised Beef Brisket

The brisket was sourced from Skyline Premium Meat in Luray; it was matched with sweet corn polenta, mushroom fricassee, and espagnole sauce. The brisket had been prepared in a way that made it as tender as a Sunday roast – earning compliments from Joan and Jared Burner (some of the family farmers at Skyline Premium), whom I joined at the table for the dinner. The wine was Wisteria’s Carmine.

At times during the dinner, Moussa and Sue from Wisteria introduced the wines that were served. Moussa noted that Wisteria may well be the only Virginia vineyard producing this grape, which is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Carignane. It was developed to respond for cooler temperatures where the cabs don’t fare as well, and is described as offering an intense dark color, peppery aromas, and ample tannin flavors. In fact, after the dinner, I went looking for a refill of the Carmine, but alas, it was completely consumed.

Skyline Premium Meats is located just south of Luray on Business 340, where they emphasize humane management and safe handling practices to ensure a consistently high quality product. Skyline Premium’s approach specifies that no hormones, steroids or other chemical alterations are used; because of this, the beef has earned designation as “A Virginia’s Finest Product.”

Fourth Course: Cantaloupe and Cream

This refreshing dessert course, sourced from Willow Grove Farm Market, featured fresh cut cantaloupe and cantaloupe mousse, paired with Wisteria’s Viognier.

Viognier is a white wine with a French origin, although it is not widely grown there. Apparently it is widely popular elsewhere, including California, Washington, Oregon, and Virginia – and in Latin America, too. Viognier is known for a floral aroma, similar to Muscat, and it can be produced in a dry variety or a sweet, late-harvest dessert type. Our tasting was a sweet variety, but not a late-harvest version.

Willow Grove Farm Market was founded in 2010 on one of Virginia’s Century Farms – meaning the same family has been farming here for over 100 years. The market’s goal is to be a source of local and Virginia produced beef, chicken, dairy and produce, all foods that are less processed than those that are available elsewhere – foods that are good for you and support the local community and economy.

At the conclusion of the dinner, executive chef Chris came out of the kitchen for a round of well-deserved applause. The Mimslyn's web page talks about being pampered by his southern style cuisine - and advises "bring your appetite."  For another example of Mimslyn fare by Chris, which often feature local produce and meats, check out the menu at http://mimslyninn.com/lunch-buffet.htm.

Before I close the post, I should mention the music that was featured during the dinner. It was performed by a local quartet, CafĂ© Society, and featured renditions of classic jazz compositions. I’ll be on the lookout for more opportunities to hear them.

I will post my photos of the farm tour next week, so stay tuned!

Herding Instinct

On Sunday, Tessie and I were returning from our walk at Hawksbill Recreation Park in Stanley when we surprised a small herd of deer in the yard.  As the apples begin to fall from the old tree, they get pretty bold in the morning browsing the front yard.  Since this year appears to promise an excellent crop of acorns from our white oaks, looks like we'll have a couple of months to enjoy them out front.

They stood for a while in the yard with us stopped in the car out on the road, before I pulled in to the drive.  I looked back, and there was Tess giving them the border collie eye - just a little instinct oozing up from the usual hug bag behavior. She was motionless, but right on the verge of quivering with excitement to get out there and check them out.  When I finally parked the car, she exploded out into the yard to find them.

This reminded me of the morning after we got her:  I took her out to sit on the brick terrace with me, to get to know the new place, when we heard some foot steps in the woods off to the east.  They got louder, and Tessie sat up to listen intently, motionless as this time. 

Finally, near the bottom of the yard, five deer emerged from the yard.  I let them get across the road and disappear down Beaver Run hollow before I released her to investigate.  For the next two days, and then again on the following weekend, we were off on a border collie adventure as she went down to where she'd seen the deer to make sure they weren't back.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Page County Grown Farm Tour - Teaser

I'm planning to get some posts up next week about the farms and experience of 2011 Page County Grown Farm Tour.  In the meantime, here is a little clip I captured at Trio Farms/Skyline Premium Meats during the feeding demonstration.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Post Irene

There's plenty to post about, but since the power is out at the Alexandria house and I am updating from the iPhone, we'll make a quick status report here.

The power went out at about 1am when one of the transformers blew. I was in the Valley, so Mary went out to get our generator going - we bought and installed it to make sure the sump pump never goes out - definitely worked out that way this time. Special thanks to neighbor Alan who helped her; I got back as soon as I could on Sunday.

Now we are recognizing the carbon footprint of this decision, which adds about 2 gallons of gas consumption every 8 hours. We'll figure out how to balance this, but in the meantime we have offered freezer and refrigerator space to the neighbors, and are sharing the ice we made up in advance with them.

Dominion has estimated our power will be back on tonight. So we will have had an outage of around 48-50 hours...that could have been much worse and it goes without saying we're lucky at the relatively light damage from this storm.

There's also a nice irony to it all, as 2003's Isabel knocked out power on the block across the street. They were in the dark seven days, but have been spared this time.

Friday, August 26, 2011

More Produce Auction Footage

Here's a short video I shot at last Tuesday's auction.  The cadence is for lots up for bidding on the other track, while this farmer sets up with his load of pumpkins.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The 2011 Page County Grown Farm Tour

The 2011 Page County Grown Farm Tour is this Saturday, August 27.  Meet at the Chamber of Commerce at 8:30am if you are going on the tour - but be sure to check for tickets.

I've posted about the organization before, but here once again is the vision: “Page County Grown is thriving family farms driving local food economies and promoting healthy communities where quality farming is a valued heritage and a staple for growth.”

Saturday’s tour will visit a cross section of producers: from a beekeeper to a goat farmer, a beef farmer, a Christmas tree grower, a viniculturist, a farm marketer, and a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farmer. The group is drawn by the common passion outlined in our vision statement – local food, proudly produced by local hands!

Visit the web page, http://www.pagecountygrown.com/, for more information about the farmers and other members, but the farms scheduled for the tour Saturday are:

• Khimaira Farm (9am only): A working dairy and meat goat farm, focused on sustainable agricultural practices. The family’s home is located just outside of Luray and dates from the Civil War era. Khimaira is also a popular wedding destination in the Shenandoah Valley.

• Skyline Premium Meats (10am only): This farm, located just south of Luray on Business 340, emphasizes humane management and safe handling practices to ensure a consistently high quality product. Skyline Premium’s approach specifies that no hormones, steroids or other chemical alterations are used; because of this, the beef has earned designation as “A Virginia’s Finest Product.”

• Willow Grove Farm Market: The market was founded in 2010 on one of Virginia’s Century Farms – meaning the same family has been farming here for over 100 years. The market’s goal is to be a source of local and Virginia produced beef, chicken, dairy and produce, all foods that are less processed than those that are available elsewhere – foods that are good for you and support the local community and economy.

• Wisteria Farm and Vineyard: Wisteria is a local vineyard located near Stanley; it is also a working farm with a colorful flock of Romney sheep and free-ranging chickens. Wisteria’s current wine offerings include Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, Traminette, Seyval, Merlot, and Norton, as well as a semi-sweet rose blend – Velvet, and a dessert wine – Sweet Daisy.

• Public House Produce: This is a family owned and operated farm located about one mile north of Luray. The farm’s produce is available at the Luray-Page Farmers Market and via their CSA. Over 80 varieties of fresh produce are offered, along with pasture-based, heritage chicken and fresh farm eggs. Public House’s goal is high quality produce and poultry from a local source you can trust.

• Paw Paw’s Honey: This visit also takes place at Public House Produce. Paw Paw’s Honey is a blend of what is naturally available to the bees in Page County, so there are slight variations in taste and color from bottle to bottle – but the honey is always sweet and good. Paw Paw’s also raises and sells queen bees and beeswax.

(Note: the image accompanying this post is from the Page County Grown web page.)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Warm-ups: Hawksbill and Calf Mountain Hikes

From the headline of this post, a casual reader might ask, "Warm-up for what?" Since most of the summer's heat and humidity has passed without me taking another 75@75 hike, I've been worried about losing traction on that goal. 

One of my hiking buddies agreed that we should make a goal of Old Rag (photo here from an overlook on Skyline Drive), and so we did, but I took the extra precaution of getting out on a couple of leg stretchers in the Park first: Hawksbill Mountain and Calf Mountain.  I've reviewed both trails before (check the Easy Day Hikes label at the end of this post), but I'll make a note of them again today.

Since Tuesday is market day at the farm, I'm often out of there by noon.  The weather was so good last week, and since I knew that the Friday Old Rag outing was fast approaching, I decided a quick hike to the summit of Hawksbill Mountain might be productive.  Off I went for a late afternoon trip.

I found myself practically skipping along from the Upper Hawksbill parking area. Heatwole lists the trail I took as 1.7 miles round trip and 690 feet of elevation gain; I think it's around 400 feet net, if that.  Definitely not an intermediate hike in my classification, where the distance needs to be five or more miles and net elevation gain of 500 feet or more.  Net elevation gain, as I am using the term, means the elevation difference between the hike’s highest and lowest points; Heatwole generally measures the aggregate elevation change as I understand it.

So all in all a pleasant little hike up the mountain, where I spent an hour or so up at the summit enjoying the cool breezes and chatting with two or three groups of tourists passing through on their summer vacations.  Here's a photo of the day use shelter near the summit of Hawksbill Mountain (incidentally, the highest peak in the Park, at 4,049 feet, per Heatwole).

Typically, I can expect a tough day at the farm on Wednesday, and last week was no exception...no fecal dust to show for the experience this week, but I do have a couple of spots where some poison ivy is showing up after some dirty work in the fields.  After that, I left with the thought that I might put together another short hike for Thursday to continue my preparation for Friday's Old Rag climb.

I haven't been down to Waynesboro in a while, so I decided I'd get a route together down in the South District of the Park - and take advantage of being there to get lunch at Scotto's (don't miss it when you are in Waynesboro - I like the baked ziti specialty), and to visit Rockfish Gap Outfitters, which is conveniently located on the road up to the Park entrance.

My destination was Calf Mountain.  Again, an easy little hike with minimal elevation gain (Heatwole lists a longer hike than I was after, although I probably hit much of the elevation he lists: 495 feet; but I took no measurements).

These first two photos from the Calf Mountain trip show why I enjoy this spot in the Park so much: the open former pasture where Skyline Drive passes through the middle, with the Appalachian Trail disecting it.

I first came here a couple of years ago, it was the first hike I took after we lost Gracie Dog to renal failure, so that outing had a purpose for grieving.  I guess nowadays when I am here I get a fond memory or two of our friend.  Maybe in the winter I'll take Tessie up here and she can be part of that whole thing too.

There are a couple of other reasons I like this hike - it's an easy outing, even if you head back into the woods, which I didn't; there are a couple of hilltops with low vegetation so there are nice views looking down on the Piedmont; and there are leftover traces of human use of this land in fruit trees and domesticated shrubs around the pasture and further back on the trail.

Mary thinks we've seen a grapevine gone feral in the woods there and I wouldn't be surprised.  But the readily visible and identifiable trees are the apples and peaches.  We visited last fall and caught site of a group of AT section hikers who had picked some of the fruit and sat in the shade eating it.  They told us it was very tasty...my guess is it is an heirloom variety that would be hard to get to grow true, but still would be worth trying.  I don't know how you might go about that, though.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Big Butternut Squash Unit

While we are on the topic of winter squash, after we got back from the auction Tuesday, David says, "You gotta see this butternut squash over here."

I have to admit, it's a big one.

Now that the topic has moved on to big things...

There was this crate of watermelons at the auction.  These were huge, the biggest I've seen all year.  I put my glasses on the top to give some scale.  I bet these things were topping fifty pounds easy.

They made me remember when I was little, and the watermelons always looked this big.

The Winter Squash are Showing Up

It's August, but we're already seeing winter squash at the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction.  Here are some photos of the varieties getting to market so early. 

You'll note I also have some pumpkins in here.  Those are technically winter squash also.

I think that pie cannot be far off.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lunch @ the Auction

Well, I've only been three times, and may not get there many more times.  But I had to take a minute and mention the food at the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction in Dayton. 

You know, it's nothing special, but it's carefully prepared and cheerfully served.  I've had a chili dog and a slice of pie each time - and some sweet tea to wash it down.  Pretty good stuff.

 I believe it is a well known fact that everybody likes pie - please correct me if I am wrong.  Here's a photo of the menu board featuring this week's pies. In the past weeks, I've also had a slice of peach pie, and a pecan-oat pie.

On Tuesday, I added the stuffed pepper to the menu.  All totaled for the chili dog, the pepper, the (coconut creme) pie, and sweet tea:  $4.50.  What's not to like?

Look, this is all in the days work for the faithful agribusiness intern.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Everything but the Oink

The pigs are here.

A few weeks back, when I first started the internship at Public House Produce, David mentioned the pigs.  He raises a few hogs each year, and invited me and Mary to sponsor one. 

For the record, cute as they are, they are not pets.  I want to be very respectful, and clear, about this.  That's why I have asked to name mine "Pork Chop." 

Because, come February...well, I think the point is made.

I had a good time at the farm on Tuesday watching them settling in.  David had them in the goat stall for the night, and this morning after some tinkering with the electric fence, put them out in their new pasture for the first time.  In fact, here's a video of the happy moment.

Soon as they got outside, they checked out the spoilt produce for a bit, then they took note of the chickens and goats.  They followed some of the chickens around the yard, then they followed the goats.  Then they started rooting around the produce, and then, well, all kinds of pig fun was being had.

I'll post some updates from time to time, especially once we know which one is Pork Chop.  Out of respect for them, I won't share videos of the processing, although David tells me to expect to have an active role in that. 

I figure, what the hey - I've already had the fecal dust experience at the farm, what's a little viscera going to hurt?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Playlist from the Archives (Marilyn Mix) circa 1994

Playlist: Marilyn Mix 1994
by: Marilyn Turnbow
April 1994
Maxell UR 90 (Tape surprisingly playable)
Noise Reduction: Yes

Side AGimme Shelter – Rolling Stones
No Sleep til Brooklyn – Beastie Boys
As Hard as it Is – Fine Young Cannibals
Tunic – Sonic Youth
Lone Rhino – Adrian Belew
Low Rider – War
We’re the Monkees – The Monkees
Sex on Wheels – Thrill Kill Cult
LA – Frank Black
Satellite of Love – Lou Reed
Creep – Radio Head

Side B
Go – Tones on Tail
I Wanna be yer Dog – The Stooges
No Love Between Us Anymore – Pop Will Eat Itself
Coming Down Fast – Daniel Ash
Ugly Truth – Matthew Sweet
Killing in the Name of – Rage Against the Machine
Stay – Oingo Boingo
Hurdy Gurdy Man – Butthole Surfers
Ain’t Got no Home – Chris Henry
Girls Got Rhythm – AC/DC
Detachable P***s – King Missile
Passenger – Iggy Pop
All of the Day – The Stranglers

Playlist from the Archives circa 1985

Playlist: Another Near Miss

By:  Bob Boschen
16 March 1985
Maxell UD 90 (Tape missing)
Noise Reduction: Yes

Side A
High on Emotion – Chris DeBurgh
On the Pipe – Steve Morse Band
The Chant has Begun – Level 42
Blue Wind – Jeff Beck
Shadow on the Wall – Mike Oldfield
Zoolookologie – Jean Michel Jarre
Dancing with the Big Boys – David Bowie
Black Cat Shuffle – Al DiMeola
Afterimage – Rush
Hyper Gamma Spaces – Alan Parsons

Side B
Memories Can’t Wait – Talking Heads
Hammer Horror – Kate Bush
Dune Tune – Level 42
Date Stamp – ABC
Hawkeye – Alan Parsons
Trash – Roxy Music
Seen and Not Seen – Talking Heads
China Dance – Howard Johnson
Born, Never Asked – Laurie Anderson
The Song is Over – the Who

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Luray Triathlons, 2011 Edition

From the Luray Triathlons website: "...set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains near the beautiful and welcoming town of Luray..."

(there's a link to the site at the end of this post - I think the results from the International, held on Saturday, and the Sprint, held on Sunday, are already posted)

Sunday morning came early after a night of rain that started as soon as the sun went down Saturday night.  I woke to a steady drumming up on the Hawksbill Cabin roof, and was worried that it would impact one of the events I look forward to every year - the Luray Triathlons in August.

In the end, while the clouds were still breaking as the event got underway.  In the first photo here, I've shown the second wave of swimmers going off - by this time I had taken up my post in the transition area.  I also have a photo of the first swimmer to finish as he enterred the bike transition area, and a photo at the finish - unfortunately I do not have anybody's name for these.

Why do I love this event so much?  Well, it's not because I'm inspired to compete - although a triathlon sprint doesn't seem out of reach for me, there'd be a lot of work in it, especially to learn how to complete the swim portion.

I like it because it symbolizes the best attractions of Luray and Page County, and one of our signature industries - "active tourism." I talk about this as an industry to a lot of friends around town, and I'm not ashamed of boosting this event and the bike races that are held every year in July and August (there are also other associated events on the calendar at other times of the year).  

The PN&C headlines last week noted that as many as 1,400 participants would be coming to the two events.  That's about 700 each for Saturday's International (1500m swim/41Km bike/10Km run) and Sunday's Sprint (750m swim/17.0-mile bike/5K run). By the time I arrived for my volunteer shift, 7 am Sunday, the place was buzzing with energy.

It's a rewarding thing too.  In addition to promoting the town and the area to the athletes, the event raises about $10,000 each year for the local United Way, which means the money finds its way to those in need right here in Page County. 

This post wouldn't be complete without mentioning David Glover and those around him supporting the event.  David's the founder and has been organizing the Luray Triathlons for six years now.  I've included a link to his company after the one for the triathlons below.


And here's a promotional video I found:

Luray Triathlon from Jenny Ruley on Vimeo.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Berlin Wall's 50th...

I came across an article that noted August 13, 2011 as the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Wall going up. It’s a subject and occasion that I can’t let pass without a moment to pause and reflect; I see over on Facebook that a few of my colleagues are also making note of the day.

In the MSNBC.com article I mentioned, Chris Rodell opens with the quote:

“Fifty years ago, the Soviet-controlled German Democratic Republic began to build what it euphemistically called its “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart,” better known as the Berlin Wall.”

By the time I arrived in Berlin, as an Air Force Russian linguist, in October 1981, that structure was a concrete establishment, not just a symbol anymore, and not just propaganda anymore either, as so many had died by then trying to escape from East Germany by crossing it. My friends and I went to work every day at locations in full view of the Wall, and for those of us at the Air Force Marienfelde site, with two guard towers about a kilometer away with views of us coming and going from the security gate.

I’ve got a couple of photos here of the Wall – these were taken on a November day in the Nuekolln district (sorry, purists, no umlauts on my keyboard) when a friend and I set out to track down where David Bowie might have stood by the wall in the Heroes era. Also, some of my mementos, including a couple of pieces of the Wall, one given by a good friend and the other sent to me by my sister, who was there in the late ‘80’s, after my time had ended in April 1986.

Memories of Wall encounters are for another day – there are too many to recount in a blog post. But I do I share the sentiment that Rodell’s commenters offer - that Wall wasn’t something to celebrate. The fact that it is long down now, that is something to make a note of.

I’ve managed to get back to Berlin twice since the fall of the Wall and the reunification, once in 1996 and again in 2001; I’m sure I will get back again sometime, and hopefully more than once.

That’s because on my last visit, the sentiment that overwhelmed me is the same one that Burkard Kieker expresses in Rodell’s piece:

“What’s really astounding is today people from 180 nations live peacefully together in a formerly divided city,” he says. “The wall affected the fate of many Berliners but they found a unique way to cope with it. You see wall memorials on the one hand and colorful painted wall remains on the other. And this mixture attracts even more visitors, especially on occasions like the 50th anniversary of the building of the wall.”

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Tomato King

David with slicers and heirlooms.
"If you can't grow tomatoes in August, well, you should just give up on them." - overheard at the Shendandoah Valley Produce Auction in Dayton.

Just as that farmer said at the auction, at this time of year, just about everybody who grows tomatoes is probably enjoying the bounty of their efforts.  But during my agribusiness internship, I'm seeing something that is really boggling my mind at Public House Produce.  Here's a photo of David with a partial harvest from last week. 

He added a clarification on Facebook about the quantities that are coming out of the farm just now:

Several lots of Public House tomatoes at auction.
"...since last Thursday, four of us have picked tomatoes five different times, and as of today, we have harvested 3,200 pounds of tomatoes! Mel and Andi picked 1,200 pounds today (Wednesday) alone."
Mel added that there were still two rows to pick, and they were loaded. 
It's pretty amazing to think about all those tomatoes, and to know that there are a lot more than this coming to market just now - not to mention what goes on in the imagination about where this produce will end up in the market - downtown restaurants, Wegmans supermarkets, etc. - not to mention local Page County establishments such as West Main Market, Circa '31 at the Mimslyn, and the Victorian Inn ("the Vic" as it is known locally).
Some of these institutions are buying other produce as well, and as I mentioned earlier this week, the pasture-raised chickens are making their way into these kitchens (a neighboring farm, "Willow Grove," also a Page County Grown member, raises chickens this way too, also supplying local restaurants.)

Heirloom "Pineapple" tomatoes.

It is already well known around Page County and the larger Shenandoah Valley region, but this heirloom Pineapple variety is worth another mention.  During a tasting at Public House last summer, visitors voted them the best of the varieties that were shown.  The Vic has them as a feature for one of the appetizers - which inspired my neighbor to say, "That's the best tasting tomato I've had in a very long time."
Seriously, 3,200 pounds of tomatoes, though...that's a lot.  And to think, we're not quite halfway through the season. 
Maybe what the farmer really meant was:
"If you can't grow tomatoes in August like Public House Produce... ."  :-)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Food Chain

In my most recent post, I wrote about working with David Sours on the chicken operation and some of the thoughts that go through my head while I am spending a few hours at Public House Produce.  Perhaps before this post gets too far along, I should add the clarification that David and Heather will both smile politely at my adoption of the word "work" to describe what I am doing out in these fields.

Tuesday evenings and Wednesday mornings are the key moments in this part of the farm week.  On Tuesday night, those heritage breed birds that are ready are collected from the tractors where they have been living out in the nearby pasture for the last six to eight weeks.  It is a process that is more or less culled from Joel Salatin's authoritative "Pastured Poultry Profits."

The collected birds are prepared so that they can go to the processor early on Wednesday, but they must be protected from predators overnight, and because the quarters are a bit more confined, there is added ventilation to help them quiet and help them to cool down after the excitement of being collected and moved.  Handling them this way means few are lost during handling and transit - unlike in the industrial process, where dozens can be lost on the truck ride to the processor.

Then, early Wednesday (at least in my book it's early, although there are a bunch of Page County commuters already on the roads at this point for jobs elsewhere), there is a drive over to New Market to drop the birds off for processing.  The plant there can process thousands of birds a day, so the smaller scale, pasture-based crowd (really only a few locals - there was one other besides us there last week) gets the small lots up and on on-line before the industrial flocks arrive (athough two truckloads were waiting when we got there).  

The birds are left for processing and then there is the drive back to the farm, and then out to the tractors to move them.  The chickens get new pasture every other day, depending on the condition of the fields - they may be moved every day if needed.

They are given new water - 10 to 15 gallons a day, and then some feed in addition to the grass and bugs in the pasture.

One of the more amusing parts of all of this is the cows who share the pasture I wrote about them last week.  When the farmer approaches on the tractor, the cows looks up from where ever in the field they happen to be.  They observe the tractor's destination.  Once they confirm it is headed for the chickens, the herd picks up on a trot down to that area, hanging around waiting for the chicken tractors to move.

It's inevitable that some of the meal that supplements the chickens' pasture diet will spill out onto the ground.  This is left behind when the chicken tractors are moved along.  The cows love finding this among the grass, and crowd and jostle in to get their share.  The intern needs to stay alert with all these hulking bodies around, becasue even if he himself has a hulking body, these hulking bodies are three, four, or five times as hulking.

After this work is done, it's over to the produce section for some picking.  I worked on the tomato and cantaloupe rows, although Wednesday is a community supported agriculture (CSA) pickup day and all of the crops needed gathering - so four or five kinds of summer squash, three kinds of peppers, two or three varieties of eggplant, watermelons, onions, and sweet corn would be collected over the course of the morning.

It was only 9am, and we'd gathered (again - "we" - there were two other workers besides David in the field doing the bulk of the work) quite a bit, including 100 cantaloupes (I will be bragging on this fact for some time to come, so friends and family: fair warning), but it was time to go back and pick up the processed birds.

After that, over to their destination at the kitchen of a local restaurant.  A result of all the interest in local food is the fact that a couple of the Page County restaurants now source sme ingredients from the farms there, and David and Heather's operation is part of this group.  I've written about "Page County Grown" before - check the label at the end of the post for details. 

Around 10:30, I'd done everything I could - honestly, I will say that, because I sit on my ever-widening-backside during my day job, which I arrive at comfortably around 9am each morning, via Starbucks.  But it was a rewarding day and insightful day, fuel for several more posts, in fact.

By the way, August is "Page County Grown" month, and there will be a couple of events to celebrate it.  Notably, on August 27 there is a farm tour followed by a farm dinner at the Mimslym.  Check the Page County Grown web site, or check with the Chamber of Commerce for more information.

And it did leave me looking forward to the next installment.  Stay tuned.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Little Chicken

In the picture I am holding a chicken, one of the jailbreaks that happens whenever the little tractors are moved.  This one happens to be the last of the five that escaped from his little tractor - he is about five weeks old, and that makes his date with destiny a little more than three weeks off.  I asked David to snap a picture of me holding him, since he was the last one we'd gather that morning during the chicken chores.

I am smiling in the picture - and at first blush, that's more about the fact that I was enjoying the day so far (there'll be more on the topic tomorrow) than about the fact that I am holding this little cockerell.  It's hard to tell if I am looking at the camera, but while posing for this shot and the back up, most of the time I was not looking at the camera, but at the bird.

We'd gathered the other four escapees pretty quickly, because they didn't stray far from their brothers in the tractor.  They kept trying to get back in, despite the chicken wire that was keeping them out.  This little guy had caught sight of a cricket, though, and went off on his own in pursuit of the tasty little bug.

I interrupted that hunt by chasing him down.  So by the time I got back to the tractor and we set up the photo, I was holding a slightly winded little chicken, hot with the sun, heart pumping.  So while the smile on my face was because of a beautiful day, and because of the opportunity I am enjoying just now to explore something I've wanted to know more about, it's also about the fact that this live thing is in my hands, and I can feel the energy from it...and I can't keep from looking at the source of that energy.

I've thought about this a few times since the photo was taken last week.  I can still feel that exuberation.  I honestly have to say that I am looking forward to the next time I am running around in the field catching the jail breaks.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Agribusiness Internship - some clarifications from Week 1

Many readers know that I am spending some time in the Valley and have been keeping myself occupied with an “Agribusiness Internship” over at Public House Produce. I wrote a couple of posts last week, one about the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction over in Dayton, and a second about some cows I met in a nearby pasture. David read them, and offered some additional insight – or corrections, as the case may be – on Facebook, which I’ll share below.

"… glad to have you along and looking forward to a couple of more days shooting the breeze as well. One additional note about the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction: While they do not run a live auction through the winter, products are still distributed to larger purchasers throughout the winter. Institutional consumers like D.C. Central Kitchen buy things like hydroponic lettuce, potatoes and other root crops all winter long through the auction. My good friend Ray Lynn Showalter told me that the auction did not miss a week providing produce to consumers who needed it last year."

"…despite being there first hand I am really enjoying the reading. One slight correction, Barb is no longer a heifer. She has matured to full cow status, lol. FYI I am leaving shortly to deliver tomatoes to the produce auction (350 lbs). I am delivering this evening for tomorrow afternoon's sale. As you know Fridays are difficult for me to get away from the farm."

(Note: following up on David’s second comment, I looked up the definition of ‘heifer’ on Wikipedia, and confirmed that Bard is indeed a cow. A heifer is defined as a young cow before she has had her first cow.)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Seasons of the Road Kill: Inaugural Post

Since we started coming out to Hawksbill Cabin four years ago, Mary and I have marvelled at the incredible variety of wildlife out there in Page County.  You've got your big animals, bears and such, but those are rare sightings that you have to seek out.  Deer are ubiquitous.  And then there is a full zoo's worth of other creatures great and small.

It wasn't long before we started noticing how many of the animals get hit and killed on the road.  Sometimes the carcass falls into a peaceful repose - my friend Kelly once said of one of these, "Oh, look at the sleeping kitty cat on the side of the road!"  At other times, you get a clear sense of something violent happening out there in the middle of the night.

There is something of a phenomenon going on with all of this.  From month to month, as you progress through the year, you get the impression of mass suicide by the various species, because all the animals tend to be of one type or another.  Over the course of spring, starting in March, you might see only dead squirrels, then raccoons, then opossums, and finally skunks, before the summer takes over and it's something else. 

Since we first noticed the seasonal migrations to "the other side of the road," I've been wanting to document the calendar year with my sightings, and so here we have the inaugural post.  Out of respect for the wildlife (not to mention the readers, if I have any) I won't share photos of what I am seeing out there.  It will simply be a listing, with the number of sightings for that given species.

I don't know what season of road kill we are in right now, but I will be more attentive.  What I will offer today, as an alternative, is a list of all the creatures I have nearly hit (and therefore remain alive - technically not road kill) on the roads this week since I have been spending some time out here in Page County:

1.  A juvenile copperhead (this is the sole confirmed kill of the week, up in Warren County, I couldn't avoid it).
2.  An opossum (after seeing it, I know why so many are killed - they don't pay attention to anything in the night except for the scent they are following; this was a near miss).
3.  A bat, which swooped down out of the sky towards my windscreen as I crossed the Overall Run bridge on 340 (this was a possible kill, as it struck the top of the car - no "residue" of the impact was detected).
4.  A small rodent - a chipmunk maybe, as it seemed bigger than a mouse.
5.  A screech owl (I'm figuring it had landed for some prey that I couldn't see.  For the record, that is my strangest sighting to date).
6.  A box turtle (this one was making it's way across the road as David and I drove to the Dayton Auction on Tuesday morning).

More to follow.  So stay tuned.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Barb and the Jersey Girl

 This is the second post on my "internship" activities.  I'm labeling these with the "Agribusiness" label, so readers can click and sort on that title for the whole series.

On Tuesday after the auction, David and I headed over to a nearby pasture where he keeps the chicken tractors - that will be the topic of a future post.  Our chore was to catch the 50 or so birds that he would take for processing Wednesday morning in New Market.  I hopped on the wagon and rode over to the pasture, feet swinging over the side.

As we approached, I could see a huge heifer over there - David told me her name is Barb.  She's 14, and pretty much the matriarch of the herd we would encounter while we were taking care of the chicken business.  She's a smart girl and paid a lot of attention to us as worked; she's also a big girl, bigger than any of the others that were around, and they gave her plenty of respect and clearance when she moved around.

As we got close to the tractors, I saw most of the rest of this herd.  They gather around the tractors, which are moved two or three times a week, because there is often spilled feed on the ground in the old footprints.  As soon as a tractor moves, the cows move in right behind it, sniffing around for the ground corn and grains in the grass.  The greedy confrontations were pretty amusing...and sometimes, even athletic!

The Holsteins, with the chicken tractors in the distance.
David told me about one situation early on in his chicken raising career, where one of the cows damaged one of the tractors overnight.  Jumping over the tractor, she banged up the top hatch so that it fell into the outdoors part.  There was a jailbreak of little chickens that night - not a good thing.

While about half the flock was recovered, wandering happily around the pasture the next morning, the other half had been taken by the bountiful predators in the nearby woods - hawks, fox, etc. - or some of them simply got away, who knows where.

Anyhow, more about the chickens to follow...

On the way out, David took me around to see the old milking barn from this retired dairy operation.  I reminisced about Mary's cousin, who have a 140-head operation in Michigan (we really need to get back up there to check things out).

As we got back to the tractor, we were near a little run-in shed where we saw three calves - two Holsteins and this beautiful little Jersey. If I get a cow, I think that she'll be one of these.

When we approached, the lttle Jersey stood and came over the fence to sniff us and look for a handout.  We didn't have anything, but she stood by and let us pet her.  She's going to make a good milker for somebody!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

At the Dayton Produce Auction

Tractors lining up for the drive thru auction.
I mentioned that I am on furlough for the month of August.  One of the things I thought I might check out is working on a farm - and my friend David Sours at Public House Produce agreed to take me on.  I can only hope that having me around a couple of days a week isn't slowing him down - thanks David!

For the first item of business, I drove over to the farm and met David at 7:30 for the drive from Luray to Dayton, which is near Harrisonburg.  Up and over New Market Gap, then down I-81 for a short bit, and then we were off on country roads.  It's Mennonite country there, so as we got closer to our destination, we were surrounded by lush farms and few motorized vehicles.  And finally we got to the auction house.

Drive thru auction action.
Small lots auction area.
It was early enough that the heat of the daywasn't up, and themountains that surrounded us were still visible.  We quickly unloaded David's two lots of tomatoes - a heritage lot of "Pineapples," the same as in the auction video above, and a larger lot of "slicers," a good-sized sandwich tomato (Mary made a pizza with one of them last week, by the way).  Smaller lots like his stay up under the canopy there - I have a photo of some of the selection and the growers milling about - and larger lots, especially bulky stuff like sweet corn and melons, stay on the wagons and go through the drive thru auction area.

David went around working the room - exchanging tips, checking out some of the varieties of vegetables here, finding out if there'd been rain - there were lots of friendly folks around and they were pretty happy to share what was working for them and what wasn't...although that kind of information is politely delivered in the "Now, I don't want to tell anybody what to do here, but that there is a hacksaw, not a crosscut" kind of format.

After taking care of some market chores, we went and watched some of the big lots move through - the video is a sale of one lot.  Then we went over for some peach pie at the little food stand.  I closed out my visit by picking up copies of the sellers and buyers guidelines, and a schedule.  There's a market through the summer on Tuesday, Thursday and Firday, tapering off to two days a week in October and one day a week in November, until closing for the winter, December through March.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Racking the Lees at Wisteria

Last weekend, with temperatures in the high 90’s, I set out on a little hike to summit Hazeltop Mountain in Shenandoah National Park. As I was making my way back to Hawksbill Cabin, I decided to make a stop by Wisteria to pick up a bottle of their Traminette, which Mary and I both enjoy.

The tasting room was busy – I always love to see that – so I was quick about my business. Although it eventually turned out that Mary really likes the sparkling traminette, which is a new offering this summer, I bought the still. Sue had challenged me on this point, trying to make sure I was correct in my choice.  Despite this egregious error, the day was not a total loss for me.

Approaching the parking lot, Moussa emerged from the cellar and said hi. Then he told that he was working on a small batch of apple wine, adding “Would you like to taste some?” He invited me, and two of the folks who’ve been helping out there, in for a little sample.

On first blush, when your local vintner asks you to come into the wine cellar, where the temperatures are at a constant 55 degrees or so, on a sultry 100 degree day, well, how long are you going to think about that? Since I’ve been interested in apple wine for some time, for various reasons. I accepted the invitation for research – the second of my two justifications – and for my faithful readers, I’ve got to report what I learned.

Wisteria, being the working farm, has quite a few fruit trees around. I learned that they had combined part of their crop – the trees are still young – with some heritage varieties from a neighbor up in Kite Hollow. Moussa told me he’d used about 150 pounds of apples to produce about 20 gallons, if I have that right.

We tasted our samples, and the wine was very nice. It reminded me of a late harvest white, although the fruity overtone was apple and not grape. Everyone congratulated him on a winner, and then my colleagues were on their way to their Sunday dinner.

I have to be honest, I was enjoying the cool too much, and I lingered. Moussa told me he had to get back to work on the wine, and asked if I’d like to stick around and watch him rack the wine. “Yes, I'd like that very much!” I said.

Racking the wine is a clarification and stabilizing step in the winemaking process. The new wine is siphoned off of the lees – this is the particulate residue of the fruit that is suspended in the wine during the pressing activities. I’m told, that just as in brewing, it’s important to separate the wine off of the lees (in brewing, the trub) to reduce the potential for off-tastes.

The wine is siphoned between containers – Wisteria uses 15-gallon carafes for small batch vintages – and this is the process that Moussa carefully executed while I watched, nosing around in the well organized and cool cellar. You know, it’s a treat to encounter the tools of the trade for a process you think you understand, but only because you enjoy the end product.

I had admired the peach trees at Wisteria, which earlier were so burdened with fruit that the branches had to be propped up, and asked if he’d thought about using them for a vintage. He told me that with the temperatures and drought conditions this summer they had lost much of that crop, and didn’t have enough to make a go of the wine. “But we will be trying some blackberry wine soon.”

These are small batch, special production wines, and aren’t likely to be brought to market just yet. Still, the apple wine was a real treat. I hope to get invited back when the blackberry wine is in the works.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Mary's Truck Patch

I was awakened at 7am Saturday to the squeak-squeak-squeak of Mary turning the spigot to water her truck patch.  I usually don't hear this sound - I get up earlier to walk the dog, and by the time this watering chore gets going on most days I am down in the basement faithfully posting here.

This morning, Mary was quite chipper as she came back in the house.  She'd worked over the cherry tomatoes and proclaimed that she might set up over at the farmers market today.  I've got a photo of much of the take from her truck patch - this is all since Thursday night.

Here's also a look at the patch.  I'm guessing it takes up a spot that is 6x15 feet along the western fence of the Alexandria yard.  As you can see, there's yellow squash, eggplant, cherry and traditional tomatoes, peppers...and the okra there, which was a late addition, a gift from Herb. 

Herb also gave her about three dozen perfect, baseball sized tomatoes from his garden, which she ended up sharing with our neighbors.  Although on Thursday night, Mary sliced one up and we enjoyed it as a featured item on a BLT.

The patch is still going strong, although the heat and drought it taking its toll on the plants...I'll post again with progress.