Late last night, when my unsuspecting husband came home from work, he found me outside our house in the pitch dark, covered in mud, head down and hustling hard to get multiple flats of vegetable seedlings in the ground before an impending rainstorm. I'm pretty sure that he (and all of our neighbors) thought I was crazy... but the farmer in me couldn't bear the thought of those vegetables stuck in their flats for several more days waiting for the ground to dry out - even if it meant planting well after dark with tired bones and a grumbling stomach.
For better or worse, most farmers I know would have done the same thing. We are driven by the (sometimes crazy) but satisfying rush that comes with doing truly tangible work that will feed you + so many others in a few weeks/months time. Today I'm thrilled to continue the Eat Like a Farmer series with an interview with two incredibly hardworking farmers that I greatly admire and respect, Kerry & Max Taylor of Provider Farm. On their 16 acre farm in Salem, CT, Kerry & Max grow a vast variety of vegetables primarily for their CSA customers and a few wholesale clients. In the interview below, we get to learn about their daily routine on the farm, the challenges to balance work and family, a deep love for growing (and eating!) onions, favorite kitchen tools and cookbooks and heaps and bushels more.
Big thanks and high fives to Kerry and Max for taking the time to take part in this interview series - be sure to check out on their beautiful and insightful instagram feed at @providerfarm!
Where is your farm located and what to you grow? We are located in Salem, CT. We grow pretty much every annual vegetable you can think of on 16 very stony acres. We grow our vegetables primarily for our winter and summer CSA, as well as a few wholesale accounts. We are passionate about our CSA because it allows us to nourish and connect with our community.
Walk us through a typical day on your farm and in your kitchen. Our days on the farm really vary depending on the time of year. In peak season, we start work with our crew at 7 and end at 5 with lunch at noon, Monday through Friday. We take care of animal chores and odds and ends before and after the work day and in peak season often have tractor work and irrigation to tend to after hours. Our winters are slower and we work 3 days a week with a smaller crew 9-4. Breakfast and lunch in the summer are whatever we can throw together. One of us cooks a dinner meal full of our vegetables every night, while the other puts our baby to bed. Our week night dinners are usually simpler and I try to cook something a little more elaborate on the weekends because I really enjoy cooking. We have some basic go to recipes that work with whatever is in season like curries and stir fries. Our website has a lot of recipes I love to use. I try to fill it with easy and quick recipes that are accessible to even the most novice cooks as a resource for our shareholders. Things weren't always this sane on the farm. When we first started the farm, we worked 12 hour days 7 days a week and never ate the food we grew. We ate out all the time, both because we were exhausted and short on time and also as a stress outlet. By the third year of that, we knew things were going to have to change especially if we were going to have a family and we committed ourselves to not working on the weekend (at least with a crew...during peek season, we gotta do what we gotta do) and to home cooking every meal. We made it a priority to cook at home, and now in retrospect, I can't believe what we used to do. I can understand where people are coming from when they don't want to cook, it requires making it a priority.
What is your favorite fruit or vegetable grow, and what's your go-to method to prepare it in the kitchen? That is a hard one, almost every vegetable we grow is a favorite, its like picking your favorite child. But if I have to pick one, I would pick onions. They go into almost every dish we cook and they do very well here in our high calcium soils and between the varieties we grow, we have them almost all year. In the spring, we have young spring onions, with their greens still on. I just chop those up and use them as I would onions. By July, we have our fresh white onions, which are sweet and mild. They are so good raw or cooked, I love them roasted or grilled with our summer crops like zucchini, eggplant and peppers. By August, we bring in our yellow onions to cure. These onions are for storage and are also the type that have the right sugar profile for caramelizing. Cook them low and slow for 45 minutes until they are a deep brown and put them on anything. Delicious! My husband also makes a killer French onion soup with them. These onions can store until April or May, sometimes I'll chop a few up and freeze them to tide us through to the spring onions.
What kitchen tools could you not live without? Not exactly something I couldn't live with out, but I really love my Komo grain mill. More of a luxury item, it is a beautiful, quality kitchen appliance in the age of poor quality goods. We bought it when we started getting a grain share out of the pioneer valley and started grinding our own flours. Polenta from fresh ground corn smells so fresh and "corny". I also never realized that you could make whole grain cookies that are just as delicious, maybe better, as white flour cookies.
Name the top three ingredients used most in your kitchen that don't come from your farm. Oils and fats, basically every meal starts with some sautéed onions and garlic. Salt! We avoid processed foods that are so chock full of salt but use it in our cooking as needed. I feel like if you use it at home you are more apt to enjoy your fresh whole foods and not be tempted into eating less wholesome processed foods. So much peanut butter, an energy rich go to snack! We dip everything in it when we are hustling in our busy season to keep us going.
Favorite cookbook(s)? I still love "The Joy of Cooking" as an all around reference book for the old standards. I also love Madhur Jaffrey and Moosewood cookbooks. There are so many great cooking blogs nowadays too and folks I follow on Instagram like @thekitchn and @loveandleomns. I look at a lot of Paleo stuff, were not adherents, but I like that it uses whole foods and lots of vegetables.
Do you have go-to methods for preserving your harvests through the year (ie jamming, pickling, freezing)? I've really streamlined what I do these days since we have very little time during the peek of the season, and I really prefer to eat fresh in season food. I chop up tomatoes and freeze them in bags for the winter. I also freeze chopped red peppers, though that fell through the cracks this year. Sometimes I'll blanche some greens and freeze them. That is basically it. We are really fortunate because our CSA goes almost year round so we eat vegetables seasonally. We have tons coming out of our root cellar in the winter, all sorts of roots, cabbage, onions and garlic plus greens coming out of our greenhouse. We can eat off the farm almost year round. If we didn't have that, I'd probably do way more food preservation.
What advice do you give your CSA members for cooking through their weekly shares, especially with produce they may not be familiar with? Every meal should start with a pile of vegetables. Use them liberally and freely, don't be afraid of wasting a little, our shares are pretty generous. Get away from "American" type cooking of the starch, vegetable and meat and don't think of vegetables as individuals (don't look for kohlrabi recipes, just recipes that you can throw them in like a good stew or soup). Use vegetables interchangeably and add them to everything you cook. Find some quick go to recipes that everyone in the family likes that you can rely on when you really don't feel like cooking. Keep ingredients for them on hand. A stir fry takes a half hour max to prepare and can handle almost any vegetable.
How has running a farm influenced your relationships with family, friends, and your local community? In some ways, farming can be really isolating. It can take up all of your time and brain space and especially in the beginning we had very little time to connect with family and friends. As we've tried to get our lives back a little bit from the farm, I have had tomake a conscientious effort to reconnect with people. I am lucky that my father works with us twice a week as our all around fixer guy, fixing all the things that break on the farm. I appreciate the CSA because it allows us to integrate with our community, especially because we are not from this area. Since we do a staffed on farm pick up, it serves as a nice social outlet to get to know our customers and neighbors. We also have made a lot of connections as we operate as a business in the community though wholesale accounts to coops and farmers markets. We made a lot of farmer friends through the market we used to do. We have a wonderful network of farmers through the farms, Brookfield Farm and Riverland Farm, that we used to work for in the MA Pioneer River valley. These farms taught us everything we know and the widespread network of farms around them have been wonderful information and support resources. We named ourselves Provider Farm because we wanted to be just that to our community. One of the most gratifying parts of running our farm is that we are able to donate around 8,000 lbs of produce a year to our local food banks. Produce is one of the harder foods to acquire so we are happy to help fill the gap and provide healthy foods to people who might not be able to acquire them otherwise.
Please share a favorite recipe for a simple, straight from the farm dish that you are craving this fall. I have just been loving roasting roots and brassicas this fall. Toss any combo of them together with a little oil, salt and pepper and put in the oven at 450F until cooked and slightly browned. So good. Sometimes I'll sprinkle a little Ume Plum Vinegar over them before serving.