“There’s a few things I’ve learned in life: Always throw salt over your left shoulder, keep rosemary by your garden gate, plant lavender for good luck and fall in love whenever you can.”—Alice Hoffman
In the language of flowers, lavender can mean distrust and suspicion, or devotion, loyalty and good luck. It was once believed that the deadly asp made its home in lavender so any harvesting of wild plants needed to be done with care and suspicion. I prefer the notion of devotion.
Down through history lavender has had many devotees. Both the Queen of Sheba and Cleopatra were reputed to have used lavender in their alluring perfumes. Queen Elizabeth I commanded that lavender conserve be served at every meal. And Queen Victoria appointed a “Royal Purveyor of Lavender Essence” to provide Buckingham Palace with a constant supply of lavender for scenting linens and rooms.
My love affair with lavender began in the late-’80s. When it was time to choose a plant for my master’s thesis, lavender was my first choice. After three years researching and testing this species I became an admirer of this herb of use and delight.
Lavandula angustifolia is the botanical name for English lavender. The name directly translates to narrow-leaved lavender. Etymologists believe that the word Lavandula comes from one of two Latin verbs: lavare—to wash—or livendulo—livid or bluish. The former refers to the practice of using lavender to cleanse while the latter refers to flower color. The translation lavare is more popular and it implies that lavender’s many qualities have been understood and valued since the time of Ancient Rome. Today we know that lavender has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and antioxidant properties. According to Valerie Ann Worwood, a well-known aromatherapist and author, it is also an antidepressant and a sedative. Another way of expressing this: Its scent invigorates the senses while decreasing anxious feelings.
In the everyday world, lavender shows up in many products, some which may surprise you. Check your cleaning products, especially if they are “natural.” Lavender is used in many cosmetics, perfumes, lotions and soaps. In a blended perfume, lavender is used either as a top note—the first scent you detect—or as a middle note—a bridge between the ephemeral top note and the long-lasting base note. Its placement in the recipe depends on the other scents that surround it.
Lavender is one of the modern components of Herbes de Provence. Traditionally, this basic herb mix contains rosemary, savory, marjoram and thyme. In the 1970s other herbs were included as cooks personalized the combination. Now you will find lavender buds, fennel, chervil, basil, tarragon and oregano in the mix. Some purists maintain that oregano should never be included and the other modern ingredients should be added carefully, but I find Herbes de Provence to be lacking “something” without lavender and fennel. Try using Herbes de Provence liberally in your fish, chicken and vegetable recipes. In our home, it is a required addition to roasted vegetables.
If you want to grow your own supply for cooking or scenting, there are three requirements: sun, drainage and air circulation. Lavenders grow in the windy, Mediterranean region in gritty, alkaline soils. Often the tough, fibrous roots anchor the plant in a thin layer of soil over rock or in the rock itself. So imagine the “culture shock” lavender undergoes in Ohio’s clay soils. Lavenders are easily hardy to zone 5 (average minimum temperatures in the -10° to -20° range), so it isn’t cold that kills them, but wet, slow-draining soils. Bottom line: Plant lavenders in higher, well-drained areas of the garden where they will get six or more hours of sun. And avoid those dead-air spots in the garden such as in the corner by the evergreens.
Often lavenders will have some branch dieback in the winter. In early- to mid-April prune out obviously dead branches, but wait until you harvest the buds in late May/early June before shaping the plant. The best essential oil is in the unopened lavender buds. Once the buds open, the quantity and quality of the scent and the essential oil content significantly decreases. The leaves, while nicely fragrant, are not harvested for essential oil production and should not be used in food, aromatherapy or in body products. Without getting too far into the chemistry, there are some compounds in the leaves that can be harmful to sensitive users.
Lavender has been a part of my life for years. I hope you will give it a try. Here’s a good place to start: our family’s answer to biscotti.
Lavender Mandelbrot (Almond Bread)
Recipe courtesy of Debra Knapke
1 scant cup sugar
½ cup sunflower or canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups flour (½ whole-wheat and ½ white flour)
1 tablespoon flaxseed meal (optional)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon dried lavender buds, rubbed
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup slivered almonds
Beat eggs until thick and light in color. Add sugar gradually as you continue to beat. Add oil and mix well. Add vanilla. Mix together dry ingredients with nuts and herbs. Add to wet ingredients and mix well.
(At this point you can put in refrigerator for 1 to 4 hours or leave it in overnight, but bring close to room temperature before forming dough strips.) Divide dough, and form into three long strips, about 2 to 3 inches wide, 1 inch thick and 8 to 9 inches long. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake in a 350° oven for approximately 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cut into ½-inch slices with a serrated knife, place on cookie sheet cut side up and return to oven for 7 to 10 minutes (depends on how crisp you want them), turn them over and bake another 5 to 8 minutes. Cool completely before storing in a tightly covered container. Mandelbrot keeps well; up to 4 weeks.
1. If you lightly oil your hands before forming the strips, you will have less dough on your hands.
2. More lavender is not better; too much lavender can impart a soapy flavor to the recipe.
The Martin Pickens Wedding at Jorgensen Farms
Every wedding begets details: food; flowers; guests; rings; things old, new, borrowed and blue. Darling rogue barn cats don’t usually figure in. Then again, not every wedding involves a locally grown feast, set amidst a field of sunflowers stretching forever.
New York residents Zachary Pickens and Manda Martin knew what they wanted in a wedding. They wanted to marry in Ohio, where both were born and raised and where both families reside. They wanted food to be a focus of their celebration, as it is in their relationship. They wanted to spend their money mindfully. And, as probably goes without saying, they wanted a rip-roaring good time with people they cherished, bellies full and taste buds giddy, surrounded by beauty beyond compare.
By all accounts, they succeeded.
Agriculture Meets “I Do”
Val Jorgensen wasn’t actually in the wedding business when Zach and Manda approached her about holding theirs at Jorgensen Farms. The 65-acre organic Westerville farm is known for flowers, herbs, eggs, honey—for agriculture.
But Zach and Manda couldn’t find a Central Ohio farm that shared their “farm-centric, food-centric” vision. So in 2010 they reached out to Val, whose farm is located five minutes from the bride’s childhood home. Thus began a two-year conversation that culminated in a wedding to remember for Zach and Manda, and a new farm business model for Val.
Already active in engaging the community through Slow Food dinners and educational outreach, Val found weddings a natural extension. “I enjoy being part of people’s lives at this joyful time,” she explains. And it shows.
From hiring staff to coordinate with brides, to expanding the soaring barn to accommodate additional guests, Val’s impeccable professionalism is evident, everywhere. “It’s vital to me that guests are treated the way they should be.” If her calendar is any indication, guests are delighted. Three years after that first inquiry, every 2013 weekend, from May through October, is booked.
Farm weddings, Val points out, aren’t for everyone. “We don’t try to make it anything but a working farm.” Stiletto territory, this is not. But if an open-air, sunflower-bordered ceremony appeals, if herbs overhead and planks underfoot entice, her farm offers an unparalleled setting.
“It’s unique and it’s real,” Val says. “It’s magical. It really is.”
Local Food for 130
Farm found, Manda and Zach moved on to food, a subject dear to both. In addition to being dedicated locavores and home cooks, Zach’s unusual career—urban farmer with Tom Colicchio’s Manhattan-based Riverpark Farm, and founder of Rooftop Ready Seeds, dedicated to city-friendly seed strains—made local food a priority. So when they heard praise for Two Caterers, first from friends, then from Val, they knew they had their second partner.
Together, Manda, Zach and Catering Specialist Carly Ziemer brainstormed the menu. They selected a style (upscale barbecue), settled on dishes (mini-burgers and pulled pork), and then, in a departure from most catering companies, they began talking sources and seasonal foods.
Personally committed to knowing “where our meat is coming from,” the couple brought these same standards to their wedding. Far from balking, “Two Caterers went out of their way to tell us the farms they were sourcing things from.” So the beef came from Canal Winchester’s Blystone Farm; the pork from Millersport-based Bower and Sons; the cherry tomatoes and fresh herbs from Val Jorgensen’s own fields.
This attention to detail—personal, local, delectable—proved the Two Caterers’ way. Vegan, gluten-free options were offered—and so well-received they were extended to everyone. Peak-season potatoes and corn rounded out the menu. Dinner was served family-style, platters passed hand-to-hand, food shared face-to-face. Pickles were homemade, canned by the groom, from his own New York–grown produce. Cocktails were custom, the “Spicy Pickens,” created by Riverpark in honor of Zach, using habanero rum infused by the bride’s father. Dessert? Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, of course.
Cocktails through ice cream, Two Caterers helped the couple craft a profoundly personal feast, one that would be not only “a celebration of us and the season,” but of their lives and homes, past and present.
All Together, Now
Would, but for Hurricane Issac.
Outdoor weddings always entail risk, namely fickle weather. Farm weddings are no exception. With Val’s vast, vaulted barn as backup, Manda and Zach planned their ceremony and dinner for the flower-tapestried fields, with indoor dancing to follow. September doesn’t always mind plans.
On the big day, Issac crept ever closer. To hear the bride and groom tell it, they hurried cocktails and pictures a bit, to fit in their feast before the rain. To hear Two Caterers owner Angela Petro tell it, the afternoon was a blur of radar-watching, texting, judgment-calling and last-minute maneuvering, all while serving exquisite food with unwavering grace.
Same story. Different perspective. Such is the hallmark of an extraordinary team.
Good caterers, Angela explains, are like ducks: calm on the surface, paddling madly underneath. Ditto good venues. Val’s team worked with Carly (“a ROCK star,” says Angela) to honor the couple’s field dinner dreams, while hustling heroically behind the scenes, so seamlessly guests “never knew any different.”
So what did the guests, bride and groom think? “Everyone was just thrilled,” Manda recalls. They “loved that it was such a unique setting, [a celebration] not just of Zach’s career, but what’s important to us.”
And what happened when those barn felines escaped?
“Lots of cute photos of cats,” Manda laughs. Yet another small, delightful detail in an evening filled with memorable moments, each deeply local and utterly personal—a fine cornerstone for a new life together.
Created by Justin Harter to honor Riverpark Farm’s farmer Zach Pickens. Courtesy of Riverpark: riverparknyc.com.
1½ ounces dark rum
½ dropper Habanero Rum (recipe, below)
1 ounce sage-infused simple syrup
1 ounce lime juice
1½ ounces pineapple juice
Sage leaves, to garnish
To make Habanero Rum: Crush 2 dried habanero peppers into 1 bottle of Zaya rum. Infuse for 2 days (3 for additional heat), then strain.
Combine all ingredients into a Boston shaker, adding the ice last, and shake well. Strain into a glass filled with crushed ice and add another drop of the Habanero Rum on top. Garnish with sage leaf.
Fingerling Potato Salad with Creamy Mustard Dressing
Courtesy of Two Caterers
Yield: 6–8 servings
3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon mayonnaise
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon minced fresh garlic
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Place vinegar, mustard, mayo and garlic in bowl. Slowly drizzle in oil, using an immersion blender, until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.
1½ pounds fingerling potatoes, washed and roasted
1 tablespoon oil
½ pound green beans or haricot vert, blanched “al dente,” cut in 1-inch pieces on bias
1 medium onion, roasted and julienned
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
Salt and pepper
Toss potatoes in oil, season with salt and pepper. Place on sheet tray and roast in preheated oven (350°) for approximately 45 minutes or until fork tender. Set aside and let cool. Cut in half after cooling.
Blanch green beans and cut into 1-inch pieces on the bias. Cut onion in half and place on coated (oil) sheet tray.
Roast in preheated oven (350°) until soft. Set aside and let cool. Julienne after cooling.
Rinse grape tomatoes and cut in half. Combine all ingredients and mix with dressing. Season with salt and pepper if needed.
5851 E. Walnut St.
Westerville, OH 43081
At farmers markets around Columbus, Steve and Gretel Adams have acquired an apt nickname—customers have dubbed them the “flower children.” Each week the young, vibrant couple offers beautiful bouquets of sustainably grown flowers to their market patrons. These bouquets of fresh-cut flowers from their own farm bring instant joy to young and old alike.
Children they are not, but they are definitely considered young in comparison to their farming peers: Steve just turned 30, and Gretel is in her late 20s. What is quite extraordinary is that they are already experienced and seasoned farmers despite their age. They are now deep into their seventh year of farming and operating Sunny Meadows Flower Farm just south of downtown Columbus.
Before becoming “flower children,” Steve and Gretel aspired to run a coffee shop they could call their own. They both grew up in Pataskala, in a “pretty typical suburban neighborhood.” They did not have farming in their background or future. With a degree in psychology and art, Gretel was working as a social worker and was on a path to getting a teaching certificate. Steve was working at a coffee shop that he was eyeing to purchase someday. Coincidently, he was also helping out Steve Andersen of Andersen Orchard on his farm and orchard in Pickerington. Andersen became an influential and indelible mentor who let the young couple experiment with growing things on his land.
Because of their green thumbs, the Adamses sold the flowers they grew at the Granville Farmers Market for some extra income. “We only had three different kinds of flowers at first: zinnias, sunflowers and cosmos,” Steve reflected on their first trial at the flower business. Little did they know they were at the beginning of a much longer adventure than they had imagined.
The Flower Farm
As luck would have it, within a short time after their first growing season, the couple moved into Gretel’s family property that was handed down to her. Still in their early 20s, Steve and Gretel found themselves living in an old farmhouse on a large piece of land with sunny meadows and wild blackberries growing everywhere. There was a lot of space and potential. With some farming knowledge now under their belts, they dreamed of creating a homestead and living off the land.
They busied themselves with more information—from books, farmers, the internet—whatever they could get their hands on. They began to clear the meadows, cultivate the fields and put in fruit trees, growing vegetables and flowers. Soon, it was clear that they were delving into something much bigger than homesteading.
“We thought that if we could grow enough for ourselves, we could grow enough for other people, too,” said Steve. “Instead of growing 10 tomato plants, we grew, like, 500.”
In 2006 the couple both quit their full-time jobs, and started farming. Sunny Meadows Flower Farm was officially born. Besides selling at farmers markets, they also offered community-supported agriculture (CSA) options. The money up front was helpful and appreciated. It also gave them a chance to experiment with growing several types of vegetables along with flowers and some farm-raised meats.
Regardless of what vegetables they would bring to sell, however, people still gravitated towards their flowers. Perhaps it’s the uniquely designed bouquets and the uncommon, attractive flowers in them that people liked.
“We grow things people have never seen before, and those will draw more people to us. We also don’t make conventional bouquets. I like textures and layers in my bouquets because they remind me of what a garden looks like,” Gretel said.
With a reputation for beautiful flowers, grown right here in Columbus no less, requests for wedding bouquets and arrangements started coming in.
“The first wedding we did was our own, in 2008,” recalled Gretel. “I have learned and grown a lot since then. I draw inspiration from other designers around the country,” she said, clearly excited about this creative, growing aspect of her career. (From their modest beginnings of working on a few weddings a year, they now supply flowers for 30 to 40 weddings annually.)
With a few seasons behind them, they had to make a decision whether to keep farming both vegetables and flowers. In 2012 Sunny Meadows Flower Farm became exclusively what their name implies: a flower farm with high-quality cut flowers, grown sustainably without chemicals or pesticides.
“It was a good decision. We’ve found a niche for ourselves, and we continue to grow,” said Steve.
Challenges and Rewards
Like other types of farming, growing flowers can pose problems as well. Weather and pests are among the challenges that require constant attention. Keeping good records and staying on top of integrated pest management go a long way.
“We spend January planning the next growing season. We keep logs of what we plant, what bloomed when, etc.,” said Gretel.
Farming in general is demanding, there is no question about it; growing flowers poses its own special challenges. For instance, flowers bloom when they will, and if the conditions are right, thousands of flowers can bloom nearly simultaneously. To obtain the highest-quality flowers, the harvest must take place promptly.
“If we are at market in the morning and it’s a warm sunny day, we know that we have thousands of sunflowers to harvest that afternoon,” said Steve. “It’s hard to take a break from flowers.”
Despite the challenges, the Adamses’ story reassures us that for them, the rewards of growing and selling flowers are absolutely worthwhile.
“Seeing people’s reactions to a beautiful bouquet of flowers that we grew and designed ourselves makes all the hard work worth it. That’s why I like doing wedding work. The bride comes to me with a vision, and I will know what’s in season at the time of the wedding. I get to help execute her dream. On the day of the wedding, when you see tears in the bride’s eyes when she sees her bouquet… It’s totally worth it,” said Gretel in a melodic voice that might make one imagine she was re-living those special moments.
Steve and Gretel also enjoy directly connecting with their customers where it all started—at the farmers market. They love hearing the stories people tell them about what the flowers mean to them. They love seeing husbands make wives happy with a stem of lisianthus. They love helping young children decide which bouquet to choose according to what their favorite colors may be.
“Steve and Gretel bring the best of Ohio seasonal flowers every Saturday to Clintonville Farmers Market. Their stall is always packed full of gorgeous shapes, colors, fragrances and creative combinations. I have taken photo after photo of their stall because it’s just irresistible in its beauty.”
Looking ahead, the young couple wants to make their farm and business as sustainable as possible. Besides flowers, Gretel also makes soaps and teaches classes on flower arrangements and soap making. Columbus’ own flower children have several speaking engagements coming up.
“We hope to share what we’ve learned with other farmers. It’s a way to give back to the community,” said Steve. “That’s what we got from our mentors and other farmers before us.”
Sunny Meadows Flower Farm: 3555 Watkins Rd., Columbus, OH 43232; 614-361-5102; oursunnymeadows.com
The Slow Flower Movment
Local, organic choices should not just be about food. We as consumers can choose to buy sustainable, organic flowers as an alternative to mainstream flowers grown with pesticides and shipped from across the globe.
Even though Sunny Meadows Flower Farm is not certified organic, Steve and Gretel follow organic farming practices.
• They don’t use chemicals.• They compost scraps.• They use Integrated Pest Management techniques. One example of this is using lady beetles to get rid of harmful pests.• They use very few fossil fuels. Being only six miles south of downtown Columbus, their flowers don’t have to travel very far. Because of this, too, their flowers are extremely fresh and will last much longer.• They grow most flowers from seeds or bulbs.• They create a good ecosystem on their farm.• They provide plant diversity and practice crop rotation.• They believe in and practice good work, good labor and good ethics.
Separated by 200 miles of green Ohio countryside, the two halves of Oink Moo Cluck Farms (OMC), run by siblings Tricia Woods in Johnstown and Todd Neczeporenko in Ashtabula County, form one perfect whole that brings free-range meat, poultry and eggs to eager customers in Central Ohio.
The farming gene runs deep in the Neczeporenko family. The maternal grandparents were dairy farmers and the paternal grandparents, who met in a displaced persons camp in Ukraine, immigrated in 1947 to farm 100 acres in Pierpont, Ohio.
Parents Tim (Tymofij) and Linda met in 4-H camp, married and in 1973 purchased a meat processing plant, which they ran until Linda’s death in 1988. A souvenir of Tricia’s and Todd’s childhood is a Country Kids Beef label— “Ideal for home, camping or lunch boxes”—featuring their smiling, wholesome faces at ages 4 and 2.
After a year at the Ohio State University (OSU), Todd came home to farm with his dad; he reopened the plant for deer processing in 1994 at the suggestion of a neighbor. A major remodel followed in 2000. Now all Todd and his dad needed were more markets for the meat they raised.
Enter Tricia, who had already graduated from OSU in elementary education. She was working for Sprint, where she still works today as a client executive, when Todd appealed to her for help. Oink Moo Cluck was introduced at the Worthington Farmers Market in 2005, and after a slow first year, business boomed and has been booming ever since.
Protector of Orphans
Tricia is the blond and sentimental dynamo behind OMC operations. “I can’t stand to raise animals to butcher,” she confesses. “Todd raises and packs.” Since moving to the countryside in 2010, Tricia has added eggs to the product line with 200 laying chickens.
One of just a few large animals at Tricia’s place is Orphan Annie, who rode from OMC Ashtabula to OMC Johnstown as an orphaned newborn calf in the backseat of Tricia’s Buick Enclave. Tricia raised Annie on a bottle, and she is now a companion to Earl, a stray goat who was deposited at the farm by neighbors.
Tricia has expanded the reach of OMC far beyond the Worthington Farmers Market, employing Kala Schiff, who started helping them at the Clintonville Farmers Market when she was just 15, and now at 21 handles all the summer markets. (See sidebar for market schedule.) OMC also provides the protein supplement for Bird’s Haven Farms’ community-supported agriculture (CSA) program in Granville.
“They approached us,” Todd says. “They liked that we controlled all aspects of the raising and processing of the meat.”
In addition, OMC sells through Azoti, a distributor that provides a way for businesses such as Grange Insurance, Safelite and the OSU Medical Center to offer local foods to their employees.
Todd is the pragmatic face of OMC, a lifelong farmer who finds the questions that he is asked about livestock care baffling. “Of course I take good care of my animals,” he says. “Any good farmer takes care of his animals.”
But he understands completely why OMC’s meat is so popular.
“Our customers like knowing that the product they buy has never left our family. We buy the animals as babies and have total control, and we’re competitive because there is no middleman, no processor to pay. Our quality is good and consistent.”
This year OMC adds “Baa” to their business, if not to their name, with lamb from Terri and Dick Steyer at Sadie Flats Farm. “We raise what we sell,” explains Todd, “But there are lots of small farms who can’t market or don’t want to. If they raise the animals the way we want, then we will process and sell it for them. It helps small farmers and makes everybody happy.”
The Neczeporenko family includes wife, Jana 8-year-old Alana and 7-year-old Zane. “Zane the insane Ukraine,” his father adds. The kids do their part on the farm by feeding the meat chickens, which are free-range like the cows.
“I don’t think there’s a better way of growing up than on a farm,” Todd says. “It teaches you responsibility.” And also where meat comes from. One of Zane’s friends insists that the chicken he eats is “not like your chickens. Mine comes from a store.”
The Best of All Possible Worlds
Selling OMC products has been a satisfying family experience. Tricia sees her dad every weekend when he delivers the meat and works at the Worthington market. “The customers bring him coffee and brownies. He enjoys it.”
Todd points out that because of market sales, he was able to purchase his grandparents’ original 100-acre farm when they passed away, adding it to his own 100 acres, which abuts theirs. Now the farm will stay in the family for another generation.
“It works out great for everybody,” Todd says.
What’s Your Beef?
The most important thing to remember when choosing a cut of meat from OMC is that they do the butchering. “We have certain cuts we always sell,” says Todd. “But I can cut whatever you want.”
The product line has doubled since 2002. Flank and skirt steak, which Todd used to add to the ground beef, now shine as their own cuts due to popular demand. Keeping it in the family is Cousin Mike’s Barbecue Sauce, which flavors all the barbecue pork, chicken and beef products.
Todd and Tricia agree that pork is the most popular. “We have good friends who raise 4-H feeder pigs, and that’s who we buy our piglets from,” Todd says. “People love our hot dogs. And our bacon. And our pepper bacon.”
Prepared Items to Heat & Serve
Smoked whole chickens
Beef jerky (a variety of flavors)
Smoked pork chops
Barbecue shredded chicken
Rib eye steaks
Beef stew meat
Breast (boneless & bone-in)
Fresh whole chicken
Chipotle-honey chicken sausage
Apple-maple chicken sausage
Lamb (through partnership with Steyer Farms)
Chops (loin & rib)
Where to purchase OMC products:
Farmers Markets: Sa: Worthington, Granville and Clintonville; Tu: Hilliard; W: Bexley; Th: New Albany.
Also: Buy at Oink Moo Cluck Farm; website or email; special order custom cuts; home delivery; pre-order and pickup at farmers markets.