Their Own Design: Brothers change the blueprint of their family farm

Sam and Brian FoxThough he and his brother, Sam, were raised on a conventional dairy farm in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Brian Fox took a completely different career path before realizing that he’d rather be farming. Brian spent his days as a graphic designer in Washington, D.C., before delving full-time into tending vegetables and cultivating garlic. But ask him today what he thinks of swapping a desk job for this and it’s clear he made the right move: “I’d rather be this kind of worn-out.”

The brothers own Salem Mountain Farm in Waymart, Pennsylvania. Sam had always had the agricultural dream, but their parents ended the dairy operation in the 1970s. He and Brian knew that starting their own agricultural business, even if it was on the family land, was going to be a challenge.

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Retail Value: Improvising on sales gets to the meat of the business

Randy ShanerThe red shale soil sloping down to the Manatawny Creek in Berks County is ideally suited for grassland, and even in Pennsylvania, grassland means cattle. Here Randy Shaner, his father, Bob Shaner, and his cousin, Chad Hoffman, raise grass-based, grain-finished 100 percent Angus cattle on 900 acres at the Peterson & Shaner Farms in Douglassville, Pennsylvania.  
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Living The Dream: An idealistic vision becomes a dynamic business

The Brownback Family, owners of Spiral Path FarmSpiral Path Farm is a well-oiled machine. Tidy rows of kale, tomatoes and broccoli line sections of the farm in Loysville, Pennsylvania, and when you see their community supported agriculture (CSA) operation, it’s clear that a considerable amount of planning and organization went into the farming and the business. But it wasn’t always so well-coordinated. 
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Pork Life: Connections, smart decisions plump up production

Paul and Ember CrivellaroEmber Crivellaro speaks affectionately about the city’s most highly regarded chefs as though they’re the neighborhood kids with a lemonade stand. Ember, and her husband, Paul, are some of the preemminent porcine professionals of Philadelphia. Country Time Farm’s customers include Le Virtu, South Philly Tap Room, American Sardine Bar, Southwark and the eateries of Jose Garces and Marc Vetri.
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Family Trees: Innovation bears fruit for seven generations

Ben Wenk, the youngest generation of Wenk family fruit farmers.Fruit farmer Ben Wenk has the unusual distinction of living on a street named after his family. Three Springs Fruit Farm on Bendersville Wenksville Road in Aspers, Pennsylvania, has been in operation since 1818 and there, with his father and uncle, Wenk grows apples, cherries, peaches and pears. 

Seven generations of Wenks have called Adams County home, and it was Ben’s great-great-grandfather, Ferd Wenk, who first planted four of the family’s acres in apples. Ben’s grandfather, Donald Wenk, built on that legacy when a group of apple growers in the area formed a cooperative and bought Musselman’s, a nearby apple processing company. 

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Sewing the Seeds of Production

Amid the hum of sewing machines and chatter of their operators, in a space nestled away from the sidewalk in Old City, a small-scale production movement is taking on steam. MADE Studios is a workshop, school and collaborative space where emerging and advanced designers can give shape and texture to their dreams. Young fashionistas come to learn basic sewing. Suburban mothers take intermediate courses to refresh long-lost skills. Design school grads tackle advanced draping and corsetry not offered in their classes. 
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The Philly Pantry Project: Even in the bleakest months, find inspiration for exciting meals

A few years ago, I moved to Italy to study gastronomy, and it was there that I confronted my food-hoarding habit. I lived in a charming Parma flat with a former advertising executive from Australia by way of Singapore, and, on weekends, her Columbian fiancée. Collectively, we had a problem. We were powerless as consumers when faced with such novel delights as savory Sicilian sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil-packed sardines, and gem-colored jars of jam and honey.

As our time there dwindled, it became clear we needed to stop saving and start eating. We called our endeavor the “Parma Pantry Project.” The results were meals that were creative and ambitious. Even now, when winter drags on, I challenge myself to use my precious ingredients. 

Each of these recipes features pantry staples with a few fresh ingredients. The crostata makes use of jam, almonds and flour; canned tomato and olive oil soften stale bread into the Tuscan pappa al pomodoro; and the Sicilian bucatini con le Sarde pulls punch from canned sardines, breadcrumbs, saffron, raisins and pine nuts.  

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Where's the Beef?: Russet brings the farm to the table all year long so you never have to ask

Andrew and Kristin Wood, chef-owners of RussetThis time of year, the word “russet” calls to mind potatoes and perhaps their dusty, tuberous and root vegetable brethren. Fortunately for Philadelphia locavores, Russet is also the name of the rustic, elegant Rittenhouse BYOB operated by chef-owners Andrew and Kristin Wood. At the height of summer, it may seem as though many chefs are devotees of farm-to-table cooking, but as the weather cools and the glut of offerings slows to a trickle, most of them jump off of the local-sourcing wagon. Not Russet.  
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Small-Batch Distillery Opens

Many people think that they have great ideas while drinking, but the founders of Manatawny Still Works, a new craft distillery in Montgomery County’s Pottstown, may have actually been onto something. The group of friends, including John Giannopoulos, one of the managing partners of Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery, was drinking last winter and someone said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could make a whiskey, too?” They’ll do just that with the spent barley from Sly Fox this spring. 
To learn more, visit manatawnystillworks.com.

 

From microgreens to microfinancing

Blue moon acres farm has built loyalty among Philadelphia’s chefs with their vegetables and microgreens, which chefs use to add color and flavor to restaurant dishes. Now, they’re rebuilding their farm with Winter Market Dollars, a  customer loyalty program. 

Jim and Kathy Lyons opened a retail market on their farm in Pennington, New Jersey, during peak growing season in 2011. Though they closed the first winter, their Market Manager Natalie Rockwell had an idea for a new business strategy, and urged them to keep the farm open year-round, though it took some convincing. “[The Lyons] were nervous about being open through the winter with nothing of our own except for carrots, garlic [and] microgreens,” Rockwell says. Soon, the Lyons saw Rockwell’s vision, and together they developed the Winter Market Dollars program. 

The program mimics a community supported agriculture (CSA) membership, but instead of getting a fixed box of vegetables every week, customers go to the Blue Moon Acres Market, either in Buckingham, Pennsylvania, or Pennington, where they whittle down their credit every time they shop. Membership is free, and participants can choose to invest in $100, $300 or $500 increments, with perks at each level. With a $300 investment, they can put Blue Moon’s eggs on hold, and at $500 they get a $25 bonus to apply to a farm-to-table dinner, workshop or event. 

The whole idea, initially, was to keep people coming through the winter, Rockwell says, but as they developed the program, a secondary—and more ambitious—goal emerged. 

After Hurricane Sandy, the Lyons lost a high tunnel—a moveable structure similar to a greenhouse—that allowed them to extend the season of autumn crops through the entire winter. If they could gather enough support for the Winter Market Dollars program from their customers, they would be able to earn the $12,000 it would cost to replace the high tunnel they lost. 

They started sign-ups in November and met their goal two months later. “It was a very pleasant surprise,” Rockwell says, adding that before this winter is over, they can make an upgrade that will make even more variety available to their customers next winter.

The new high tunnel will allow Blue Moon Acres to maintain winter production of such late-autumn crops as kale, broccoli and cauliflower. Effectively, the farm is borrowing from itself, from its own future vegetables, instead of from a bank, and it’s because of their customers investing in them. It brings a whole new meaning to the idea of seed money.

For more information about the Winter Market Dollars program, visit bluemoonacres.net.

Story by Emily Teel

 

Brewer’s Plate connects locavores and beer enthusiasts to their favorite subjects

Brewer's Plate, March 9, 2014 at the Kimmel Center; General Admission $55 and up, VIP tickets starting at $115.Philadelphia foodies and beer buffs can join like-minded others and head to the Brewer’s Plate, a Fair Food fundraiser that showcases pairings from local brewers and chefs. The event, which will be held March 9, began 10 years ago as a small festival at the Reading Terminal Market, and has outgrown one venue after another with its rising popularity. In celebration of its 10th anniversary, this year’s gala will be held for the first time at the Kimmel Center, where more than 1,000 guests can gather to drink, dine and dish about the local food scene. 
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Morris Park preservation allows animal prints to be seen once again

The first snow of winter sits heavy and wet as photographer Christian Hunold and I explore Morris Park by the rich light of dawn. The snow clings to every branch and twig, surrounding us in a tunnel of glowing white as we walk the path along the west branch of Indian Creek.

Overbrook’s Morris Park follows the two branches of the creek from City Avenue to Haverford Avenue, just upstream of their confluence with Cobbs Creek. In other seasons, I’ve caught toads in the underbrush and followed the trails to the top of one of the quarries, which today looks like a rocky cliff cut down into the hillside. Together with the ruined remains of old mills, it all hints at the land’s industrial past.

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Organic farmer creates niche podcast that connects food producers to consumers

Heckler's recent Jan. 14 podcast featured David Siller, local forager, pictured aboveIf you’ve ever wanted to learn more about the farmer who pruned your peaches and cultivated your kale, now you can. Since October, Chester County USDA-certified organic vegetable farmer Dan Heckler has hosted Jack’s Farm Radio, a weekly podcast in which he interviews organic farmers, sustainability advocates, local chefs and old friends as a way to connect food producers to the consumers. 
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What’s in a Name?

Story and Photos by Bradley MauleWilliam Allen wielded a lot of influence in colonial Pennsylvania—he was a merchant who built upon his father’s fortune, he helped finance the construction of Independence Hall, and he was a one-term Philadelphia mayor and a longtime chief justice of the Province of Pennsylvania. Mount Airy, his nine-acre estate, gave the neighborhood its name and is fronted on Germantown Avenue where the Lutheran Theological Seminary now stands. Despite Allen's prominence, his legacy isn't honored uniformly. 
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