26 Years Ago We Started To Farm Organically...
The year is 1991. Cathy and I just purchased 45 acres and a Greek Revival farmhouse in Whitehall, New York, and were expecting our first son together. Moving 250 miles north from the cities of New Jersey where we grew up, we were looking to get out of the “rat race” and create a more meaningful life for our family. With little employment in the area, we decided to build a 40 seat Victorian-style restaurant on the property from an old calf barn as our means of income. We grew our own vegetables on 1/4 acre and planted another 1/4 acre of pumpkins that first year for our Harvest Festival. Right outside the kitchen, we created a circular stone herbal garden, where we grew thyme, tarragon, basils, chives as well as nasturtiums and pansies to garnish our dinner plates. There were many times you would catch me darting out the back kitchen door to pick a handful of rosemary or lemon thyme for our venison entree or soft shell crabs. Wild raspberries made their way into our chocolate raspberry terrine, garnished with fresh mint leaves. Emerald green spearmint leaves could also be found in the warm finger towels we served after the entree.
Even back then, all that we grew was in tune with nature, using only compost and manure as fertilizer. Weeds were always cleared by hand. We wanted the most nutritious food to offer to our guests.
In 1999 we moved back to New Jersey to be closer to our families. Cathy started a career as a special needs workshop teacher at The Deron School of New Jersey. I started a career as a commodities and futures broker. Moving into my grandmother’s old two family house with a backyard only 30-foot square, our gardening was reduced to a tomato plant, and cucumbers. My grandmother’s purple, lavender, and pale yellow bearded iris bordered the side of the house, giving off a sweet light fragrance in mid-May. The iris moved with us in 2006 when we purchased our new home on 7 acres which we now call Whispering Orchards.
Although we were not gardening many vegetables at my grandmother’s house, Cathy started to develop a gardening program at the Deron School. Teaching children from age 6 to 20, Cathy and the students learned hands on about planting seeds and seedlings in raised beds that they built together. Twice a week students would have time in the garden to cultivate, water, and harvest the fruits of their labour…that’s if the occasional squirrel or chipmunk didn’t pick those ripe red strawberries first. In the 10+ years that Cathy ran the program, children were introduced to many different vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Students were able to taste fresh green beans off the vine, plump juicy red tomatoes, shuck sweet corn, pick peppers, eggplant and zucchini. They created a rock herbal garden, grew lavender and made sachets. Multi-colored zinnias and sunflowers made their way into fresh floral arrangements the students designed. One.of.the ideas Cathy was working on.was a wheelchair accessible raised bed, that would allow the student to wheel under the table bed and plant still sitting. In 2017 Cathy and Deron were awarded a grant from The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders for the “Union County Kids Dig In” garden program for schools in Union County. The program is designed to help schools provide enriching educational experiences while encouraging students to give back to the Union County community through donations of fresh produce.
Back at the ranch, we started planting a garden at our new home the spring of 2007. In the summer of 2009, with an abundance.of Kirby cucumbers, tomatoes and jalapenos, I started pickling and trying my hand at jarring salsa, which led to the birth of Crazy Steve’s Concoctions.
In May 2014, Cathy was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. Over the next ten months, she had surgery to remove her thyroid, a double mastectomy, and removal of 16 lymph nodes, six rounds of chemotherapy and 28 radiation treatments. Searching for answers on how this could happen in between the days of pain, nausea, and fatigue was the routine. Our diet was average, not much-processed foods, we cooked mostly fresh or frozen store bought vegetables during the off season. All that we bought was raised conventionally though, from the fruits and vegetables to the beef, pork, and poultry. Even the bread and pasta. Pepsi was her handicap though, which she stopped after the diagnosis.
Eating healthy fruits and vegetables sprayed with herbicides fungicides and pesticides only compromises our bodies, introducing ailments and disease.
There is a practice of using RoundUp to stop the growth of wheat before harvest…. We are not eating life, we are eating death.
In February 2017 Cathy and I discussed starting an organic micro-farm, with the goal of retiring from Deron and me from Amazon, to work the property producing vegetables, fruits and flowers for sale at farmers markets and creating a CSA, community supported agriculture, offering year-round membership to customers. We started with 65 different varieties of vegetables, fruits and flowers, growing seedlings in low tunnels for transplant on 3/4 of an acre. We had a late start due to a very rainy spring, finally transplanting 400 tomato plants July 4th weekend. By the end of July, we had all the transplants in the ground.
Cathy was diagnosed with cancer again Labor Day weekend, which now had spread to her liver. God called Cathy back to him 4 weeks later, 2 days after her birthday when she was able to see her Great Granddaughter for the first time.
After Cathy passed I decided that just growing organic vegetables seasonally is not enough to stop the diseases we face from the pesticide and herbicide sprayed environment which feeds us. My goal is to use the 7-acre farm to produce a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, as well as pasture raised eggs, poultry, pork, lamb, beef, and fish following organic practices. Working with nature to develop the soil which supports all this life is my mission.
The cool days of autumn quickly changed to the frigid winter cold and the dying vegetation against the stark white snow was just a reminder of how things end. To keep my spirits up and bring life to the shortened days and long nights, I purchased our first set of baby chicks to be raised indoors until the spring. It felt good to be a caregiver to these little lives, which made the winter months easier.