By Kristie Snyder,
An early May visit to Remembrance Farm was a reminder of just how abundant the Finger Lakes region can be — already, an absurd amount of fresh greens were nearly ready for harvest. Rows upon rows of tiny onion seedlings had just sprouted out of the soil, and empty rows awaiting planting stretched into the distance. Then we visited the chickens. As we stepped over the fence into their field, a river of golden-brown hens surrounded us, hoping we had brought them something good to eat.
Nathaniel and Emily Thompson have been running Remembrance Farm for ten years, seven in its current location near Trumansburg, and three years prior to that in Danby. The current farm is made up of both owned and leased land, which totals about 100 tillable acres.
Like many farms in the area, Remembrance's products are certified organic, but the farm is unique in being the only certified biodynamic farm in the area. Based on principles established by Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner (also the father of Waldorf education), biodynamic farming regards growing food as a holistic venture, and its products are designed to support both physical and spiritual health. As Nathaniel explains it, the three core principles of biodynamic farming are a vision of the farm as an organism, the use of biodynamic preparations, and the intention of the farmer regarding the farm.
The first two he explains easily — the farm is treated as a living being made up of self-contained systems and cycles. The use of animals to maintain fertility and rotation of crops is crucial. "That's why we have so much land in rotation to support a much smaller acreage of vegetables," he says. "The farm itself can outlive the humans that develop it and can be ongoing for generations." Biodynamic farmers make nine preparations from manure, herbs, and minerals, which are applied directly to the fields or added to compost to support soil fertility and farm health.
The third principle is tougher to explain, but Nathaniel patiently gives it a try. "There's a very clear intention to do things according to this system and strive to go further and deeper in our understanding of things. That intention is front and center. The real, stated aim of Steiner was to produce food that meets human needs on a deeper level, food that actually meets our spiritual needs."
Nathaniel has worked as a farmer for his entire adult life. He took a job on a farm during his first year of college (he's a Cornell grad), and "fell in love with the lifestyle." He was intrigued by biodynamic farming from the start, and he's never farmed any other way. "It just resonated with my experience of the world," he explained. "I have no exposure to conventional farming systems; I would be clueless in that situation."
Emily, a Cornell alum as well, managed the Trumansburg Gimme! Coffee location before joining Nathaniel to work on the farm. "I married into it," she laughs. Baby Nathalie was born last year, and another baby is on the way.
The farm's 100 acres are in an ongoing, grand cycle of rotation. Each year, 25 acres of the farm are planted in vegetables. Another quarter or so of the farm supports the flock of egg-laying hens (Golden Comets), and the rest is planted in grain, which ultimately becomes chicken feed. The cycle starts with chickens, which spend a year on a field, then veggies are grown for two years; after that, a number of years are spent growing grains, and then the cycle begins anew.
You can find many of Remembrance's greens mixes at GreenStar, starting in late May and continuing through the fall. As the seasons change, the farm supplies the Co-op with heaps of root vegetables (rainbow carrots are a favorite). "Salad greens are about 70 percent of our crop," says Emily. Five mixes of greens range from mild to spicy to flowery (the "Flower Power" mix adds edible flowers and herbs to the more usual array of greens).
The farm supplies the Full Plate Farm Collective CSA (along with partner farm Stick and Stone), and sells wholesale to stores and restaurants downstate and across New York. "There's a real demand for local produce in fall and winter, and we've been shifting in that direction," says Nathaniel. A large storage facility, empty in May except for a shipment of the farm's newly designed egg cartons, will be completely filled with root crops by season's end.
GreenStar carries Remembrance's eggs as well (look for them in their spiffy new printed cartons). Around 500 hens spend the summer roaming fields of emerald-green clover, sheltered in portable coops. They eat the clover and whatever insects they can find, while at the same time they manure the field for the next year's veggie crops. Their free-range diet is rounded out with organic grain grown on the farm. "Growing our own feed really shows up in the quality of the eggs," Nathaniel notes.
New in Produce
|Lots to Be Thankful For|
The local bounty continues, brought to you by the sweat and toil of farmers -— surely something to be thankful for.
November ... the local bounty is bestowed upon us, plowed under the sweat-browed gaze of toiling farmers, as crouched workers pick and pull on bent knees with earth-covered hands. We stay warm within the confines of our offices and coffee shops, but those of the fields toil hard and tough to provide us with sustenance. Should we not be thankful for this? Not everyone is so lucky as to taste of these local wonders and vegetable splendor: Cider, Honeycrisp, Mutsu, and Golden Russet apples picked atop the ladders of Black Diamond, Indian Creek, and Littletree Orchards; honeynut, butternut, and kabocha squashes, parsnips, rutabagas, and radishes, kale, collards, cabbage, and other hearty greens, all picked or dug from the fields of Blue Heron, Stick and Stone, Remembrance, and Good Life Farms. Give thanks, not for memories of Pilgrims and violence, but for the lush local variety of sustainable agriculture that we are so lucky to enjoy.