Fruits of Their Labor

Three area farms commit to sustainable, organic practices

Text | Tina Spangler

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One of the best parts of life in the Upper
Delaware River valley is the opportunity to experience fresh, locally grown food. Over the past few years, organic produce from local farms has become more and more accessible as farmers’ markets have been established in nearly every town, restaurants have taken pride in peppering their menus with ingredients from the area and consumers are discovering the benefits of buying direct from the farm through CSA programs.
Neversink Farm, Willow Wisp Organic Farm and The Ant Hill Farm, all located right in our back yards, offer healthy, organic foods—from arugula and asparagus to tomatoes and turnips—while building a true connection with their customers. This trio of farms allows conscientious eaters to support local entrepreneurs, sustain a healthy environment and enjoy pure and tasty food. What more could you ask for?
Quality of the crop
Organic agriculture is different than conventional forms of farming in that it takes a natural, non-petroleum-based approach to raising vegetables, fruits, flowers, insects, and animals. Organic farmers control pests and weeds through time-tested methods of mulching, crop rotation and human labor, rather than chemical pesticides and herbicides.
“It’s important that we have a shared definition of what it means to be organic and that’s why we’re believers in certification,” said Neversink Farm’s Conor Crickmore. Organic certification ensures that all farmers are working from the same standards of clean, chemical-free farming. Several organizations offer organic certification, including the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY), which is a USDA-accredited certifier. Only certified farms can market themselves as organic.
“Many farmers say that the organic certification requirements are too expensive and the paperwork is too burdensome. I disagree,” said Greg Swartz of Willow Wisp Farm. “Yes, it does cost money, but it is not prohibitive. And the paperwork is the same paperwork that any good business person should do—keeping good records is key to a successful business.”
Neversink Farm
Neversink Farm (635 Claryville Road, Claryville, NY 12725, 845/985-2519, farmer@neversinkfarm.com, http://www.neversinkfarm.com) lies in the Neversink River Valley in Claryville, NY. The setting is straight out of a magazine, the picture of timeless, unspoiled beauty. Crickmore and his wife Kate bought the farm in 2009 after they left Brooklyn with intentions of homesteading in the Catskills. Sometime after they arrived, they decided to start a full-fledged farm and today they offer organic vegetables, eggs, flowers, honey, poultry and trout—all raised onsite without anything synthetic.
What makes Neversink Farm different is that it is a handcrafted farm, meaning that planting, harvesting and cultivating are done by hand, without the aid of a tractor. “We started off as gardeners.
We wanted to farm at a garden level to maintain the quality of everything we do,” Crickmore explained. “We treat the farm as a single unit, so that each part of the farm supports the other. Instead of ordering feed for the animals, we grow as much as we can on the farm. The animal manure feeds the vegetables, and so on.”
Neversink Farm offers a free choice CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), entitling members to shop at the onsite farm stand, selecting the vegetables that they want. The cost is $460 for a 20-week share (if paid by May 31). Fresh eggs and flower shares are extra.
“We try to connect the dots between growing vegetables and the people who eat them. So, we also have dinners, brunches, family days, cooking demonstrations, donkey rides, that kind of stuff,” said Crickmore. Visit the Neversink Farm website or check them out on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Neversink-Farm/151064301578478?ref=ts) to learn about upcoming events or to sign up for the CSA.
Willow Wisp Organic Farm
Over the Delaware River and through the woods, Willow Wisp Organic  Farm (25 Stone House Rd., Damascus, PA 18415, 570/ 224-8013, http://www.willowwisporganic.com) in Abrahamsville, PA is owned and operated by Greg Swartz and Tannis Kowalchuk. While Kowalchuk grew up working in the family garden in Winnipeg, Canada, for Swartz the urge to get his hands dirty came later. “At some point in college, it became clear to me that eating and agriculture were central to so many environmental, socio-economic and health issues,” he recalled. Today, their 12-acre farm produces a diverse mix of organic vegetables, herbs and cut flowers.
Nearly a decade before founding Willow Wisp, Swartz apprenticed at other area farms, and also served as executive director of NOFA-NY. In 2009, Swartz and Kowalchuk were ready to put down their own roots, so they bought some land with an old farmhouse in the back hills of Pennsylvania and got to work. “One thing that Tannis and I share is a love of food,” Swartz said. “And what better way to have good food than to grow your own?”
Willow Wisp, now in its second year of full production, grows a staggering variety of vegetables, from the common (red leaf lettuce and sugar peas) to the unusual (watermelon radishes and red Russian kale). Kowalchuk runs the flower aspect of the farm, raising organic sunflowers, lupine, peonies and more. A trip to the farm during blooming season is a sight to behold.
Like Neversink, Willow Wisp’s summer CSA (June through November) gives the customer free choice of the farm’s bounty. Some vegetables have a limitation on quantity, some do not. Swartz feels this is more customer-friendly. “One of the biggest complaints people have is that they don’t have choice in what they get. With our farmstand-style pick up, members skip something if they don’t like it, and for some items when there is enough supply, they can take more of what they want.” CSA pickups are at the farm on Fridays between 5 and 7 p.m. Cost for the summer share is $600 (by April 16). Payment plans are available.
The Ant Hill Farm
The Ant Hill Farm (1114 Beech Grove Rd., Honesdale, PA 18431, 570/ 253-5985, theanthillfarm@gmail.com, www.theanthillfarm.com) outside Honesdale, PA is a family affair. The farm was founded by the four Ballentine siblings: Sky, Galen, Steven and Rebecca. Born and raised in Northeast Pennsylvania, the foursome converted a 35-acre dairy farm into an organic vegetable farm in 2007.
The day-to-day operations are run by Sky and his partner Monique Milleson, who grow everything from tender and spicy mixed greens to hearty root vegetables like beets and carrots. They also devote an entire acre exclusively to garlic.
While The Ant Hill Farm is not certified organic, it is committed to sustainable, holistic and chemical-free farming practices, not an easy task in a region better known for its stone quarries than for its fertile land. “The soil here is not classified as grade A, but it is totally doable. It’s all about learning about your soil and learning what it needs,” said Milleson. “You can maximize the plants you’re growing by conditioning the soil with compost, manure and growing cover crops.”
Milleson and Ballentine are investing now in an expanded vision of the farm that goes beyond field crops: young pear, chestnut and hazelnut orchards have been established for future yields. Maple syrup and eggs are in development. And new beehives will soon be producing enough honey to harvest.
The Ant Hill Farm CSA runs for 22 weeks, June through October. Full shares ($400) and half shares ($250) are available—a full share is suitable for a small family and half shares are best for individuals. Members pick up on Wednesdays either at the farm or at the farmer’s market in Honesdale. Sign up by end of April (deposit required).
What is a CSA?
Over the last two decades, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has caught on as a mutually beneficial way for people to buy local, seasonal food directly from the farmer. In the spring, a farmer will offer a certain number of shares, or CSA memberships, to the public. Interested consumers buy a share early—around the time planting begins—and in return receive a mix of produce each week during the growing season.
The benefits of CSAs for consumers include exposure to new foods, establishing a connection to the farm where their food is grown, meeting other members of the CSA community and, of course, gaining regular access to ultra-fresh locally grown produce.
Farmers benefit from CSAs in that they are able to publicize and sell their shares before the busy growing season begins, aiding not only their growing plan, but also their cash flow. This frees them up during the spring and summer to focus on what they do best: cultivating a bountiful harvest.
For a complete listing of small and organic farms and CSAs in the area, visit Shop Local Save Land (shoplocalsaveland.com) for Pennsylvania farms, and Pure Catskills (www.purecatskills.com) for New York farms.

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