Bearing fruit: Natural growing practices are central to operations at Amherst’s Small Ones Farm
The Amherst Bulletin, August 2, 2013. By Claire Hopley
In the days when he was dreaming about farming, Bob Fitz, who had a career at IBM and as a business consultant, had not especially focused on fruit. As he explains, his idea had been, “When we find the right farm, that’s the one we will buy. But I am really happy that this is the farm we got.”
The first step in the search was moving to Amherst in 2002 because they liked the area and it was not too distant from family in upstate New York and Vermont. At first they had no farm.
“It turns out that the way you buy a farm is you ask around and you wait,” Sally Fitz said.
Their wait ended when they bought the former Dahowsky property, which had been planted 35 years ago with apple and other fruit trees.
On a hot morning in July Bob Fitz was in his kitchen, filling plastic cups with cider vinegar that he planned to use to take care of some “bad guy” insects he had spotted on his trees. He has apple-shaped fly traps on his trees. They are super sticky so the insects they attract stay on the surface, where Bob can inspect them to see if there are any bad guys among them. That morning he had spotted a villain, hence the cups of vinegar.
“It attracts them so they go into the vinegar instead of on the apples,” he said. “It’s made from our own apples, so it’s another way of returning products to the land.”
Such natural ways of farming are central to Small Ones’ mission. The farm is a certified natural farm, and the methods and products used on it are organic. In the spring Bob Fitz counts bumble bees in the blossom.
“If I can stand under a tree and count four, I know that’s great. Three is good, too.”
The farm’s latest addition is a row of bright-colored bee hives. “Still too early to get honey. You have to let the bees build up a store for themselves first,” Fitz said. “But next year we should have it — and of course, they will be pollinators too.”
Pollinators are essential, and not least because in the 10 growing seasons that have elapsed since they bought the farm, the Fitzes have done lots of planting. They now have close to 50 varieties of apples, plus pears, raspberries, blueberries, plums, peaches, Asian pears and six varieties of table grapes. They also grow pumpkins, melons and five varieties of garlic. Then there are the eggs from the hens that stalk around decoratively as they hunt for good stuff in the grass.
The heat and rain of this summer have loaded the trees with baby fruit, much of which has to be pulled off and discarded. Fitz explains that at least half of it has to go in order that the remainder can grow to market size. He plucks off an Asian pear here and a peach there as he walks among the trees, pointing out the many varieties of fruit.
“This is a Rhode Island Greening,” he said. “It used to be the local cooking apple until Granny Smiths came along, but now I think it may be the only tree left in the county.”
Another tree is called Art’s Favorite. “It’s unique to us,” he said. “It just grew here. Such trees are called ‘sports.’ The former owner took grafts so we now have five of them named after him. CSA members love it because it’s something different.”
Fitz shows off Grimes Golden, one of the first apples of the season; a large plastic greenhouse with raspberries growing super-large under its protection; rows of grapes stretching along wires; and a big tree festooned with round golden plums, already sweet though still not yet close to harvest.
“They are Shiro plums,” Fitz said. “A Japanese variety.” Marketing these gorgeous fruits and berries does not mean selling them to supermarkets. “I did a little of that at the beginning, but I realized that I was giving my very best fruit to the supermarket, when really I wanted to give it to the CSA members.”
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it is a scheme in which members support a farm by paying up front for a share of the harvest. Many vegetable farms thrive as CSAs.
“It can be a bit trickier with fruit,” Fitz said. “A vegetable farm has maybe 80 crops, so if one does poorly, they can always supply members with something else.” With a smaller number of crops, there is less flexibility, but Small Ones CSA offers members enough fall tree and bush fruit for three to four people each week.
Included are apples, pears, raspberries and peaches. In addition, there are large help-yourself baskets of plums and grapes, a coupon for the farm shop, and a frozen apple, berry or pumpkin pie.
“The pies are made for us at a bakery run by the family in Vermont,” Sally Fitz said. “We send them our fruit and they make the pies for us.”
Small Ones’ fall CSA share runs for eight weeks in September and October. (For information visitwww.smallonesfarm.com).
Running the CSA and also operating a farm stand is one element of the farm’s commitment to the community. Another is the focus on children evident in the name of the farm.
“We called it Small Ones because we wanted it to be a good place for children — hence our natural growing practices, Fitz said. “We used to run a summer camp. Can’t do that anymore because the farm is so busy, but we have lots of programs with the schools, so we have a lot of kids coming here and learning.”
To sample the fruit, berries and other products of Small Ones Farm, check out the farm stand, which operates from the beginning of August at 416 Bay Road in Amherst. Here are some recipes for the fruits you will find there.
Small Ones CSA members get a newsletter with recipes. “This peach muffin recipe is a favorite with everyone,” says Sally Fitz.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1¼ cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
2-3 cups chopped, peeled, pitted peaches
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 muffin pans with paper baking cups.
In a large bowl mix the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. In a smaller bowl mix the oil, eggs and sugar. Add this wet mixture to the dry mixture in the large bowl. Squish the peaches before adding to batter. (This makes the bits of peaches juicier and helps add a bit of liquid to the batter.) Stir the peaches in. You can add a little milk to batter if it is too thick. Spoon into the prepared muffin tins.
The mixture makes about 18 muffins. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean.
This simple but delicious way of using plums makes an easy breakfast or dessert. Butter — rather than any substitute — is crucial to the taste, and the combination of butter and sugar creates a caramel flavor that is one of the delights of these toasts, so use more sugar if the plums are tart. The French name for these is prunes en croute, which somehow sounds a lot fancier.
For each person you need:
1-2 slices of good bread about ¾-inch thick
1 ounce (approximately) butter plus butter for greasing the baking sheet
2-3 large ripe plums for each slice of bread (the number depends on the size and shape of the bread slices)
1-2 teaspoons white, brown, or maple sugar or more to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a cookie sheet large enough to hold the bread slices with butter. Butter one side of the bread and lay the slices in a single layer on the buttered baking sheet. Wash the plums, dry them, and cut in half longways. Remove the pit. Put a little sugar in the space left by the discarded pit.
Put a chickpea-sized bit of butter on top. When all your slices are ready Sprinkle a little extra sugar over the top. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until the edges of the bread are a little crisp, the plums tender, and their surface sticky. Let them sit briefly until they are cool enough to eat.
Cooking the apples and the topping separately keeps the topping crisp and reduces cooking time. Don’t fight the gorgeous maple flavor by using too much cinnamon. A big pinch is quite enough.
For the top: 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons (¾-stick) butter
1/3 cup oats
1/3 cup maple sugar or brown sugar
1/3 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
½ cup maple syrup
For the apples:
3 tablespoons butter
4 large Golden Delicious or Cortland apples, peeled, cored and cut into 12 slices
¼ cup maple syrup
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the flour in a food processor or mixing bowl. Add the butter cut into 7-8 bits and quickly process or rub it in so it looks like very coarse crumbs, Stir in the oats and maple sugar or brown sugar. Tip this into a shallow pan or pie dish and bake for 20 minutes or until it is fragrant and golden. It will compact a little. Stir lightly with a fork leaving it lumpy. Add the walnuts if you are using them and the maple syrup. Leave the mixture lumpy. While the topping is baking, work on the apples. Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a frying pan, add the apple slices and cook them gently over moderate heat until they are tender and gold, which takes 5-10 minutes. Stir in the cinnamon, maple syrup and the yogurt. Divide among 4 individual serving bowls. Spoon the crumb topping on the apples. Serve immediately with a drizzle of maple syrup, whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
3 tablespoons bread crumbs made from day-old bread
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2½ cups raspberries
½ cup milk
1 stick (4 ounces) butter at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
2-3 tablespoons sliced almonds
1-2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square pan with butter or oil. Sprinkle on the bread crumbs and tilt the pan in all directions so they stick to the buttered sides. Toss out any excess. (Alternately, grease the sides of the pan with butter and dust with flour and line the base with parchment.) Mix the flour with the baking powder. Add a tablespoon of this mixture to the berries, and toss them gently in it. In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg and then stir in the milk. Set all these prepared ingredients aside.
In a mixing bowl, mix the butter and sugar and cream until the mixture is light and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts and about a third of the flour mixture. Now thoroughly blend in half the egg-and-milk mixture. Next mix in another third of the flour mixture, followed by the rest of the egg and milk, and finally the remaining flour. Mix each addition in briskly and thoroughly. With a spatula, gently stir in the floured raspberries; inevitably many will break but that’s fine as the juice will permeate the cake. Spread the mixture in the prepared pan. Sprinkle the sliced almonds on top. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another 10-15 minutes or until a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean. Let the cake cool on a rack for 15-20 minutes. To turn out of the pan without letting the almonds fall off, spread a sheet of foil over the top of the pan. Tip the cake onto it. Now place your serving plate on the cake (which will be bottom side up), and invert. Remove the foil, replacing any almonds that have fallen onto it.
Dust with a tablespoon of confectioners’ sugar sifted on top. This cake can be served warm or at room temperature. An extra sifting of another tablespoon of confectioners’ sugar can be added before serving
and Watercress Salad
This dish gets its appeal from the classic contrast of sweet ripe pears with tart brisk cheese and snappy watercress. You could use another blue cheese — Maytag or Roquefort for example — and if watercress is unavailable or looks very beat up you could substitute another vibrant green such as arugula or even baby spinach.
Avoid mesclun, which is often tasteless and lacks the pizazz needed in this first course or lunchtime salad.
3 large ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut in 6 slices each
1 large juicy lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons light-flavored olive oil
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt if necessary
3 cups washed, dried and picked-over watercress or arugula
4-6 ounces Stilton or other good quality blue cheese
Squeeze a little lemon juice on the pears as you peel and core them to prevent them going brown. Melt the butter with 1 tablespoon of oil in a frying pan that will accommodate the pear slices in a single layer. Lightly sauté the pears in this until they are golden and tender but not soft or falling apart. This takes 3-5 minute depending on the ripeness of the pears. Set the cooked pears on a plate.
Make a vinaigrette dressing by whisking the remaining tablespoon of oil with the mustard and a teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Toss the greens with this mixture and season lightly with salt. (Note that there is not a lot of dressing because the pears have been sautéed in butter and oil. Also, since blue cheese is salty it may not be necessary to add extra salt to the dressing.) Arrange the watercress or other greens on 4 plates with slices of pear on top. Crumble the blue cheese and scatter on top.