February 2 is Groundhog Day, the day farmers and gardeners start thinking about plantings for the coming season. I talked with several of Prescott's star farmers and gardeners to see how they assess the ‘21 growing season and what they plan for '22. The answers were all interesting, and each offered a nugget of farming insight. This month I’m featuring the Mortimer, Whipstone and Delicious Earth Farms, as well as urban gardener Kathleen Corum.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashlee Mortimer, marketing manager and eldest child of farmer Gary Mortimer. Mortimer Farms is a direct-marketed, public-access, you-pick, educational, festival and adventure farm. Started in 2010 on the 150-acre site of historic Young's Farm, it is family-owned and operated, dedicated to sharing the joys of farming.
Ashlee started right up telling me about the biggest wonder of 2021, blackberries. “Customers who came to pick were rewarded with big sweet blackberries, the best ever. Of course, kids showed off their blackberry-stained hands and smiles.”
In 2021 Mortimer designed and planted a high-tech corn maze using a tractor guided by GPS satellites, and installed two greenhouses that extend the growing season. In January they were already harvesting beets and lettuce, with early tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini on the way.
Ashlee says, “2022 will be the first harvest of the new orchard with 3,600 apple and peach trees. And we're redesigning our public space into a garden relaxation area, with tables, benches, water features, you-pick vegetables and berries, and herb and lavender beds.” Smell the lavender, hang out with the flowers, birds and bees, pick your own berries and eat lunch. The Windmill kitchen is open on weekends 10-6. It doesn't get any better than that.
Ashlee reminded me that at the end of 2020 the Mortimer family was able to purchase the farm property, where before it was on a long-term lease. So Mortimer Farms will be a community asset for generations to come. Go, visit, enjoy and support.
Mortimer Family Farms is located at the corner of Highways 69 and 169 in Dewey-Humboldt, 12907 E. State Route 169, Dewey. Mortimerfamilyfarms.com
Kathleen is a retired engineer living in Grandview Estates in Prescott Valley. On her residential lot she grows almost 150 different fruits and berries: apples, European and Asian pears, apricots, Japanese and European plums, pluots, peaches and nectarines, quinces, pomegranates, elderberries, cherries, currants, raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries, josta berries, grapes, mulberries, strawberries and figs. In addition, she has several lush vegetable beds and a couple of fish ponds. And she still has room for her house! Kathleen is a wonder of small-scale complexity. In 2021 the fruit trees yielded a bumper crop. Kathleen was slammed with a lot of fresh fruit to manage — dry, freeze, can, jam, juice, jelly — an exhausting wealth of abundance. That doesn't happen every year. Sometimes late frost zaps all the emerging flowers, sometimes disease or birds get them.
For 2022 Kathleen is planning her vegetable garden to avoid the “late-August food-preservation slam.” She's starting now in hot beds with quickly maturing crops like radishes, carrots, lettuce and greens, that can be eaten right away and don't need processing for storage.
Occasionally Kathleen gives tours. If you'd like to see the ultimate in urban gardens, contact Kathleen at email@example.com.
Shanti and Corey Rade of Whipstone Farm are Prescott's premier local farmers. On their 15-acre farm they grow over 100 varieties of vegetables and flowers year-round. They sell at the Prescott Farmer’s Market, offer a summer CSA*, sell wholesale to restaurants and florists, and stock a farmstand at the farm, where I love to shop. Shanti says, “We farm with our heart and health in mind.”
Shanti found 2021 super-challenging. Covid was a huge disruption. Sales were good, but the input prices skyrocketed and labor was scarce. In a normal year they employ twelve workers, but in 2021 they were down to six at times. Sometimes they got seeds in the ground but didn't have the labor to care for the plants. That crop had to be abandoned, a lost effort for Whipstone and less great veggies for us all. Seeds were in incredibly short supply. The seed companies were also short-staffed; some seed orders took up to eight weeks to arrive.
Shanti hopes the labor problems will resolve in 2022. She knows that farm work is hard and doesn't pay much more than minimum. Still, her workers are like family and she wants them to afford a better quality of life. Shanti predicts price increases for 2022 given the increases in minimum wage and costs for shipping, supplies and seeds.
Veggies from our local growers are worth much more than what you find at the grocery store: fresher (less waste), superior variety, organic practices, and funding the local community. Local produce is actually pretty comparable to supermarket prices, but of much higher value all around. There’s nothing better than knowing your local farmer.
Their well stocked, always open farmstand is at 2164 North Juniper Ridge Road,
* The Whipstone Farm CSA is a subscription program where members pay up front for the season and in return receive a weekly box of fresh, locally grown veggies and/or bouquet of flowers. See the website for details.
Earl Duque and Delisa Myles own and run Delicious Earth Farm, the small urban farm on Gail Gardner Way across from the fairgrounds. Watch for the summer farmstand with Earl's hearth-baked artisan sourdough breads, in addition to Delicious Earth vegetables, herbs and flowers.
Earl grew three super-successful crops in 2021.
Lettuce: He planted ten varieties week-by-week in succession, so the lettuce could be harvested at peak crispness and sweetness. Lettuce turns tough and bitter if not picked at the optimal time.
Eggplant: I personally attest to the farm’s most-radiant deep purple, fulsome corrugated Black Beauty eggplants. They are excellent in ratatouille, the French vegetable stew, served over corn polenta with a generous shaving of Pecorino Romano. Mama mia!
Cushaw squash: This is a big-necked, green-and-yellow-striped heritage winter squash that keeps well into early spring.
For 2022, Earl plans to experiment with Asian crops from the Kitazawa seed company (Kitazawa.com). The catalog is fascinating, full of vegetables that I've never seen or grown, but now I’m inspired to give them a try. Delisa will be growing cut flowers. Watch for them as you drive by and remember to stop by on Wednesday evenings this summer.
Earl loves gardening and thinks of his biggest success as community-building. Gardening is non-political, drawing people of all persuasions in to chat and make connections. Contact Delicious Earth Farm at firstname.lastname@example.org, or facebook.com/DeliciousEarthFarm. The farmstand is at 530 Fairgrounds Avenue in Prescott, open Wednesdays June-September, 5-7pm.
Next month I'll be continuing this report with community and school gardens and how you can get started with a garden in your own back yard.
Earl shared his recipe for Delicious Earth Stuffed Cushaw Squash. (You can use any winter squash with a big seed cavity.) Cut off the neck and make it into squash soup later. (If your squash does not have a neck, skip this step). Cut the squash in half and scrape out the seeds. Fill the hollow with fully cooked and fully spiced rice stuffing. Now invert the stuffed squash on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, until tender. To serve, cut the squash body into triangles, like a pizza, and turn them back to reveal the stuffing.
Chef Molly Beverly is Prescott's leading creative food activist and teacher. Photos by Gary Beverly.