Homestead farming: Local farmers celebrate season with harvest party (video, photos)

Visit website to follow Jubilee Hill series

This is the fifth and final part of a series following farmers David and Wendy Ryle through the growing season of their small East Coventry farm. The series illustrates changing agricultural methods that promote sustainability and entrepreneurship. Photo supervisor John Strickler and Fit for Life reporter Michilea Patterson followed the Ryles through the farming season. Now: Celebrating the season. Follow the series by visitingpottstownmercury.wix.com/homesteadfarming.

By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury

EAST COVENTRY >> Dinners are often used as a form of celebration and a social gathering. Whether it’s a holiday, birthday party or just an evening meal; it’s a time of togetherness and reflection.

John Strickler - The Mercury David Ryle hands plates of fresh greens to his wife Wendy out of what he called the 'serving window' from the kitchen during the harvest dinner held out in the field at their home.

John Strickler – The Mercury
David Ryle hands plates of fresh greens to his wife Wendy out of what he called the ‘serving window’ from the kitchen during the harvest dinner held out in the field at their home.

In keeping with that tradition, Wendy and David Ryle decided a customary farm-to-table dinner was the perfect finale to the growing season at their organic farm. Since March, The Mercury has followed the Ryles, owners of Jubilee Hill Farm, from seed to the dinner table. Jubilee means to rejoice so that’s exactly what the organic farmers did for about 15 of their friends and family members at the recent dinner. The guests enjoyed a meal of farm-fresh food at a decorative table outdoors.

“The historical idea of a harvest party was always really appealing to us for this time of year. This work is incredibly hard and it is incredibly taxing,” David Ryle said, adding that September is when he starts to see a clearing and can reflect on season accomplishments.

The dinner was a way for David and Wendy to show their gratitude to people that helped this season succeed. The season has been a “real blessing,” David said. The Ryles were first introduced to the community through a story about renewable growing methods that preserve the environment such as a large gardening tool they use called a broad fork. Since then, the Ryles continued to show how it’s possible to have a successful organic and sustainable homestead farm. Hours after their first selling day at the Lansdale Farmers Market, the produce was sold out and little has changed throughout the season.

“It was a good problem to have. We wanted to sell as much as we could,” David said.

Although selling out was great, he said it also meant they had reached a threshold for the amount of produce they could grow on the 1.5 acres of their farmland. Wendy said there was only so much that David could physically do by himself as the main farmer.

“It’s not a success or a failure. It’s just evolving,” she said.

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When the farm started about three years ago there was a lot of uncertainty but the last season has brought clarity, Wendy said. The Ryles’ original five-year plan was accomplished in just three years so it was necessary to figure out what was next.

“Sustainable farming and sustainable agriculture is important, but it has to be sustainable for the farmers, too,” David said.

As the season started coming to a close, the Ryles wondered if next year they should expand their herbal tea business and decrease the produce they grew.

“I think sometimes when you come against a wall that’s when you find a door,” David said.

That door came in the form of a partnership with the Kimberton CSA in Phoenixville. A CSA is a community supported agriculture program where the farm sells shares of their produce to area residents.

Erik and Birgit Landowne of Kimberton CSA met David while he was supervising an intern program they hosted on the farm. Through conversation, they found out they had common interests and similar farming ideologies.

“That conversation became like an on-the-spot interview,” David said.

The Kimberton CSA is operated on a 10-acre farm that is certified organic. Just like the Ryles, the Landownes knew it was time to evolve their farm and wanted to expand the acreage.

“It’s going to be an expansion for us, and we’ve wanted to do this for a while but we’ve just been waiting for the right person,” Erik Landowne said.

That right person was David and he’s been hired to manage Kimberton CSA and their intern program. David will also help sell the produce from the Kimberton Farm at local markets. The Ryles said the partnership is a win-win situation and just fits.

“We just had a lot of respect for what they (the Landownes) are doing,” Wendy said. “Everything that they’re doing over there is right and it’s perfect for David.”

The new business opportunity will also allow the Ryles to use their own land to expand their holy basil tea business. By working with the Kimberton CSA, the Ryles will be able to provide more tea and more produce.

“It’s been such a great season but we’re excited for the changes that are taking place. We feel like it’s a step in the right direction and maybe a move toward a more sustainable approach to agriculture,” David said.

The Ryles are still selling organic produce at the Lansdale Farmers Market every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information about Jubilee Hill Farm, check the website at www.jubileehillfarm.org.

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