Tag Archives: vegetables

Finding peace and joy

Farmers Produce Auction, Mt. Hope OH

Auction in action.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Most folks go there to either buy or sell. I go for peace and joy.

The Farmers Produce Auction west of Mt. Hope, Ohio is heaven on earth for me. Given the size of the crowds and the non-stop activity, I have a feeling I’m not alone in that sentiment.

This little spot of paradise, located dead-center in the prettiest township in Ohio, bustles with business. That’s especially true in fall, the summit of the harvest season.

That it is so raucous this time of year should come as no surprise. The skid loaders, the bins, the baskets, the boxes, the trucks, the wagons, the carts, the pallets overflow with all of Creation’s botanical creativity.

Though they may not look like it, the auction grounds and buildings are the Garden of Eden April to November. Fall is its horn of plenty.

Growers of all delicious fruits and vegetables and eye candy fall flowers gather their goods and come to the auction. As diverse as the produce varieties, attendees represent a microcosm of society. Men, women, children, black, brown, white, young, old and in between, workers, buyers, sellers and admirers harmoniously intermingle.

Once the auctioneers’ voices begin to resound, all eyes and ears swivel to attention. Buyers from small urban markets, major grocery stores, and mom and pop stands along country roads stay glued to the rhythmical cadence of the hucksters.

They want to make sure they’re going to get the best produce for the best possible price. They know what their customers want and what they’ll pay for quality fresh food and flowers. It’s entrepreneurship at its finest.

Finer still is the paint pallet of colors of the gourds, squash, pumpkins, mums, watermelon, tomatoes, plums, apples and cucumbers. Together they create a biological masterpiece.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

I wander through the grounds absorbing this end of the rainbow experience. The raw aromas of the fruits and veggies mingle with those of the resting horses and the scrumptious offerings of the beckoning lunch stand.

As if this ever-changing live landscape painting weren’t enough, the singsong crackle of the auctioneers’ voices over the loudspeakers lead the melody of the moment. The hum of the electric loaders, the dozens of sidebar conversations, and the hailing of one person to another across the way sing in harmony.

I glide through as those around me keep to their appointed tasks of loading and unloading, of buying and selling. I am unhindered as I zigzag my way up and down the aisles careful not to interfere or offend.

When I stop and admire the artistry in the earthiness of the individual brush strokes of this organic collage, I come alive. I am at peace. I find joy in the natural patterns of the speckled, striped, plump, oblong, elongated brightness nestled in this temporary harvest home.

The scene could be a Monet or a Rockwell with one exception. It’s real, and it’s all around me, intoxicating all who partake.

Once the bidding ends, a patented rush begins in two directions. One is to quickly but carefully load the delivery trucks to ensure freshness to the awaiting customers miles away. The other is to the food stand, where the chefs are generous with their portions and their geniality.

From still life to landscape to abstract renderings, this produce market offers much more than edibles. In the course of the procurement, peace and joy surreptitiously enrich the colorful treats.

Farmers Produce Auction, Mt. Hope OH

Full view.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Enjoying summer’s homegrown bounty

blackraspberriesbybrucestambaugh

Black raspberries. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Is there a healthier, more palatable compound word in the English language than homegrown? Not when it comes to fruits and vegetables there isn’t.

For someone whose daily diet requires at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, summer’s bounty is heaven on a plate. When most of what you eat is homegrown, it tastes even better.

That’s probably due in part to the freshness. There’s also great gratification in keeping a vegetable garden. Gardening takes patience and faith, along with the joy of hard work and the hope of happy harvests. A little gardening wisdom doesn’t hurt either.

Since the 1988 drought, we gave up general gardening, and have specialized in growing heirloom tomatoes. Once they begin to ripen, I relish the chance of picking a plump, juicy tomato from the sinewy vines. I can eat it right there or enjoy a plate of fresh slices drizzled in olive oil, and sprinkled with basil and a little salt and pepper.

Until then, I’ll continue to enjoy the many seasonal options available to us from local produce markets selling fresh-picked offerings. We’ve already marched through the strawberry fields together, enjoying the succulent berries. They seemed extra sweet this year.

Early sweet corn is already beginning to show up. I’ll wait for August’s Incredible cobs myself. It’s a culinary delight to hold a steaming, tender ear of cooked or grilled sweet corn, melted butter dripping onto the plate. I savor that first corn taste of the season, lightly salted of course.

Summer has many other garden gifts to give. Plump, sweet-tart black raspberries add rich color, pleasing texture, and tangy taste whether plopped on cereal, eaten with milk or enjoyed right off the bush.

Crisp green beans and glossy ivory onions beg to be adored and ready to accent any main dinner course. Huge heads of lettuce, spinach, cabbage and leafy Swiss chard boldly display different shades of green.

Red beets, radishes with bity white centers, prickly pickles, yellowy summer squash, and purple plums enhance the fruitful paint pallet. Redskin potatoes, luscious watermelons, yummy cantaloupe, peppers that run the complete color chart can’t be forgotten either.

I guess I gained this vegetarian affection for all things homegrown early in life. My folks kept a large garden a couple of miles from our suburban home. We children helped till, hoe, plant and pick the wide variety of veggies Mom and Dad chose to grow.

cauliflowerbybrucestambaugh

Colorful cauliflower. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

I enjoy the rainbow of colors of the fruits and vegetables as much as their wondrous tastes, whether eaten raw, grilled, cooked, steamed or baked. It’s all good, as long as the onions and peaches don’t co-mingle on the grill.

Fresh fruits and vegetables provide healthy and nutritional meals, along with a natural dose of flavorful fiber. Those old enough to appreciate a 1957 Chevy will understand what I mean by that.

Fruit and veggie colors, aromas, and flavors brighten up our lives right through October or the first frost here in Ohio. Of course, Ohioans aren’t the only folks invigorated by produce.

People all around the world, rural, suburban and urban alike, appreciate the many benefits of homegrown food. I’ve seen productive gardens on the mountainsides of Honduras, and in the front yards of brownstones in Brooklyn, New York.

Whether you grow or buy homegrown, the multi-sensory rewards are the same. I’m grateful the fruit and vegetable harvests have begun in earnest.

rainbowofflowersbybrucestambaugh

My wife works hard to keep her flower gardens vibrant and beautiful. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

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Harvesting more than produce from your garden

Amish garden by Bruce Stambaugh

Large vegetable gardens like this one are everpresent in Ohio's Amish country.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Lakeside rocks and flowers by Bruce Stambaugh

Creative rock sculptures mirror the Hollyhocks in a Lakeside, Ohio garden.

I’ll make my confession right up front. I am not the most authoritative person to write about gardening.

Still, I like to think that I am observant enough to recognize a good garden when I see one. Whether vegetable, rock or flower, all gardens require much manual effort to keep them manicured and productive.

Growing up in the suburbs of a northeast Ohio blue-collar city, our father loved to garden. He saw it as a way to be out in the fresh air and to simultaneously save money by growing our own food. With five children, it was the practical thing to do. For efficiency’s sake, he recruited his offspring to help cultivate, plant, nurture and reap the garden harvest.

Rock garden by Bruce Stambaugh

Rock gardens add esthetics to any property.

Bright lilies by Bruce Stambaugh

These lilies would brighten any yard.

Our lovely mother would prepare in season feasts that included sweet corn, new potatoes, green beans, cucumbers and beets. She also canned and froze food for the cold winter months ahead. If we had had a bumper crop, we would set up shop in a busy business parking lot and sell sweet corn out of the car’s trunk.

Mom also propagated lovely flower gardens around the parameters of our small piece of suburban property. Mom used her artistic eye with the floral color selection to nicely accent the cherry red brick exterior of our post-war bungalow.

Home canned goods by Bruce Stambaugh

Home canning is back in vogue in rural, suburban and urban settings.

Those pleasant memories returned with the current onslaught of the harvest season in gardens all across the country. Television shows, newspaper stories, Internet blogs and even high-end glossy magazines feature how to properly prepare and preserve your garden gleanings.

Having a plot of garden is almost assumed when you live in one of Ohio’s richest agricultural counties. Don’t be fooled though. Contrary to what some might think, gardening is not confined to rural areas. People garden in suburbs and cities, too.

Herb garden by Bruce Stambaugh

Even small backyard plot provides fresh herbs and vegetables.

With the advent of the organic, all natural craze, and the tough economy, gardening appears to have made a universal comeback. Whether you have an acre or simply a few pots of herbs sitting on an apartment balcony, gardening is good.

Caring for tender plants, watering them, protecting them from weather’s extremes and pesky insects is worthwhile work with tasty rewards. I see it as a way to get us back to our roots, reconnected to the soil from which and on which all life depends.

Lakeside community garden by Bruce Stambaugh

A community garden in Lakeside, Ohio.

If we are mindful, we will recognize that gardening provides a solid base that can lead to other returns as well. Cooperative gardens, sponsored by both church and civic organizations, have sprung up across the country. Besides those who garden, the abundant produce often helps the less fortunate, the homeless and the needy.

An acquaintance told me how his parents would load up their battered family pickup with the excess of their giant two-acre garden, head into town and end up on the wrong side of the tracks. There they would park the truck and hand out the fresh, healthy produce to whomever needed it.

They repeated the routine throughout the growing season. The thankful recipients were so moved by the family’s generosity that they offered to help plant and maintain the garden the next growing season. Their grateful offer was accepted, and new trust and friendships were born.

Flower garden by Bruce Stambaugh

If properly planned and planted, flower gardens can brighten a property throughout the growing season.

Gardens connect us to the soil that yields our sustenance. If we are proactive, they also open our lives to much more than delicious food. Gardening doesn’t get any more satisfying and splendid than gathering two crops from one planting.

Lakeside flower garden by Bruce Stambaugh

An award-winning flower garden at Lakeside, Ohio.

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Breaking the diet for a BLT

By Bruce Stambaugh

Shortly after I had finished my usual breakfast of whole grain cereal, fruit and juice, I went to work in my home office.

However, I was soon distracted, not an unusual occurrence for me. But this interruption was too enticing to not track down.

The house had taken on a savory whiff I hadn’t smelled in a quite awhile. My wife was frying bacon.

Now in most households, that probably is a non-event. But in ours, the aroma of bacon sizzling on a griddle is an extraordinary occurrence.

A little more than two years ago, I was diagnosed with cerebral arterial sclerosis or hardening of the arteries in the brain. Besides taking a daily statin medication, my diet changed drastically overnight.

No more red meat for me. Fried foods were out, as were dairy products, processed and most starchy foods. In their place, I was allowed to eat fish, chicken and turkey, along with five to six servings of fruit and vegetables per day.

Simply put, if it had no legs or two legs, I could eat it.

The doctor was clear. If I didn’t change my eating habits along with exercising even more than I already was, I was a prime candidate for a stroke or heart attack.

My doctor was very compassionate in his approach to sharing the news. He revealed that he had the exact same problem and was following the same diet. His encouragement helped me make the necessary transition very smoothly.

This change had a huge impact on not only my life, but my wife’s as well. She is the chief cook in our household, and this new diet would change the way she shopped, cooked and ate as well.

Of course, eating healthier would also be an advantage for her. Not eating red meat was not an issue for her, and she loves fish as much as I do. She made the transition in meal preparation as easily as possible.

My wife found recipes and ingredients that fit my diet. Our son, the family organic guru, was a big help in providing advice and suggestions on spices and herbs to season and prepare food that fit my restricted diet.

With all of this background information, why was bacon frying in our kitchen? Well, I was cheating, with my doctor’s permission. After my first check up following the diagnosis, the good doctor was well pleased with the blood work results. The diet and increased exercise were working, assisted by the medication.

When he asked me how I was getting along with the diet, I told him that the only thing I craved were BLT’s, bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches. The doctor just chuckled and said, “Well, you can eat them now and then. Just don’t do it often.”

Those words were music to my ears. Or maybe better stated, BLT’s for my salivary glands.
With the heirloom tomatoes my wife and son planted last spring at their peak of harvest, BLT’s were once again on our lunch or supper menu now and then. And I couldn’t have been happier.

The bacon was obtained from a local farmer that raises and butchers his own hogs. The tomatoes were picked fresh from the jungle of leafy vines that climbed the trellises we built last spring.

Enjoying a delicious BLT may be a regular routine for most people. For me, it’s guilt-free, gourmet dining at its finest.

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The road to a fresh start

Mixed peppers by Bruce Stambaugh

Boxes of colorful peppers looked too good to resist.

By Bruce Stambaugh

You can find them nearly everywhere in Ohio’s Amish country. Seasonal roadside produce stands are one of the area’s mainstays.

But for probably a sundry of reasons, tourists and local residents alike often ignore these unsophisticated and sometimes spontaneous mini-markets. They shouldn’t. The goods offered provide lasting and tasteful memories of Ohio’s Amish country.

The produce stands offer excellent foodstuffs and canned goods at very fair prices. A bonus is that the products peddled are green, as in locally grown green.

“Locally grown fruits and vegetable are not only good for you,” says Leah Miller, director of the Small Farm Institute based in Coshocton, Ohio. “They also provide families who live on small farms with additional and needed income.”

Blessing Acres sign by Bruce Stambaugh

The sign to Blessing Acres produce stand says it all.

Blessing Acres Produce, a produce stand located about half way between Berlin and Mt. Hope, Ohio on Township Road 362 in Holmes County, is a prime example. Anna Miller and her children operate the 25-acre produce farm. Son, Abe, serves as the manager.

Definitely off the beaten path, the Miller family still has many repeat customers who have found this little Garden of Eden. Homemade signs direct traffic off of two parallel county roads to the business. As different items like beets, cucumbers, corn and tomatoes come ripe, they are added to the bottom of the sign. At times the chain of produce names reaches clear to the ground.

Their season conveniently starts about the time schools dismiss for the summer. Strawberries are their first main crop, and are always in high demand for their flavor, sweetness and freshness.

Those are some of the key customer benefits to buying from the roadside stands, according to the online Ohio Farm Fresh directory at http://www.ohiofarmfresh.com. Freshness, taste and nutrition are all reasons why purchasing from the seasonal stands makes sense. Of course, the farmers appreciate the cash flow, too.

Marion Steiner has operated the Kidron Road Greenhouse and Produce stand for 17 years with help from her 11 children. Located on Kidron Road just south of U.S. 250 in Wayne County, Steiner said a majority of her customers are local, but a few out-of-state people also stop in.

June Hammond of Wooster, Ohio  has been a regular throughout many growing seasons.

“I come here because the people are friendly, the prices reasonable, and the products are fresh,” Hammond said.

Just down the road at Raber’s Fresh Produce similar comments are offered by long-time, repeat customers. Raber’s is located on Kidron Road just south of Harrison Road.

Dave Guthrie drives all the way from Vermillion, Ohio to buy sweet corn simply because he says it tastes better than what he can buy at stores back home. Guthrie’s seven-year-old grandson, Joshua Snyder, came along for the ride, too.

Hold on tight by Bruce Stambaugh

Joshua Snyder held on tight to the cucumbers he selected.

“It’s pretty and it’s fun out here,” Snyder said. “I like looking around, especially seeing the horses and buggies, and the nice houses and fields.”

The youngster actually hit on another benefit to buying from countryside stands. The bucolic ambiance coupled with decent prices and fresh, tasty food that is also good for you adds up to a win-win situation.

Many of the produce stands also offer fresh, homemade baked goods and what Leah Miller calls “value-added products” like home-canned fruits, vegetables and jams and jellies.

Some of the stands like the one that young sisters Anna and Neva Miller manned pop up randomly. The girls brought excess green beans from their garden and set up shop opposite a local bulk food store north of Mt. Hope. It wasn’t long until they had to return home to replenish their supply.

There is yet one other important reason for stopping at a local produce stand. You just might make friends, like Scott Thomas of Fresno, Ohio has.

Thomas has been coming to Blessing Acres for years. He knows each family member by name, and you could tell by the smiles of family members that they are always glad to see him.

“They come down to my place and help me butcher hogs,” Thomas said. In turn, he lets family members hunt deer on his property.

Fresh, tasty, nutritious food and good friends are always a healthy combination. And in Ohio’s Amish country, all that can be found right along the road.

Roadside beans by Bruce Stambaugh

Anna and Neva Miller sold beans from their garden along the highway north of Mt. Hope, Ohio.

This story was first published in Ohio Amish Country magazine, August 2010.

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