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News and blog

Keep up to date with the latest news on the farm and at your market!
Posted 8/7/2014 2:06pm by Ben Wenk.

Heirloom, Just Old, or Ugly
 

 

Heirloom tomatoes are officially a thing!  Or so I'm told.

 

All jokes aside, heirloom tomatoes more than a thing, they're an awesome thing!  Since their advent into the marketplace, many other things have been anointed as "heirloom" as the term has come to be synonymous with a level of quality.   But what does the word mean and how is it used?  How is the term abused?  Let's (blanch, and) peel back some tomato skin and learn more!

blues 'n peaches

 


 

When a clock or a quilt is a family heirloom, it's an item that's been handed down in the family for generations.  While there's no consensus definition of heirloom as applied to tomatoes, this first premise is required in any definition of heirloom - it must be a tomato that's been handed down for generations.  When you hand down Grandfather's watch to a new generation, it's as simple as keeping it somewhere safe until you entrust a younger family member to keep it somewhere safe.  To pass along an heirloom tomato, you need to save seeds and use those seeds to grow a new crop of tomatoes of the same variety (ideally) every year.  Therefore, a hybridized tomato, whose seeds are infertile and designed such that their seeds must be purchased every year and not saved from the fruit, cannot be an heirloom.

Without any real numbers to back me up, hybridized tomatoes (red slicers in the grocery store and their ilk) make up the overwhelming majority of the marketplace but represent a very tiny percentage of the biodiversity of the tomato (tomatoes originated in Mexico, for the nutritional anthropologists out there).  It's impossible to quantify the number of heirloom tomato varieties they are because many are open pollinated and the genetic makeup of each tomato can change from year to year.  In this way,  a seed saver's tomato patch is similar to a livestock operation - such that your neighbor's Green Zebra tomatoes might possess different characteristics than yours if you're selecting your seeds for different quantities.

 

For me, that's the whole of my definition.  While the tomatoes your family brought over from Italy and have grown every year in your garden are, maybe, more heirloom (if there can be such a thing) than my Arkansas Traveler, if the tomato can be passed down (and has been), it's an heirloom in my eyes.

 

The Arkansas Traveler (pictured above) was an intentional example, to demonstrate a counter argument.  One of the first things you'll learn when you study heirloom tomatoes is there are multiple and conflicting stories around the origin of each variety.  Many of these are fictionalized and romanticized to make them more appealing.  So, depending on which story you believe, the Arkansas Traveler was either passed down "through folks in the Mountains of Arkansas where it was a hillbilly favorite" or it was developed by tomato breeders at the University of Arkansas anywhere from the 1930's to the 1970's.  But this much is for sure, the seeds saved from our Arkansas Traveler tomatoes will yield tomatoes similar to its predecessors.  Since this has occurred over at least one generation, I consider these heirloom tomatoes.  Again, the main distinction being it's viability from seed. 

 

So, why do heirloom tomatoes taste so much better?  First, a reminder that language is what we make it to be, just like a wiki.  Sometimes, our population gets it right.  Sometimes, we abuse terms like "artisan" (NSFW language).  But, there's nothing about "heirloom" that automatically means delicious!  More than likely, the heirloom tomato seeds were saved by folks because somebody found them tasty.  However, I've had plenty of heirloom tomatoes that didn't taste good and a very select few hybrid tomatoes that did taste very good as well.  However, by in large, tomato breeders bred hybrid tomatoes to look good, store well, and take abuse.  Heirloom tomato seed savers have selected and saved seeds almost exclusively for taste and flavor.  And that's why heirloom tomatoes taste better.  It isn't that they automatically taste better, it's because they were selected for taste rather than anything but, in the case of their hybrid counterparts.  

 

So!  To review, in a very logic problem kind of way.  All non-hybridized seeds can be heirlooms, but not every one is.  All heirlooms are non-hybridized.  Not all "old" tomato varieties are heirlooms, BUT (again) all heirlooms are (at least a few generations) old.  Heirloom tomato seeds can be saved based on any preferable characteristic but are most commonly saved because of their superior flavor, often resulting oddly colored and oddly shaped tomatoes that taste good!  However, not all heirloom tomatoes are oddly colored and oddly shaped just as not all hybrid tomatoes are uniformly colored and shaped.  Anything can be considered "heirloom" if it has been passed down over a number of years, but that doesn't mean it has the characteristics you want.

 

And that is as comprehensive a lecture on heirloom tomatoes as you'd ever care to read!

Posted 7/24/2014 4:45pm by Ben Wenk.

Aerial Peach Orchard, 3springsIf you're reading this update, a grocery store near you recently pulled California peaches off its shelves because of a recent lysteria contamination.  

 

Should local Giants, Aldis, Trader Joes, Costco's etc. be stocking peaches, plums etc from California?  Well, if people buy them, they'll continue to sell them.  A better question, should these stores stock peaches while local products are in season?  Well... again, California peaches will always be cheaper because they've got the economy of scale on their side. A lot of people are looking to buy cheap peaches.  Georgia, South Carolina the same - they can grow peaches cheaper in these places than we can.  When people want cheap fruits and vegetables, these grocery stores will sell them.  However, lysteria is no laughing matter so that could start to make an impact on people's buying decisions as well.  

 

So, there's a reason that cheap food is so inexpensive and this week's recall is a prime example of this.  But what can we do to lower the cost of food?  Well, as French grocer Intermarché has done in this video(embedded below), we can reduce food waste.  The third largest chain of groceries in food-crazed France introduced the concept of "inglorious fruits and vegetables" - oddball and somewhat ugly produce purchased directly from local growers and offered to the public at a discount.  The idea was a huge hit and produced measurable impacts on their receipts AND in reducing food waste.  How cool it would be to see these super markets replace the shelf space one occupied by recalled California peaches with local, "inglorious" fruits and vegetables?  That sounds like cheap(er), healthy, safe eating that we can all get behind.

Posted 7/14/2014 3:08pm by Ben Wenk.

It takes a lot of good people to make us successful.  And certainly, Shane is a big part of our success at market!  When you see Shane and Lauren at market, thank them for their hard work and see what he's "arted" from our produce this week!  Also, check out his Instagram feed for updates on produce art , it was recently featured in American Fruit Grower magazine!

 

Posted 8/7/2013 12:03pm by Ben Wenk.

Three Cheers for L.E.A.F!


It took a lot of work, sweat, blood, and tears to bring this family farm into its seventh generation of stewardship.  In respect of that fact and the privelege I feel, as a seventh generation grower, to have a farm to inherit, we try to give back whenever we can.


And in so doing, we find the rewards come back to us threefold!  A fine example of this was our participation in the first season of Project LEAF.  Friend of the farm Heidi Witmer has been putting years of effort into getting this project off the ground and, in our opinion, she hit it out of the park.  The kids were outstanding and asked terrific questions - they were so engaged when they came to visit us.  They worked hard and learned a lot - making cases of value added products from a wide range of our "secondy" farm products.  The dinner they served and prepared for the final LEAF Feast was epic and delicious.  


I've always said, more than the food, more than the lifestyle, more than pride I feel - the community I work in nearly always wins out as "top perk of the job". 


Cheers, LEAF!




Posted 8/1/2013 10:33am by Ben Wenk.

We were honored to host the preeminent International group of tree fruit professionals to our farm this July, 2013.  Here's a slideshow of some photos documenting the tour!

Posted 5/30/2013 1:06pm by Ben Wenk.

... said the farmer/music guy quite nerdishly:

 

I was at the Guster show in Lancaster and thinking to myself how I hoped our agriculturally rich Central PA area would represent well and provide some delicious local farm nourishment for these folks, a few of the most environmentally conscious touring musicians there are - speaking of Guster.  In an idle moment after Jukebox the Ghost's opening set, I fired off this tweet:

 

To which I receive the following response from Ryan Miller himself:

 

Leading to many pork belly/quail egg references during the show (for the record, it's one of my favorite John J. Jefferies small plates as well).  Thanks for an awesome night of music, and thanks for the kind words about our "so damn charming" area

Posted 12/6/2012 2:36pm by Ben Wenk.

Three Springs Fruit Farm

 

"I've read about your Buyer's Club and I don't think it's for me.  What I like are farmers markets!"  No worries*, we've got ya covered (ok, so Baltimore and Philly... we've got nothing for ya, see Buyer's Club blog).  You still with me?  Cool - here is where Three Springs can be found in the Winter Time - in our normal, fresh-faced, standard display, standardized hours farmers market format that we've all come to enjoy so much!

 

Silver Spring Farmers Market - Saturdays 10-1pm

We'll be at our standard spot (as far as I know right now), between Copper Canyon Grill and FroZenYo on Ellsworth from January thru March before the "Year Round" Market begins again in April, at which time we'll show up an hour earlier again, 9-1pm.  That's right, every Saturday morning in DC, we've got your apple/potato/value added goodness supplies covered

January 5th - March 30th, 10-1pm

 

Central Pennsylvania - Twice Each Month!

Both of our awesome Central PA markets have added monthly Winter Markets to their schedules and we're happy to be attending both!  Sure, we wish they were spread out bi-weekly, but this is how the chips fell, folks!  Farmers on the Square will tend market every third Saturday in the afternoon while Farmers on Walnut will tend every third Friday in the late afternoon/eveningtime.  So!  To clarify, Three Springs will tend market on the following dates in the following locations:

FOTS/Carlisle:

12/5 3-7pm

12/12 3-7

12/19 3-7

1/19 9-1pm

2/16 9-1

3/16 9-1

4/20 9-1

 

FOW/Camp Hill in the First Presbyterian Church:

12/21 3-7pm

1/18 3-7

2/15 3-7

3/15 3-7

4/19 3-7

Posted 11/16/2012 2:27pm by Ben Wenk.

Three Springs Fruit Farm

The market season is rapidly coming to a close!  While we will certainly miss all of our customers, we don't want to miss you!  I don't want you to sign our yearbook, like we're parting ways - we just want you to be aware that you don't have to settle for inferior produce in the lonely months when the market is closed.  So we're taking this opportunity to let you know how to join our winter buyer's club and recieve monthly deliveries of items of your choosing to somewhere right in your backyard!

 

The Buyer's Club is a fairly straight forward, easy thing to join!  You'll recieve two emails per month - just two reminders about ordering deadlines.  Then, at a date and time listed below, you will arrive and pick up your order with your receipt and take your morsels of culinary bliss along with you!  Simple as that!  Just sign up through our mailing list. (Drive the Cold Winter Away, part II for Winter Market purists)

 

Greenbelt Buyer's Club - every 3rd Sunday, 10am

cooperating farms/suppliers: Two Oceans True Food (salmon and fish), more announced soon

ordering deadline:  the previous Friday by noon

dates for Buyer's Club Delivery in Greenbelt:

January 20th

February 17th

March 17th (me lads & lassies)

April 21st

 

Philadelphia Buyer's Club - every 1st Sunday, noon

cooperating farms/suppliers: Hillacres Pride (dairy, cheese, meat)

ordering deadline: the previous Friday by noon

dates for Buyer's Club delivery:

February 2nd

March 2nd

April 6th

 

Baltimore/Towson Buyer's Club - you tell me!

So, we'd love to provide this for our customers but we need to hear from you!  Please shoot us an email in the website's contact form specifying your preference for weekend or weekday deliveries, morning or afternoon, and preferred location - downtown Baltimore or Atwaters in Towson.  We'd love to get you involved!

Posted 7/31/2012 9:29am by Ben Wenk.

Ben & Mom at The White House!No two weeks are the same on our farm - not on any farm.  However, the thing that will differentiate last week from the rest is particularly noteworthy.  In case you didn't catch it (on this Facebook post), Mom and I were special guests at a National Endowment for the Humanites event at the White House which included a preview of the new Ken Burns documentary "The Dust Bowl", followed by a great panel discussion! My mother and I, a daughter and grandson, respectively, of a Dust Bowl survivor will remember this unique opportunity for a long time to come.

My maternal grandmother, Dorothy Hiestand Cogley, rarely talked about her youth growing up in Ayr, Nebraska - a tiny farming town South of Omaha.  It was certainly an impactful beginning to the amazing life she's led, the remainder of which will have to wait for a future blog entry.  However, when I sit down to visit with my grandmother, still with us and healthy at 92, she shys away from her agricultural upbringing - her father's farm in Dust Bowl era Nebraska where she lived until 15 years old.  It was at that age the family pulled up their roots and moved back east with family to Lancaster County PA - fleeing the dust clouds, like so many other Dust Bowl refugees.  After viewing the excerpts from the stirring Ken Burns documentary, set to air this November, I'm learning more about her apprehension - more than she was willing to share with me or her children.

Fast forward another 75 odd years to once upon a time called right now!

They say that those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.

As the demands on agriculture mount in the face of worldwide meteoric population growth and other nations with less oversight become bigger players, the timing of the new Ken Burns Documentary "The Dust Bowl" couldn't be more appropriate.  Moreso, the airing date of this documentary, November 18th and 19th on PBS, should be right about the time our country's current drought situation (the worst since the 1950's) should begin to affect food prices.

Watch The Dust Bowl Preview on PBS. See more from The Dust Bowl.


By in large, the US has learned the lesson of the Dust Bowl, but it's no time to be resting on our laurels - much still needs to be done to increase soil conservation in our country.  The point that rang truest in the terrific panel discussion after the screening was how important it is to acknowledge that the decision to plow all that badland ground to feed our soldiers was, at the time, made with altruistic goals and what was thought to be sound reasoning at the time.  We can't become so haughty as to assume we've got mother nature figured out and we can use her for our own devices.

great panel discussionSo you're here reading the blog of a small family fruit farm in Central Pennsylvania, so it's safe for me to assume you've already recognized how important agriculture is to this nation.  Also, how important GOOD agriculture is to this nation - how important it is that we, as farmers, do right by the lands that we proudly nurture.  I've struggled with the thought of me, as an American Farmer, being responsible for feeding the world.  I'd prefer to feed you guys - my friends and neighbors.  But to hear our excellent panel (author Timothy Egan, genius Lester Brown (he truly is), farmer/conservationalist Clay Pope; moderated by FRESHFarm's Ann Yonkers) speak about the short-sightedness exhibited by the agriculture of other nations (not to keep singling you out, China)... I've been reinvigorated by this notion.  Don't expect us to double our acreage or anything like that; if anything, we'll likely get smaller as we go along.  But!  The world needs America to keep farming, not just our friends and neighbors.  And while much of our food remains in our friendly 100 mile radius, great vision is needed to balance future food demands with proper soil health and water conservation, especially in consideration of energy and fossil fuel demands.  It's a hefty task, but someone's got to do it.

It was the worst man made natural disaster in the world's history.  It was the biggest real estate scam in our country's history.  It killed children and displaced families all over the midwest, almost turning the entire region into an uninhabitable desert.  It also served (in my opinion) as the impetus for the first great agricultural reform, the formation of what would be the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), thank you Hugh Hammond Bennett, in The New Deal.  If you find this compelling (as well you should) or you desire the kind of inspiration this topic provided me, Ken Burns' "The Dust Bowl" airs on PBS November 18th and 19th.  

Posted 7/3/2012 1:03pm by Ben Wenk.

Name This Restaurant in Comments and Win Something!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...

ZAGAT

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:

 

I believe the first ever "four ripe cherry" 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.

 

-FB