How did a foreign policy researcher become an organic farmer? After meeting Dennis Verhoff and catching the twinkle in eyes, I could tell that this was a man who simply followed his dream. Six years ago Verhoff started Willow Creek Farm in Reva, Virginia. A longtime supporter of the organic movement, there was never a question in Verhoff's mind whether his produce would be organic.
The payoff for following his heart has simply been "Satisfaction", as there are certainly no monetary benefits. Though getting up at 4:45 am to make it to Washington, DC's Fresh Farm Market doesn't sound like the most fun on a Sunday morning, Verhoff eagerly awaits each market day.
Willow Creek Farm's greatest obstacles have been weeds and deer. As an organic farmer, no herbicides or pesticides can be used to rid the land of pesky and crop-threatening weeds. The best weed weapon Verhoff has is the "hoe and pull" method. Basically, if you continually rip the weeds out of the ground, they can't suffocate your plants. The deer defense is a bit sneakier, using a mix of cayenne pepper and fish emulsion on the soil, which causes the deer to turn their noses up and flee.
Having grown up on a farm in Ohio, where his parents had everything from dairy cattle and chicken to tomatoes and grains, Verhoff is no novice when if comes to working the land. After spending time in Tunisia with the Peace Corps, Verhoff moved to DC. Working as a Middle Eastern foreign policy researcher for more than twenty years, he finally realized the dream that has always been at the back of his mind.
Willow Creek Farm now produces heirloom potatoes and tomatoes, arugula, turnips and Asian vegetables like daikon radishes, bitter melons and bitter gourds. Dennis is especially proud of the "Early Ohio" potato that he'll be harvesting shortly. It's a variety from the 1800's that was brought to the United States by German immigrants and is distinguished by its rosy skin and flesh. After tasting Verhoff's Norland potatoes, another red-skinned variety, I'm anxiously awaiting the "Early Ohios".
Fresh from the Farm Treats
Dennis loves freshly sliced daikon paired with Asian beer. Another favorite and amazingly easy combination is a simple reduction of balsamic vinegar over boiled potatoeseither the Norlands or the "Early Ohios". Just make sure you don't burn the vinegar while you're reducing it. Here is another Willow Creek favorite.
garlic with greens and bulbs
freshly grated parmesan cheese
fresh lemon juice
In a food processor, add all the ingredients together and process until the mixture forms a paste. Serve with good Italian bread.
Dennis's son, Thaddeus offers his favorite fava bean recipe.
Fava Bean Sauté over Angel Hair Pasta
salt and pepper
angel hair pasta
Blanch and shell fava beans. Sauté with garlic and shallots.
Serve over hot pasta.
Frances Largeman, RD