Interview with a Modern-Day Farmer

Last week when I showed up to teach my Wednesday class at Yoga Sole in Windsor Terrace, I noticed a friendly new face amidst the babbling regulars. As it turned out this face belonged to a man named Charles – a visiting farmer stopping by to say hello to the neighborhood.

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Charles at the office

Charles Adame Winningham is an attorney-turned-farmer who works at Obercreek Farm in Wappinger, NY as the Commercial and Specialty Crop Manager. And pretty soon he’ll be opening a farm stand at the nearby Bartel Pritchard farmers market on Wednesdays. He came to spread the word – and boy-o-boy did he come to the right place!

As my conversation with Charles unfolded, I became increasingly excited. Not two weeks ago I had been thinking about how badly I want to purchase a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm share, and get my own box of fresh veggies every week. I just wasn’t sure where and how. Then, voila! Here was a modern-day farmer right in my own yoga class, offering just that!

Upon hearing about Charles’ passion for bringing fresh/local/organic food to the world, I wanted to do whatever I could to help out. So I asked him to grant me an interview to spread the word.

Below you’ll find some really interesting insights from Charles on his life as a modern-day farmer. Plus at the bottom of this post there’s more information on how to get in on some Obercreek Farm veggies yourself (sign up for your farm share before June 1st!). I hope you enjoy…

Interview With a Modern-Day Farmer

So Charles, I’m going to start with the question everyone is dying to know… what is your favorite vegetable?

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Fresh pepper bonanza!

“It’s totally impossible for me to choose – usually every year I pick a new favorite. One year fennel became my favorite because I had never really eaten it before and I discovered that I loved roasting it in the oven and melting cheese on top of it.”

Um, that sounds delicious…

“Last year it was romaine lettuce, (which I had previously disliked) because I learned that when it’s picked at the right time it has a sweet taste and wet, crunchy texture to it that’s amazing (also it tastes great when you grill it!).”

Grill it? Fascinating.

“This year we are growing a huge variety of peppers, both sweet and hot, and I think this may be the year of the pepper for me because I am very excited about them.”

Me too! I’m just starting to really appreciate peppers myself. When they’re organic they’re even delicious raw.

What in the world inspired you to become a modern-day farmer? It was the big bucks, wasn’t it?

“I left a career as an attorney because I had a passion for local food. I was initially interested in cooking so I worked in a couple of well-known farm to table restaurants but I was always blown away by the farmers who would bring in beautiful vegetables they had grown.

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Obercreek is known for their wide variety of leafy greens

“I took the leap of working on a farm because I just felt like there were not enough people who were willing to do the work to produce organic vegetables and it was something I wanted to support.”

Um, that’s awesome. What a bold choice to live your values in this day and age!

“I also did it because I wanted to become someone who could talk to people about lesser known vegetables like fava beans or mizuna and teach them about how great they are.”

Mizuna sounds like a vacation island to me, not a vegetable. Either way, I am intrigued…

What do you especially love about being an organic farmer?

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Ohhh, a free mud mask for the hands!

“I love being outside and having my hands in dirt, but you could say that about a lot of jobs.

“I also enjoy creating systems, and there are so many different ways that you can farm that you can always be thinking about how you produce more lettuce for your customers or how to grow a better tasting pepper.”

(I am kind of wondering if one of their strategies is to lovingly whisper sweet nothings to the vegetables at Obercreek Farm to get them to taste better – the way I do to my houseplants to try to get them to not die. But I’m going to save personal questions about his relationship with the plants for when Charles and I know each other a little better.)

“Often when you want to produce a great tasting vegetable it takes an absurd amount of time and labor and there are always days when you are so exhausted at 5pm that you just want to give up or do something else. But it’s really inspiring when you eat something really delicious that you grew and you know that you didn’t have to buy it from anyone because its just yours.

“When I talk to people who love eating our vegetables, I feel very proud and I realize that kind of appreciation is the best reward for me personally.”

What do you find challenging about being a local farmer these days?

“I don’t mind being exhausted all the time but I do mind being poor. I think it’s hard when you think about how many hours you work and how much you get paid. Farmers are lucky if they get paid as much as a public school teacher and honestly we work a longer day and often we have to come in on weekends.”

IMO both organic farmers and school teachers should be paid gobs and gobs of money. I mean, seriously, aren’t they doing some of the MOST important jobs for our individual and societal health? 

“Also if you have plants to take care of you can’t ever forget to water when it’s hot and you can’t forget to cover them up when it’s cold – if you make those mistakes, you’ve just lost your investment and there’s no do-over.”

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Ripe and robust tomatoes

Whoa, plants are real divas! I didn’t realize. 

“So I guess what I am saying is that – for someone who produces your food, takes care of your soil, and does a very demanding job – farmers are drastically underpaid.”

I agree Charles. That’s why I’m excited to buy my farm share! Well, actually I’m equally excited about the fresh flavorful non-Monsanto veggies. But I’m glad it’s helping support you bold and hard-working farmers too! 

What’s your vision for the world you want to live in?

“I would like to live in a world or a part of the world where there is better access to healthy food, where fresh grass fed meat or organic fruits and vegetables are more widely available.

“I think its hard for people to buy local food for their dinner table when there is so much cheap fast food and junk food that makes fresh food from the farmers market look overpriced.”

Yes! But if you do the math, fast food is not as cheap as people think! You can make fresh veggies with a hearty bulk grain go a looooong and tasty way. 

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Happy grass-fed cows – photo by Karsten Wurth

“A world that I want to live in would also teach people in school how to make an arugula, lemon, and parmesan salad and how to grow a few carrots in their backyard.”

That salad sounds delicious – this is a world I think we can all agree to.

“I am happy to tell people about how to use celeriac or kohlrabi but I wish there was an educational system in our country that taught people more about food from an early age.”

Yes! Can we get on this please, USA?

“I also wish people were taught more about how eating fresh food can help them lead longer and more productive lives. Eating fresh food seems like a luxury and its hard to convince people that the longterm health benefits are worth the extra cost.

This point deserves another blog post altogether. It’s huge. It’s real. And it’s really important. And FYI reader friends, lots of farmers markets accept EBT and food stamps. 

“When we have people who sign up for CSA shares they get into the habit of eating our organic food and often they don’t need use to convince them because the food tastes good and they usually feel good after eating it.

“I just wish it was more widely available but that is something I am working hard on right now…

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Nature’s bounty from Obercreek Farm

Farm Shares and the Farm Stand

Obercreek Farm will be in Brooklyn on Wednesdays from 8-3 pm at the Bartel Pritchard greenmarket starting on May 24.

So you might be wondering, what’s in a farm share? Well, “in the spring one can expect more leafy greens and spring roots. As summer arrives and temperatures go up, the share gets more robust, consisting of familiar vegetable staples like tomatoes, squash, cucumbers etc. As the temperatures begin to fall the return of hardy greens and cold loving root crops will become apparent.”

FUN! Eating with the seasons just as the Earth intended!

How can people sign up for their own CSA farm share?

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Portrait of a CSA farm share

You can sign up for the CSA in 3 ways:
1) Go to www.obercreekfarm.com and click on the link for 2017 Boxed Share – then go to drop down menu for Pick Up Location and choose Brooklyn Bartel Pritchard – you can then pay by credit card. 2) Call the office at 845-298-0888 and ask to pay for a CSA box share – you can use check or credit card. 3) You can sign up in person at Bartel Pritchard greenmarket on Wednesdays starting on May 24.

After purchasing, each week you pick up your CSA share at Bartel Pritchard farmers market between 8-3 Wednesdays. (If you can’t make it you can have a friend pick it up, or even have it donated if you’re on vacation!) Then proceed to enjoy the many sensory and health benefits of local organic veggies straight from the earth!

Thank you Charles! What wonderful insights into the life of a modern-day farmer! 

You can follow Charles on Instagram at @charles.winningham

Obercreek Farm is on Instagram and Twitter as @obercreekfarm

Facebook: Obercreek Farm

What About You, Dear Reader?

How do you feel about organic vegetables? Local farming? How do you prioritize your spending when it comes to food for yourself and your loved ones?

Any of you harboring a secret urge to quit your job and get your hands in the dirt?

I’d love to hear what this interview brought up for you…

xo Ariel

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