Signs of spring

By on March 11, 2011

Photos: Gayle Riley of Erehwon Farm boils the maple sap to make syrup on Tuesday. The farm specializes in locally grown food with no pesticides or herbicides. They will be opening a new farm stand in April. Grower Jeremiah Baranauskas (below) checks the new protected crops at Erehwon Farm on Tuesday. The farm also grows peas, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash, just to name a few.
Photo by John DiDonna

by Lynn Meredith
Elburn—Tiny green cabbages, Asian greens, cilantro and other edibles are up and growing this early March at the Erehwon Farm on Hughes Road. The seedlings have taken root under the warming embrace of hoop houses and tender care of owner Tim Fuller.

A visit to the farm at this time of year is an opportunity to see these fresh sprouts, but it’s also a time to see maple sugaring in process. The sap from the trees is rising and dripping into pails hung on maple trees. Fuller and his staff collect the clear sap that looks like water, strain it and boil it down to syrup on an open-air fire. They strain it once more and then hand over a delicately sweet, maple-flavored concoction that rivals any syrup you might buy in the store.

Rivaling what we purchase in the store is the reason Erehwon Farm exists. Its mission is to grow healthy food in a sustainable way. The produce that is grown on the six acres they moved to last October from their Campton Hills location is grown organically.

“We want to produce healthful, sustainable food that is affordable for all people in the area,” Fuller said. “This (location) is a whole new start-up to take advantage of all we’ve learned.”

Fuller has been farming for 10 years. His business has grown from two shareholders to start, then to 15 and now to over one hundred supporters. The Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA) is a way that community members can purchase produce raised on the farm and help support its costs.

“CSA’s are the heart of our business,” said Gayle Riley, marketing director and neighbor of Fuller. “For $600, a family will get 20 weeks of produce. Each week they will get a brown grocery bag full of 10 to 12 (types of produce) that they can pick up at the farm, or we have delivery points. It starts in June and goes to late October. In fall, they get a ton of stuff that has come ripe.”

Erehwon is also a major presence at the Geneva Green Market, held at the Inglenook Pantry site. Fuller’s goal is to become a year-round presence.

“The other important thing for us is that we want to harvest 12 months of the year. We can do it. We came close the year before last,” Fuller said. “The constraint here (in the Midwest) is heat. There’s a short growing season.”

That’s where the plastic-covered hoop houses come in. Lettuce grown outside can’t be planted until May 1. In the hoop house, it can be planted April 1. Add a dual layer to the plastic, and seedlings can be planted February 1, Fuller explained. If he fills the hoop house with plants in September and they are full-grown by November, he can keep harvesting them over the winter.

Volunteers are welcomed at Erehwon Farm. A couple of girls that Fuller met through friends live in Chicago. They came out to see the farm and decided they wanted to keep coming. They come out every week. Once they rode their bikes to the Metra in the city and then rode to the farm from Elburn station.

Fuller envisions an educational component to his enterprise. He’s already had groups out to tour the place.

“Kids don’t know where their food comes from,” he said. “Once we had a group of 15 Girl Scouts, and I had a big bed of turnips. Not one knew what they were.”

Fuller himself is always learning. Maple sugaring is a perfect example.

“Ten days ago I didn’t know anything about maple sugaring,” he said. “I drilled a couple of holes in some trees and forgot about it. A week ago I looked out and saw sap running out.”

Riley quipped that that’s when Fuller got the fever.

“The sap is in the roots. It’s warmer down there. During the day the tree heats up to 40 degrees, and the sap starts rising. Then at night when it gets cold, it drains back down. When it’s going up and down is when it’s the best,” he said.

Riley collects the sap. She found an 18-ounce cup that had filled with the drips from the trees in less than an hour.

With a proper stove on order, Fuller has improvised a stove to boil the sap using cement blocks and wide tiles stacked with a stick fire at the base. A pot of sap sits on top.

Jeremiah Baranauskas of Geneva was one of many who have come to learn from Fuller. These days, he tends the seedlings that have already sprouted.

“We have Asian greens, Kohlabi, turnips, broccoli, radishes, onions, cabbage, Bok Choy, basil, tomatoes,” Baranauskas said, as just a sample of the early plants.

The farm plans to add a farm stand on site this spring, along with its CSA, its stand at the Farmer’s Market, and its business with restaurants in Geneva and Chicago that buy from them.

“There are obvious benefits to eating food without pesticides,” Riley said. “There’s a high demand, and the quality is amazing. We still have shares available for summer. If you register by March 15, you get a discount.”