It’s a pickle phenomenon.
Holly Maitland and Andy Varela have been making pickles for some time now, but they can hardly keep up. Supplying restaurants and farmer’s markets, Chive Events caterers and the habits of all of their friends, they’ve had to begin ordering cucumbers wholesale through the restaurant Holly works for. Otherwise, there aren’t enough cucumbers in the city of Salem to cover their needs.
And the hype is worth it. I ate from my quart driving in the car. You can picture what a gamble that was; I risked the smell of pickling juice—forever—in order to eat the pickles. I live on the edge when it comes to things like this. I couldn’t wait to reach a safer locale; the fresh herbs swirl enticingly around the quartered cucumbers, coriander and juniper berries bob and wink at you, the bits of spice promise to deepen the whole experience. These crisp and delicious pickles were inspiring.
In fact, bartenders on the North Shore agree. These Maitland Mountain Farm pickles can be enjoyed in an icy martini at both The Blue Ox in Lynn and Duckworth’s Bistrot in Gloucester. A friend made such a drink once at a party I attended, and while I didn’t get to have my own, I drank half of hers when she wasn’t looking. They make for a dirty martini with spice and freshness. It’s like using Hendricks gin, when there’s no Hendricks in sight. The pickles will also be on the food menu at Duckworth’s soon, paired up with their grass-fed beef burger. Holly and Andy have a running list of other businesses that they are in contact with about carrying the product too. It appears as if the North Shore of Massachusetts cannot get enough.
There’s more though, Holly and Andy run a full-fledged urban farm as well. Pickles just tide them over. In full harvest season, pickle buyers can feel even closer to the source, knowing that all the cucumbers come directly from their farm in Salem. Located on 2.5 acres of land, one of which has optimal farming conditions, they grow greens, lettuces, herbs, cucumbers, horseradish, tomatoes, and will triple their cut flower production this season. While only in their second year farming, they already are aware of the best crops to grow for efficiency, quick return, profitability, and popularity. They have even been commissioned to do the flowers for a wedding this summer.
Operating out of a greenhouse during the winter, they already have starts ready to be transplanted in the field. Wary of losing any plants to frost, they plan to start putting things in the ground within the next few weeks. Until then, their greenhouse is bursting with tatsoi, arugula, lettuce greens, herbs and tiny tomato plants. The arugula created a veritable carpet of cushy greens, so much so that someone expressed a desire to sleep on it. We ate a salad of arugula and tatsoi for lunch, and oh man, that was the best salad I’ve had all winter.
Their 64 chickens, most of which are Rhode Island Reds, roam free all day long. They were meandering around, front and back of the house, throughout the construction site (the farm is going solar- placing panels on the back roof that will pay for itself in five years), and waltzing in and out of their coops. I imagine this place in summer: flowers bursting, fruits and vegetables flowing out of the field, chickens roosting, completed solar project contributing back to the grid. They have a bamboo garden with a Buddha resting in the center, and have used this bamboo to create artful fences and dividers, supports for hops and vines. The chicken coops add to the rustic charm of the place. All this accomplished in the heart of Salem, Massachusetts. This is what I love about urban farming- that one can create an idyllic space complete with all the beauty and attributes of rural farmland, but with the benefits of being proximal to their customers, compact enough to use minimal energy and water, and diverse enough to meet all the needs of their supportive base.
Andy and Holly are young and excited, readily admitting that they are learning exponentially with each passing season. Holly’s background is in garden design and restaurant work, Andy’s in cooking. Having worked as a private chef in East Hampton, NY, Andy became accustomed to working directly with farmers and learning the benefits of sourcing seasonally and locally. Together, the two create delicious food and a lovely atmosphere. Holly’s father Peter helps with the chickens and runs the tractor, in addition to his more seminal contributions of owning of the land and offering the seed money for the greenhouse. A friend and restaurant coworker, Kim, is their only real employee.
Their flowers, produce and pickles can be purchased at the Salem Farmer’s Market and, hopefully, a growing number of grocers and restaurants nearby. They are pondering the possibility of a CSA program next year, but will only know as the time approaches. Until then, I’ll continue to barge in on Tuesday mornings for a quart of pickles and the freshest of greens. I’ll drive home with abandon, fingers in pickle jar.
Get your own: $7/quart, Salem Farmer’s Market: http://salemfarmersmarket.org/
Market runs: June 16 – October 20, Thursday, 3-7PM
Visit the Farm Website: http://www.maitlandmountainfarm.com/
Email Holly: firstname.lastname@example.org