Harold Brenkus and Carley McKee of Moon Castle Farm just broke ground in the spring on their small new farm in Topsham, VT. It's remote, they admit. "But it's a half-hour, 45 minutes in every direction to something," says Harold. And it doesn't keep them from making the trek down to the Hanover Farmer's Market on Wednesdays and Lebanon's on Thursdays.
They worked for years on other people's farms in Massachusetts' Pioneer Valley, which is where they met. So why are they here? "We came up north to find cheaper land," Harold explains.
It's easy to understand how Carley got into the work -- she studied plant biology in college. Harold's more of a stretch. He went to art school, where he majored in painting. Then a friend invited him to join him working on a farm in Massachusetts. "It was supposed to be a way to spend a summer. My friend left after a month. I just stayed forever," he laughs. "I found that working with my hands in the soil took the same energy as doing art."
Really. They taste like cucumbers.
And what are their favorite things about selling at farmer's markets? "I really like getting people to try vegetables I like that are under-appreciated," says Harold. "I like talking up the underdogs of vegetables."
Well, there's radicchio. "I love the stuff," says Harold. "By itself it’s kinda gross, but in a salad it’s transformative."
And sorrel. "A bomb of lemon flavor. And it makes a salad look great."
And Tokyo Bekana, an Asian green: "The flavor of the stalk is mild, super crisp and crunchy and the leaves have a mild, mustard-like flavor," says Carley. "We really love it for its versatility, you can eat it fresh or cooked, the stalks give amazing texture to a stir-fry and absorb flavors well while the leaves are great eaten fresh or wilted with some garlic and soy sauce."
And Yukina Savoy, another Asian green with "a wonderfully rich, almost sweet, 'green' flavor. Like Tokyo Bekana you can enjoy it fresh, stir-fried, or as an addition to Asian inspired broths and soups."
For Carley, what makes the market are its customers, especially the ones who come back. "I had one who came up to me at the Lebanon market and he said, 'Thank you for the bouquet! It really worked!'" There was a woman involved. Carley didn't dig deeper.
What's been the most surprising thing about what they do? "I started with all these lofty ideas about farming," Carley says. "But after a while, you become jaded. We’re a drop in the bucket. But I really like doing this, and that’s why I do it now."
For Harold, it's that "farming is constant problem-solving and trouble-shooting. You're always trying to fix something or think up some cheap solution to something. People don’t realize that you have to think things through as much as you do."
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