This week, we're excited to introduce you to CNG member Elizabeth Weller. After several years in social work, working in orchards and farms from West Virginia to Massachusetts, and a Masters in Theological Studies, she moved back to her home state of Pennsylvania with her husband to found The Amazing Heart Farm. Below Elizabeth shares a little about her farm, her philosophy, and building community through food and a deep connection to place.
Who farms with you, if anyone? I’m the main farmer, but I have a lot of help. As he likes to say with a grin, my husband is the “Director of Energy Consciousness” and most dedicated farm hand. Additionally, a young man who lives locally has helped me out a few days a week since I started. It's a therapeutic work arrangement for him as he struggles with schizophrenia – he has been invaluable. This year I had a full time intern from May - September. I also host volunteers from the local college, and several CSA members have taken a very active role in the farm.
What do you grow? Do you have a specialty? We grow mixed vegetable crops and salad greens with some perennial crops such as raspberries, strawberries & asparagus.
How long have you been farming? Full-time, since the summer of 2009. 2012 was our 3rd full season as a CSA.
Why did you get involved with CNG? We initially became involved with CNG because it represents the sustainable practices that we use and value, and also serves as a guide in our farming. Certified Naturally Grown has connected us to a network of local farmers who have generously shared a wellspring of knowledge grounded in years of farming experience and in a deep commitment to working with the land. Lastly, as a small scale operation, we have valued CNG for its affordability. A 1-2 acre farm plot is hardly a blip on the USDA’s radar. Offering an affordable certification process to tiny operations such as ours ascribes value to the work we’re doing and educates the public about sustainability, no matter how small the operation.
How did you get into farming? What made you want to become a farmer? For me it was largely a lifestyle choice, one that grew out of a desire to give back to my community in a lasting and powerful way. Click through to read my essay on This I Believe.
What tricks and solutions have you implemented to address challenges or improve operations on your farm? We’re pretty excited about the hugelkultur beneath our recently installed high tunnel. Hugelkultur is the ancient form of sheet composting in which rotting wood and other organic material are buried beneath mounds of topsoil. The hugelkultur bed we installed is 2.5 feet deep and filled with 30 cords of wood, 40 mid-sized bales of rotting hay, 24 yards of leaf mulch, and 40 yards of mushroom soil. The site was primarily clay and often flooded. We were a bit worried when Sandy swept through, but the water was quickly absorbed into the hugelkultur bed and for the first time, we had no problems with flooding in that area.
Favorite vegetable Kohlrabi & carrots – love them both raw
How do you include customers in your farming operation? For me, engaging our CSA members has been the most rewarding aspect of our CSA program. We’ve enjoyed sharing through volunteer days and potlucks. We’ve also had Feldenkrais “Effortless Gardening” retreats and Bodhicitta meditation retreats that are open both to the public and our CSA members.
During the first year, we recognized the need for education around cooking and preserving produce. Most people know what to do with tomatoes and potatoes, but when it comes to the less common varieties, things like swiss chard, kohlrabi, or parsnips, preparing a quick dinner can feel overwhelming. So this year we offered A Seasonal Cooking Adventure, a series of 10 informal cooking classes/dinners led by one of our CSA members. It was a delicious success!
Our 2012 intern Sara Tower designed and led a 5-week discussion series called Color Your Food! as a fun a way of thinking about food and plant-based nutrition through color. Each session focused on the phytonutrients and antioxidants of a different pigment in the food rainbow and featured a recipe. For anyone interested in leading a Color Your Food! educational discussion series in their own community, download Sara’s weekly info sheets from our website.
What’s your favorite dish to cook at home? In one of our cooking classes this summer, we were introduced to a tasty recipe for beet burgers. They quickly made their way to my top 10.
Who is your mentor or hero in the farming world? Locally, Thom & Judy Marti of Broad Valley Orchard in Biglerville, PA has been a tremendous mentor. As far as heroes, the writings of both Wendell Berry and Terry Tempest Williams (though not a farmer, TTW’s philosophy of place has been a source of inspiration and strength) have been profoundly influential to the way I live my life.
What’s your most useful piece of clothing for working on the farm? Sunglasses. Before I started farming, I had owned 1, maybe 2 pairs of sunglasses. In the 4 years I’ve been doing this full time, I’ve gone through at least 5 pairs. Especially midday in summer when the light is harsh, they’re essential.
Favorite season? Why? Fall. I’ve always loved the transition to autumn, the brilliant dance between the ripening and the decay that compels us to turn inward, to reflect on our lives, to rest our bodies, and to tend to ourselves.