We always are asked where we got our produce...especially this time of year. The Amish cooperative in Pennsylvania, Path Valley, is our primary source for produce throughout the year. We have been working with them since they were first established about 15 years ago. We were lucky enough to visit a few of the farms the summer before last.
The way it works is that Katie who manages the cooperative gets a projected availability list from the various members of the cooperative and passes it on to chefs in the DC area. We order from the list and then Gordon who has been driving for the cooperative since it started delivers with 2 young Amish helpers once or twice a week depending on the season. Stan a resident of the valley has the job of picking up produce from the various farms the afternoon before the DC delivery. Two young Amish women work at the dock sorting the various orders. Katie comes by late in the day to help sort out the inevitable problems. The work on the dock starts at noon and in the summer when the orders are large and the produce is plentiful they often work until midnight.
As you can imagine the coordination to get crops to be consecutively available throughout the year with many different farms is complicated. I talked with Katie tonight and she told me all about the annual growers meeting last week that is essential in the process. The planning begins around Christmas time when growers fill out a form committing to what crops they are going to grow, which varieties and how much they plan to produce per week for how many weeks. Katie takes all this information and this year with a lot of help from one of the growers wives consolidated it. After that there is a board meeting where 4 growers and Katie meet to assess the projections and figure out if there is enough, too much or the correct amount of individual items.
This information and the financial report of the previous year make up the content of the annual growing meeting which can last from 6-9 hours. She said that both the husband and wife from each cooperative farm attend. There is excitement surrounding the event. The farmers do not get out often. Outings consist of church visits every other week, weddings in the fall, a couple school events per year, a couple quiltings each winter and about 2 trips a year to a large store such as Walmart to buy the relatively few items that they do not produce at home. The growing meeting is an event and a rare one in that couples attend without their children and spend the day together. Most arrive with a picnic lunch and in addition the host family usually make a large stew. This year the hosts made venison stew with venison bologna. Throughout the day some additional snacks are served and there is a constant supply of highly sweetened mint tea that is made from dried fresh mint that is plentiful in the valley.
Katie says the atmosphere is friendly and lively. There is sharing of seed catalogs. Favorite catalogs include Johnnys, Baker Creek, E & R (no website) and Seed Savers. There is one copy of the large version of the Seed Savers Catalog that the members share.
Jake the largest producer of beets and carrots in the cooperative is moving to Wisconsin so the crops he has grown in the past were divided between farmers who already are producing those crops. Issac is a grower who sticks with all different varieties of potatoes. When asked if he wanted to try something new this year he declined. However there is another family that always anxiously listens to suggestions and plants large crops of new items at the slightest suggestion…last year it was cipolline onions this year it was red shallots. Between all of the member farmers nearly every crop and variety of crop that can be grown in the climate is grown…but new this coming season will be cornichons (which were a test crop last year, cardoons (which were not successful in the past), yacons (which have not been grown in the valley for a couple of years) and a new variety of strawberries which will produce fruit into October.
The meeting can also yield information. For example this year the main producer of Russian Banana Fingerling Potatoes had a crop failure and they have not been available since November. When this was mentioned at the meeting another grower offered 700 pounds that he had available for sale. He intended to grow the potatoes just for his household but had, had an unexpected high yield.
There was celebration this year because despite the economy the Cooperative had their best year ever. The cooperative invested in a new cooler at the loading dock and have already been able to pay off the loan that they took out in the spring.
This time of year we are enjoying Path Valley root vegetables, greens, black walnuts…we eagerly anticipate the spring crops!