EAT LIKE A FARMER: Kneehigh Farm

It's that time of year when many farmers around the country are beginning to slow their breakneck pace after a full season of tilling, transplanting, irrigating, weeding, and hauling in heavy harvests. It's a time for sowing rows full of over-wintering garlic cloves, seeding soil-nurturing cover crops, pouring over seed catalogues, and setting goals and intentions for a new growing season. It's a time for hearty stews, colorful roasts of root vegetables + winter squash, and warm skillet cornbread slathered with butter and honey. It's also a time to hear the stories and lessons from farmers who have worked tirelessly all season to cultivate the soil and feed their communities.  As farmers, our main focus may be out in the fields, but I think we're also damn good cooks - thanks to an innate sense for the basic culinary techniques + pairings that highlight the best flavors for a season's worth of vegetables. 

Today I'm honored to continue the "Eat like a Farmer" series with Emma Cunniff, owner and operator of Kneehigh Farm in Chester County, PA. The ethics of permaculture—Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share—resonate through Kneehigh Farm, which grows a diverse range of vegetables for a robust CSA, as well as Farmers' Markets and Wholesale outlets. Emma also generously shares her farming knowledge, triumphs, and trials with the growing online community of fellow farmers on instagram (@kneehighfarm). A big thanks to Emma for taking the time to share some of her farm-based culinary knowledge and advice when it comes to cooking with seasonal (and sometimes unfamiliar) produce. I'm excited for everyone to read the full interview below, not to mention admire the photos of Emma's stunning weekly CSA shares! To learn more about Emma and her farm, be sure to check out

Where is your farm located and what do you grow? Kneehigh Farm is located on 7 acres outside of Pottstown, PA, just 45 minutes from Philadelphia. We grow over 100 diverse veggie varieties for our CSA, Farmers' Markets, and restaurants. 

Walk us through a typical day on your farm and in your kitchen. A typical day varies drastically depending on the season. In the Spring, we're usually in the greenhouse seeding & listening to NPR, or running around trying to fix, purchase or construct new equipment/infrastructure/tools, etc. Lots of bread and cheese on these days, or tomato soup from canned heirlooms the previous year. I hate buying veggies from the grocery store before ours are ready to harvest, but I tend to break late February and start buying leafy greens (kale, or arugula). We start getting goodies out of the field early June. My favorite Spring treats are sugar snap peas, baby gem lettuce, scallions, and everything that makes a yummy spring roll. 

Summertime is chaos, but such yummy meals. Depending on the day we're either transplanting, seeding, harvesting, doing tractor work, or delivering. My favorite breakfast/lunch in the summer is a fat heirloom tomato slice on a piece of toast with LOTS OF MAYO. We try to go home for about an hour in the middle of the day to beat the heat and eat a real meal. We never want to cook inside, so we do a lot of grilling and big salads. We usually have lots of extra summer squash, eggplants, okra, and peppers, so we grill those up for dinner along with sausage or chicken from our neighbors who we barter veggies with. Big refreshing cucumber or heirloom tomato salads with basil, or simple greens with a shallot vinaigrette are a staple. Padron peppers as a quick snack, and many many popsicles. Sometimes we come home at 9 pm, eat popcorn and go to bed, but usually, we try to stuff our face with as many tomatoes as possible.  

Fall brings lots of soups/stews, simple roasted sweet potatoes, beets, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, rutabaga fries,  miso-glazed kabocha squash, roast chicken with baby potatoes and fennel, stuffed peppers, leafy greens, and heartier salads. Fall is my favorite time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Colder weather, shorter days, and lighter work allows us to have enough energy to cook and enjoy eating. 

What is your favorite fruit or vegetable grow, and what's your go-to method to cook it? Some of my favorite veggies to grow are beets. They are always a favorite with their big, bushy greens at market, and they hardly have any pests! (except groundhogs.) If I'm starving, I'll quarter a bunch of beets, rub them in oil and salt and roast them at high heat for a simple side dish. I usually don't like boiling veggies, but there's something earthy and satisfying about a simple boiled beet. One of my favorite dishes we eat at a restaurant we sell to is a dip made from salt-roasted beets, mixed with tahini, dill, lemon, garlic, and a little mint. They're delicious added to pasta with their greens and goat cheese, or marinated in sherry vinegar and oil, and sprinkled on top of hearty green or grain salads. We grow Chioggia, or candy strip beets as well, which are beautiful sliced very thin on a mandolin and added to salads.  

What kitchen tools could you not live without? A sharp chef's knife with about an 8" blade, absolutely. As well as tools to keep a knife consistently sharp. I love my dutch oven, as well as my small, medium and large cast iron pans. A large aluminum baking sheet, and definitely a muffin tin. A cheap Japanese mandolin, and loots of various sized glass tupperwear. A small saucepan for heating milk or oatmeal for 2. A medium size pot with a tight fitting lid for cooking rice/soups, as well as a larger stock pot. A few tools I love but could maybe live without: A non-stick pan with a designated plastic spatula. I only use mine for eggs, but I love it. Also, I have to admit I inherited a popcorn maker, and it makes snack time so much easier! Electric ice cream maker for sure. 

What are the top three ingredients used most in your kitchen that don't come from your farm? Oil and salt definitely, and then a toss up between fish sauce, mayo, sherry vinegar, or butter.   

Favorite cookbook(s)? "Zahav, A World of Israeli Cooking", "Lucky Peach 101 Easy Asian Recipes", "Lucky Peach Power Vegetables", "Jerusalem", "Cook's Illustrated The New Best Recipe", "The Art of Simple Food", "The Zuni Cafe Cookbook", "The Joy of Pickling"   

Do you have go-to methods for preserving your harvests through the year (ie jamming, pickling, freezing)? If we had a chest freezer, I would definitely be blanching and freezing a lot more. I try to can at least 2 dozen quart jars of tomatoes, and ideally I would pickle more okra (my favorite) as well as lacto-fermented cucumber dill pickles. I'm on the hunt for a reliable salsa recipe that doesn't taste like ketchup. It's always my intention to do more preserving, but it's difficult in the heat of the summer when it's peak harvest time. Growing dry beans is something I want to experiment with, as well as dehydrating. 

What advice do you give your CSA members for cooking through their weekly shares, especially with produce they may not be familiar with? Roast it. I feel I'm saying "400 degrees, oil, and salt" in every newsletter. But it really depends on the produce in each week. I try to dole out a lot of recipe options, and encourage people to research recipes online. I get a lot of ideas from just searching the ingredients in each share together and seeing what comes up. For example: "fennel, potatoes, and parsley recipes"--usually you find a combination of ingredients that looks right, often times there are many that look gross. I guess it's having an intuition for what ingredients go well together and a sense of how to prepare them so you end up with a diversity of textures and flavors, while still enjoying the delicious simplicity of fresh veggies. There are some veggies we give out that are only prepared a specific way, like Padron Peppers or okra, so we try to be very clear about our favorite methods. People experience a certain amount of trauma from being forced to eat food prepared in unappetizing ways. We try to reintroduce these foods in their fresh form, with recipes that celebrate their simplicity. Food tastes better when it's grown without chemicals, but also when it's prepared 'correctly'. It's fun to curate, in a sense, our CSA shares so the veggies go well together in certain recipes. (Ex. cabbage, radish, cilantro, carrot, and scallion makes a delicious Spring share--and an even better slaw to eat with tacos).  

How has running a farm influenced your relationships with family, friends, and your local community? We do a lot of bartering, so we eat really well thanks to all our farmy friends that raise meet, grow fruit or mushrooms, or make cheese and bread. It's fun and nourishing to use food as currency. We prioritize meeting our CSA members face to face, so we've established friendships and personal connections with our neighbors. We make it clear that they are directly involved with our success, and should feel a sense of ownership of the farm. We cater to their desires, but are also excited to share our favorite foods, and experiences with them. It's motivating to feel their pride in us and in how we operate the farm, as well as their gratitude and support. In turn, we are grateful to feed them, introduce new foods, and provide healthy yummy veggies for our community. We just moved to this new property this year, and already we've established lasting relationships, built on nourishment and regeneration. My family lives in California, so I'm lucky to visit them for 2 months in the winter when the farm shuts down. My siblings have been able to come out, see what I do, and work alongside me. It's an honest lifestyle that I am proud to show my family and friends, and to be able to feed them well and celebrate what this earth provides for us.  

Please share a favorite recipe for a simple, straight from the farm dish that you are craving this fall. I've been obsessed with this simple recipe lately: Slice smallish sweet potatoes into 1/4 in. rounds, tossing them with oil and salt, and roasting them at 425 degrees, making sure they're in one layer and not too crowded. Let them get browned on one side (about 15-20 mins) and flip to finish cooking, but make sure they're not breaking apart, getting mushy or steaming. I then make a dip from equal parts mayo and buttermilk, a little toasted sesame oil, tahini, miso (optional), rice vine vinegar, and sugar to taste. So simple, and so addicting!

Collard greens braised for an hour with onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, bacon or bacon grease, and chicken stock is super satisfying right now too. 

EAT LIKE A FARMER: Stitchdown Farm

As I head into my third year living in Southern California, I still can't wrap my head around not having seasons. You know - four REAL, distinct seasons. Now, I'm not asking for sympathy over Santa Barbara's year-round 75 degree and sunny microclimate... but for anyone who's lucky enough to live in a place with seasons, just think about the yearly yearning for chilly nights and cozy sweaters after a sweltering, sweaty summer. And aren't the colors and warmth of spring all the more soul-lifting after you endure a miserable, grey winter? 

When I think about a place in the United States that really knows how to rock the four seasons like a boss, Vermont tops my list. From the impossibly green fields and long days of summer, to the epic colors splashed across the forests each fall, to the seemingly endless, snow-packed winters, followed by the slow, drip-drip-dripping of maple syrup into tin buckets and the thaw of spring that gives new life to the livestock and fruit trees and winter-weary farmers.

Photo from Stitchdown Farm

Photo from Stitchdown Farm

Today I'm bringing to you my interview with two Vermont-based farmers in the EAT LIKE A FARMER series: Andrew Plotsky and Rita Champion, of Stitchdown Farm based in Bethel, VT. Andrew and Rita are a husband and wife power duo who had a dream, and they actually DID something about it. More than once I've found myself bewitched by Andrew and Rita's instagram feeds, which are sprinkled with plenty of dreamy, romantic images of life on their rural Vermont farm... but they aren't afraid to share the raw and less glamorous side of keeping a small, diverse farm afloat - whether it's flower arranging in the depths of cavernous basements, wrestling with tangled irrigation lines, bent-over while trimming horse hooves, or chopping heap after heap of firewood by hand. 

I'm sending out big thanks and high fives to Andrew and Rita for taking the time share with us a glimpse of their life at Stitchdown Farm. Andrew's words of wisdom are refreshing reminder to embrace the mistakes that inevitably come with a life dedicated to farming and cooking. When the going gets tough, you just have to pull on your boots, lean on your neighbor, embrace the fallen souffle, and plow steadfastly onward. Enjoy the interview below, and be sure to give Andrew and Rita a follow on instagram. PLUS you ought to check out Andrew's awesome work in graphic design, branding + photography!

Photo from Stitchdown Farm

Photo from Stitchdown Farm

Photo from Stitchdown Farm

Photo from Stitchdown Farm

Photo from Stitchdown Farm

Photo from Stitchdown Farm

Photo from Stitchdown Farm

Photo from Stitchdown Farm

Where is your farm located and what to you grow/produce? Bethel, VT (the most beautiful place in the world). We grow cut flowers for market and we arrange for special events like weddings and 50 year high school reunions. We grow vegetables for ourselves, raise pigs for limited market shares, chickens for us, make maple syrup in the spring so we can drink it all year long and have a team of belgian draft horses that are schooling us big time in the humility department and we hope to be working with regularly in the fields and woods in the next year or so. 

Walk us through a typical day on your farm + in your kitchen. It's pretty much mayhem every day this time of year, constantly shifting. I also work as a graphic designer to make this whole mess float so it's a delicate and unpredictable ballet swirl with heavy shitladen boots to jump between farm and office. These days it's up at 5 or so to coffee and cookie and feed the pigs chickens and bring the horses in from pasture. Then breakfast, most always egg on toast with vegetables and meat of some kind. rotates. often there's kimchi. then if there's a disaster I deal to the best of my abilities. Rita my wife is the real boss of the flower farm so she's hustling all day out in the fields, either harvesting, prepping beds, seeding, transplanting, or arranging flowers. We have weddings most Saturdays and solid farmers market Thursdays so the end of the weeks is double-time with harvest and arranging. Hustling to get that firewood split, pastures brush hogged behind the horses and in front of the winter. Getting ready to get ready for the fall then splash into bed for the winter.

What is your favorite fruit/vegetable grow, and what's your go-to recipe to use it? Radicchio hands down in the food side. Love the bitter greens, generally. Radicchio ceasar is really hard to beat. It's a shitload of anchovies, garlic and mayonnaise and epically delicious. Brown lisianthus and sweet peas are the favorite flowers to grow around here so far. They're both painfully attractive and elegant. 

What kitchen tool could you not live without? I use a sharp high carbon steel chefs knife and small wooden spoon for approximately 96% of my kitchen activity.

Favorite cookbook? Depends on the time of day, emotional trauma of the day and the dew point. I know I'm way behind the ball on this but I've been deep in Momofuku of late. That fish sauce vinaigrette is insane I could put in an IV straight to the taste buds, no joke. Otherwise, Tartine Bread is revelatory and changed my life when it came out. Jane Grigson, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Elizabeth David are on top of my personal canon. 

When cooking, do you typically use recipes or just go by instinct? 1% recipe, 99% intuition which comes from110% learning from fucking up and making gross things.

Who in your life has been a mentor/teacher for you as a farmer? As a cook? Note the 110% line item from above... I learned to make bread from Lorenzo the peasant on his ramshackle farm in Sicily. Learned how to cook meat from Brandon on Vashon, Vegetables from Alice Waters and Terry Romero and all the rest from being stubborn and curious. 

How has living on a farm influenced your relationships with family, friends, and your local community? They are inseparable, there is no family friends or community as divorced from the farm. They are rich, challenging, delicious, painful, and fulfilling. 

What advice do you have for people who want to get more experience growing their own food + cooking farm fresh produce? Just freaking do it. Seriously. Brandon and I use to say that the only way to do it is to do it. You can read about it for a while. you can read about it while you're doing it. probably should. but there's actually no substitute for action. jump in with both feet. pay attention. your souffle's gonna fall. probably every time for a long time. but you're smart and you'll learn. just don't give up when your first try comes out with maggots and weird juice coming out the bottom. it gets better.

Please share one of your recipes for a simple, farm fresh dish that you can't get enough of this summer! This is going to sound like a joke, but it's not a joke. go get flour from the farm around the corner, like for example Rogers Farmstead if you're in Bethel, VT. make bread that is fermented. let bread cool entirely. slice bread. take tomato that you just harvested. slice it. place on slice of bread. place exactly 2.7oz. olive oil on top with salt. there you go you gotcherself breakfast lunch and dinner for the next month.


All around the country, there are incredible young farmers who are cultivating the soil, growing stunning produce, nourishing their communities, and willingly sharing their hard-earned knowledge with fellow farmers. I'm constantly inspired by these growers, many of whom are just as impressive in the kitchen as they are in the field. In the spirit of sharing the wisdom of these inspiring young farmers (and cooks), I am beginning a Farmbelly interview series called EAT LIKE A FARMER to tell the stories of these pioneering farmers. This series will offer a glimpse into the life of young farmers - a lifestyle that is unpredictable, exhausting, and unendingly challenging, not to mention rewarding and wildly delicious.  As the old saying goes, "farmers work like dogs, but eat like kings", and I'd like to think most farmers prefer it that way. 

Photo by Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt

Photo by Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt

I'm honored to kick off this interview series by introducing Evan Chender, a chef-turned-farmer based just outside of Asheville, NC. Evan earned his BA in Food Culture and Sustainable Agriculture from Vassar College, and went on to become a greenhouse manager at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. After taking on several opportunities both farming and working as a chef in top institutions and restaurants around the world, Evan relocated to Asheville, NC with his wife in May 2012. Evan, known as The Culinary Gardener, currently manages a 8,000 square foot micro farm where he intensively hand tendsover 200 varieties of vegetables, edible flowers, and herbs for some of the best restaurants in Asheville. 

A big thanks to Evan for taking the time out of his very busy schedule to share some of his farm and culinary knowledge. Be sure to check out his must-try summer recipe for Cucumber and Tomato Salad with Sheep Feta at the end of the interview. To follow Evan and his farm + culinary adventures, be sure to follow him on instagram @theculinarygardener !


Where is your farm located and what to you grow/produce? My farm is located in Weaverville, NC, 8 miles north of Asheville, NC. I grow many different crops over the course of a year, at least 100 different varieties, but probably close to 200. Lots of greens and edible flowers, but also a little bit of everything. Some of the crops that are growing now that I am particularly excited about are: Japanese cucumbers, trombocino squash, red celtuce, sucrine lettuce, cornflowers, vietnamese and korean perilla, Lady Di runner beans, Alexanders, cardoon, potimarron winter squash, true french sorrel, ardwyna tomato, purple sprouting broccoli, choryoku eggplant, ice lettuce, pennywort, tetragonia, annushka potato, himo togarashi and espellete peppers

Walk us through a typical day on your farm + in your kitchen. A typical day on the farm: get there around 8am. First thing is always doing a walk-through of the garden and keenly observing everything. It's almost like saying good morning to the plants. Then I finally get to work. My main harvest takes place 2 days a week, but this time of year I am harvesting every day, so that is what I will do first. If i'm not harvesting all day, I am working on everything else. Trellising cucumbers or beans, pulling and amending beds, seeding in cells, direct seeding beds for whole plant petite greens (amaranth, orach, quinoa, magenta goosefoot, calendula, extra dwarf bok choi....) transplanting, cultivating, weed wacking, cleaning up. I take one main break for lunch, which is always leftovers from dinner. I'm pretty much hustling the rest of the day. Even when I get home, around 8pm these days, I don't stop because I always make dinner. I never half ass dinner, so we eat around 9pm at the earliest. Then I fall asleep as I take my last bite. 

What is your favorite fruit/vegetable grow, and what's your go-to recipe to use it? Potatoes. Go-to recipe: slowly fried in olive oil or animal fat so they steam on the inside and get a crispy shell on the outside. It's like french fries and mashed potatoes in one. 

What kitchen tool could you not live without? A good, sharp knife. I have a Togiharu that I like. Not crazy expensive,  around $100.

Favorite cookbook? This is weird, but I don't have a favorite. I own lots of cookbooks that I never use or look at. I find most recipes are inaccurate and I find it takes too much brain power for me to follow a recipe. It's easier for me to go stream of consciousness and cook off the cuff.  

When cooking, do you typically use recipes or just go by instinct? Always instinct.

Who in your life has been a mentor/teacher for you as a farmer? As a cook? Unfortunately, I haven't had the opportunity to be mentored as a farmer or a cook. I am almost completely self taught. However, I was born with a passion for food and have pursued it my entire life. 

How has living on a farm influenced your relationships with family, friends, and your local community? Well, I don't currently live on a farm. I live in downtown Asheville. I'll be moving to a farm with my wife in the next year though. We bought 4 acres of land, also in Weaverville, and we will be building a house and living there as soon as possible. Nevertheless, being a farmer and growing only for chefs has deeply influenced my relationships with the chefs I work with, and the people who are part of the Asheville restaurant community. Some of my best friends are chefs and our personal relationships developed out of our business relationships. 

What advice do you have for people who want to get more experience growing their own food + cooking farm fresh produce? My advice is try to grow something you can eat in any way that is feasible for you. If you can't plant a garden, grow something in a pot on your window/fire escape/balcony. Eating food that I have grown myself is where I get my best inspiration.

Share one of your recipes for a simple, farm fresh dish that you can't get enough of this summer:

Cucumber and Tomato Salad with Sheep Feta

  • 6oz sheep or sheep/goat feta, go for the stuff aged in brine if you can find it
  • 2 lbs cucumbers
  • 2 lbs tomatoes
  • 1 small shallot
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Handful chopped fresh mint
  • Fresh chiles to your taste
  • 1 ripe sweet pepper


Mince the shallot and combine with lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let that sit while you prepare everything else. 

Cut the cucumbers and tomatoes into mixed up sizes and shapes. Toss with 2 tablespoons salt and place in a colander to drain for 20 minutes. This sounds like a lot of salt, but what happens is a brine is created around each piece and the salt penetrates through the flesh without tasting salty. Chop peppers and herbs and combine in a large bowl with feta, lemon juice mixture, olive oil. Drain the cucumbers and tomatoes really well and toss everything together. Eat it immediately or wait - as it sits, it gets better. The juice at the bottom is almost like leche de tigre - super flavorful and not to be wasted!