Gardiner has always been a hotbed of sources of fabulous homegrown food for locavores. Now a new farmstand has been added to the list, courtesy of a couple of local luminaries: former town supervisor Joe Katz and his wife, artist and teacher Pattie Eakin.
The facility, called Bruynswick Farms, is located on Bruynswick Road about a quarter-mile south of its intersection with Route 44/55. The spread was bought by Katz’s father in 1939. “My father had won a contest, the Best Victory Garden in New Jersey, in World War I, and he always wanted a farm,” says Katz. So Bruynswick Farms became the family’s escape from the urban rat race. Although he long ran a business in New York City before retiring to the country and getting involved with local politics, Katz says, “I’ve been gardening here all my life.”
Both members of the couple seem to have green thumbs, as their large garden proved so productive that they didn’t know what to do with all their crops. They did a great deal of canning and freezing, making pickles and preserves, but, says Katz, “We were giving it away. I was taking it to food pantries. So Pattie kept saying, ‘Why don’t we open a stand?’ Then Hurricane Irene came. Our house had 17 inches of water in the living room. After we recovered from that, and I wasn’t going to be supervisor anymore, we said, ‘Let’s do it!’”
The ground floor of the building that is now their farmstand used to be Eakin’s gallery, but water stood up to four feet deep in it after the big storms of last year. The couple had to sleep in the studio upstairs while they cleaned up the mess. “We spent the winter rehabbing this and converting it into a farmstand and expanding the garden,” Katz recounts.
That garden is expansive indeed, arrayed in long raised beds. Legumes and vine crops clamber over trellises and tomato plants climb up wooden teepees. At one end, protected from birds by screening, are berry bushes, including blueberries that Katz’s father planted in the 1940s and are still productive. There are beds of rhubarb, horseradish, string beans, Swiss chard, beets, kale, Brussels sprouts, many kinds of squash including ornamental gourds, leeks, cucumbers, scallions, parsnips, dill, parsley, tomatillos, peppers, cabbages, sorrel, peas, snap peas, fingerling potatoes and cippoline onions. Their many eggplants include miniature varieties Hansel, Gretel and Kermit (purple, white and green respectively). Surprisingly, given this region’s relatively short growing season, they even raise artichokes with great success. “I’ve been doing it for years,” says Katz.
But perhaps the most enticing offerings at Bruynswick Farms this time of year are the many varieties of heirloom tomatoes of all sizes. Besides the classics that most home gardeners have heard of, like Brandywine and Sungold, Katz raises many unusual varieties. Matt’s Wild Cherry is the tiniest and sweetest cherry tomato imaginable, averaging about a half-inch in diameter; you can eat them like candy. Garden Peach is about the size, color and fuzziness of an apricot, and just as juicy and delicious.
In the shade of the farmstand itself, a broad array of what’s ripe this week lines the shelves and tables, along with the colorful trays, boxes, cutting boards and dollhouse furniture intricately painted by Eakin. There are homemade strawberry and peach jams, as well as organic eggs and free-range meats from Gardiner’s own Brookside Farms. And both Katz and Eakin are formidable bakers, Eakin supplying “many pies” and Katz specializing in baguettes. Baked fresh daily, the latter come in plain, onion and potato/caraway varieties, as well as one stuffed with home-cooked ham and provolone: practically a meal in itself.
Advertising for the new farmstand has been mainly by word-of-mouth, but a weekly bulletin goes out to all who have signed up for Katz and Eakin’s mailing list. You can add your name to it by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
“I like growing things,” says Katz of his favorite post-supervisory pursuit. “In many parts of my life, I am very impatient. When it comes to growing things I am patient.”