Local Farmers 30 Mar 2008 06:59 pm
This is the first of a planned series of posts about the farmers at the Brooklyn Greenmarkets. This post profiles Wilklow Orchards and its proprietor Fred Wilklow. Wilklow operates stands at the Borough Hall, Grand Army Plaza, and Fort Greene markets in Brooklyn, and the Staten Island Ferry Terminal market in Manhattan. Many thanks to Fred and his family for showing me around their beautiful farm, and for helping me kick off this project!
My first visit to Wilklow Orchards was on March 20th, the first day of spring. The air was cool and the sky was covered over with low wintery gray clouds, but a warm early spring sun showed through from time to time. It was the very beginnings of the growing season in the Hudson Valley, the perfect day for my first visit to a greenmarket farm.
I arrived at the farm at around 8:30, pretty early by the standards of my midtown office job. I found a crew already hard at work making cider, and I guessed they’d been at it for couple of hours already since they’d already filled the entire bucket of a front loader with apple pumice, squeezed bark dry from the cider presses. Fred Wilklow emerged and shook my hand; before he could show me around he’d need a minute to deal with an oil delivery. He suggested I start my visit by hiking up through the apple and pear orchards which sloped up behind the cider house, where I’d find a good spot to look out over the whole farm.
The orchards were surrounded by tall fencing, put up to keep deer from the nibbling buds and new shoots off of the apple trees. I squeezed through a gap in the fence, crossed a small brook, and climbed the path that led up between the rows of trees. The branches were still bare, but buds were beginning to swell at their tips. Nearly silver-tipped, as Fred described them, soon they’d be green-tipped, and soon after the branches will be covered in green leaves and fragrant white blossoms. Spring pruning had just been completed, and in the lanes between the trees the cut branches were gathered into neat rows on the brown grass. They’d soon go through the brush chopper, at the moment in the toolshed getting a new set of teeth, which will grind even thick branches fine enough to just be left on the ground, to feed down into the soil beneath the trees just they were cut from.
At the top of the ridge where the apple orchards came to an end I took in the view over the farm. Straight below me was the cider house, in a cluster of barns and sheds and greenhouses, the noise from the cider press now swallowed up in the larger overall quiet stillness. I could see the building Fred had called the dirt cellar, an ancient, earth covered shed still used for cold storage, though it’s so old he had no idea when it was built. To the right along the the stream was the main farmhouse, the bakery, and another much larger greenhouse. The Wilklows plan someday to consolidate the greenhouses into a more practical layout, the current arrangement having grown up over time as the farm and its business expanded. It’s one of a long list of projects, large and small, in a continual effort to improve the farm’s efficiency.
Behind me rose Illinois Mountain, Wilklow property on this side as far as its summit, though the only crops found there are ramps, the sought-after wild leeks that Fred began to forage for each spring after his Greenmarket customers started asking about them. On its far side are the Wilklow peach and plum orchards, in fields that get sunlight more than an hour earlier, which makes them often a full l0 degrees warmer. I wouldn’t get to visit them today, nor would I yet see the berry and vegetable fields near New Paltz, in flatter ground better suited for raising vegetables than the hilly, rocky soil of Pancake Hollow.
Along with cider making, today’s tasks included tending the seedlings in the greenhouses. Becky & Jennie, Fred’s daughters, were transplanting the tiny plants (cilantro, tomatoes, peppers, marigolds, to name only a very few) from their seed beds into flats. In a few weeks they’ll be found at the greenmarket, sold as starters for container gardens on Brooklyn patios and Manhattan fire escapes. The seedlings for the vegetable beds, the plants that will eventually produce the eggplants, peppers, and heirloom tomatoes for the greenmarket tables (and for my dinner table), were just beginning to grow in the larger greenhouse I’d seen from the orchards.
Until the seedlings get big enough to survive the trip to Brooklyn, Fred’s stand in the greenmarket will be filled with the last of fall’s apples, varieties that hold up well in cold storage and remain crisp and juicy and sweet over the winter months, along with cider and baked goods and jam from the farm’s kitchen. Already though, the first of the Spring’s harvest has begun to appear as well: there are pussywillows for sale, that Fred and his crew harvested alongside the brook, and soon they’ll be joined by lilac blossoms cut from the hundreds of bushes that grow near the pond behind the farmhouse. Then sugar snap peas will appear and start off the parade of food that will continue through the berries, peaches, greenbeans, corn, and tomatoes of summer to the apples and pumpkins of autumn.
read part 2 of this post here