Valley Bounty: Carrots

Temperatures have dipped down into the 50’s during the nights this week. With September just around the corner, it feels as though summer has finally loosened its grip on the Valley. But when I put this to Jim Golonka, who runs Golonka farm in North Hatfield with his wife Jan and daughter Emma, he assured me that the height of the harvest is still well underway. “We still have a lot of really great vegetables that we’re just getting into harvesting,” he said. “So we’re happy to keep the summer going for a while longer.”

Golonka explained that the carrot crop has been going well this year and as the weather continues to cool, the flavor will only get better. “To me, carrots taste best in the fall,” he said. While we likely won’t get a frost anytime soon, the day after a freezing autumn night is the perfect time to grab some fresh carrots. Carrots will convert some of their starch stores into sugars during a cold spell to prevent the water in their cells from freezing. The result is a delicious crunchy, sweet taste. The Golonkas direct seeded new plantings of carrots well into August and expect the harvest to last until the end of October. That leaves plenty of time to sample some frost-kissed crops.

When Golonka’s kids were young, the family had a tradition that extended the carrot season well beyond the typical harvest. Each year, as work wrapped up in the carrot fields during the autumn, Jim marked off a patch to remain unharvested. He covered the section in a thick heap of hay to insulate the carrots. Then, when winter came around and a big snowstorm hit, Golonka would grab the kids for an adventure. “We’d go out with a snowmobile and find out where the carrots were,” he explained. “My kids were really young then and we’d dig through the snow until we found them. The ground wouldn’t be frozen, because of the hay, so we could dig them out and have fresh carrots. It was quite a treat!”

For Golonka, the farm has always been tied to his family life. When he was a child, his parents, who were raising eight kids, started the business to supplement his father’s income from the factory where he worked. To this day, Golonka Farm is driven by the Golonka family. Jim and his wife Jan are at the helm, but his siblings regularly help with the farm work. Jim and Jan’s daughter Emma, now 28, has begun to take on a larger role on the farm in the past few years. But, Jim explained, it’s a gradual process to pass on over forty years of knowledge and experience. “It’s pretty hard to explain to people what you do because there’s so much to it,” he said. “Every day you’re harvesting, planting, spraying, ordering seeds, making decisions constantly, plus managing the crew at the same time … It’s more of a life than a job. I get up in the morning, walk out the door, and I’m on the farm. I get done at night, it’s dark out, and I go back in the house. That’s it.”

The Golonkas, along with farmers across the Valley, will be keeping their farm stand packed with the delicious September bounty in the weeks to come. If you pick up some local carrots, Golonka recommends keeping it simple. Sprinkle on some olive oil and salt, then roast them in the oven.

Noah Baustin is the Communications Coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)