One of the great luxuries of living in a rural area is being able to ‘shop’ at farm stands. True, it’s not always a year-round experience, but when you can do it, the experience is not to be missed. You get to trade bumper-to-bumper traffic for a leisurely drive across the countryside; if you have a question about the food you’re buying, or what went into it, you can just ask the people who grew it; and you’ll never find fresher produce anywhere, you can bet on that!
In my opinion, the best time to farm stand shopping is right now, in the fall. Spring has new greens when you’re desperate for something fresh, and summer sweet corn and tomatoes are hard to beat, even winter has its dominion with eggs and dairy, fresh and smoked meats, and baked goods and preserves. But fall, ah fall! Fall at the farm stand is a riot of colors and shapes, a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.
We had heavy rains two days ago, courtesy of the remnants of Patricia as she rolled across the country, and even though the combination of rain and wind drove many of the fall leaves from the branches, my mother-in-law and I decided to take a drive through nearby Lancaster county yesterday. You need to understand many years ago I was named the ‘Back Road King,’ always seeming to know a back road, no matter where I was going. It’s true, I’m always curious where an unknown road will go, and I get bored easily with day-to-day commutes. Besides, even if I don’t know exactly where I am, if I know where I’m going, I’m not really lost, am I?
Back to the story; yesterday’s weather was absolutely perfect, once the tattered remnants of the rain blew off over the eastern horizon. The last of the clouds broke up as the sun shone down from a sky blue as china and freshly scrubbed clean. We were delighted to find over half of the trees still held most of their leaves, despite the rough weather the night before.
We were bopping along a back road when I remembered an Amish farm, owned by Levi and Linda Stoltzfus, which specializes in squashes, gourds and other fall themed items, just up the road. Why not? We pulled in for a quick visit.
The Stoltzfuses have set up a beautiful display in their barnyard, between the forebay of their barn and several outbuildings filled with stored gourds, squash and gourd works in progress. Bins, stacks and pallets of squash fill the yard and line the forebay walls. Bundles of ear corn dangle along the edge of the forebay overhang, complementing the yellow ear corn sunbursts and shocks of stalks of field corn and broomcorn. Several bins hold bundles of popcorn and Indian corn.
I forgot just how many different kinds of squash there are: field pumpkins, neck pumpkins, and Cinderella pumpkins; red, blue and wart covered green Hubbard squash; acorns, sweet potato and delicata squash; Atlantic Giant monsters, the list goes on and on. Thankfully, a display of different squash in crates lists the variety and eating qualities of each.
The tobacco barn on the roadside of the yard has been converted into a workshop for gourd crafting. Bin after bin stand filled with apple gourds, caveman club gourds, egg, gourds, snake gourds, and of course, birdhouse gourds. The rafters hang filled with birdhouses, birdfeeders and butterfly gourds, some rustic and rough, others lacquered to a natural glow or painted in vibrant colors, adorned with flowers and leaves, birds and butterflies. Shelves lining the walls stand crowded with painted snowman gourds, buff natural gourd garlands, carved apple gourd bowls and gooseneck gourd vases. There’s even a Christmas tree hanging with gourd ornaments.
Even the livestock get in on the action. Rosie the horse surveys the yard from her stall’s window, hoping for a corn handout, graciously accepting all treats offered while snubbing empty hands. Next door, Ben the Jersey calf begs to have his ears scratched, while Jerry, his twin (see what they did here?) snoozes. Behind them, several mules and horses mill about in their stalls, enjoying their day off.
We left about half an hour after we pulled in, a red Hubbard squash, a snowman and a Christmas tree ornament nestled in the back of the van. Next trip? Cider!