Growing Together

Dakota Borneman Murtha, the daughter of Blooming Glen Farm farmers Tricia Borneman and Tom Murtha, smells freshly pulled fennel. | Photos by Daryl Pevet

Blooming Glen Farm is a labor of love for farming couple

Ask Tricia Borneman and Tom Murtha of Blooming Glen Farm how they met, and the couple credit a well-crafted mixtape. But almost 20 years since they first got their hands dirty together while urban farming as college students in Philadelphia, it’s clear that farming has been a strong thread running throughout their relationship.

“I think we were just looking for something to do outside together that felt meaningful and that we were passionate about,” Borneman says. “The ideas of working for ourselves and working with the earth gelled together in farming.”

Before leasing the 35 acres that comprise Blooming Glen Farm in upper Bucks County in 2006, Borneman and Murtha spent several years as nomadic farmers learning their craft at a variety of farms, moving from Philadelphia to Connecticut to Oregon to New Jersey, and eventually back to Bucks County. Through it all, Murtha says, “The dream was out there.”

That dream—operating their own farm—was realized with Blooming Glen, which now serves a 300-share CSA, three farmers markets and wholesale customers. “We always tell people who come to work here that their dreams are attainable, but you have to keep moving forward,” Borneman says. “We just kept putting one foot in front of the other, accumulating knowledge, but you can never know everything you need to know about farming. It really took getting to the level where we felt confident enough to do it on our own to know when we had to take the plunge.”

“We’ve learned to love our red earth,” says Blooming Glen farmer Tricia Borneman. “If you can grow it in this area, we try.”

Blooming Glen grows vegetables without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or GMOs, and uses compost, cover crops, mulching and crop rotation to ensure the long-term health of the soil. Last fall, the farm was certified organic. As complicated as the certification process was, Murtha says, keeping the extensive records required ultimately helped them as business people.

“We realized as we went through the process that it makes you a better grower,” Murtha says. “Everyone needs to stop thinking of farming as this romantic notion. Not that it isn’t, but it’s really an entrepreneurial business venture. We’ve always been very passionate about making sure that our farm is a sustainable business.”

Borneman calls Blooming Glen’s CSA “the backbone of our farm,” and emphasizes it as an example of their commitment to the local community. Twice a month, the farm’s Chef Educator, Kristin Moyer, does cooking demos during CSA pick-up hours to help members figure out what to do with their crops. In addition to the twice-weekly farm-to-table lunches Moyer provides for the farm’s crew, she also hosts activities and educational opportunities for children of CSA members. On the late September day when we arrived, she was handing out samples of a delicious squash tortilla soup.

Colleen Clemens, an English professor at Kutztown University, has been a CSA member for five years. “I’ve learned to use all kinds of things that I never imagined I would eat,” she says, mentioning bok choy as a recent success. “In the beginning, joining the CSA was about being able to come and see my food being grown. But I’ve come to know the people that own the farm, so there’s almost a social element to coming. I like to bring my daughter to play and pick. She ate her first strawberry and her first cherry tomato here.”

On weekends, Blooming Glen can be found at Headhouse Farmers Market in Philadelphia as well as the Wrightstown and Easton farmers markets. They also do wholesale business through Zone 7, a year-round New Jersey-based distribution service that connects farmers with restaurants, grocers and institutions. Partnering with Zone 7 allows them to concentrate on growing more of a few items that they do particularly well, as opposed to their core CSA business, which requires growing a little bit of everything to please their weekly customers, especially core crops like carrots that don’t grow easily on the farm.

“Ten years in, we’re getting to a point where we actually know how to farm this farm pretty well,” Murtha says. “It’s amazing to think about how different everyone’s farms are.”

“We’ve learned to love our red earth,” Borneman adds with a weary chuckle. “If you can grow it in this area, we try.”