College of Wooster Summer 2011 : Page 22

NEW FARME RS PR AC T ICE OLD WAYS What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. —E C C C C L L E E SIASTES SIASTES 1-9 22 Wooster S UMMER 2 0 1 1

Under The Sun


What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.


It’s possible to argue with Ecclesiastes, of course. There is a lot that is new under the sun, beginning with a hotter sun. Also new to the landscape are pests that can be spread globally, genetically modified organisms, and interdependent markets.

But there is a constant that is true for all ages: Humans’ deep yearning to connect with the land. Four Wooster alumni have used this truth as a foundation for their farming practices, as they contribute to the ongoing story of what it means to be sustainable.

David Cleverdon ’63

It’s a brutal, take-no-prisoners business.” David Cleverdon may have been referring to his former profession as a political activist, campaign manager, or congressional and gubernatorial staff member.

Or perhaps he was describing his subsequent jobs as financial futures trader or economic development executive. But he was not.

He was talking about growing organic vegetables.

Cleverdon’s activist background, an uncommon career path for a farmer in 1992, is less rare today. Today’s organic farmer is likely to have come from a discipline other than agriculture and to hold a passion for making a difference. David and his wife Susan first fell in love with a garden at their weekend home, which responded by growing bigger every year. In 1987, when mid-west farmland prices crashed, the couple bought a 170-acre Farm in northern Illinois—a remnant of the country’s rural farm crisis, which turned productive farms into deserted ghosts. “It cost less than a Chicago, three-bedroom condo,” says David.

But what a farm it was. The buildings were in ruins, the land was filled with scrap iron and garbage. To the amazement of their friends and family, in 1992 the Cleverdons sent their last child to college, put everything they owned in storage, and moved to their farm, which they named Kinnikinnick, after a creek that runs through it. For the first three and a half years, they lived in a trailer, then upgraded to quarters they built in one of the barns. There they stayed for the next five years, until they could move into the renovated farmhouse.

Along the way, they planned, studied, dreamed, failed, and kept on growing vegetables. “I didn’t know what in the hell I was doing, but I read everything I could and just jumped in and did it. (Hey, I went to Wooster, didn’t I?)”

Today, Cleverdon teaches courses on organic farming and is on the boards of four local and regional farming organizations. Kinnikinnick Farm is flourishing and profitable.


Crafting a business

“Our limited resources required us to approach farming as a craft. It had to be limited, excellent, and—like all craft businesses—have one or two products that could be cranked out to pay for basic overhead costs. Also, we consciously narrow our focus so that customers have an easier time focusing on us.” The bill-payers at Kinnikinnick Farm are artisan greens and heirloom tomatoes.

Finding the perfect markets

When the Cleverdons began their enterprise, an entire Saturday at a local farmer’s market netted them $400. Today, at the Chicago Green City and the Evanston Farmers markets, they make that much in the first half hour. “We have a $2,000 rule. We won’t consider a market unless we see that we have the potential for grossing at least $2,000 a day there.”

Strategically setting up his wares near restaurants increased the probability that Cleverdon would be discovered by local chefs. Today, one third of his business is from some of Chicago’s finest restaurants, including the Publican, North Pond, Spiaggia, Vie, Naha, and the Lula Café.

Hooking the customer with beauty

“One of the first things our interns notice when they begin with us is that we compost what a lot of other growers sell. I love to walk in front of our stand in the morning before the customer rush and look at our display—the multicolored carrots and beets, the different shades and textures of the greens, the glistening red-green-whites of the onions, all the different shapes and colors of the tomatoes, the huge stacks and bouquets of fresh herbs. Customers like to see abundance—Vegetables that you can pile high. We call these our ‘abondanza’ crops.”

Keeping the customer with taste

Cleverdon grows his crops organically, but that’s just a starting point for good taste, he says. Post harvest protocols are critical. Removing the field heat from the produce within minutes of harvest insures an “awesome shelf life,” he says. “The walk-in cooler is the heart of the farm. Almost everything passes through it and then is transported on ice in large picnic coolers. This has allowed us to make intense flavor, beautiful color, and uncompromising freshness the hallmark of the farm.”

Understanding a life style

Cleverdon has long understood that his customers aren’t just buying food, they’re buying a way of life. To this end, he has a history of catering to passionate cooks by turning his booth into a kind of cooking display, with help from one of his daughters, a trained chef. But recently, he says, his customer base has expanded beyond the yuppie gourmand. “I’m seeing young mothers who are concerned about health.”

He recently entered the agritourism business. This summer, his farm sported five huge tents—“Feather Down Farm Day” tents from Holland—for families who want to spend their vacation on a working farm.

“We were fortunate with our business. We ‘caught a wave.’ We’ve participated in the birth of a whole new farming subculture—with its own journals, teachers, heroes, and mythology— that is capturing the imagination of everyone.

“Small scale farming is being reinvented. If you’re good at it, you won’t get rich, but you can make a living from it.”

Susan Ordway Hurd ’72

The truly magical elementary teacher is blessed with special vision. She looks at industrial 50-gallon drums and sees kid-sized train cars. An oversized PVC pipe becomes a slide.Windfall apples become great missiles, needing only little slingshots and giant hay-bale targets.

She looks at a 100-year-old family farm and sees an outdoor classroom.

And if the elementary teacher also happens to be an entrepreneur, her vision grows even sharper. An old yellow school bus becomes a café. An 18th-century Dutch threshing barn is the perfect place to sell farm treats and produce. The 120-acre farm becomes a venue for local musicians, artists, and dancers.

It was serendipitous that elementary teacher Susan Ordway ’72 should marry into the Hurd family and that her classroom would expand to include an apple orchard, cornfield mazes, a pumpkin patch, and a Christmas tree plantation. Hurd first understood the farm’s potential when her own two children were in preschool. Today, her pupils come by the thousands from area schools and from The Big Apple, just an hour and a half away.

In the 1840s, the farm grew corn, small fruits, and raised cows. “Strawberries, raspberries, and currants were sent down by barge on the Hudson River to New York City, where they were sold on street corners,” says Hurd. “In the 1900s, apples and pears became king. In the 1990s, my father-in-law and I started growing pumpkins and Christmas trees. Recently we’ve added pick-your-own fruits and veggies, such as black raspberries, heritage tomatoes, and sunflowers.We’ve come full circle back to small fruits and diversified farming.”

The farm’s integrated crop structure allows Hurd to weave Together diverse subjects and meet many of the state’s newly revised learning standard goals in a single field trip. (“My Wooster liberal arts education serves me well,” she says.) For example, to negotiate the corn maze, children read maps and practice group dynamics; biology is well covered by “sex-inthe- cornfield” talks; history and art come together in the vivid panels painted inside the barn, which depict the farm’s history; the Apple Unit teaches economics and nutrition; biosystems are experienced, as children feed the fish in the irrigation pond and wander down forest trails and through soggy wetlands.

If Hurd never misses an opportunity to weave an additional lesson into a day’s events, she also has a keen eye for fun and publicity. The farm, which hires approximately 35 workers for its educational and tourist enterprises alone, hosts gettogethers for all ages, featuring hayrides, picnics, and one-on-one time with the farm animals. For the 2010 Christmas tree selling season, Santa parachuted from a small plane onto the farm. This year, the corn maze was designed to be The Amazing Mr. Apple, complete with a Supermanstyle cape. This summer, the Hurds hosted a Rebel Race—a military style obstacle course and 5k and 15k race, which attracted more than 700 athletes to the farm. In February, the Hurd Family Farm was awarded the Golden Apple Marketer Award by the U.S. Apple Association.

The future of the Hurd Family Farm appears to be in good hands. Susan and Phil Hurd’s son, a recent horticulture graduate, works on the farm full-time and their daughter, an elementary teacher, helps out when she can. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” says Hurd.

“As long as folks seek out new experiences, the Hurd Family Farm will carry on the tradition, evolving, changing, and growing into the future.”

Sharon Mortimer Roeder ’93

Sharon Roeder was successful, secure, and bored. Working as a lobbyist for the federal government strongly resembled hitting her head against a brick wall. “I could work my tail off, or do just about nothing, and the outcome would be the same.” As the fluorescent sameness of her job stretched into its 10th year, she had a recurring vision. The morning mist was rising over the hills, her dogs were at her side, and she was checking the grapes in her vineyard.

When her husband, Brian, pressed her about making the dream a reality, she just laughed. “I told him, ‘Don’t be crazy! Checking grapes? I don’t even know what I’m checking for!’” He continued pressing.

Today, the Roeders’ vineyard, located below the Piedmont Blue Ridge in northern Virginia near Delaplane, has produced its third season of grapes and Barrel Oak Winery (BOW) has served its fourth season of guests. The steam is rising, the sunsets are golden, her dogs are by her side, and as she checks her grapes, Roeder knows exactly what she’s checking for: stink bugs, Japanese beetles, glassy wing sharp shooters, hoppers, and Asian lady bugs. And she couldn’t be happier.

On a typical Saturday afternoon in early June, it is clear that Barrel Oak has already gained a strong foothold in one of the state’s fastest growing agricultural sectors.Wine enthusiasts pack the tasting room, families picnic on the grounds, and a band has already begun its evening music on the patio. In 2009, the winery won the Indy International Double Gold trophy for the Red Wine of the Year for its 2008 Norton wine and gained recognition as the most financially successful start-up winery in Virginia’s history, achieving more than $1 million in gross revenues in its first 53 weeks of operation.

BOW eschews the elite and scorns the snob. “We’re not about pinkies and noses in the air,” says Roeder. “Our model is the village harvest festival and our message is, ‘Yay! Nature was good to us; we’ve survived another year. Come on in and help us celebrate!’”

The couple owns four dogs and invites guests to bring their canine buddies. “A lot of young people in the D.C. area are childless pet-owners who work all the time,” says Roeder. “On the weekends, they want to do something that includes their dogs.” Regular customers are familiar with Birch, the couple’s Hungarian vizsla (recently named Best Wine Dog by Virginia Wine Lover magazine) and his strange but endearing pebble game. A guest sipping a glass of, say, the award-winning BOW-Haus White, might feel a friendly nose at the back of her chair and note that Birch has placed a lentil-sized pebble on the seat.With stoic elegance, Birch stares intently at the pebble until the guest understands that it is her job to throw it across the tasting room or patio. The guest soon learns that this game may be repeated until closing time.

The bands, tasting room, and special events—from hosting twilight polo, to the Maryland Westie Rescue Wine & Fleas benefit—are the domain of Brian Roeder and his approximately 40 employees. Sharon refers to all these things as “what happens upstairs.”

The cool and quiet vineyard’s cellar, where the wine is made, is Sharon’s domain.


“You can be whatever you want.” That was the advice that always accompanied aptitude tests that used a flat line to illustrate Sharon Roeder’s skill potential. But the advice wasn’t empowering, it was frustrating, says Roeder. “What they should have said was, ‘You need a job that uses both your right and your left brain—a job that combines science with art.’” Who knew that this job was winemaking?

A romantic dream may have been the impetus for their adventure, but the Roeders quickly replaced it with the scientific method. As Roeder drives her golf cart around the 20 acres of grapes, she carefully avoids pits dug by extension experts from Virginia Tech, who analyzed the soil five short years ago. Their verdict: The land, formerly used to pasture cattle, would sustain grapes well.

Roeder made liberal use of Virginia Tech and veteran wine growers to answer questions and solve problems.What varieties would work best on the soil, and which wines could the couple best market? What kind of trellising works with different varieties? How many Leaves should be pulled off each plant and how many clusters of grapes are optimum for different vines? How about that stinkbug?

“Virginia is quickly becoming a wine powerhouse,” she says. “New York is still the big dog, but we’re nipping right at its heels.” She attributes the state’s growing wine industry to Virginia Tech’s program and to the willingness of Virginia winemakers to support each other.

But science can take you only so far in winemaking, and then the art kicks in. Subjective, sensory decisions abound: “Rules don’t constrain me,” says Roeder. “I can have some fun, play with it, create.We take the raw putty that Mother Nature hands us every year, use some science, and then turn it into art.”

The couple is confident that their vines will sustain them. So confident, in fact, that they have a long-term escrow on the adjoining 100 acres of land, formerly the historic farm of Chief Justice John Marshall. They have also opened an art gallery and wine bar in the nearby, ritzy town of Middleburg.

And will their vines sustain the land? “The Farmers in the area were a little suspicious when we arrived,” Roeder says. “This is cattle country. Always has been. But you know, when the farmer we bought our land from was ready to leave, he loaded all the cows into his truck and drove away. He no longer had anything here to tie him down.We have 20,000 roots here.We’re not going anywhere.”

The couple’s roots are also firmly set in the community. Barrel Oak is frequently the site for fundraisers and nonprofit events. And when Roeder needs volunteers to help bottle the year’s bounty—118,000 bottles, 10 varieties— she calls on friends and community members. Guests also show up at harvest time to help load presses and wash lugs. She has instituted the Stomp and Chomp Festival, in which approximately 35 pairs of feet turn a half a ton of grapes into 60 gallons of juice.

“It takes a very large village to bottle wine,” wrote Roeder in her blog (http://www.barreloak. com/). The couple’s vision of a vineyard that is modeled after a village harvest festival is not, it turns out, only about style.



Pumpkin chocolate chip muffins

4 eggs
2/3 c. sugar
1 c oil
16 oz. can solid pumpkin
2 tsp cinnamon
2 c. flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp baking soda
12 oz. chocolate chips

Beat until fluffy: eggs, sugar, oil, pumpkin and cinnamon. Add and mix flour baking powder, salt and baking soda. Stir in chocolate chips. Grease pans or use baking cups. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes (25 minutes for large muffins.) Makes 1 1/2 dozen or 1 dozen.


Grilled bread salad

1 large loaf ciabatta bread, about 2 days old, sliced
3 red peppers
1 med. red onion
1 pint sungold tomatoes (or other cherry tomatoes)
1/4 c. capers
1/4 c. fresh, chopped basil

simple balsamic vinaigrette dressing
1/2 pound baby arugula
3 oz. feta cheese

Brush the bread with olive oil and garlic and grill until golden crisp on both sides. Roughly cut or tear the slices into bite-sized pieces.

Char peppers on all sides on the grill or under a broiler, place them in a bag to cool, then remove the charred skin and seeds and slice the flesh into narrow strips.

Coarsely chop onion. Slice a pint of sungold tomatoes (or other cherry tomatoes).

Toss the above with capers, basil, and vinaigrette. (Sprinkle on the vinegar, correct the seasoning, then add extra virgin olive oil until the ingredients are well marinated but not soggy.) The above mixture should sit for an hour or so.

Before serving, gently mix in the greens and feta. Serve in a broad, shallow bowl or platter, for a summer lunch or to accompany grilled meat.


Summer quinoa with fruit and nuts

3 tbs. raisins or dried cranberries)
2 tbs. dried apricots, thinly sliced
1 cup red or white quinoa, rinsed well Kosher salt
1 large lemon
3 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. sweet paprika
2 medium firm-ripe avocados (6 to 7 oz each), pitted, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 medium scallions, white & light green parts only, thinly sliced
2 to 3 tbs. coarsely-chopped toasted almonds Freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, soak the raisins and apricots in hot water for 5 minutes.

Drain and set aside.

In a 2-quart saucepan, bring 2 cups of water, the quinoa, and the 1/2 tsp. Salt to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is translucent and tender, 10 to 15 minutes. (The outer germ rings of the grain will remain chewy and white. Some germ rings may separate from the grain and will look like white squiggles.) Immediately fluff the quinoa with a fork and turn it out into a baking sheet to cool to room temperature.

Finely grate the zest from the lemon and then squeeze 1 tbs. Juice. In a small bowl, whisk the lemon zest and juice with the olive oil, coriander, cumin, paprika, and 1/4 tsp. Salt. In a large bowl, toss the vinaigrette with the quinoa, raisins, apricots, avocado, scallions, and almonds. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with a chilled glass of Barrel Oak Winery 2009 Chardonnay Reserve.


Italian cooking greens

Basic preparation technique for Italian cooking greens (Bietina, Cavolo Nero, Minestra Nera, Spigariello). Swiss Chard will also do. Once you try this basic preparation, you may never do greens another way again.

Use greens with a little tooth remaining in the leaf, not “cooked to death.” This results in a glistening mound on the plate without a watery puddle.

Set a large pot of salted water on to boil.

Wash the greens well in a sink of cold water and drain in a colander.

Remove the fibrous stems (grasp the stem in one hand and pull the leaf away).

Roughly slice the leaves into 1.2h ribbons (this step is not essential unless the greens are going to be mixed right away with pasta or rice).

Blanch the greens very briefly and cool them quickly in a sink filled with cold water.

(A note on blanching: A pasta pot with a lift-out strainer/steamer is great for this, because you can quickly process a large volume of greens in small batches, while keeping the water at or near the boil.)

Form the drained greens into tennis-ball sized mounds between your hands or on a clean kitchen towel and squeeze out the excess moisture. You may wrap and store the balls of greens for a day or two in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them.

When you are ready, you can chop the balls of greens and use them in any number of ways.

Our favorite ways to enjoy cooking greens:

• Simply sautéed with butter or with garlic and olive oil

• In pasta, with garlic, sautéed onions, and pancetta

• Added to a skillet of sausages and pan-roasted potatoes

• Added to lentil soup five minutes before serving

• Mixed into a skillet of quickcooking couscous, with currants and toasted pine nuts

• With chickpeas, in a spicy tomato sauce

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