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Local Farmers Work in the Winter to Provide Healthy Food Year-Round

by and on January 14, 2020 5:00 AM

What does a farmer do in the winter? Erik Hagan, farm manager of State College’s Windswept Farm, will tell you.

“We work nonstop,” Hagan said. “I’m as busy (as I am in the summer), but in different ways. I’m not spending time in the field plowing, planting, harvesting. I’m more focused on spreadsheets and assessing and planning for next year.”

Though Hagan says the winter months require more chores with the farm’s livestock — trying to mitigate mud and bare spots — Windswept still provides the fresh produce people look forward to eating in the warmer months by growing fresh fruits and vegetables in the greenhouse.

“We still plant and harvest year-round,” said Hagan. “We also sell year-round.”

A few weeks ago, Windswept launched the REfresh Online Market that enables the public to browse available produce online, order it by Sunday evening and pick it up on Tuesday afternoon.

The online market offers “a variety of fresh veggies, honey, eggs and seasonal items,” including, Hagan says, “a dozen different kind of potatoes,” garlic, squash, eggs, herbs, greens, honey, syrup and rainbow carrots, all grown or made at the farm.

IS IT BETTER?

Hagan said the intention of Windswept Farm is to be “a place to educate the community.”

“We’re using the resource of (the onsite REfarm Café) to teach people how to eat new things and hopefully to demonstrate to farmers that there are other markets and things here that people can scale-up and do better than us at,” Hagan said.

What Hagan and his team do is called “regenerative agriculture.” Lately, they have been working to move away from pesticide sprays by managing micronutrients in a way that invigorates plants to develop their own natural defenses against pests and disease.

“We want really, really healthy plants, because that translates to human health,” Hagan said. “So we focus on soil health and the biology of growing healthy plants to self-defend. Our ultimate goal is to go beyond that organic standard and enhance the ecosystem and environment we farm in, and we do so by trying to grow healthier plants with more micronutrients.”

A 2011 study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health evaluated the micronutrient content of plant foods produced by organic and conventional agricultural methods. The study found in most cases that the micronutrient content was higher in organic vegetables than in conventional produce, though the study concluded, “Further research is required to determine the effect of organic agricultural methods on a broader range of nutrients and their potential impact on health.”

Though the health benefits of organic food are still in the research phase, Hagan says one thing is for certain: “Our produce has a lot more flavor.

“Oftentimes, you’re getting food that’s traveled thousands of miles, food that’s been irradiated, food that wasn’t grown with soil and plant health in mind, but is just high-yielding, tasteless junk.”

Hagan said the plants’ abundant micronutrients lead to better taste and a longer shelf life.

“(Our produce) has a longer storage shelf,” Hagan said. “It’s got more sugars, more fructose and glucose – different things that help plants to stay alive. These are living things … and that kind of vigor helps maintain the cell walls from breaking down and wilting and rotting and going bad. So a plant with a high nutritional value will stay in a refrigerator in a Ziplock bag for a month.”

WHY BUY LOCALLY?

Windswept sells to local restaurants, provides food for REfarm Café and offers a Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA) program by which participants invest in the farm for a season and receive a share or half-share of homegrown items either weekly or every other week, respectively.

“We offer a pretty huge diversity of things,” said Hagan. “We really work to make sure you don’t get the same thing every week, unless it’s some things like tomatoes and peppers — things people are used to cooking with every week.”

Though Hagan says Windswept is not trying to be a “luxury farm” and does its best to “keep prices approachable,” food prices do tend to be a bit higher than those of large grocery stores. There’s a good reason for that, Hagan says, and people should consider purchasing their food from local farms because – besides the added flavor and potential health factors – doing so keeps money in the community.

“We’re doing things differently, with a lot more hand labor,” Hagan said. “We also pay our people a living wage. We’re trying to create an environment and ecosystem that’s generally better for the entire community, so that definitely costs a little bit more.

“We don’t have a massive subsidy,” Hagan continued. “We are a very small, struggling business, just like every other farm around here. And we’re all from here. We’re spending our money here, hiring contractors and paying people who live in Centre County, so our produce supports this community specifically and directly in that same regard. We’re retuning it back to the economy, so every dollar spent here translates into multiple dollars spent back in the community.”

For more information about Windswept Farm and to order from the REfresh Online Market, visit www.refarmcafe.com.



This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.


Teresa Mull
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