2019 Spring Farm Trip: Starting to Sprout

Our 2019 spring farm trip was both enjoyable and educational. Generally we take our farm trips later in the season when the harvest is heavy and the fields are full. However, this spring we wanted to learn more about the seeding and planting process. We made our way to two small startup farms to see how they begin their growing season.

Quarton Farm

First, we traveled north near the Catskills to visit Kelly Quarton of the aptly named Quarton Farm. Kelly is in her second full season of farming on her own. Previously she spent several years learning and working on farms throughout the region, such as Mountain Sweet Berry and Campo Rosso.

Many farmers who sell their products at the Union Square Greenmarket differentiate themselves by specializing in certain heirloom crops. As a vegan, Kelly has a passion for beans. Initially she wanted her farm to be focused on them. Even though she grows incredible pole beans and shelling bean varieties, the unique long-term cool climate of Sullivan County has also made her farm prime grounds for growing lettuces. Therefore many people frequent her stand for the stunning array of tender greens along with those beans throughout the summer.

Kelly and Meghan in the Quarton greenhouse

In the Quarton Greenhouse

We saw many of the lettuce varieties getting their start in Kelly’s greenhouse. She had just begun transplanting some to the field but the temperatures were still dropping near freezing at night. The rest would need to be held off until later in the season. In general, she plants in successions throughout the spring. This way she can continue having lettuce to harvest in phases throughout the early summer.

Spinach was also growing in the greenhouse. It’s is one of the first green things she can bring to the market in April. Another verdant addition to her stand is a quick crop – pea shoots. Pea shoots only take about a week to germinate and sprout. As we walked past the dozens of trays filled with hundreds of tiny plants it was hard to imagine how that one-inch high brussels sprout “sprout” was going to turn into a gigantic stalk in only a matter of months.

Brussels sprouts sprouting
Pea shoots

In the Field

Out in the field we encountered countless rows of garlic, another speciality of Quarton Farm. She grows over twenty varieties, like Spanish Roja and Russian Red. These varieties come from around the world.

The garlic bulbs are harvested in September and then dried out. Some are set aside to sell and some are kept for replanting. Each clove yields a new garlic plant in spring if it is put in the ground in late fall. In that sense garlic is a very sustainable and cyclical crop. Unlike greens and many other vegetables, seeds do not have to be purchased. Kelly uses the slightly damaged dried garlic cloves in separate rows that are only harvested fresh in the spring. These damaged bulbs may not develop into premium full bulbs.

Garlic shoots in the field at Quarton
Kelly and Cat Cat!

After the tour, we had a quick farm picnic and met some of the resident farm cats. Then we were back on the road continuing our 2019 spring farm trip, heading closer to the Hudson Valley to visit Farm Tournant.

Farm Tournant

Zachary Pickens of Farm Tournant is another independent farmer specializing in heirloom vegetables. He does not attend any markets. Instead, he sells directly to restaurants. This makes sense since he started his farming career at Riverpark in Manhattan, managing their large milk carton container farm that stretched around the property. That is where I met Zach several years ago when did a fundraising event there for Wellness in the Schools.

Rows of lettuce at Farm Tournant

For the past three years Zach has put his urban farming skill set to work in the rural fields of Orange County, NY. He leases several acres on the property of Windfall Farms. Windfall Farms attends the Greenmarket and is a longtime organic grower of speciality greens. Currently Zach farms two separate fields on approximately 3 acres. He plans to expand to between 5 and 10 acres so he has more space to rotate crops. In addition, this will give the soil the time to regenerate.

Like Kelly, many startup plants were still in his greenhouse, but he was in the process of moving things out into the field. It was great to learn about some of the new speciality crops he was trying out this season. One is a runner bean grown for specifically for its brilliant red flowers. However, I think we can all agree that the star of the tower was Wynne Pickens, his apprentice in training 😉

Zach and Wynne

Spring Farm Trip Takeaways

All in all on our 2019 spring farm trip, it was great to see how all these crops get started. It was fascinating to learn more about all the variables that the farmers have to take into account when planting. We can’t wait to see all that comes to fruition from these farms later in the season. We’re excited to use more of their incredible produce on our menu.

To learn more, follow both farms throughout the growing season on instagram: @quartonfarm and @farmtournant.

Photos from this post were captured by Stephen Yang.