A Bucks alliance keeps the focus on local food

Mackenzie Riling of Pipersville chomps a strawberry at the season's second potluck picnic, this one in Tinicum Township, for the Bucks County Foodshed Alliance. The group of farmers, landowners, restaurateurs, environmentalists, and educators works to connect consumers with local produce and meat.
Mackenzie Riling of Pipersville chomps a strawberry at the season's second potluck picnic, this one in Tinicum Township, for the Bucks County Foodshed Alliance. The group of farmers, landowners, restaurateurs, environmentalists, and educators works to connect consumers with local produce and meat. (SHARON GEKOSKI-KIMMEL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 11, 2011

Eve Minson had challenging careers in advertising and education, but what she loved more than anything else was working the soil.

Now, at 53, she makes her living - in the most holistic sense of the word - growing vegetables, flowers, and herbs on a rented swath of heaven that she calls Just One Seed, a field of barely 1 1/2 acres in rural upper Bucks County.

Her equally enterprising neighbors, Marc and Joanna Michini, raise hogs, lambs, chickens, turkeys, and rabbits on another rented parcel carved from the 120-acre Come Along Farm, about a mile from the Delaware River in Tinicum Township.

Wednesday night, Minson and the Michinis showcased their products at the latest in a series of traveling potluck picnics meant to boost the profiles of the county's diminishing trove of farms. Served under a picture-perfect early-evening sky, at the edge of Minson's garden, the supper was the second of the summer for the Bucks County Foodshed Alliance, a group of farmers, landowners, restaurateurs, environmentalists, educators, and foodies working to connect consumers to the rich supply of produce and meat available right under their noses.

About 85 people showed up last month for the opening event at the Tussock Sedge farm in Hilltown. For Wednesday's picnic, the hungry crowd swelled to about 150.

No reservations needed, no admission charged - just bring a dish to share.

The diners lined up at a long buffet table for grilled chicken, courtesy of the Michinis, and myriad salads and vegetable platters, many with homegrown ingredients from Minson's or other local gardens. Then, lounging on picnic blankets or beach chairs, cooled by a faint breeze, folks dug into their heaping plates.

Not a bad way to spend a summer evening.

Andrew Rumbold, an insurance broker from Perkasie, said he appreciated "knowing where my food comes from," but also savored the camaraderie of his fellow farm enthusiasts.

Jen Stephens, a music teacher from Carversville, brought an orzo salad made with freshly picked arugula. She has learned a lot about different kinds of vegetables and how to prepare new dishes, she said. "It's really broadened my horizons."

Minson started Just One Seed as a community-supported garden in 2006 after deciding she had to do something that provided more satisfaction than either advertising or teaching had given her.

"This is what floats my boat," she said.

Community-supported agriculture works like this: A garden owner - or in Minson's case, renter - sells shares to community members. They, in turn, not only pay a fee but also donate time to weed and perform other chores. Minson, for example, asks her members to do two hours of weeding each month and to pick some of their own produce. She charges $650 for a full share of the season's bounty.

Shareholders get to learn about growing, she said, and "really take the risks with the farmer," so if one crop doesn't do well, the farmer is not left to absorb all the loss.

The land that Minson and the Michinis rent belongs to Matt and Margaret Balitsaris, who run a horse-boarding business at their Come Along Farm. Minson said her effort had been doing so well that she was looking for more land to farm. After five years, she said, "we don't have enough room."

After Wednesday's dinner, Minson led a tour of the garden, while the Michinis took guests through the pastures to check out the animals they raise on 20 acres.

"Our hogs and chickens have never seen this amount of people," Joanna Michini told the group, urging visitors to keep quiet around the animals. "They're more used to hawks than all of us."

Joanna Michini, 36, interned after college at several organic farms, and her husband did orchard and vineyard work. With some knowledge of agriculture, they decided they would start an organic meat farm. They are now in their eighth year as proprietors of Purely Farm Pasture-Raised Meats.

"We definitely thought there was a market for what we wanted to do here," she said. "Most of our customers tell us they can't go back to meat from the grocery store."

Minson, who lives on one side of a rented duplex and the Michinis on the other, teaches gardening classes at the farm and does landscape-design consultations when she's not planning, planting, or tending to the garden.

Finally, she said, she has found the satisfaction she had craved.

"It's not making me rich," she said, "but I am in love . . . with what I do."


The next potluck will be held Aug. 3 at Shady Brook Farm near Yardley. The series will wrap up Sept. 7 at Snipes Farm and Education Center in Morrisville.

 


Contact staff writer Emilie Lounsberry at elounsberry@phillynews.com.


 

 

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