Thursday, May 28, 2009

Weekend Update: Saturday

Hi, and welcome back to Flartopia! Sorry it's been kind of boring around here this week. As luck would have it, Memorial Day weekend was booked solid, and I'm still reeling from all the activity! But it was all fun and interesting, so my goal is to share each day's events separately, to do them all justice.

Saturday morning was, of course, market day. We even got to step behind the vendor's bench and watch the Bosky Acres booth while Michele ran off to the ladies' room. It was an unexpected glance into the variety of customers to the market--mostly very open and friendly, but a few very demanding, retail-style shoppers. Odd.

Ok, but the really cool part of Saturday was the farm tour! New Town Farms, run by Sammy Koenigsberg and his family, was one of the founders of our favorite market, over a decade ago. Sammy and his wife Melinda have been farming for almost 20 years, and they have developed into a model organic, local, viable business.

Unfortunately for Miss Chef, Saturday night is always a work night, so I had to go on my own. (She told me later she was very jealous, but she hid it well, I have to say.) When I arrived at the property, I was sure I had gotten the address wrong. For one thing, there were no signs, no gathering of cars or people, and this was the only house I saw:

"This is not a working farm," I told myself. It was far too manicured, and there wasn't a fence, animal, or clod of manure in sight. However, after driving further on and turning around, I finally found someone to ask....turns out I was an hour early. Oops.

But that had some benefits! The person I asked turned out to be Melinda, and she explained that the house in question was her father-in-law's former residence. He passed away a couple of years ago, and now they are using this as a rental space for events. It was here we would gather after the tour, for hors d'oeuvres and refreshments. It was in this spacious kitchen that I spent the next hour slicing bread and chatting with Sammy's and Melinda's two oldest daughters--one of whom had just sold us carrots that morning. Love it!

So, to give you a little background, Sammy and Melinda were given about 15 acres of the family land when they decided to go into farming. Sammy acknowledges that New Town Farms is in a very unique position--they were given their land, built their own house, and inherited a lot of their equipment. Since they don't have payments on any of that, they've been able to invest that much more into the land and developing a customer base. After Sammy's father passed away, he inherited the remainder of the land, 39 acres in all. The manicured area I'd been driving around on was the senior Koenigsberg's property, not the main part of the farm.

Ok, on with the tour. First we stopped at the greenhouse, which is one of the pieces of equipment they inherited.

At this moment, it was empty of plants, but we did get an explanation of how the farm makes its own potting soil, and a demonstration of a hand tool that compacts the soil and separates it into cubes. I tell ya, I learned a fair amount about gardening for my own quarter acre!

Next, we tromped down a grassy slope to the edge of the woods, to visit the pigs.

These are a heritage breed, Ossabaw, named after the island on the Carolina coast. They are descendents of pigs abandoned or escaped from Spanish explorers--the same genes in that fabulous cured ham that Spain is famous for. These pigs are hard to get, apparently. Sammy told us that he was lucky to get them from a woman who wasn't able to accept hers when they became available. Turns out, they are from Mount Vernon--as Sammy said, "George Washingon pet that pig." Well, sort of.

Being bred from a feral population, these pigs are winter hardy, and get a good portion of their food by rooting in the woods. They have about three acres to run in, surrounded by a very low electric fence. Sammy pointed out the benefits to the pigs and to the humans: pigs are born to root, and those raised in industrial farms are trapped on concrete. I've read elsewhere that they'll go nutty enough to turn cannibalistic, so their tails are often cropped off, to prevent the other pigs from chewing on them. For us, we get a better-flavored meat, with all the various nuts and leaves that make up their diet. And, of course, the satisfaction of knowing that our bacon had a pain-free and fulfilling, if short, life.

The next stop on the Breakfast of Champions train was to the laying hens. Check out this awesome coop!

To the right, behind that tree trunk, is an enclosed end with nest boxes in it. The hens are free-range, locked up each night to protect them from predators. There are about seven or eight breeds in the flock...some that Sammy mentioned were Rhode Island Reds, Araucanas and Dominiques (which I think is an endangered heritage breed?).

Here's a closer look at some of the lovely laying ladies.

*sigh* Aren't they gorgeous??

Ok, we had to leave the chickens way of the compost pile. Sorry, no pictures! But I will tell you that standing between the fragrant chicken coop and the fragranter compost pile was not for the faint of nose! Sammy includes this in all his farm tours, because, as he says, the soil is the heart and soul of organic farming. By allowing the soil to be nourished naturally, not only does he cut down on chemical fertilizers trucked in from afar, but he also is able to raise healthier plants that require less defense from pests in the form of chemical pesticides.

And then we were off to those healthy plants! First we passed by the blueberry bushes...

...and then to the rest of the fields. Sammy, Melinda and their eight children cultivate about three acres of a remarkable variety of vegetables. (The children are home-schooled, to boot, and none of them seem at all resentful of their farm-centered lives.)

As I stood looking over the lettuce field, I thought, "This is where my food comes from." And it was a very, very good feeling!

Sammy stopped frequently to pull plants from the ground to show how they grow and how they're harvested. He pulled this out to show us what he said is the biggest crop of romaine he's ever seen:

After each such demonstration, he would hand the plant to a visitor as a sort of door prize. No, I didn't get the giant romaine; I got an Italian beet that looks like a peppermint candy inside. Doesn't taste like peppermint, but nothing's perfect.

Here's a sample of what we saw: peppers, eggplants, garlic, celery, fennel, sweet peas, potatoes, tomatoes, beets, carrots (they pulled 100 bunches the previous day, and sold out by 9 am at the market that morning), onions, lettuce, kale, cabbage, broccoli,, strawberries...oh, and you know, tons more.

The last stop on the tour was to the broilers, which are raised in a "chicken mobile," a la Polyface Farms (as described in Omnivore's Dilemma). In fact, Sammy originally used a mobile based on Joel Salatin's design, but said he hated it, so redesigned it. He does have an architecture degree, so, again, unfair advantage!
Twice a day, a golf cart is hooked up to the coop, and it's moved one length forward, giving the young birds inside fresh foraging. They are a bit crowded, but still have room to move, scratch around and be chickens. At the same time, they are spreading their own fertilizer across the pasture, working it in as they, er, go. And you can see the results:

That darker green strip on the left is where they've already been. I did play with the contrast on this a little, but only to get it closer to what we saw standing there. It really was a remarkable demonstration of What Works.

We then repaired back to the Inn, where we enjoyed hors d'oeuvres consisting of New Town veggies, salami made from one of their Ossabaw pigs, fresh bread baked by one of their CSA* members, and goat cheese from our very own Bosky Acres! Plus organic wines, which I didn't partake of, having a 40-minute drive home.

This was the courtyard where we gathered to share gardening stories and the history of some of the local farms and markets.

*CSA = community-supported agriculture. Members pay an up-front fee each year, and during growing season receive a "basket" of fresh produce each week, fresh from the farm. It gives the farmer working capital and assured income, and makes it more convenient for the customers.

Ok, that's it for Saturday! Next up, a Sunday road 'bout a little hint?


  1. What a dream of a farm! Thanks for bringing it to me. Is that a jellyfish at the bottom?

    Nancy in Atlanta

  2. when can we move in? Gosh, I see all that, and dang, we'll never get close to that setup. Your photo's are good, in fact, wish they were larger, sort of difficult to see details.

  3. Joanna, if you click on most of the pictures, you can see a much bigger version. Don't know why not all of them do it; blogger is frustratingly inconsistent about it!

  4. Thanks for the great farm tour. What an awesome place. And all that produce. I bet they live such a healthy life having access to fresh organic produce.
    I liked that the kids were homeschooled, too. Such a wholesome way of on a farm and being educated at home by your own family.

    That's one of the reasons we began homeschooling over 6 years ago, and why we moved to the country.
    My kids thank me all the time for our life. They don't miss suburbia and city life at all.



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