Sun Country Savories

By Aura Hill

Vegetable Power Farm Owners Steve and Shazana Merkel 
Photo: Aura Hill. Vegetable Power Farm Owners Steve and Shazana Merkel Photo: Aura Hill. June 2 was not only the first day of Hershey’s Downtown Market, it was the first day for Steve and Shazana Merkel to be vendors, selling their own produce from their own Vegetable Power Farm.

“On our first date, we talked about gardening, about having a farm and growing vegetables,” Shazana said.

Living in a city and having full-time jobs -- her as a real estate processor and him as a video editor working out of New York City -- is not the most conducive situation to farming. However, while in Philadelphia, she worked with a community farm that provided fresh produce to a food desert and several shelters. She said Steve had had a rooftop garden.

On April 1 of this year, after 10 years in Philadelphia, the couple moved to their 11 1/2-acre farm in Germansville, in northern Lehigh County.

“We had always known we wanted to do this, just not so quickly,” she said, “but this property came up. It had a farmhouse, a barn, out buildings, a cleared field and a chicken coop. We are going to have chickens by September.

“We had to plan. No one had ever grown vegetables there. We have no greenhouse so we started plants inside and this is a different growing climate from Philadelphia,” she said.

Their booth featured baskets of kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens and lettuce. There were bags of wheat grass for juicing, crunchy sunflower sprouts for salads and stir fires and bunches of radishes next to a display of fresh herbs – dill, mint, basil and rosemary.

Steve neatly lettered a sign with coming attractions – tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, carrots and beets. All produce is grown naturally organically without use of pesticides.

Any challenges in the move and shift in lifestyle?

“We haven’t unpacked yet,” she said with a grin.“We have been so busy with the vegetables. We are still adjusting.”

They have plans to begin a CSA next year, continue vending at farmers’ markets and sharing fresh produce with those who don’t have access.

“I still have roots in wanting to help people,” she said.

Vegetable Power Farm will be at Hershey’s Downtown Market every other week. It will be back June 16.

Another vendor new to the Downtown Market this year is Pasture’s Pride Natural Meats, which offers customers grass-fed, grass-finished beef, free-range pork, and pastured chickens. Beef is available by the side, mixed quarters, combination packages or the cut. All beef is wrapped and frozen.

David and Joy Stutzman and son Trevor sell beef directly from their family farm near Kutztown.

“When people come to the farm to pick up their meat, they see the animals and how the animals are raised. There are no secrets,” Trevor said. “It creates a deeper farm-to-food connection.”

“I grew up on a dairy farm, where we live now,” David said. “I moved back to the farm in 1996, and in 2000 moved from crop farming to grass and pasture. We use no chemicals on the land, no antibiotics or hormones with the beef.”

He explained that their beef cattle are a mix of Red Devon and Black Angus breeds. Natives of New Zealand, Red Devon are exceptional at finishing well on 100 percent grass and gaining a well-marbled quality that other breeds finished on grass often miss.

“There is a big difference in our meats and most others,” he said. “The steaks are leaner but still well-marbled to give them a better taste. Our meat is all labeled high Choice and Prime.

“Grass finished means that our cattle eat grass, not grain, their entire lives. A lot of beef that just says ‘grassfed’ could mean that the cattle are finished on grain to fatten them up before going to the butcher.”

Not only is grass-fed and finished beef leaner and more tasty, he says, but it has less cholesterol-raising saturated fats than grain-fed beef as well as higher Omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure.

Pasture’s Pride will be at Hershey’s Downtown Market every other week with a selection of steaks, ground beef, hamburger patties and chipped beef. Its next market appearance is June 16.

Customers can place orders for specific cuts and amounts, which will be bring brought to the next market. For more information, go to www.pasturespride.com or call 610-683-5436.

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