15 September 2007

New Found Land

Newfoundland and Orange County. Never thought I'd live near to either, but here I am, in spitting distance of both at once.

I'm parking my car these days in Middle Hope, a karmic step above a place I once passed through: Little Hope. It was dotted with tombstones and surrounded by a black iron fence, and seemed more Beyond Hope.

Despite their differences, both places have something in common, more so than Newfoundland or the more infamous Orange County: land. Fertile land for digging, planting, reaping. And while Little Hope is primarily in the business of pushing daisies, Middle Hope is seeing all kinds of action, inch by inch, row by row.

In my few days here, I've heard several people calling this region the next Napa...though the agricultural spread here covers a breadth and depth far beyond that of the primarily wine-producing West. Visiting the Family Farm Festival last weekend, I mingled with vendors from all over the Valley, from CSA farms to local wheat millers and bakers, beekeepers, wool producers, house greening/energy efficient organizations...big bounty, good company. Tomatoes the size of your head, and rutabagas much bigger.

I came to the Hudson Valley specifically to participate in this wealth, or at least a niche of it. Honey Locust Farm House put out a call, and I happened to answer. Sustainably producing a wide variety of herbs (basils, anise hyssop, lovage, thyme), mixed greens (mesclun, puntarelle, radicchios, sylvettica, shiso), heirloom tomatoes, squash, kales, chard, edible flowers, and farm fresh eggs, Honey Locust sells directly to some of the top chefs and restaurants in New York City: The Modern, Del Posto, WD-50, Mercer Kitchen, Jean-Georges, Nobu, Felidia, and (formerly) Per Se.

Nancy MacNamara is the knowledgeable energy behind the operation. And after losing her staff this season, one by one, she's been the sole worker bee for the past several days, attempting to keep her 2 1/2 acres weeded and her contracts fulfilled. There's been some letting go and some cutting back, respectively, but her stamina and my persistence at showing up carry us well through the day-to-day.

Nancy's "past 55," short-waisted and muscularly long-legged, with shoulder length gray hair that's usually tied up on the back of her head. She admits to being an "old hippie," an "old broad," but she's just cool. Knowledgeable. Warm smile, quick laugh. She trots around in beige Crocs and sports a wide-brimmed hat, and I try to keep up and catch snippets of her softly-spoken directions as we weave across the farm and through the greenhouses.

She shows me her herb garden, a triangular beauty of landscape and variety, we teeter at the edge of the vermicomposting trough, we crawl through the jungle of cucuzzi in the top greenhouse, tear bottom leaves off of the tree-like lacinato kale plants...then it's on to the hot spots for nasturtium collection, where the watercress grows, how to cut lettuce, which radishes are for harvest and which are too large (since the chefs want baby and Nancy's been short-handed, most are left behind)...and on and on.

Nancy thinks out loud a lot, mixing her instructions with general teachings and her plans for the day - at that moment, before the next produce call comes in, or a special party is planned at one of the restaurants in the city.

Busy is the name of this game - always for the farmer, but a scoot too much at present for these two. We laugh, though, acknowledge what can actually be done, enjoy what we do, smell the sweet air, and practice our best downward dogs as we bend over the crop rows. My hamstrings have never seen the likes of this workout.


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