Lending a Helping Hand

By: Sean Lockard, Executive Chef at Gwynedd Mercy College

The holiday season is filled with spending time with those we love, but it’s also a time to give back.  At this time of year you hear things like, “It’s better to give than to receive” and we are reminded to give the best of ourselves to help others.  That’s just what a group of Parkhurst team members were able to do for Lancaster Farm Fresh.  We were about to give the gift of our time to help finish the season’s harvest.

Lancaster Farm Fresh is located in Christiana, PA, about 30 minutes from West Chester, PA, and is part of a local co-op through whom we have the privilege of purchasing fresh produce.  Henry Stoltzfus is a very humble Amish farmer and the proud, hardworking gentleman who runs this local family farm.  Lancaster Farm is approximately 58 acres and produces a wide range of high-quality produce including garlic, leeks, eggplant, squash, lettuces, broccoli, beets, varieties of tomatoes and peppers just to name a few.  Henry produces this large array of produce with only the help of his immediate family.  Like most Amish farmers, the work is all done by hand and without any kind of chemical treatments.

The knowledge Henry was able to share about living a farmer’s life was remarkable.  Did you know that you could aerate soil by planting certain types of radishes, and you can control weed growth by draping the soil with plastic to literally “burnout” the weeds and prepare the ground with this warmer climate to generate more nutrients for new plant growth?  This only begins to scratch the surface as to some of the “tricks of the trade” that Henry shared and has implemented through his method of “growing the right way”.

Mini sweet bell peppers known as Yummie peppers

When we arrived at the farm we were promptly met by Henry’s smiling face.  To say he was happy to see us was an understatement.  He first gave us a quick tour of his large, meticulously well-organized farm and then put us straight to work.  We spent seven hours helping Henry manually pick produce on his 58-acre farm.  For the first few hours, we helped pick mini sweet bell peppers (aka yummie peppers).  Yummie peppers range in color from yellow and orange to red and green.  Our next task was to help pick a variety of cherry tomatoes including orange, yellow, winter white and chocolate, yes chocolate cherry tomatoes.  While we helped Henry harvest his produce in the “high tunnel” of tomato plants, we had great conversations about trends in eating habits and the rising demand for quality, local foods.  By the end of the day we decided to make plans to come back to Lancaster Farm and help Henry in the spring.  Some of us even joked about having Henry come out to our homes to help us grow 7-foot tomato plants just like his.

To be able to see farming at its “purist” is something every person should experience at least once in his or her life.  It definitely puts things in perspective and makes you wonder, why did we ever stop growing our food like this in the first place?  Everything we tasted on Henry’s farm was as fresh and clean as it could possibly be.  The team is looking forward to their return in the spring and will hopefully be bringing some extra volunteering hands.

A special thank you to Executive Chef Jerry Rogers from Cedar Crest College, Assistant Director of Dining Dung Tran from Rosemont College, and Sous Chef Matt Belford and Cook Mike Shin from Gwynedd-Mercy College for joining me on this memorable day.  It gave us all the opportunity to do the right thing and learn some wonderful lessons from a very knowledgeable farmer and wonderful person.

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