The last time I went to Eckerton Hill Farm, I didn’t know I was going to watch Tim Stark make dirt.
That was almost two years ago, and we talked about it in America: Farm to Table. There were weeds, and piles of dirt and dancing tractors. It was a scene!
Consider this a postscript. Or, really, an update. Postscripts are for things that are over, and there is still plenty going on in this tomato tale.
I drove to Fleetwood, Pa., to say hi to Tim and see how everything was going since I’d seen him last. Tim, as discussed in the book, sends up to 7 tons of tomatoes to restaurants and farmers markets in New York City every week when they’re in season.
The land in question was a new acquisition. A neighbor asked Tim to farm the plot so it would look presentable. A previous tenant had come in with little more than good intentions and left a bit of a mess. Over the course of a fall day, Tim and his team pulled up old drip tape (I helped do that!), tilled over weeds and spread compost over the eight or so acres. From there, he planned to plant cover crops to enrich the soil, then start growing on the parts of the land in the spring.
So right now, I’m looking at a two-acre chunk of that land, and it would be easy to get lost in the dense, five-foot tall rows of tomato plants. Tim says he has about 12,000 plants in this field. Right next to it is an empty field of freshly tilled, rich, red soil. He says that he planted that plot with tomatoes last year. The balance of this land is filled with other crops, mostly peppers.
Tim points out that he is prone to worry about things, and he wonders if maybe the soil he engineered is too rich. Maybe too much clover. He thinks his plants should have less foliage and more fruit. He says the past two years have seen bumper crops, and he isn’t sure this one is going to be quite as good. But then he starts pulling back the vines and exposing the still-green tomatoes growing underneath the leaves. Maybe it’ll be OK.
Last time I was here, I took home a basketful of Tim’s kalaedoscopic array of tomatoes and made the single best Caprese salad when I got home. When I visited, Tim’s team was just starting to take the first tomatoes of the season off the vines, so I couldn’t take any home. His early season fruit is starting to arrive in New York, and a recent tweet from Otto Pizzeria showed off the first haul that arrived there.
That picture made me want to drive back to see TIm again so I could bring some tomatoes home this time. Or head to Otto and grab a Caprese salad.
Jim Webster works at The Washington Post. “America: Farm to Table,” by Mario and Jim, is available on Grand Central Life & Style everywhere books are sold. Follow Jim on Twitter: @jwscoop