Harvest Local Foods partners with over 60 local farmers and artisan food producers to bring you the freshest local foods available. Most of the farmers and producers we work with live within a few hours drive of Philadelphia.
A pledge you don’t often see….. We are committed to:
- Personally visiting our local farmers and food artisans and creating strong working relationships with them
- Ensuring that our customers know who is growing or producing their food, and by what means (organically, sustainably or using an Integrated Pest Management system)
Calkins Creamery, Honesdale, PA (Wayne County)
A visit by Pam, June 24, 2011
In Wayne County, about an hour northeast of Scranton is Highland Farm, a sixth-generation family farm founded in 1841 by the Bryant family. Like many of the farms in those gorgeous rolling hills, Highland Farm is a dairy farm that has struggled to stay in business because the price that farmers get for their milk has barely risen over the past few decades. Many of the farms have indeed gone out of business, but Emily, a member of the sixth generation, made it her mission to help save her family farm by making cheese.
I visited Highland Farm and Calkins Creamery on June 24 with my husband and two boys. Emily met us at the creamery building right behind the cow barn, gave us a tour and told us her story.
Emily grew up on the farm helping with all the chores of a dairy farm. After getting a degree at Penn State in Food Science, she and her husband, Jay Montgomery, moved to California and worked for a large food company. Soon the couple decided that they wanted to return to her family's farm to start a complementary business that would help the farm flourish.
Emily took a cheese making course in California, and then worked at Kraft as a quality control supervisor for two years in order to save enough money to start the cheese making venture. Five years ago Calkins Creamery was born with Emily making small batches in her kitchen. She soon outgrew the kitchen and built a small creamery building with a direct pipeline from the milking barn to the cheese vat. Now she employs several young people from the area and together they make 200 lbs of cheese a day, five days a week.
All the milk for Calkins Creamery cheese comes from the family's dairy cows. The farm benefits from the creamery in a variety of ways. First, Emily pays a higher price for the milk than wholesalers do. Also, the whey that's left over after the processing of the cheese goes back onto the fields as a fertilizer and also to the pigs that her brother is raising and selling as whey-fed pork.
Emily's father and brother run the dairy farm and are committed to farmland conservation and ecological practices. The farm was officially accepted into the Wayne County Agricultural Land Preservation Program which will protect it from development in perpetuity. They've restored the creek that runs through their pastures by no longer allowing the cows to drink from it. Solar panels pump water into a storage tank which then gravity feeds to ten grazing paddocks. 1000 new trees were planted along the creek to help in its restoration.
The Bryants place great value on keeping their cows comfortable and unstressed. We saw how the very young calves remain near their mothers. We learned that the cows are allowed time off from breeding and lactating. We saw how they are moved easily from one pasture to another along fenced paths to allow for rotational grazing.
Back inside the creamery, Emily showed us a vat filled with that morning's milk being heated gradually before the culture was sprinkled over the surface to start the cheese making process. Large paddles slowly stirred the milk. By the evening, the cheese makers would put the new cheese in round molds and press them. A small adjoining room was filled with wheels of cheese in various stages of aging-- from the new cheese soaking in buckets of brine, to wheels painted with colorful wax rinds or covered in the moulds that create a natural rind. The creamery rents space in a cave at a nearby vineyard for most of their cave-aged cheeses. They also take 40 wheels at a time to a smoke house an hour away (one of the few true smoke houses still in existence...most "smoked" cheese these days simply have a smoked flavoring added).
Emily told us that her favorite part of the work is still in making and eating the cheese. And certainly for my older son the best part of our visit was the cheese-tasting. His favorite...Vampire Slayer (a very tasty cheddar cheese flavored with garlic, onion, ginger and paprika)!
Landisdale Farm, Elizabethtown, PA (Lebanon County)
A visit by Mary Ann and Hannah, Fall 2011
After conquering numerous obstacles—hurricanes, flooding, calendar mix-ups—Hannah and I finally made it to this much-anticipated meeting at Rachel and Dan Landis’s farm in Elizabethtown. Hannah, a fluent Spanish speaker, interviewed Reynaldo Levita who comes from Peru and helps Dan and Rachel farm their 200 or so acres. I’ve recently become concerned and interested in how our farmers make decisions about their help, and this was our first face to face meeting with a person from a different country who does farm work on one of “our” farms. Hannah was a natural at interviewing in Spanish. Check out our blog for Reynaldo's story.
After our conversation with Reynaldo ended, Dan spent a generous hour and a half of his time showing us around the farm. He’s most excited about a new project making “humified compost," an innovation based on scientific formulas and processes which break down organic matter more rapidly and more thoroughly than traditional methods. He’s hoping to make enough for his fields and whatever market he can find at surrounding farms. The long raised rows of finished, ebony brown, humus looked like giant groundhog tunnelings. I never knew that humus could be so beautiful and aromatic.
As twilight fell on the warm September day, we moseyed down the tractor paths between thriving crops of lacinato kale, chard, onions, winter squashes, and more while Dan talked about the different crops and the challenges of farming. Generating income in the winter months is one of those challenges. To this end, he’s put up a large greenhouse by which he can begin seedlings, and grow spinach, lettuce, arugula and other tender greens through the wintertime. As we absorbed the scents and sights of the greenhouse, Dan, ever the inventor and entrepreneur, offered various ideas for maximizing the compost project, with its 150 degree internal temperatures. What if we ran water pipes through the piles to heat the water for our homes? Hannah suggested using piles of compost in the greenhouse to keep it warm in winter. It’s a project that has almost unlimited potential for closed-loop applications—basically, his organic “garbage” goes onto the compost piles instead of into a landfill, and the resulting organic humus goes back onto his fields, saving him the expense of buying fertilizers.
Hearing Dan’s perspective on the question of how he chooses and finds his farmworkers helped me appreciate the complexities of the process for farmers. He has been using the MESA organization for about five years and has been quite happy with all the workers they’ve sent him. But the added fees are a burden and he’s looking for a new organization. For Dan, the best workers are from Peru and Chile. He has hired some local American workers but, sad to say, they haven’t been as responsible or hard-working as Dan needs. As he said, “When a crop needs harvesting, it doesn’t wait.”
HLF first found Dan and Rachel through Fair Food and we’ve enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial relationship for six years now. They love the land and it shows in their produce. Thanks, Dan and Rachel and all your workers for being smart enough and hard-working enough to grow delicious and healthy food for all our tables!
Sunny Slope Farm, Christiana, PA (Lancaster County)
A visit by Mary Ann, Winter, 2011
Ruth and Ben Glick have been Lancaster County farmers all their lives. Even on this gray day, the snow-covered rolling hills where they grew up almost glistened. As I sat in the sparsely furnished living room of this young Amish couple and listened to their stories of dairy farming and mustard-making, I could hear their love for the land. Ruth showed me the licensed kitchen in the basement where she makes the creamy Amish mustard that HLF sells.
Ben is developing a poultry business that would provide fresh chicken to HLF throughout the winter season. They also grow produce and wanted to know what crops we would like them to grow! I loved their questions about HLF and their enthusiasm for our “growing” partnership. (Something to look forward to for next winter… frozen fruits and vegetables from Sunny Slope Farm).
Four Worlds Bakery, Philadelphia, PA
A visit by Pam, Winter, 2010
Michael Dolich began baking bread at home in 2006. Now, at his new bakery in West Philadelphia, he’s being discovered by more and more people who know just how delicious and nutritious true artisanal bread can be.
On a recent tour of his new bakery, Michael showed us the small electric mill where he freshly grinds all the whole grains that go into his breads. He’s dedicated to producing bread of the highest nutritional value, and has learned that by freshly milling the grains, he can create a nutritionally superior bread. (The fatty acids in commercially milled flours turn rancid almost immediately.)
We watch as one of the bakers forms loaves at a table covered with flour. These loaves rise using natural fermentation --a sourdough starter « birthed » three years ago. Michael explains that this is another core aspect of creating a healthful loaf. Unlike commercial yeasts which have only one yeast strain, natural fermentation allows for a diversity of yeast strains to thrive and to make the resulting bread not only more flavorful, but also more digestible.
Michael shows us his two ovens…one for baking the crusty loaves, and one a convection oven ideal for baking croissants and other pastries. Finally we check out his walk-in refrigerator full of milk and eggs from local farms. The freshness and high quality of the ingredients (right down to the salt…only Celtic sea salt is used) combined with the artistry that comes with making all the bread by hand in small batches, results in the beautiful, nutritious bread that adorn the racks at the front of the store.
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