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.

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.