We Will Work Side by Side

I grew up singing the hymn, They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love, and was particularly fond of the lines we will work with each other, we will work side by side as they represented for me a strong sense of community. Even as a very young girl, I sensed the unity God wants for his children.

On a recent evening in the fields at First Fruits Farm, this idea played out in the simple act of planting cabbage.  A little ingenuity and team work went a long way to maximize efficiency – and save some backs – as you’ll see from the photos and video below.

Gary Fearnow and Bill Riley feed cabbage seedlings into the planter, while Rick Bernstein and Kevin Fabula check for gaps.

Many volunteers work together throughout the year to further FFF’s mission and the Lord continually brings people with open hearts and myriad skills and backgrounds who, when they work together, create a beautiful synergy.  Last week when it was time to get the cabbage in the dirt, the First Fruits Farmers sought to improve upon the old way of doing things which entailed making holes with a stake and setting the seedling in by hand. They had purchased a transplanter on the Eastern Shore and with some minor adaptations could use it as a cabbage planter.  The beauty of the endeavor was that while more efficient, it still requied team work.

Gary and Bill take a short breather while Wes prepares to begin another row.

Dan Millender provides cabbage quality control.

According to the University of Maryland Extension, cabbage can be planted in the spring for summer harvest or in mid-summer for a fall harvest.  Cabbage is very hardy and can survive in temperatures as low as 15 degrees.  Flea beetles and cutworms have been known to plague cabbage, as well as broccoli, cauliflower, collards. FFF has battled with flea beetles in the past, though it’s too early to tell yet what this planting will bring.  While FFF is too vast to farm organically with its current part-time volunteer staff, one alternative to pesticide application is a dusting with food-grade diatomaceous earth.

Cabbage comes in several varieties including green, Savoy, red, Napa, bok choy and brussels spouts, which are mini- cabbages. We have Bravo and Late Flat Dutch growing in the fields at FFF right now.

Bravo and Late Flat Dutch Cabbage

To harvest the cabbage, twist the entire cabbage head to separate it from the large cabbage stem or cut it from the stem with a sharp knife.  Green cabbage will be ready to harvest as soon as the head is fully formed, and feels solid to the touch, but before it cracks.

Cabbage can be enjoyed raw or cooked.  This time of year, I love cabbage salad, which I think of as cole slaw without the mayo – much healthier that way and still delicious!

Cabbage Salad


  •                     1/4 cup vinegar
  •                     2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
  •                     2 teaspoons garlic salt
  •                     2 teaspoons sugar
  •                     1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
  •                     6 cups shredded cabbage
In a small bowl or jar with tight-fitting lid, combine vinegar, oil, garlic salt if desired, sugar and tarragon. Place cabbage in a large bowl; add dressing and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
If you have a favorite cabbage recipe or any tips regarding growing cabbage, we’d love to hear from you!
– Diann Churchill

Beware the Zuke! by Elizabeth Tracey

Psalm 31:24Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.”

Farmers need both courage and faith when they grow zucchini, otherwise known as ‘zukes’ around FFF.  Courage because these plants are so unbelievably prolific, catalyzing that magic alchemy of sun, soil and water into a formidable array of vegetable biomass that then must be harvested, and also faith, that homes can be found for these members of the squash family, even when they are prodigious in size.

Mr. Dan reports that as of June 25, 2012, FFF has already harvested over 4.5 tons, yes indeed, that’s thousands of pounds, of zukes for the hungry. There are 1.5 acres of zukes on the farm this year, and since we’ve been blessed with wonderful weather, they are productive indeed.  Volunteers are hard at work harvesting, although some don’t like the prickly leaves of the plants brushing their arms and legs as they search for fruits. Might be a word to the wise to wear long sleeves and pants in the zuke patch.

Successfully removing zucchini from the plant is best accomplished using a twisting motion, Mr. Dan instructs.  Simply grasp the fruit at the blossom end and rotate in one direction until the stem breaks.  Even zucchini that are broken off a bit are still good at FFF, since the harvest is transported right away and the zukes eaten promptly.

Keeping up with a happy zuke plant is quite an endeavor, however, since the plants seem to grow harvest-size fruits virtually overnight, and there always seems to be at least one baseball bat-like zuke lurking about undetected beneath those gigantic leaves!  At FFF, zukes up to the size of footballs are thought to be fine for eating, while the bigger ones are offered to volunteers to be turned into zucchini bread or other favorites.  Diann Churchill shares her favorite recipe for zucchini bread here:

Zucchini Bread  #1

3 eggs

¾ c oil

1½ c sugar

¼ t lemon extract

½ t vanilla

2 c grated zuke

3 c flour

¾ t salt

½ t cinnamon

¼ t ginger

¼ t nutmeg

1 t baking soda

2 T baking powder

1 c chopped nuts (optional) 

Mix all ingredients.  Pour into 2 greased  loaf pans

Bake 350degrees for 45 min.

If you’d like zucchini bread recipe 2, write us!

Just how much fruit does an average zuke plant produce?  Three to nine pounds of young fruits per season, depending on weather and other variables.  That’s a lot of zukes!  To obtain that much, though, keeping those giants off the vine is important, since Mr. Dan reports they cause the plant to stop production.  Another thing that shuts them down is really hot weather, which causes the blossoms to drop.  Thankfully pests aren’t much of a problem since the plants are sprayed, and critters don’t find them very attractive. And that’s a good thing because here at FFF, we also have a bumper crop of deer.

We thank God for His abundance in providing so many zucchini this year.  For FFF, these are the least expensive of the crops we grow, easy to germinate, and very rewarding to harvest.  Here’s another recipe shared by a colleague for those with many zukes on hand.  Enjoy!

Parmesan-Crusted Zucchini

If you’ve ever chosen to eat deep-fried zucchini sticks instead of French fries or mozzarella sticks because you thought they might be a tiny bit healthy, I feel ya. Yes, it is a vegetable, but once breaded and deep-fried, it crosses the border into artery-clogging land. Mollie Katzen’s recipe for Parmesan-crusted zucchini from The Vegetable Dishes I Can’t Live Without is a great alternative—it gives you the crunchy outside and the tender insides of zucchini sticks, but with an extra kick from the Parmesan and crushed garlic. I would put it in a crusty roll with a little tomato sauce as a twist on the decadent eggplant parm sub. 


1            tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2            teaspoons minced or crushed garlic

4            small zucchini and/or summer squash (slender ones, about 6 inches long), halved lengthwise

               Salt, to taste

               Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 to 2   tablespoons fine bread crumbs (optional)

2 to 3   tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese


Preheat the broiler.

Place a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. After about a minute, add the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Turn down the heat, add the garlic, and sauté over medium-low heat for just a minute or two, being careful not to let the garlic brown.

Place the zucchini halves facedown in the garlic and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Sauté over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, or until the zucchini are just slightly tender when poked gently with a fork.

Transfer zucchini to a cookie sheet, sprinkle with bread crumbs and Parmesan and place under broiler until slightly brown. Serve.

Tomato Time!

To every thing there is a season,

And a time to every purpose under the heaven;

A time to be born, and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted…

Ecclesiastes 3

Finally, tomato time is here on First Fruits Farm!  After a rather strange warm spell in early spring, seems like the real warming has just started, and we know from US agricultural zone maps it’s finally safe to plant tomatoes.  And planting has taken place: about 20 volunteers came out and planted about 1100 Mountain Fresh tomato plants, and 1500 green bell pepper plants.  The plants are the gift of Kevin Fabula, who grows them with the intention of donating to triple F (that’s the insider’s jargon for First Fruits Farm, so now you’re an insider, too). God bless both Kevin and the multitude of volunteers for getting all these plants in the ground, just in time for abundant rain.

Let’s talk a bit more about the tomato itself, the Mountain Fresh variety.  Mr. Dan (that’s Dan Millender, one of the farm’s main men), says this particular variety is practical because when it’s ripe it retains firmness, so the tomato can be transported in good shape to the Maryland Food Bank and all the other destinations where hungry people are fed. It can get to be about a pound in weight, so could be used for a tomato sandwich.  Mr. Dan confides that his favorite tomato sandwich is on lightly toasted white bread with bacon. lettuce and mayo.  My own favorite is on toasted to within an inch of being burned whole grain bread with mayo, Vidalia onion and fresh pepper.  What’s your favorite? We’d love to hear.

The tomato plants may be strung up this coming Memorial Day weekend.  Stakes will be placed on either side of the plants and string tied to the stakes.  As the plants grow they will remain upright so the fruits don’t trail on the ground and rot.  Before staking, though, one more pass through the rows to turn up the ground and discourage weeds will be made.

And speaking of rot, that’s always a concern when we’ve gotten as much rain as we have lately, all at once.  Mr. Dan says he’d rather have more rain than less, though, and so far the potatoes, planted several weeks ago, are doing just fine. This year about 80% of the seed has germinated. And both corn and beans have germinated and are growing fast. Praise the Lord!


– Elizabeth Tracey

Coincidence or God’s timing?

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

I was a little shaky this morning. Yes, some of it might have been due to the caffeine in the Extra Strength Excedrin I took for my blooming migraine, but I think most of it was due to an early morning experience that set all synapses firing. I was on the return leg of the morning carpool drop off, just a few miles from home, and as I approached an intersection a pickup truck coming from my left blew right through the stop sign. I exclaimed and honked, thought wow, lucky break and then made my way home. I know it wasn’t luck and I can’t stop thinking about the timing.

These things happen countless times each day, sometimes with no impact and sometimes with devastating consequences. Two and a half years ago, Tim Wheatley was driving his 9 year-old daughter Sarah to school on his way to work when a truck coming from the left blew a red light and broadsided their car. Tim was killed instantly and Sarah was critically injured. The circumstances were chillingly similar to my near miss this morning.

Pat Goodman, Senior Pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Timonium, Maryland, often reminds the congregation of God’ sovereignty with these words: “You go no place by accident.” I firmly believe that the timing this morning was no accident, and if I had approached the intersection earlier and things had turned out differently, that God’s timing still would have been perfect. I have no idea why God allowed Tim’s life to end prematurely, for Sarah to suffer physical harm and for the entire Wheatley family to endure such a profound loss, yet I still trust His timing.

Tim’s wife, my dear friend Beth, told me that while walking down the hall at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center after being warned that Sarah might not survive, she prayed with each step, “Your grace is sufficient…Your grace is sufficient…Your grace is sufficient…” Thankfully, miraculously, Sarah did survive and you can learn a little about her recovery in this video clip produced by Hopkins Children’s Center.

As Christians, we are taught to give all our worries to God. Jesus said in Matthew 6:28-9: “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” This is easier for some of us than others, as some are born worriers while others are more able to surrender their fears. It can depend on the magnitude of the circumstances too, of course. When it comes to my children, I have to relinquish my concern for their safety and well-being to the Lord on a daily basis.

Tiara Swenson touches up trim with the support of Gemma Zigman.  Both are members of Hopkins Farmhands.

Here at First Fruits Farm, we rely on God’s timing in myriad ways, from big issues like the safety of our volunteers as they maintain and operate farm machinery to relatively minor things like the number of hands needed on a given day just as the crops are ripe for the harvest. It wasn’t luck that delayed the rain on Saturday so that the ServeFest volunteers could work to help prepare the farm for the growing season. Not only did God take care of the weather, He brought the ideal mix of skills, personalities and energy to the farm to make the day just what He intended it to be. And it was no accident that the ServeFest crew included Sarah Wheatley.

Diann Churchill

From a Tiny Seed

He said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? To what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and put in his own garden. It grew, and became a large tree, and the birds of the sky lodged in its branches.”

Luke 13:18-19

On First Fruits Farm the time for tiny seeds has come!  Grains so small it’s almost impossible to discern them from the accompanying dirt (!) will grow into collards and kale.  Rick describes the process of planting the tiny seeds as first requiring the fields to be prepared, then loading the seeds into the planter.  In contrast to the potatoes, these minute seeds are planted just beneath the surface of the soil.  So far, about one and a quarter acres are sown.  Now it’s a matter of waiting for rain to encourage the seeds to germinate. Most kale and collard seeds will sprout within about 4 days when conditions are just right, so please join us in our prayers for rain!

Kale and collards are part of the ‘cole crop’ family, are are revered for how easy they are to grow and their disease resistance.  They’re also among the most nutritious of leafy greens, supplying lots of iron and vitamins. A cup of cooked collards or kale has more vitamin C than an 8 ounce glass of orange juice and more potassium than a banana.  And all that for only 55 calories!

Rick says the kale and collards should be harvested in early July, before the weather gets too hot.  What keeps these crops to the acreage they occupy is the fact that harvesting is “old-fashioned,” he says, involving a sickle bar.  These vegetables also require refrigeration and must be used fresh.

Kale and collards can be simply cut and stir-fried, with olive oil and garlic, for a way to preserve their nutrients and cook them quickly.  Tossing the greens after cooking with pasta and a sharp cheese brings them right to the table.  Some folks like to cook them with a ham hock for flavor.  We welcome any kale or collards recipes you’d like to share.

Other crops that have been sown and are awaiting rain right now include potatoes and onions.  Here’s a picture of a volunteer Dad and his young helpers planting onion bulbs:


– Elizabeth Tracey


The Latest Buzz

“The only reason for making a buzzing-noise that I know of is because you’re a bee…The only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey…and the only reason for making honey is so I can eat it.”                                               Winnie the Pooh

“Eat honey, my child, for it is good.”  Proverbs 24:13

At First Fruits Farm, we not only grow vegetables but also maintain beehives to produce honey and beeswax for candle making.  While many busy bees are required to keep a hive healthy and active, it is the queen who rules the roost.  Sorry for mixing the farm metaphors here….

The past few winters, both the brutal ones and the recent mild one, have not been conducive to beekeeping and the FFF hives have not flourished.  The queens flew the coop (there I go again) and the worker bees followed suit.  So, Rick ordered twenty more hives and , with the help of Aaron Leininger and Dave Churchill, prepares the bees and introduces them to their new homes.

As you can see, beekeeping is not for the faint of heart and it is critical to wear the appropriate protective gear.  There are many resources available to beekeepers, veterans and novices alike.  The Central Maryland Beekeeper’s Association and Oregon Ridge Nature Center offer classes and other resources on all aspects of beekeeping.

Dave Churchill separates the bee boxes while Rick Bernstein looks on.  Rick and Aaron Leininger introduce a colony to their new hive.

Here Come the Spuds!

The volunteer farmers at First Fruits Farm have been preparing the fields, ordering seeds, and servicing the farming equipment in anticipation of the upcoming season.  We can’t wait to see what God has in store!

In the following video clips, Rick Bernstein takes us on a brief tour of the potato equipment and describes the potato planting process.

In the first clip, Rick shows us the new potato cutter and describes how it will increase efficiency and yield this season.

Rick goes on to show us the potato planter that he and the other farmers will use to sow the potatoes in the fields.

Next, we see the new potato hiller, which will protect and nurture the potatoes and further increase yield.

Rick then shows us the potato harvester and describes how it digs up the potatoes and consolidates them into rows so volunteers can bag them and load them into bins.

Finally, Rick talks about processing the potatoes, transporting the bags and bins to shelters and food banks around Central Maryland.