I'm humbled and honored to have a seat at the table for Food Tank Summit 2016. The problems with our nation's food system are numerous and well-documented. We all have a role to play in our actions and our advocacy - from eaters (everyone), to aggregators (Chesapeake Farm to Table, South Central PA Food Hub), to farmers like us and everyone in between. Food Tank is the leading think tank organization moving the conversation forward in the hopes of "Building a global community for safe, healthy, nourished eaters". I've been chosen to speak on a panel with George Naylor of the National Family Farm Coalition (and farmer), Regina Beidler of Organic Valley - Beidler Family Farm, Sheperd Ogden - The Cook's Garden, and Paul Willis of the Niman Ranch Pork Company. Should be a great discussion! Tune in next Thursday 4/21/16 at 3:45 for the web stream at this link!
So! Here's all the more I can say about stuff like this when it happens. I graduated Penn State's College of Ag, eager to farm and work outdoors with my family on lands that meant a great deal to me and a community that still supported agriculture. I didn't have the first idea where that path would lead at the time. It lead me to Philadelphia! Our first farmers markets were in Philly. My friends, family, in-laws were there too. And so were a lot of people who really loved food. Wanted to know where it came from - everything about how I grew it. These people became my friends. They trusted me, and I trusted them. I listened when they spoke about all the great things going on in Philadelphia. I was green coming out of college. I didn't have any idea what a "food scene" was. But Philly embraced me, and "learned me up right quick". So, when the occasion does arise that I'm honored with this kind of great recognition, it's cause for me to stop and appreciate the opportunity I was given. To thank my father and uncle for giving me the chance to prove myself, for my mom, who every Headhouse customer knows, puts in long hours every Sunday, what would really be her only day off, to help me out. To everyone here at the farm for all of their hard work - this farm is nothing without the good people we're fortune enough to have on our team. And thank you to all of the outstanding people I've met in the food business. Certainly you Philly folks - you know who you are, from the kind words of customers at market, to the folks who have never failed to steer me right, thank you. And certainly the folks in Baltimore, DC, and our neighbors in the industry as well. In short (hah! right)... I'm humbled by the recognition and there are too many people to thank.
I'd been doing farmers markets for about three years before I realized I was part of the food industry. I know that sounds silly, but we farmer types are very territorial and are so proud to be counted among the roughly 0.6% of the population in our country who work in agriculture, we are slow to recognize this crossover.
But now I'm lovin' it! I've met a lot of great people working in food and it's changed a lot about what we do here at Three Springs. We're like kindred spirits - those living in the farming and restaurant realms. We all love what we do (most of the time), keep weird and long hours, put up with a lot of bologna, and bring a unique perspective to everyday things. I like being in the food industry and I thank them for making hayseeds much like myself and others of my ilk to be welcome in their company.
What I didn't expect from my newfound role in food was to receive praise from some of their finest - and both in the same month, for what its worth!
The first was some lovin' we got from none other than...
In this sweet review of Headhouse Market! Cheers to Blooming Glen, Birchrun Hills, Market Day Canele, and Wild Flour Bakery who make Sunday mornings fun and delish for us too!
I was told the famous window sticker is in the mail...
The second was a shout out from The Philly Inquirer's Craig LaBan. The renown restaurant critic gave us special props in the open of his weekly food chat. Then, hit us back on twitter with this juicy review:
For our readers at the James Beard Foundation and Michelin Guide, our contact information can be found at the bottom of this blog!
That was a joke guys.
The "Never EVER Call it the Offseason" Blog
- Weather Update
- We're Honored with Two Awards
- A More Updated Weather Update
- Market Season is HERE? Yes... yes, it is!
Strange world we live in, aint it folks?
On the heels of the most difficult growing season for at least a generation, the strange bedfellow we aggie types have in Mother Nature has brought us a spring so early it's off the charts. Perhaps remorseful over all her perilous tricks last year, the Earth, it appears, is in a super big hurry to start a new growing season and strike the last one from our minds. We're cutting a pretty wide path these days, so I'd have to say she's been successful in doing so. Let's talk shop.
In early March, we got 17 degrees overnight. This past Tuesday the 27th, we got 26 at one farm, 31 at the other. Between these two events, we lost some cherries and a few apples. How many we lost remains to be seen. It's usually significantly colder in Wenksville than in Gardners, so I'd spent most of the day thinking we're ok. Unfortunately, the danger still exists to lose our crop because the spring is SO early. How early?
Well, when we look at insect lifecycle models we talk about a unit of measure called degree days which, without getting jargon-y, is essentially a measure of accumulated temperature - I believe it's hours over 43 degrees. At any rate, as of the third week of March, degree day accumulation was similar to other years... in June.
Just spoke with one of the men who sells us our mating disruption today. He covers an area spreading from Winchester, VA to the escarpment-ringed Niagra region of Ontario. The bloom period over this latitudinal range is usually six weeks, as in bloom starts in Virginia normally in mid March and starts in Canada six weeks later. This year, that gap is three weeks! Which, if you think about, means many of the crops on the East Coast will all ripen at the same time, negatively affecting the prices farmers can get for their crops (and making us all the more appreciative of the fact we can sell them directly to you and not on a flooded wholesale market)!
Other sad news, the strawberries were a complete loss - root rot from the deluge this fall. Fortunately, we will be planting a spot three times larger than the lost patch this spring!
However, as with everything in the farm business, there's a silver lining behind every cloud. Should we have a crop - still touch and go for another month, this crop will be early which is probably good for everybody. The winter was so mild, we didn't lose any work days to excessive snow and our pruning is right on schedule despite the early spring. What this means is we are able to plant in a very timely manner despite it being so darn early - also a very good thing.
Three Springs Recognized (twice) By Our Peers
While on the subject of good news, we recognized by our peers in the agriculture industry with two awards this winter - either of which would have been the highlight of the chilly months between seasons.
The first such distinction was my father David Wenk's recognition by the lifeblood organization of the fruit industry, the State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania (SHAP), who chose Dave as 2011 Grower of the Year! Words can't describe what an honor this was for Dave who was able to collect himself on the podium long enough to express his gratitude for his brothers and sisters in the fruit biz, for whom he has such an amazing respect. Lancasting Farmer was on hand to document the ceremony. We were able to keep it a secret until the halfway through friend and PSU classmate Matt Boyer's presentation. He was surprised and honored for sure.
The second distinction belongs to all three owners; John (L), Ben (C), and Dave (R) who were awarded the honor of Master Farmers for the Mid Atlantic area in 2012. Just as was the case for Dave's "Grower of the Year" honor, it's the recognition of your peers that makes these awards special to us. While the SHAP honor was chosen by past recipients and board members of that tree fruit organization, the Master Farmer award can be offered to an operation growing any commodity and is chosen by the membership of the Mid Atlantic Master Farmers. The American Agriculturalist magazine provided coverage here. We're looking forward to meeting the rest of the Master Farmers at the reception in Harrisburg in early April.
Things continue to play out like a Charles Dickens novel at Three Springs Fruit Farm as we get doused with another frost last Friday (3/30). Once again, the effects were isolated and mostly minimal. I'm learning that a lot of our neighbors did not fair as well. Some businesses are competitive with neighbors in the same field and I'm happy to say the fruit business, likewise agriculture in general - especially our alternative agricultural brotherhood, do not feel competitive with one another by in large. We ask that you send all of us some good vibes and warm thoughts as it's starting to look like some trying times for many of us in the fruit business in 2012, same as it was in 2011.
It's hard to believe that I'll be writing a weekly market update for DC NEXT WEEK in advance of Silver Spring opening 4/7... and that the update WILL include asparagus, AND possibly rhubarb. Heads up for the official Markets 2012 announcment very soon and don't agonize over any major changes. If you're expecting to see us, you'll see us for sure!
Some say you'd have to be pretty bold to toot your own horn like this.
Others would say, Farmer Ben is a trumpet player and if you know other trumpet players, you know they can't help themselves. Plus, he's using this blog entry to puff himself up before the crushing realization that all of his Honeycrisp might be worthless after this Hurricane blows through.
"How Do You Like Your Peaches" - Colesville Patch dishes on the best way to enjoy these summer gems
Burst of Flavor at the Fourth Annual Tomato Taste - Silver Spring Patch, after a well-earned tie for second place in last years competition, we narrowly missed the first place crown after, yet again, coming in second place to Mock's 'Sungold' tomatoes. Yet again, we were growing the winning tomato just missed the crown
As many folks heard, President Barack Obama was a surprise visitor of the Reading Terminal Market this past Monday. As was also reported by a few outlets, the President purchased some apples to go along with his token cheesesteaks, apples some reported he undervalued. We're here to set the record straight, commend the fine folks at Fairfood Farmstand for making the sale, and to confirm that these apples were our tasty, Gala apples!
So the quick synopsis of the story is that the President stopped by the Reading Terminal Market to grab a Carmen's cheesesteak to go (wiz with! good call, Prez). It was while he was waiting for his steaks that the Fairfood Farmstand's own Federico Santoyo calls out to Pres. Obama, "How about getting something local and healthy for after your cheesesteak?" As you can see, Fed is the star of this story, we did absolutely nothing. Bold move on his part - it paid off! President Obama ventured over to Fair Food and picked out four Gala apples (yes, our Gala apples) so that "Michelle would feel like I'm eating healthy", according to one CNN account. As I kind of expected, the notion Obama didn't pay enough to buy the apples was falsely reported. Federico was attempting to offer the Leader of the Free World something of an Executive discount - put in the same position, I don't think I'd feel right charging The President full rate either! As seen on Fairfood's Facebook page:
Look at that pearl of investigative journalism! So anyhow, cheers to the folks at the Fairfood Farmstand - they really do have a terrific operation there, it's your centrally located "Farmers Market Away From Farmers Market". While I'm at it, a big "thank you" to all of the like-minded stands with a passion for local wares who carry our products in Philadelphia! For the weekends you're out of town and find yourself needing that mid-week Fruit Fix, here's a partial list of where our delicious fruit can be found!
edit: proof I should leave this to the professionals, Bob's Market Report reports the Secret Security had recently cased Reading Terminal, indicating it was no "spur of the moment" stop. Also, I can't believe I left out the President grabbing some Bassett's mint chocolate chip on the way out! Another fine choice!
Here's a quick run down on a some publicity we were fortunate to have received of late:
Food Alliance recognition is popping up here and there, including a mention in Food CEO magazine, and this YouTube clip with some spiffy shots of our beautiful orchards, a little dialogue from our friends Brian Synder of PASA and Joan Norman at One Straw Farm, plus some footage shot at our Kenilworth Farmers Market:
Gaining Style Points
Our customers are always the most stylish folks on their block, Philadelphia Style Magazine proves it, ranking our Heirloom Apples as no. 4 on their list of the top 10 fall eats! Thanks, Philly Style!
Upset Alert! Washington Gardner Tomato Challenge
It was a close match, but we were narrowly edged out for top honors in the Washington Gardner Magazine Tomato Taste Test, 2010. In a survey of over 100 tomato maniacs at the Silver Spring Farmers Market August 28th, our very own Green Zebra tomatoes were edged out by the Lemon Boy tomatoes of our friends at Down to Earth Farm. One measly vote was all that separated us from the honor. Our 27 votes tied for third place with our other friends (and market neighbors) at Sligo Creek Farm whose Sungold tomatoes were also a big hit. Oddly, my favorite variety, 'Cherokee Purple' didn't fair as well. I would have voted for Spiral Path's tomatoes, but what do I know anyhow? What a fun idea and thanks for the folks at Washington Gardner and the Montgomery County Master Gardners for organizing this event!
The internet can be a pretty weird place sometimes. If you ever lacked proof of this, two seperate websites had videos of me (of all people) gabbing about this and that in two weeks time!
Crop Life America wants to get the word out on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) - a passion shared by all of us here at Three Springs Fruit Farm. This seven minute video is shot during bloom season at the farm and gives you a close look at how IPM is performed in our pretty orchards. Sorry, I think my bias came through there a bit at the end.
At the time this video was shot, we were under the impression we'd be at Bethesda on Saturdays. Now we're at Silver Spring Farmers Market instead - the subject of the video posted below. Good background tunes - I need to bribe the Silver Spring buskers down to our end of the market! We've got yummy strawberries...
Local Washington DC News 8 coverage of the FRESHFarm Markets Health & Human Services Market Grand Opening!
Since our write up in Relish Magazine, we have been inundated by web correspondence with folks hoping to get some of our freshness shipped out to them to all parts of our country. I've been trying to respond to everyone's emails, but I just wanted to get ahead of the rush.
At present, we are not set up to ship fruit. To some extent, we can work with folks who can meet us here at the farm. Going forward, after reading all the emails from folks around the US where apples are not grown, shipping is something we will have to discuss. In the offseason, we do a lot of work planning our next move - whether that be markets, new blocks of trees, etc. and I'd be willing to wager our family will have to take a hard look at the benefits of providing this service to folks.
So I just wanted to comment publicly that yes, we hear you! Shipping is going to be a consideration going forward!
My question to you is, what would you like shipped to you? Apples? Pears? Peaches? Gift baskets? What quantity would you like to order if you could? This is information we'll need to consider when we meet after apple season.
Thanks for everyone's interest in our farm - its been an exciting week!
I wanted to include the following resources that might be helpful in getting fruit shipped to you this year:
Three Springs Fruit Farm is featured in this month's Relish magazine!
"America's Largest Food Magazine" is distributed as an insert in newspapers so check yours out this week, or read our feature in "New American Farmers" here.
Photograph was taken by friend and fellow Adams County Fruit Grower Tyler Fetters -fetters8705(at)yahoo.com
The September/October issue of Philadelphia Style Magazine has a write up on Headhouse Farmer's Market, check it out here!
It's a major award!!!
"Though Saisons and gin spritzes are still dominating our drinking repertoire, we’d be lying if somewhere in the corner of our brains we weren’t thinking of autumn and the cider it will bring. And not just any cider, but the virgin-pure, intensely apple-y cider crafted by Ben Wenk with the Jonagold, Jonathan and Summer Rambo heirlooms grown on his family’s Three Springs Fruit Farm in Adams County, Pa. Wenk, a Penn State agro-ecology grad, once took a cider-making lab there, and the skills stuck. He presses the cider in small batches that are flash-â�¨pasteurized with UV light instead of flavor-destroying heat. Because there are no preservatives, the shelf life is a mere two weeks. Not that it ever lasts that long"
It's a great list spanning a wide range of delicious-sounding foods for every appetite. Personally, I can vouch for the unsurpassed quality of the three other "50 must"-ers who are fellow vendors at Headhouse Farmer's Market every Sunday:
- Patches of Star - Goat Cheese Ice Cream, note: I doubt my mother, sister, or I will ever forget the day we learned Elly liked trading for fruit! Best ice cream, hands down!
- Wild Flour Bakery - Sourdough, note: Simply amazing Sourdough bread! Best in Philly and tied in a dead heat with Baltimore's Atwaters as the best breads we trade for each week!
- Hillsacre Pride - Butter, note: Our neighbors! Judy's the best - she's someone I look forward to jokin' around with every week. Everything we've had from their stand has been top notch. Now I read I can preorder Horseradish Cheddar? Just awesome!
So there ya go! It's truly an honor to be recognized and, though I doubt I'll win the contest, I'd super psyched to try some of the other winner's delicious food sometime during the offseason.