News of Seasonal Produce Offerings, Auctions, Events, Agritourism and Farmers in Casey County, Kentucky ~ and the Old Order Mennonite & Amish Communities ~ located in the scenic Knobs Region and agricultural heart of Kentucky.

Monday, August 20, 2012

GROW Casey County Update

First of all, try to make it a point to come to this Gardener's Group potluck picnic on Thursday, August 23 (all information above). Mary Nardin, a local gardener, and Debbie Shepherd at the Casey County Extension Office, have put together a great program for this, and upcoming events, related to gardening. There will also be many farmers there setting up tables and talking about their farms.

On another note, with a groundswell of truly locally grown interest in farming from Casey County farmers (of which I am not) and "things happening" at last on that front, I have decided to take a back seat, as it were, for a while (if not entirely). As this is entirely a volunteer effort of one, posting on this blog has been infrequent at best (more likely to find updates on our 'GROW Casey County' Facebook page) and my own writing now must take priority, as well as our own cattle farm here in Pulaski County. Furthermore, our boys used to attend school in Casey County and no longer do so––so we aren't out and about in the county any more as much as we were. And, finally, I no longer have satellite internet and eagerly await DSL on our ridge in the coming months.

All of this said, there is a ready template (and promotional cards) at the ready for anyone who wishes to step up and continue this blog, Facebook page and/or even the name 'GROW Casey County.' I will happily pass it all along to the right person or persons. Also, with the marvelous statewide promotional efforts on sustainable agriculture at the excellent blog and Facebook page, Sustainable Kentucky, it makes it even easier to step back at this time. That effort is also a solo act from an area writer/farmer and they are doing such a terrific job, including covering Casey County at times, that I don't need to even try to duplicate their efforts.

So thank you for following Casey County agricultural events and information. The Casey County farming community is strong and growing, and is galvanizing organically as it should do. We will keep you posted as to other related agricultural happenings as they occur in the region when we can––or perhaps there will be more specific information via the Casey County Extension Office on Facebook, blogs or other groups in the area. In the meantime, the above flyer for the upcoming picnic includes contact information for local agricultural questions. The GROW Casey County Facebook page will also remain open and active if you wish to post something or contact others on it.

Casey County Produce Auction

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Wagon Trail: Great Eats in Casey County

The Wagon Trail is located on South Fork Creek,
just down on the right from the Casey County Produce Auction.

In Casey County, dining options are few and locally-sourced family restaurants are even fewer. Chain restaurants are a dime a dozen throughout the land, even in our neck of the woods, so when you find some place that is unique, delicious and affordable, you want to crow about it. As GROW Casey County is about embracing all things local, especially food-related, this seems the perfect opportunity to do just that.

Recently, the Nathan and Amy Sizemore family, residents of South Fork Creek for several years, have hung up their shingle and dusted off the wagon wheels on their chuck wagon for some appetizing fare. It's a welcome site for those meandering through the valley on route to the many Mennonite offerings in Casey County and will provide a tasty pause and refreshment for tourists and locals alike. Who wants to hit the strip when they can hop over and sit a spell under the large umbrella-clad picnic tables and grab a sandwich or a shake?

Turkey-Avocado Sandwich and a homemade bun!

This is no ordinary hot dog stand, instead transcending the mere dog or burger (although you can get those, too) into an offering of delicious sandwiches––with homemade buns––and an appetizing variety of specials, even pizza. There are also many appealing salads, ice cream, and homemade desserts, made daily. I had the turkey-avocado sandwich special and was not disappointed. It was served with delicious homemade coleslaw and a hearty dish of fresh-cut pineapple chunks––all for $5.95. Produce is purchased locally and in season, when available, from nearby Lavern's Produce at the corner of South Fork Creek and Hwy 501.

Peach shake! I'd like one now, in fact.
You can even get homemade fountain drinks like limeade and fresh-brewed iced tea. I added an Orange Crush float, which hit the spot, but the whole time I was eyeing my husband's peach shake. He nicely gave me a sip...but just one. We had heard the prior ravings of Joberta Wells and were not disappointed.

Food is brought to your picnic table within minutes, and with a smile, by any one of the Sizemore children who help with the running of this family venture. We'll hope that the Sizemore clan will park their wagon for a long time in Casey County.

The Wagon Trail
730 South Fork Creek, Liberty, KY 42539
Open Monday-Saturday, 11am-7pm
Friend The Wagon Trail on Facebook!
To go orders are welcome and taken daily/delivered for Liberty residents.
Call 606-706-5334 for further info.
[Currently planning to be year round.]

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Gross but Great in the Garden

If you happen to see this sight in your garden, let it be. This is a tomato hornworm carrying the beneficial eggs of a braconid wasp. Normally I hate wasps but when these hatch there will plenty of the little freaks to guarantee that your garden is hornworm-free (although I'd still check your tomato plants regularly––just one of these little green buggers can chomp at a rapid pace!). In the meantime, the worm is paralyzed by the emergent eggs and can't do any more chomping on your precious tomato plants. (They can also affect tomato plants, too.)

The other day I was watering the tomato seedlings that my friend Diana had given me (and she still has some plants available at Meadowbrook Orchards and Farm). I noticed the tell-tale signs of the dreaded hornworm: lots of poops, chomped leaves, and then, the nasty creatures themselves (who are hard-pressed to be found, given their excellent camouflage). Overnight they had taken out half the leaves on half the plants!

Then, this morning, my sons noticed that our two datura plants (called 'Moonflowers' here by many native Kentuckians: I got these at Hettmansperger Greenhouse) had four worms that were covered with white eggs. Thankfully, they asked me first before squishing them (or throwing them at each other, which is more apt).

The worms were on the underleaf side of the two datura plants (which must be an attractant, like the tomato plants). I decided to clip the leaves and put each one in the shade of some of my potted tomato plants across the way. We'll see what happens. If I find any more without wasps on them they will be plucked off and fed to my free-range chickens.

The datura plant (at left), also called 'Moon Flower,' has a lovely trumpet-like
bell flower that emerges in early evening. My plants were started by seed saved
by some Casey County women and passed along to Hettmansperger Greenhouse.
WARNING: it is highly toxic to people and pets. But the hornworms must like it!

It just goes to show you that, if left alone, nature often takes care of things quite nicely.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ambling Along South Fork Creek

A familiar sight in Casey County, Kentucky!
Yesterday on my way home from an excellent two-day writing conference in Lexington, I realized we needed (or is that wanted?) blueberries. And peaches. And lettuce. I could have bought stuff at Good Foods Coop (where they sell a great deal of seasonal Casey County produce) or gone down Hwy-27 to Somerset and hit Kroger. But I decided to detour instead through Casey County and go 'the back way' to our farm here in Pulaski County. Since our boys are out of school for the summer, and because we've been so busy on our own farm, we've not been over there as much as we'd like in the past month. As usual, I was not disappointed.

At Lavern's I found some local romaine lettuce and some affordable mushrooms (not local). There, while examining the last of their recent shipment of peaches (I got some luscious Georgia peaches there a few days back), I met a friendly older couple from Marion County who said they shop at the Mennonite markets all the time. [And they, like us, like to try them all out for various offerings.]

'Oh you don't want those peaches,' they said, 'You need to go up to the market on the hill where they are dead ripe.'

Never having heard that expression before, I asked if that was a bad thing. 'Oh no, they make the best jam, if that's what you want.'

Well, that's what I wanted: to make peach jam. I thanked them and headed to Hillside Greenhouse and Produce next where I saw the couple again, only this time lugging out a big box of Georgia peaches. [NOTE: they also have local blueberries now! Get them while they are here.]

'I hope you left some for me,' I joked. 'What are you planning to make with them?'

'Peach butter,' they smiled while echoing the lovely phrase of 'peach' and 'butter' paired in unison. I thought that sounded like a plan, too, when jam was done. As well as cobbler and fruit salad and more sangria or just eating them out of the box. Oh, so many things. The great thing about our local fresh produce, whether local or from a nearby state in season, is that you can practically live on it for half the year. Peach season is long here because, in August, several area produce markets sell a variety of peaches from Pennsylvania (that we find are well-suited to canning). As the local growing season hasn't even begun to hit full stride here in Casey County, there are still many months ahead to enjoy everything including squash, tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, corn and melons! And because of the advanced growing season after a warm winter and spring, everything is ready earlier this year.

Local 'maters are in! Some greenhouse, some field grown, but 100% local.

I realized something else. Every time I am 'down in the valley' as we say, referring to where many of the Mennonite farms and businesses are located along South Fork Creek, I see cars from so many Kentucky counties: Marion, Boyle, Fayette, Pulaski, Russell, Adair and yes, even Casey. There are Ohio cars. Indiana cars. Cars from Tennessee. Cars that are from most any where but here. Next time you go inside Sunny Valley Country Store, make sure to check out the large map with push pins from all over the country marking where visitors live.

Casey County's produce and other Old Order Mennonite offerings have long been a kind of 'destination tourism' and it is encouraging to see that continuing, despite the economy and the rising price of gas. Saturdays are generally the busiest day of the week but on any given day you are apt to see day-trippers and tourists from further afield. Paul Hoover said that the Casey County Produce Auction has also seen an increase in visitors and buyers this year.

Hillside Produce (on hill in background) set up a special fruit stand
for the Casey County Bank ATM open house on Saturday.

A while back the Casey County Bank put in an ATM machine down in the valley. At first it seemed incongruous, like a pop machine might seem, placed as it was on the porch of the Old Order Mennonite-operated Sunny Valley Country Store. But it has proven to be quite handy, especially for those day-tripping tourists that local businesses like to see, and for the Mennonite businesses who need to make deposits (and it saves them from driving their horses and buggies into town to do their banking). It is important to say that this bank has been locally owned and operated since its beginnings (despite various economic crashes, slumps and disasters)––and is a true 'Main Street' bank in every sense of the word. It has never been swallowed up by larger banks and how rare and amazing is that in today's corporate world? They certainly have our business and admiration.

Yesterday the bank hosted an open house there to encourage people to come and learn about the new state-of-the-art ATM (according to bank president Mark Wolford, it is the first ATM of its kind in Kentucky and is capable of all sorts of transactions). While I'm not certain, I suspect one reason the bank wanted to host the open house was to also educate the Old Order Mennonites in how to use an ATM. This culture, while well-preserved and protected, now flirts with modernity, too.

Paul Hoover cuts into a melon to share with his son, Keith.
By the way, those are local blueberries: get them while available!

South Fork Creek Road now has another offering and the only place to catch a bite to eat along the way: The Wagon Trail, located just east of the Casey County Produce Auction, now serving hamburgers, pulled BBQ sandwiches, flame-broiled pork burgers, shakes, sundaes, homemade pie, cold cut sandwiches and other tasty things to eat or drink. Stop by while you're out-and-about and visit with the Sizemore family who are running it adjacent to their home. [Or Friend them on Facebook by clicking on the above link.]

Hours of operation [all are located on South Fork Creek]:

Casey County Bank ATM: 24/7!
Hillside Produce & Greenhouse: Monday-Saturday, 9am-5pm
Lavern's Country Store: Monday-Saturday, 9am-7pm
The Wagon Trail: Monday-Saturday, 11am-7pm

Thursday, May 24, 2012

PROFILE: MeadowBrook Orchards & Farm

Bruce Gruber and Diana Paluy on their renovated farmer porch
at MeadowBrook Orchards and Farm in western Casey County.
It's not every day that someone can reclaim an old farm and make it their own––retrofitting a derelict farmhouse and clearing the landscape into once again useable acreage. In only a few years, former Georgians Diana Paluy and Bruce Gruber have revitalized the old house and landscape at their MeadowBrook Orchards and Farm in western Casey County. They have transformed its waterways and have established a working farmstead complete with several ponds, hayfields, a dam, a large growing orchard and many gardens. 

Prior to their back-to-the-land odyssey, Bruce once played minor league baseball and still works as a disaster housing inspector. Meanwhile, Diana was a vice-president at a contracting company and has lived all over the world––now infusing her excellent cooking with the varied culinary aspects of her travels. Like many who have moved to the region they have a ready answer to this question: 'How did you find Casey County?' The answer involves having just under a day's drive to Atlanta (where they still have family and friends), the picturesque rolling hills and open farmland of Casey County that are a reminder of Bruce's native Connecticut, and, of importance to any farmer: good and affordable land.

Soon after they moved here in 2008, house modifications and brush-clearing took first priority. Within two years the house was renovated and expanded to Bruce's design, allowing a wrap-around porch for shade from the southern sun, regular entertaining––and seedlings, of course. There is also a handy attached greenhouse in the southeast corner, with future plans to build a larger separate one.

Diana is a natural green thumb and brought many of her roses from Georgia and the couple is now growing apples, a variety of fruits, tomatoes, and vegetables––everything is an 'heirloom,' or antique variety: 'like Bruce,' she jokes. This year, MeadowBrook Orchards and Farm has an extensive offering of heirloom tomato seedlings, and other plants, all started from seed saved by Diana. Heirloom plants––certain varieties of which many Casey Countians have always grown––are true to seed and have better flavor, color and other qualities that make them unique and highly sought after by chefs and foodies and anyone who appreciates them. As heirlooms are not grown for shipping (or long-term storage, as are many hybrids), it is becoming easier to find them in local farm markets. And, perhaps best of all, you can save the seed (if it is grown in a protected place away from other like plants).

'The irony in all this is that I don't even like raw tomatoes...or peppers. How I've evolved into primarily a tomato-pepper 'farmer' is a mystery,' Diana said. Yet she grows, harvests and cans them like a fiend, despite herself, while admitting that the added lycopene to their diets has only benefited the couple. Meanwhile, Bruce has devised a tomato stake-trellis system used by many veteran 'mater planters in the county and taught to him by a local farmer. The couple puts out several hundred tomato plants and have started offering extra seedlings for sale and will be selling various produce, also, when in season.

Casey County, as well as a few other rural areas of Kentucky where farmland is both affordable and arable, is seeing a resurgence in sustenance farming among locals and newcomers, alike. Certain farmers are embracing the 'niche farming' market and farm or raise specific crops or livestock in smaller, more manageable practices and for specific markets. They're hanging out their farm signs and finding ways to market their crops in new ways on the Internet, at local venues like Marksbury Farm, regional farmer's markets or collaboratively (such as at the Casey County Produce Auction, organized by the Mennonite community but available to all who wish to sell or buy there). [NOTE: a group is actively forming to work on collaborative farm marketing for the county/region––more information soon!]

There are many loving, and well-loved, dogs to greet you at MeadowBrook.

In the next few weeks, Diana and Bruce may be at upcoming Casey County Produce Auctions (for 2012 schedule and information, click here) with some flats of tomato seedlings or you can call and/or stop by at their farm to choose and purchase plants (and later produce). They would welcome the opportunity to sell to anyone who would appreciate these delicious varieties and are currently offering the following tomato plants (with limited basil, pepper and other options):

Anna Russian, Aunt Ruby's German Green, Black PlumBlack Zebra, Bloody Butcher (an early 60 day tomato), Cherokee PurpleChocolate Stripes, Costaluto FlorentinoJubilee, Pineapple, Pink Brandywine, Principe Borghese (a plum variety that Italians use for sun-drying), San Marzano (a Roma type), White Tomesol, and, Diana's Black Globe (her own variety brought up from Georgia). [There are also two indeterminate beefsteak varieties available: a pink-red and an orange-pink.]

MeadowBrook Orchards and Farm
680 Dug Hill Road
Elk Horn, KY 42733

Open: Monday-Saturday, 9am-6pm

Despite its Elk Horn address, the farm is located just north of Chicken Gizzard Ridge in western Casey County.

~ For more information on specific heirloom tomato varieties, check out Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Casey County Produce Auction is Up and Running

The first local strawberries went for $1.50 a pint as no one was expecting them.

The Casey County Auction, now in its third full year, is up and running and having auctions three times a week: Mondays and Wednesdays at 2pm and Fridays at 5pm from now until mid-October. The auctioneers have increased their April auctions already, from one to three a week, because of the unexpected boon of some local spring produce offerings (early) as well as the amount of flowers, plants and hanging baskets–and some vegetable flats–that have been coming in from area greenhouses.

Floribunda! The auction often takes on the appearance of a Dutch flower market.
There are hanging flowers, ferns, roses, various perennials, and flats. At this time of year
there are more plants and flowers than local produce–until about mid-May when produce is in.
On a typical day you might pay less than you thought or more than you want but most items go for wholesale prices (beautiful and abundant hanging baskets the other day, for example, were going for about $5-6 each). It is no wonder that plant buyers come from all over Kentucky–some as far as Lexington–to purchase quality plants for their greenhouses, shops or home use.

Local spring onions are abundant now at area farmstands and at auction.
Local produce is starting to come in: strawberries were a "wow" factor, even though they only sold for $1.50 a pint at the start of the season and local onions, and even some local eggs have been making an appearance. By mid-May and through the rest of the season, local produce offerings will gradually replace plant and flower options.

Milton Brubacker auctions off some roses from area greenhouses. 
The thrill of the auction is that you never know what will be there and you never know what you might have to pay for something you want. We've found deal after deal in the past few years (well, except for those Stanley plums that I dearly wanted for canning), but we've also walked away when bidding got too high for a particular item.

Also, anyone can sell their local goods––plants, flowers, starts, produce, eggs––via auction, no matter the size of the offering at auction. This is great for the large or small gardener who may want to get rid of their bumper crop and make a bit of extra money. Call 606-787-5158 for procedures.

Casey County Produce Auction is located at 524 South Fork Creek Road, approximately three miles from Hwy 127 and about ten minutes south of Liberty. To call the office: 606-787-5158; for Market/price info from previous sales: 606-787-0570. For a complete 2012 schedule, click here.

See you at the auction!

A flat of nicotiana, a lovely fragrant annual related to tobacco plants.
You'll never know what you'll find!