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Growing for Goodness The Life of a Small-Scale Farmer
Every morning, spring through late fall, farmer Ari Kurtz rises shortly after dawn and walks out into his fields to begin the chores of planting, weeding, and whatever else is on the agenda for the day. His farm, an eight-acre clearing nestled between locusts, oaks and linden trees just a few minutes away from Henry Thoreau's Walden Pond in Lincoln, Massachusetts, couldn't get more bucolic.
"I think my favorite thing about being a farmer," says Kurtz, "is working outdoors. I like the physicalness of it. There's a hopefulness to farming: every year putting new seeds in the ground and starting again."
Making the Most of the Land
Kurtz's farm may only be eight acres but he grows everything from berries and melons to all kinds of greens, lettuces, root crops, and squashes. With the purplest of radicchios and succulent strawberries, his fields are a feast for the hungry eye.
After ten years of being a grower, Kurtz still loves to experiment with different varieties. This year alone he is growing twelve different kinds of lettuce. And he's found one heirloom tomato called Brandywine that has proved particularly popular.
"Brandywines are so big and juicy and flavorful. They are often misshapen so people look at them and think, 'what is this?' but they taste really good. People love them," says Kurtz.
Many farmers experiment with heirloom species, which, unlike hybrid seeds, were developed for taste rather than appearance or shelf life and may sport unusual colorings and surprising shapes. But don't let that put you off what the fruit or vegetable might lack in conventional appearance is probably more than made up for in taste.
Feeding the Community
The farm not only supplies a farmer's market every Saturday but also feeds two hundred and thirty families every week through CSA Community Supported Agriculture where families buy a share in the farm each year and receive an ample supply of fruits and vegetables throughout the growing season.
Kurtz, who started out as a wholesale supplier, prefers it this way. "Farming can be a lonely business. CSA is a way to get to know the people you feed and to become part of the community."
More than Food
Perhaps for Kurtz who was an educator and school counselor before
becoming a farmer the best thing about farming is the chance to create an environment where people enjoy coming and where they have a chance to learn more about the food they eat.
The farm has a newsletter and when people buy shares in the produce they're also required to work a minimum of fours hours over the growing season. "People learn about what they eat here," says Kurtz. "We grow unusual varieties of things. For example, celeriac or celery root which most people don't know about, but it's great added to soups or stews, or as part of a cold potato salad."
At the End of the Day
For Kurtz and his helpers, the day ends at around four-thirty, and then it's time to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Kurtz and his family don't have much time for elaborate meals after a busy day, but they find simple food is often the best.
"When things are so fresh, you don't need to do a lot to it," explains Kurtz. "You can just steam broccoli, for example, with a little olive oil, butter, or tamari sauce, and it just tastes great."
By Ruth Prince