Saturday, January 14, 2012

Labeling and Knowing what you are buying

  The VERBA FARM always tries to make sure we are accurate and honest in the way we label and portray our produce and other products.  Definitions are often an issue of debate.  What is organic and what isn’t?   What and how far is ‘local’? 

   We pretty much deem most pesticide and chemical free produce as natural, but we do avoid the word ‘organic’ as that has FDA definitions for licensing.  So, we use ‘natural’ or ‘pesticide and chemical free’.  It is almost like a mantra during the summer growing season.  I think I have repeated that phrase 1,000 times a month.

   We deem local as meaning about 100 miles from Lehigh Valley.  We do consider produce grown in Lehigh, Northampton, Berks, Bucks, Lebanon, Chester, Montgomery, Lancaster, Delaware Counties of PA, as well as Warren County in New Jersey as local to us.  I know other have other definitions, but that one works for us.  We have some really good relationships with farmers in those areas that grow and sell to us.  So, when you buy from us and we tell you it is local, that is what we mean.

   We don’t sell at ‘producer only ‘ farm markets.  We don’t produce everything we sell.  We have never made that statement or promise.  I suppose there are some farmer that only sell what they personally grow, but I don’t know many.   What makes this label troublesome is we can’t or wont sell something like tomatoes or corn that is raised by another farmer in somewhere like Lancaster.  However, we can sell the same tomatoes and corn to a local vendor in the Lehigh Valley and they make sauces, salsas, cooked dishes and sell them at ‘producer only’ markets.  So, the same tomato or corn that we CAN’T sell at the ‘producer only’ market is being sold at the same market because someone turned it into something else.   We add into that group the baked goods that are pawned off as producer only.  What part is locally produced…. the chocolate?   We don’t even want to touch on the farmers that out and out lie about where their product comes from.  They buy from the same sources we buy.  We know and they know it.  The ‘producer only’ markets, in many cases, do a ‘wink, wink, nod, nod’ to them.  So be it.

   We only sell heirloom and heritage seeds.  That does not mean that there are not some really good hybrids out there, especially in tomatoes, that are not worthy, but it means we only sell seeds that can be collected and saved for another season.  To be honest to our sense of sustainability we think it is best to do it that way.  Any seeds you get from the VERBA FARM can be saved for another year and the seeds from what you grow can be saved for another year.  That is not true from the ‘big box store’ seeds that are from huge agri-monopolies.   We pride ourselves in not only bringing you heirloom seeds, but teaching you how to be self sufficient in growing for the future.

   When you buy from a farmer or farm stand or farmers market, ask questions if you don’t understand what you are buying.  At the VERBA FARM you will get a simple, direct answer that does not try to coat or skirt what you are getting.  You have every right to know what you are buying and eating.

Be Well and Eat Well  !!!!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanksgiving is upon us !

Usually by this time of the year, I am done with farming until next April.  We have, to this point, been an April – October farming family.  We only sold at the Blue Ridge Flea Market in Saylorsburg and that closed by Thanksgiving.  Starting this month we are now a 12 month selling farm.  We sell at the exciting new Market at Westgate Mall.  The Market is on Wednesdays from Noon until 7:00 PM.  This new market gives Chuck and I some opportunity to explore different food sales and marketing techniques.  We are selling dry goods at Westgate, which we never sold at Saylorsburg.  We sell baked goods at Westgate, which we only sold at Saylorsburg one time (the last week of this year, when we were already carrying them for Westgate).  We sell culinary herbs and spices at both Saylorsburg and Westgate. 

Thanksgiving is upon us this week.  It is a shorter week for work and one that offers up new opportunities in scheduling.  We are headed to Philadelphia on Sunday for a sourcing trip.  We usually do this on Tuesdays, but this week it is going to be Sunday.  On Tuesday we will head out for an advertising meeting with WGPA’s Ned Richards which we thoroughly enjoy doing each week.  Hopefully by Wednesday at the conclusion of the Market sales day we will get a break for Thursday and Friday.  I am looking forward to a break, albeit even a short break for Thanksgiving.

Friday, September 16, 2011


  In the past couple of days there has been more and more evidence that we should all be buying our food from local farmers that we know and trust and to buy food fresh from them.  That doesn’t get any more obvious until you read that Tyson Foods has recalled something like 40,000 pounds of beef in June and 380,000 of deli meat in August and now has recalled over 50,000 pounds of ground turkey because of safety.  How obvious does it have to get that these agri-businesses cannot be trusted to provide us with a safe food supply.  Tyson, ADM, Monsanto, Cargill etc control a very large amount of the national food source and they can’t be trusted.  They have proven this over and over and over.  Instead of buying tainted meats from one of these agri-monsters look to the local farmer in something like a 5 county area around the valley (or wherever you live).  I can 100% guarantee you that your chances of getting tainted meat from a local farmer is near zero, compared to these giants.

   We have carried locally grown, pesticide and chemical free cantaloupes for all the years we have been in the business of selling locally grown foods.  Not once have we had a listeria scare like the one from Colorado that supplies cantaloupes over better than half the country in supermarkets that we all know the names.  We have sold thousands of cantaloupes over the few years we have been in business.  I have made the joke many times that if we could sell nothing but corn and cantaloupes, I would be happy.  They are a mainstay of what we sell.  The fact that I can tell you exactly where every cantaloupe we have ever sold comes from.  I know with absolute certainty that they are all locally grown, pesticide and chemical free.  It doesn’t get any better than that.  It doesn’t get any easier than that.  Even when you look at the prices.  We have sold them for as little as a half dollar and not ever sold them for more than two dollars each.  I have seen the ‘big stores’ have them for three and three and a half dollars a piece on a regular basis.  It is cheaper and more economical to buy local.  It is safer and healthier to buy fresh.   It really is a ‘no brainer.”   See us any weekend, weather permitting, at the Blue Ridge Market in Saylorsburg.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

What a difference a summer makes

OK, OK, I know it.  I don’t use this blog very often.  I run in spurts.  There have been times I have blogged twice in one day and now this time there has been a few months that I have not blogged at all.  I admit that I do use Facebook a lot and The Verba Farm @ Williams Point does have a group account there.  That does not excuse that I don’t use this one very often anymore.   I vow to try to blog more here, as well as other places.

Yesterday we took part in the first ever Bethlehem Vegfest at the Greenway in Bethlehem, PA.  We had no real expectations of what was going to be there, as it was the first one they ever did.  We would have been happy and not surprised if 15 vendors showed up and 200 customers.  We were very surprised when there appear to be about 150 vendors and more likely 5000 customers.  We had a very successful day.  We sold a lot of produce, but beyond that made a lot of very valuable contacts. 

If the contacts work out (and it is UNLIKELY that they ALL will) then we will have a winter home for selling produce year round, we will have a customer that is a local restaurant that wants our produce in their line, we will have added a signature tea blend that will carry “The House of Bickert Blend” as its name, we will be supplying a gift house with hand woven Holiday gift items the Chuck produces, we will have an impact against agri-business and making sure small businesses have a bigger part of the food industry.  All that in one afternoon.  It is tough being a produce superhero.

The weather was near perfect for the event and we had a great time.  Can’t wait until next year to do it again.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Where is your food coming from?

Happy Easter weekend.  This weekend we started the 2011 batch of wine by starting with Dandelion.  Chuck spotted that dandelion was beginning to bloom on the meadows, so yesterday picked the freshest and earliest dandelion.  What works about picking it there is that we know it has not been sprayed or anything.  The greens are truly ‘green’ and no pesticides (which would kill the dandelion anyway).  Off subject but worth noting is that the 6 year felled willow tree is now sprouting new trees from the log on the ground.  We are trying to figure out how to incorporate it where it lays.

Beyond the dandelion wine, this is the weekend we made organic Easter eggs using farm eggs dyed with purple and brown onion skins.  We had gone to an Egg Show nearby about 2 weeks ago and saw that one of the participants had taken things like violet leaves and placed them on the eggs, then sewed them into a cloth bag and put that in to steep in the onion water.  We KNEW we had to try that.  So we did.  They came out really well.  I am sure that Chuck’s blog ( will have picture.  If you read my blog enough, you know I don’t do pictures.  My Facebook page has them, but not here.

The family dinner tomorrow has each of us bringing something.  Chuck and I are baking 8 loaves of bread (1 Paska, 3 White, 1 Wheat, 3 Pumpernickel Rye) for dinner and some Devilled eggs that will be made from out own chicken eggs, now that they are FINALLY beginning to lay the way we want them to lay.

OK, what do we eat…… I read a really good article somewhere that points out that our weight and health has a lot to do with what we eat.  That makes sense…. DUH!!!???

Beyond that I can tell you that fat people have no idea where or what their food is OR simply don’t care.  Now, before I get hate mail, if you know me, you know I could stand to lose some 75 pounds or so.  I speak from personal knowledge.  I eat on the run and eat what is quickly at hand.  When I take the time to eat right, I lose weight without trying.  Trust me on that one.  I can lose 20 pounds in a month or so, simply by taking the time to eat right.  Not eating less or restricting, but eating the right stuff at pretty much any level I want.  Eat balanced and lose weight.  Better than losing weight is that I feel better.  The arthritic ankles are less painful.  The knees don’t hurt so much etc.  So, why don’t I do that on a regular basis?  Good question.  Time management.  I eat on the run and it is way, way too easy to eat cold cuts, processed cheeses, processed foods, etc.  It is not that I don’t like better food.  Last night we had a great cold halibut salad on spring greens with quality cheeses.  It was topped with fresh lemon juice and EVOO.  I could have eaten more of it.  It was that good and it was that good for me.

I always do better in the spring, summer and early fall.  I know I will do better this year too.  That is when we sell produce.  When I am eating out own stuff I feel and eat better.  Fresh vegetables and fruits that are pesticide and chemical free, grown and picked immediately from farmers that we know certainly beats the store bought frozen from Chile, China or somewhere else.  I also can guarantee that it has not be genetically modified (NO FRANKENFOODS)

We are growing a larger selection this year that in years before, so more and more of what we sell will be our own, hopefully.  We are also moving toward using only heirloom seeds.  I have no intention of supporting Monsanto or ADM or the agrichemical companies that are looking to put small farmers out of business.

When we don’t grow our own items we guarantee we know where the produce came from.  In nearly 100% of the cases we can put a face to the farmer that grew it.  If we can’t put a face to the farmer we can put a face to the farmer's son who brought it to auction and we know which farm it was grown on and how it was grown.  The other standard is our cousin, Becky, grows some produce for us.  She uses the same standard of growing we do…. NO CHEMICALS, LOCALLY GROWN ONLY, NO PESTICIDES, IN SEASON, PICKED FOR IMMEDIATE SALE.  Can’t go wrong by that standard.

If you do choose to eat more of that standard, you will have no choice but to feel better and to lose weight.  It happens.  Your body doesn’t artificially store chemical laden concoctions.  It uses natural food the way food is supposed to by our bodies.  It burns the calories and dispels the rest.  Just that easy. 

Easter at the Verba-Bickert house will be sharing dinner with some extended family.  The food will be a wide variety of processed and non-processed food.  We will have to be choosey on what we eat, if we want to stay the course.  Having so much enjoyed last nights dinner, I know I have that as a plan. 

Buy local, Buy fresh, Buy from US !!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

LaVerne, Maxene, and Patty (and Johnny)

It is the end of March.  The first quarter of 2011 is now over.  It is, for farming, the toughest quarter of the year.  The first one is generally cold and frozen.  There is not much that can be done during this time.  We spend most of it planning for the Spring and Summer quarters.  Immediately following the December Holidays we are quick to begin sourcing and buying seeds and supplies for the upcoming selling season.  That sourcing and buying will continue for another few weeks, or even up to a month or so. 

The planting has also begun.  The indoor lights are up and seeds are planted.  There are small shoots coming up from the soil, so, indeed, the season has begun.

Amidst all of this we now have eggs in a more plentiful number.  The Americana hens are starting (slowly) to lay.  The eggs they lay are green/blue in color.  The taste is the same as any free range egg, but the color is really unique.

As a surprise, last weekend we had the opportunity to save three hens and a rooster from being butchered.  The owner has lost her lease on the house she lives and had to get rid of the chickens and had to get rid of them one way or the other.  She posted on ‘craigslist’ and I saw the add and we were able to rescue them. 

Johnny is a large rooster.  He is now the largest member of the flock.  That size makes him the target from some of the other roosters.  He is currently isolated for most of the time.  We do let him out when we are there so that he can begin to acclimate to the flock and the flock acclimate to him.  We had the same problem when we introduced Wilmer to the flock.  That worked well and so will this.

The 3 Buff Orpinton hens are already acclimated.  They were let out yesterday and very quickly assimilated into the flock.  They were isolated overnight again, to be safe, but not sure we need to do that again.  They are also laying very well.  They really only skipped one day and now are laying almost every day.  They came to us with no names.  They were collectively referred to as ‘the girls.’  We still do call them that too, but we needed to have names for the newest of our chickens.  I named them after the WWII era singing group, The Andrew Sisters. 

LaVerne, Maxene, and Patty are now very much a part of the farm.  Chuck had no idea where I got the names from, so I sent him to the expert….. my mother.  She only had to think a minute or so and had the groups name.   I knew I could count on her.

We have feelers out for a few more hens and will likely get a few more in the next days.  We also are going to reduce the flock by culling some of the roosters out and sending them off to auction.  We have about 10 roosters right now, but we really only need 2 or 3.  Not sure which ones are going. 

Next week we are off to some auctions for equipment and stock.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

15 Weeks, (but who’s counting?)

Last week of February is upon us.  I know because my birthday is on Monday.  It is one of ‘those’ birthdays.  Not yet 60, but half way from 50.  AARP was nice enough to send me an embossed membership card about a month ago and Chuck and I both joke that the one diner we eat at starts their ‘senior’ meals at 55.  YEAH, wow !  Can’t wait ?  Yeah right !

Anyway, it is end of February.   We start in a bit more earnest the new 2011 season.  Our membership to “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” group.  The plans, as to what herbs are going to be paired with what other herbs for sale.   The growing lights and indoor set up isn’t up yet, but we are already making plans and room for its annual return.

Seeds were purchased right after New Year’s Day.  It has become the January ritual of getting the mail order seeds.  I blogged before that we have moved to buying only heirloom seeds.  While that doesn’t mean we will be selling 100% heirloom produce, it does up the percentage (We do buy off other ‘like minded’ farmers and we have never restricted (YET) that they use only heirloom seeds)

We are pleased that this year we are returning to sell directly from the farm in Williams Township, (Hellertown) PA.  We didn’t sell there last year, as we had great opportunities to sell in other locations and there are only two of us that sell.  So we split up and sold in two ‘off site’ locations.  This year, we have made the conscious decision to return to the farm, as we look to that being the longer term location and vision of where we want to be.  Also, we can sell a wider variety there, that some of the off site locations don’t allow.  

We will be selling out home canned produce and apple butter.  We will be selling artisan breads.  We will be selling OUR OWN Americana eggs (yes, they are green naturally)  We will be selling all the locally grown, pesticide and chemical free, in season produce that we have sold for the past four years.

This year is going to be more fun than all the others put together, I just know it.

Buy Fresh, Buy Local, Eat Fresh, Be Local, Buy from US.