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?

Friday, September 17, 2010







Today was a sad day on Threshold Farm if you were a pig. Jen was making butter at the house with Hannah, trying to avoid the slaughtering, while Aaron was picking carrots when three gun shots were fired in quick succession. Next, all three pigs were taken away by the butcher for processing. Out of honor for the pigs, photographs and video were prohibited. Hannah and Hugh respect their animals, treat them very well, raise them with love, and believe their flesh is a sacrifice that shouldn't be taken lightly. As Jewish vegetarians, slaughtering pigs sits uneasy in our stomachs. But by noon, the crows were flocking over pools of blood in the pig pen and that was that. New piglets may arrive next week, and they'll have a happy life, for one year.

After a somber morning, we had a nice group lunch, then returned to the farm to work on the addition to the barn. Hugh, with the help of his fellow Aussie friend John, are erecting a new room on the west side of the barn using mud as the walls. We essentially beat the crap out of dirt to pack it down, made very slow progress, then repeated. In three hours, we put up a foot and a half of wall, but it doesn't cost a dime for materials, and since our labor is free, everyone wins! And by everyone, we mean Hugh. The only trouble with a dirt wall is, in the case of a big storm, theoretically, the walls could wash away. Hugh and John have a plan for that, but we won't be around to find out what it is and how it gets implemented. Helping them build was physically exhausting, but we learned again that there are many ways to skin a cat.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010







Based on the morning activities of yesterday and today, we think every day will begin with us pulling up the fence stakes we put into the ground the previous day, rolling up the fence string and moving it to form a new pasture for the cows to graze. By relocating them regularly, the cows are happier because they get to eat fresh greens every day and the soil improves thanks to their fertilizer. All the plants in the field have days to grow and replenish themselves after visits by the cows; if the cows were never moved, the plants would never have time to recover and would instead die.

Orchards, like cows, require lots of maintenance. Pruning, fertilizing, weeding, and harvesting barely scratches the surface. Today we spent hours ducking under the branches of many rows of trees gathering fallen apples. With 11 varieties of apples in one orchard, different trees ripen at different times. Right now, several varieties are ripe and ready to be harvested while other varieties need a few more weeks. Ripe or not, apple trees drop apples and these fallen apples require attention. Leaving apples to rot on the ground under the tree attracts bugs. These bugs procreate at incredible speeds and offspring can quickly overtake the entire orchard. A few insects eating a rotten apple can multiply into a million bugs eating all the apples on all the trees too quickly for comfort. Therefore, maintaining orchard hygiene is paramount.

There are three things you can do with fallen apples, depending on their condition: 1) compost them, 2) press them into cider, 3) sell them. The ones that are completely rotted and infested with bugs must be composted; even the pigs won't eat them. The apples with a few bruises or the ones without bruises that have fallen before they ripen get pressed into cider. You can't sell an under ripe apple, but you can process the apple into sauce or cider and still make money. Some apples fall off trees when they are fully ripe and they taste and look perfect. Just like most other fruit, when one is totally ripe a soft breeze can make it fall. There's clearly no reason these apples shouldn't be consumed, as they taste delicious and oftentimes have been on the ground for less than an hour. In fact, as we were gathering apples off the ground, others fell right in front of our eyes. One even hit Aaron in the head, and he felt like Sir Isaac Newton for a moment.







Threshold Farm is our new home. It represents the 20th and final farm on our WWOOFing adventure. In two weeks, we will no longer be volunteer migrant farmers. What we will be in two weeks remains up in the air, but seeing how we've lived the past 9 months of our lives floating in the breeze, we see no reason to panic and plan out our entire future. Let come what may!

This farm just south of Albany is biodynamic. Hannah (originally from Germany) and Hugh (originally from Australia) know Jeff "The Barefoot Farmer" Poppen, who we stayed with this winter. They also know Luke Frye, the winemaker who purchases biodynamic grapes from Annelle and Thurston at Clover Creek Family Farm. The biodynamic farming community proves it is a small world after all.

Perhaps the most important resource a biodynamic farmer uses and learns from is Steiner's Agriculture Course. On this trip, we have looked for the famous work. We saw it once out west, but never had proper time to read through it. Of all the book stores we've visited and searched through, we have never been able to locate a copy for ourselves. But Eurika! At last, we have found not one, but three copies here. One edition is an advanced printing, one is a British translation, and one is an American English translation. Steiner delivered eight lectures during a week in the summer of 1924, and we intend to read one each night (from the American English translation) for the next several days, all the while asking Hannah and Hugh to help elaborate on topics and ideas we have trouble understanding. Agriculture Course is a bible of sorts, and just like that slightly more famous text, people live obsessively by its words, re-reading over and over and over. We'll admit, it's a little crazy, but we must read it once in order to form our own opinion.

The farm here is beautiful. There is an apple orchard, pear orchard, and peach orchard. There are 3 pigs, over 20 cows, over 20 chickens, several ducks, and many acres of vegetables. Hannah and Hugh have two young children, Christopher and Emma, who are in 3rd grade and 2nd grade, respectively. Our first day on the farm saw us changing a fence enabling the cows to graze in a new area, and harvesting carrots, tomatoes, and green beans. After a siesta, we cleaned onions and tied corn ears together for drying. Our initial impression here is extremely positive; we suspect we'll get along very well with this family, and learn a tremendous amount about biodynamic farming.



After nearly three full weeks, today was our last day at Juniper Hill Farm. In order to finish what we started, we skinned the greenhouse today. With several extra hands on board, we managed to get the massive sheet of plastic over the bows and tightly secured around the frame. Adam remarked several times that this is the tightest skin he's ever seen on a greenhouse.


Juniper Hill provided us with a lot of firsts: first melon of the season, first tomato of the season, first time this season preserving for the winter, first tractor ride, and first farmer's market we worked at. We truly enjoyed all of those new things and all our days here, especially the companionship with Melody and Adam. We also spent our time at Juniper Hill reinforcing lessons we've learned along our trip. We realize the knowledge we have acquired on this trip is invaluable and will help us grow great fruits and vegetables of our own some day, but at the same time, we are not fooling ourselves into believing we are now equipped to run a farm of our own. Dream as we may, we are not nearly ready to start our own farm yet. We've basically just completed our freshman year of farming. In order to become a seasoned expert, you do truly need seasons of experience.

Of all the new we've experienced here, there are some voids still left for us to hopefully fill at our next and final stop. Watermelons, apples, pears, and winter squash...we're coming for you.

Monday, September 6, 2010







Sunday is a work day here because Monday is a market day. It's strange, even when we've worked on weekends at other farms, usually we'd work Saturday and have Sunday off. Here, it's the opposite. To get ready for Monday's market, we have to harvest everything on Sunday. It feels nice and Jewish not to work on Saturday.

Today we harvested: peppers, eggplants. squash, zucchini, lettuce mix, broccoli, greenhouse tomatoes, spinach, and green beans. These will all go to market tomorrow, in addition to the beets, carrots, leeks, onions and potatoes we harvested the other day. When we first arrived at Juniper Hill, the produce growing all over these 15 acres was overwhelming and we had to walk around for a while just to find what we needed to harvest. But at this point, doing all that harvesting has become routine. We know where everything is, we know how much we need to harvest, we know just the right way to do it, and we know what to do with it once we've harvested it. For so long on this trip we did every chore possible besides harvesting. Due to the inclement weather we found nearly everywhere we stayed, we rarely harvested anything. Now, all we do is harvest. And it's great!

Being the patient, good teacher he is, Adam taught us to ride one of his tractors. After some lessons and seeing how parts worked, we tilled in the summer's finished crop of sweet corn. No matter what happens from here on out, Aaron can always say he drove an old, beat up, rusty Ford tractor wearing dirty overalls with gunk under his fingernails. He sure was a real farmer for at least a half an hour, and nobody can ever take that away from him! And no matter what, Jen can always say she has never once in her first 28 years been taught to drive any sort of stick shift vehicle. Maybe in the next 28 years...




The Adirondack State Park is unique in that the park is livable; unlike the majority of state parks and national parks, you can actually live here. When one thinks of a state or a national park, ideas of recreation, hiking, learning, swimming, camping, etc abound. But no one ever thinks, "Hey's let's move into Yosemite National Park!" And why not? Well, for this obvious reason: it is illegal. On most state or national park service property, and you cannot buy land and build a house within their boundaries. But in the Adirondack State Park, you can. This park model was experimental back in the day, and apparently other countries are trying to create parks with livable communities in them. The idea of having protected land with recreational opportunities in an established community seems like an amazing idea. Or does it?

Trouble is, these established communities were developed years ago for reasons very different than recreation. They were built on the foundation of logging, mining, fishing, and other natural resource stripping. Some time ago, people got upset, and exclaimed "You can't cut down all the trees! You can't mine all the metals! You can't bottle all the water! We're going to preserve this land!" But when that happened, almost all the jobs that citizens were dependent upon vanished. What does a coal mining town do when mining is prohibited? What does a logging company do when it can no longer log? Why, lay off hundreds and hundreds of its employees. And then what happens to those communities? Today, we are finding out.

It is really an ongoing experiment. Across the lake, Champlain that is, VT has long been establishing its brand new identity. When people think of Vermont, they think of skiing, cheese, education, teddy bears. VT was clever enough to re-brand itself, and people love VT and visit and spend millions every year. Tourism is huge there, and they are proud to support only VT products. Here, it's a bit different. There are huge vacation areas in the Adirondacks, like Lake Placid, but mostly, all the sleepy towns scattered throughout this park are in serious economic trouble. Seems like half the homes we drive past are for sale; seems like only old timers live here. Everyone leaves, because everyone knows there is no future in a dead region like upstate New York. The average family income in "The North Country" hovers around $30,000 per year. People struggle for work, especially in the winter when tourists don't visit.

Years ago, everyone only supported their local food economy, because there was no such thing as food from other states, let alone other countries. But now, with the advent of cheap food in supermarkets, cheap products at Wal-Mart, cheap gas, cheap everything, people find themselves living cheap, cheated lives up here. And so if everyone continues fleeing the impoverished rural areas all over the US and heads to the city for brighter pastures, who's going to tend those abandoned pastures, and feed all the billions of people in the city? Can city folk continue to expect 6-figure salaries and refuse to buy non-uniform shaped fruits and vegetables while 4-5% of America struggles to grow food for 95% earning barely 5-figure salaries?

Sunday, September 5, 2010






One of Aaron's favorite foods, or arguably his most favorite, is potatoes. So one would think that today would be his most favorite day on the farm: the day we dug them up.

Although we didn't plant any potatoes on our journey, we cared for them at several farms. At two farms in Oregon we concentrated on covering the leaves of young potato plants with soil to encourage stronger root growth and more prodigious tubers. Digging potatoes here partially completed our understanding of the life cycle of the potato crop. Missing out on planting is a big gap we hope to fill one day. Traveling has been spectacular, but it's hard not being at the same place and watching the same plants for an entire year; however we do understand the basics by seeing crops at different stages on different farms and this knowledge is both rewarding and helpful.

The potato harvest at Juniper Hill was no easy task. Two factors were hinderances to the quantity of potatoes we harvested: 1) weeds 2) sandy soil. The massive amounts of weeds that were allowed to grow at least three and a half feet tall made it nearly impossible to find the raised beds the potatoes were planted under, let alone find the potato plant itself. Also, the plant leaves had died, so locating the withered leaves after ridding the area of the weeds was like trying to find Waldo in "Where's Waldo?" The weeds stole precious nutrients in an already nutrient deprived sandy soil, so the potatoes themselves were on the smaller side. These were no Russet Burbanks. We still managed to harvest hundreds of pounds of taters.

We harvested new potatoes, which should be eaten immediately. Storage potatoes are harvested later in the fall. Their extra time in the ground toughens their skins and readies them to last throughout a long winter. When harvesting storage potatoes, the leaves have long since stopped photosynthesizing and despite the dead looking leaves, the tubers below are fine and developing their thick skin. During the Great Irish Potato Famine, blight attacked the potato crop and when all the potato leaves wilted and died the Irish farmers believed their crop was unharmed, as leaf wilting was not an unusual occurrence. The blight didn't just cause the leaves to look withered as they always do, and nobody suspected anything was wrong. Unfortunately it hadn't only harmed the leaves but killed all the roots as well. Fortunately for Adam and Melody their tubers were all in tact below their dead leaves, it was simply a matter of locating them and then digging, digging, digging.