Monday, September 27, 2010




There's a famous expression, and it goes like this: "The honeymoon's over." As we write this last entry, we are no longer WWOOFing Pattaps. We are just Pattaps now.

On our last day on the farm we harvested carrots, beets, tomatoes, chard, basil, leeks, and apples. It was a warm glorious fall day with a slight breeze and a crisp, clear blue sky. At the beginning of the trip, all we wanted to do was travel and learn how to grow food so one day we could plant our very own small vegetable garden. But after nine months on the road, and working at 20 farms, we are seriously struggling with how to take our next step. Giving up this life is going to be incredibly difficult and challenging, yet we realizing become farmers might not be our best next step. We don't have land, we don't have money, and starting a farm from the ground up is one awfully daunting task. Apprenticing on a farm for a year only makes sense if we are certain we want to one day become farmers.

It's easy to feel low after being so high for so long, and feel nervous about what the future holds. But two things provide us with immense hope. The first is our love for one another; after 9 months of spending 24 hours a day with each other, we'd either realize this marriage was a huge mistake, or the best decision of our lives. The answer is overwhelmingly clear that we shouldn't have tied to knot...oh wait, we mean, we should have. The other, is that we can say with 100% certainty, we have zero obligations. We can do anything we please. Any sense of uncertainty can be viewed in a positive light, one of having total freedom. We aren't tied down to a mortgage, or a job that we don't love. We aren't required to live one place or be somewhere we can't stand. We're confident it will all work out.

...and they lived happily ever after.






After pressing and bottling another 200 plus half gallons of cider this morning, we took off and headed to Woodstock for the afternoon. Hannah was going to Woodstock to make one of the bi-monthly CSA drop offs in town and she suggested we tag along. Right before we left we packed up a bunch of amazingly aromatic apple boxes for the CSA customers.

Neither of us had ever been to Woodstock before, and given the town's history we were excited to check it out. There is one main street lined with stores and places to eat, shop, and reminisce. Posters of the musicians who put the town on the map and the famous bird sitting on the neck of the guitar which is now the symbol of the music festival hung in nearly every window. Middle aged hippies meandered the streets they flocked to over 40 years ago who never changed or left. It is safe to say the town is totally living in the past.

In The Big Lebowski, the Dude tells Walter he's living in the past and Walter screams, "Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax...You're goddamn right I'm living in the fucking past!" We're not comparing Woodstock to religion, per se, but some people sure do live like Woodstock is the holy grail. Woodstock is a landmark that symbolizes culture, music, and freedom which some people will never be ready to let go of. The music of Woodstock was incredible but flocking to the city like it's still a cultural mecca makes no more sense than moving to LIverpool simply because the Beatles are our favorite band. The Woodstock Music Festival was arguably the best rock music festival of all time, but the city of Woodstock does not have any inherent's just a town where something incredible happened a long time ago.



It's been a few days since we have taken down the fencing for the cows. For several days they have grazed on one of the largest pastures here and Hugh and Jonathan were moving the fencing within this field without our help. This morning we got back into removing fence posts and winding up the electric fence line. Reeling up the electric fence line, which is well over 500 yards long, sort of feels like reeling in a humpback whale. The struggle is ongoing; we keep reeling and reeling, with our arms tiring and making seemingly no progress at all.

After harvesting carrots, leeks, lettuces, beets, chard, parsley, and arugula for the CSA, and once the cows were happily grazing on some fresh greens, we headed to the orchard to harvest. Up until today, we have picked up "drops" throughout the orchard to clean the ground but today we finally got to do some tree picking. For anyone who has gone apple picking at a U-pick before, you know that picking apples isn't brain surgery. However, picking apples at a U-pick is far different than harvesting at a biodynamic apple orchard in full production. Today we spot picked, which means we only picked the ripest apples, half those on the tree. The Liberties, Macouns, and Jonagolds were spot picked today and with lots of orders and more CSA fruit share demand, combined with the fact that these three varieties are ripening quickly, there is a chance we'll harvest more later this week.

Harvesting vegetables is fun but harvesting fruit is much more enjoyable. The days on this trip we've harvested fruit have been highlights in our minds and we think back fondly to the times we picked berries, stone fruit, melons, and now apples. For us, harvesting and eating fresh, ripe, delicious fruit off the tree/vine/bush is unrivaled. All the hard work is worth it when you sink your teeth into the sweet, succulent, juicy flesh of fruit. Of all the chores we've completed as WWOOFers, harvesting fruit is our favorite.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010









Aside from Hannah, Hugh, Christopher and Emma, Jonathan is often around. Jonathan is the sole employee of Threshold Farm, and has been apprenticing here for 4 years. He used to be a CSA member who enjoyed volunteering on the farm from time to time, but one thing led to another, and now he manages the orchard and vegetable gardens. He is 27 and we greatly enjoy his company in the orchard and in the kitchen, where he teaches us each day, and helps us prepare afternoon meals. He's taught us there are 11 apple varieties growing here, which are as follows:

(1) cox-orange pippen
(2) paula red
(3) gala
(4) fuji
(5) jonagold
(6) jonafree
(7) golden delicious
(8) macoun
(9) baldwin
(10) liberty
(11) ida red

We've learned from him different apples ripen at different weeks during the fall, and apples 1-3 in the above list were all harvested before we arrived. The macouns, liberties, and jonagolds are nearly ready and we may harvest some this week with him.

Two other visitors arrived this weekend and left this afternoon. Kelsey and Dominic are workers at a beef farm in Vermont, and are interested in doing a season long apprenticeship next year when Jonathan leaves to start his own farm. Listening to Hannah and Hugh interview them was fun and interesting for us, because the idea of apprenticing at a farm has entered our heads over the past month. It's awfully hard for a farmer to find apprentices that fit into their lives, and it's equally challenging for young, aspiring farmers to find a farm that matches their needs. Learning and working in exchange for teaching and lodging is more the goal than making money, but compensation is a factor to consider. But the most important element of an apprenticeship seems to be having the right dynamic between the apprentices and the farmers. We suspect Hannah and Hugh will continue looking for apprentices. They suggested we stay as apprentices, and were shocked by this offer. With only 4 more days of WWOOFing, we are weighing all options.

Monday, September 20, 2010






One of the most important things we've learned on this trip is how to be flexible eaters. Every where we stay, everyone is accustomed to different eating habits. Our diet was stable in Brooklyn but since January we've been all over the map; meal sizes, times, and regularity all vary greatly from farm to farm. At times it's been wonderful and we've picked up new recipes and techniques we'll take with us after our journey ends. At other times, however, we have worked hard to make due. On our trip there was rarely a shortage of fruits and vegetables but the variety didn't often change until we changed locations. Even in the midst of some of the best summer produce, we had to figure out ways to cook eggplant in a different way every night. When eggplant, or any other food, is in season it is overabundant and we have to figure out ways of cooking and preserving it so we still want to eat it the next day. Here the main ingredients we've been working with are squash, carrots, chard, garlic, and apples. Of course we've harvested green beans, tomatoes, and onions which we've been steadily cooking but it's tough to come up with a new squash recipe every day. Especially since we're spending more time in the field than in the kitchen.

But the truth is, none of this is a major issue at Threshold because we eat a very European diet: two very small meals usually consisting of not much more than bread, butter, jam, and cheese and a large lunch. Really, we're only cooking one meal a day so we've managed to keep creativity alive. Alas, with bread for breakfast and dinner, and several mouths to feed, we must keep a good supply of bread in the house. Hannah has been baking her own bread for years and today happened to be baking day.

Hugh spent a few hours readying the outdoor brick oven he and a friend built by lighting a fire inside and letting it heat up for four hours. Hannah kneaded and kneaded the dough she made, which consisted of a sourdough starter and freshly ground whole wheat flour. When the time came, the fire in the oven went out and in went the pizzas. We cooked the pizzas first because they cook at a higher temperature than the bread. The oven was already that hot and had to cool a bit before the bread could go in, so it seemed perfect to utilize the hot oven to the max. The pizzas cooked quickly and once they were done in went the 12 loaves of bread. 45 minutes later they were crispy, aromatic, and delicious. As the oven continued to cool there was plenty of heat still trapped inside, so we cooked three clay pots of beans, two trays of squash, and garlic. It was a brick oven baking extravaganza!

Saturday, September 18, 2010




We made more cider today. The nice thing about farming is that no day is like another; there is always variety in chores, and from season to season. Yet despite the variety, there is often incredible repetition unlike that in some other professions. Farming seems to be all about doing a new and different task every day, but sometimes you must complete that task hundreds and hundreds of times. You only harvest carrots a few times a year, but when it's time, you pull hundreds and hundreds on each of those days. Here, they only make cider a handful of times each season, and on this occasion, we poured liquid through a funnel for hours and hours, repeating the exact same motions for what seemed like an eternity; or dropping apples through the grinder, over and over, and over again until the insignificant weight of one apple began to feel burdensome. There is satisfaction in knowing when something gets too dull, you know you don't have to do it every day, for the better part of your life...unless you're a dairy farmer.

Another thing that happened today was the CSA pickup. 27 people are members of the vegetable CSA and Threshold Farm also offers a CSA for fruit shares only. The theory is some CSA members may have their own apple trees, and don't want extra apples. Or some people may have a small vegetable garden, and just want the fruit. In addition to the vegetables and fruit, Threshold also offers for sale eggs from their chickens, meat from their pigs and cows, and yogurt and milk from their cows.

There is some controversy about the way they sell certain items out of their farm store here, specifically as it relates to pasteurization of apple cider, apple cider vinegar, and milk products. In NY state, it is illegal to sell unpasteurized juices and milk. Hannah and Hugh are anarchistic in their farming styles. They don't pay for the USDA organic certification or the Demeter biodynamic certification, and they also don't care much for health board regulations. They believe their products are safe, and more nutrient rich than almost any product you can buy in a supermarket. We tend to agree, but because of the illegality of selling unpasteurized milk, they have a statement on their refrigerator door: This milk is for pet consumption only.






Something we've learned along this trip is that farmers in general usually do a fine job selling their goods. But almost all could make more money by selling added value products. With their hectic lifestyles, most farmers don't have much free time on their hands, and definitely not enough time for processing the foods they harvest into sauces, jams, ciders, pies, dried fruits, or dressings for sale. One can sell tomatoes for three dollars a pound if you're lucky, but one can sell a jar of tomato sauce for much more. Here, you can buy "second" apples for 75 cents a pound (ones that have fallen off the tree and might be slightly damaged). Or you could buy a half gallon of apple cider
(made exclusively from seconds) for $4.50. Hugh and Hannah are not fools, and they are taking the time to add value to their product, and make lots and lots of cider.

Today we spent the morning doing just that. With hundreds of pounds of apples in bags, we first washed, then picked through them, discarding the rotten ones. Next we sent them through a machine that chopped them up into pumice. The pumice then went into a press, which extracted the liquid from the skin, pulp, and seeds. Lastly, we funneled it into half gallon plastic bottles for storage. The press they use can hold a maximum of 10 bushels of crushed apples. Once filled with the chopped up apples, an expanding bladder in the core of the machine fills with water and presses the juice out of the apples and down through a spout at the bottom. We managed to fill over 400 half gallon jugs with delicious cider. And this was only one of the five or six cider pressings that will happen here this season. Each batch tastes different, because different varieties of apples are collected and and all mixed together. But no matter how many tastes we had, they were all uniquely delicious.

By the end of the day, we all had sticky hands, and miraculously managed to escape the wasps. The yellow jackets swarmed every where, especially during the bottling. Whoever poured the liquid through the screen, through the filter, and into the bottle had at all times no less than 10 wasps swarming around their eyes, ears, mouths, hands, and the bottle lids. Some of us smushed them dead. Others swatted them with shoos. Some even threatened: "Wasp, if you sip but one drop of this here cider, we'll punish you by making you drink all 400 plus bottles of cider! Don't test me!"

Now we are just left with one unanswered question: what is the difference between apple juice and apple cider anyway?