Friday, October 25, 2013

Ginny Wall: All Nature Sings

Ginny Wall’s artwork brought her to the Jonesborough Farmers Market the first year it opened and has connected her to the market every year since.

Wall and her husband Mike were newcomers to Jonesborough when she got involved with the farmers market. They came to the area from Florida, by way of Oklahoma and Minnesota. Mike found work – and continues to work – as an RN at Johnson City Medical Center and Ginny focused on her art career.

“The year the market opened, there was a promotion called ‘Art in August,’ ” Wall says.  “I heard about it and brought my watercolors and note cards to sell and I set up my easel and painted at the market. It was a great place to paint and a wonderful environment.”

After that first year, Wall offered her painting “Market Morning” for use in market publicity the next season. Every year since, one of her pieces has been a part of promoting the market (see all of them, below). 

Wall has also created several original paintings from market scenes. “I have painted pictures of children drawing with chalk at the market and of vendors like Skip Jones, who sold for Scratch Bakery, as well as Curtis and Marilyn Buchanan when they sold lettuce,” Wall says. “There have been lots of great subjects.”

The economic downturn, however, redirected Wall’s artistic path. “My career as an artist is wonderful,” she says. “I love painting and teaching watercolor and I did it full time for 15 years, and I still paint commissions … I decided to stop traveling [because of the economy] and now only do local art shows, plus sell my artwork through my online Etsy shop

“I gave away my art tents and directed focus to home – my garden, local ministries, community work and making useful items from herbs.”

So artwork is now sharing time with soap-making and herb-crafting in Wall’s Jonesborough studio. Projects are in process everywhere—bouquets of herbs hanging from the living room mantel, soaps curing in on open shelves, products being carefully labeled. Yet in the center of the workroom, Wall’s large drafting table and paints are still at the ready for painting project. 

Wall started herb crafting with a friend some 20 years ago. “Working with herbs and essential oils is something I’ve done since 1992,” she says. “Making natural products for use in my home is important to me, so I returned to that.”

Wall calls her nature-based business “All Nature Sings,” using a line from a hymn she has loved since childhood, “This is My Father’s World.” (This is my Father’s world and to my listening ears,  All nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.)

Her traditional lye soap recipe incorporates natural moisturizing oils, essential oils and herbal infusions, from herbs she grows in her backyard. 

The process takes patience and careful timing. First, Wall creates a liquid soap that she pours into a rectangular silicone mold where it sets. Then, she cuts the large block of soap into bars and allows it to cure for at least four weeks. “I make a small batch recipe and it can be tricky to plan ahead for demand,” she says, “considering that each batch will have to cure for several weeks before I can label it and bring it to

Wall loves the history and tradition of soap-making. “It amazes me to think that someone figured out that combining ash and oil would make something you could wash with,” she says. “Soap-making and many of the old heritage crafts are so valuable. To work with what you can grow or harvest from the woods and fields to make a useful product is of great value and also very satisfying.”

It can also be expensive. “I used to wonder at the prices for handmade soap, until I started making it again,” Wall says. “The cost of producing something natural can be high. Some of the essential oils I use in my soaps can cost over $70 per ounce. I know exactly how many drops are in that bottle and how many drops are in my recipe … You don’t want to waste a single drop.”

Other ingredients come from her backyard organic garden: herbs such as comfrey, fennel, lavender, chamomile, mints, lemongrass, lemon verbena and rosemary. “Each year,” she says, “I plan to add more beneficial herbs to my garden.”

Experimenting with different scents and infusions is a large part of Wall’s natural artistry. She likes to see what people choose, which soaps they are drawn to, which ones they buy again and again. “I was a bit surprised to see that my patchouli and lemongrass soaps were some of the most popular,” she says. “Of course, lavender still seems to be the overall favorite.”

In addition to Wall’s all-natural scents, she is also experimenting with original designer scents. Those are made by custom-mixing commercial fragrance oils with essential oils to get the just the scent she’s looking for, such as one she calls “Fireside.”

In addition to painting, gardening and soap-making, Wall enjoys making music and volunteering in the community. She has volunteered at the market’s information booth; is active as a singer/musician at Tri-Cities House of Prayer; and volunteers at the Jonesborough Senior Center.

Whether it’s connecting with a customer at the market, singing, teaching watercolor, leading a Bible study or sharing a painting, Wall feels fortunate that she has found a niche in Jonesborough. “I have been very lucky,” she says, “to use my God-given gifts in a way that connects me with people.”
 A look at the market's posters through the years, all with Ginny's artwork:






Thursday, October 17, 2013

Earth Thyme Natural Cleaners

Joni and Charlie Pritchett, Jen Williams and Kris Shaffer all knew each other as students at Science Hill High School. A decade later, they are closer than ever, brought together by a natural, common purpose.

“We didn’t know it back in high school, but as adults we all became very ‘green,’ ” says Joni Pritchett. “We recycle, follow vegan diets. We’re concerned about the environment.” 

They also shared an interest in cleaning with natural products. “The four of us had each tried about every earth-friendly cleaner available in the store, and we weren’t satisfied with any of them,” Pritchett said. “They were ‘natural’ but they still had long ingredient lists with complicated chemical names and we wanted something simpler.”

The four friends had all been experimenting with making their own household cleaners. They each had some recipe ideas as well as the knowledge that making household cleaners wasn’t hard, but it could be time-consuming. They decided to perfect their recipes, make large batches and go public. 

Earth Thyme debuted at the Jonesborough Farmers Market in 2012 with four products, including cleaners and air fresheners. The company now sells eight different products online, on and at the Natural Foods Market in Johnson City.

When they were looking for the right package for their product, their green creativity again came in to play. At the time, green glass was not recyclable in Johnson City, so they wondered if they could use a post-consumer green glass to sell their green product in an even greener way. “We found out that we could sterilize the bottles [to 270 degrees] and then fit them with a new spray attachment,” Pritchett says. “They work great. We also offer a discount if you bring the bottle back.” 

As the name suggests, thyme is used, which they harvest from their personal gardens as long as they can, is an ingredient in all Earth Thyme products. When their gardens are done, Earth Thyme sources locally from farmers markets in the Tri-Cities area.

“Our recipes are all our own,” says Pritchett.

In addition to thyme, key ingredients are vinegar, fruits, herbs and essential oils. “We put three key ingredients together that we call the ‘triple threat’ to bacteria,” says Pritchett. “Thyme has a long history of use as a medicinal plant to ward off sickness. It has been used as an antiseptic for thousands of years in Roman, Greek and Indian medicine. More recent research has found that there is a volatile oil in thyme called Thymol that acts as an antiseptic and disinfectant.
White vinegar is a common household cleaning agent. Because it is acidic, it can dissolve mineral deposits from glass, coffee makers and other smooth surfaces. Vinegar has been reputed to have strong antibacterial properties. One test by Good Housekeeping's microbiologist found that 5 percent vinegar is 90 percent effective against mold and 99.9 percent effective against bacteria.

“Citrus is also acidic and provides antibacterial and antiseptic properties.” 

To make the products, the friends gather in their workshop, in Joni and Charlie’s garage. To ensure the best quality, the quartet makes small batches of one product at one time. “So we would do all glass cleaners first and then multi-surface cleaners and so on,” Pritchett says. “We usually will make a batch of each product per time we are together to make the most of our time. When we all work together on the same product, we get them done much faster and more efficiently than if we were all working on separate products.”

The hardest part of being in business together is coordinating schedules around their other jobs to find time to work together, Pritchett says. “But once we’re together and products are being made, we’re laughing, joking and it doesn’t really feel like work,” he says. “It is something we all really enjoy and are passionate about.”

Meet the members of Earth Thyme and learn more about their products at the Jonesborough Farmers Market on Saturday Oct. 19.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tanya King: ArkAngel Farm

Many people meet Tanya King through her sidekick Betty, the sociable golden Silkie hen that has been coming to the market with King since 2008. It is King's flock of 60 hens that supply ArkAngel Farms’ fresh eggs at the market. But horses – and King's father who taught her all about them – are really behind all of King's farm endeavors.

King was raised on and around horse farms in Lexington, Ky., and Ocala, Fla. “When we lived in Kentucky, my dad worked at Churchill Downs Racetrack and on Claiborne Farms, the home of Secretariat,” she says. “I was on a horse from the time I was 6 months old, riding in front of my mom. I do not know life without a horse. They are a part of me.”

All her life King has trained, cared for and shown horses. When she was 15, she worked cleaning horse stalls at a large horse farm until she could save money to buy her first show horse, a 2-year-old Paso Fino gelding named Romeo. "Most kids save for their first car. My first car was a horse," King says.

She trained Romeo and they took home a state champion title in Florida in 1995. Romeo, along with an Arabian stallion named Gabriel, moved with King’s family when they relocated to the Tri-Cities in 1997. King's parents were moving closer to their native Southwest Virginia roots and her father, Bill Franklin, worked full time as a horse trainer and farrier in the area. King has followed in her father’s footsteps. While she has not pursued horse training as a profession, she certainly has a full-time passion for working with horses.
King and Romeo in a July4th parade, Kingsport

 In fact, King was riding a horse when she met her future husband, Terry. They coincided while King was showing Romeo at the horse expo in Morristown, and Terry, a member of the 12th Tennessee Cavalry Civil War re-enactment group, was there doing a cavalry demonstration on his war horse, Dusty.

Two years later, Tanya and Terry married, and Romeo and Dusty live with them and their son, Benjamin, on ArkAngel Farm in Jonesborough. The name “ArkAngel” was inspired by beloved stallion Gabriel who still lives on King’s farm.

ArkAngel Farm is also home to 17 horses, 60 rare and heritage breed chickens, 15 ducks, 12 geese, six dogs, a rabbit and one very spoiled housecat named Charlie. King’s heavenly chickens include breeds such as Silkies, Nankins, Polish Crested and old English game. In addition to selling eggs at the farmers market, she also sells hatching eggs on eBay.

King got started on ebay about eight years ago when she was trying to find Silkie eggs."I couldn't believe how many folks were raising and selling eggs this way, so I decided to give it a try," she says.

If held at the correct temperature, a fertilized egg can stay viable for seven days, so she has only a short window to sell and ship to a buyer. She keeps the eggs in a turner at a controlled temperature and has to sell quickly and pack carfully. "I've gotten really good at packing for shipping," she says.

In the spring King sells up to six dozen eggs per week online and finds it worth the effort. Heritage breeds can sell for $20-80 per dozen. Once an dozen eggs from an especially rare breed started a bidding war that took the price up to $250 per dozen, she says, but that is not the norm.

Crafts are also an original ArkAngel Farm product. Terry makes walking sticks, barn stars and garden gates out of vintage tobacco sticks, he also hand crafts candleholders out of recycled wine bottles and Tanya makes candles that include handpoured 100 percent soy wax and hand-dipped beeswax tapers.

Bill Franklin
And, of course, there is seasonal garden produce that King grows for herself and also sells at the market. King credits her father with instilling in her a love of plants and animals. Franklin was a constant presence on ArkAngel Farm until he died suddenly this summer, but he has left a legacy. “Some folks have dads who are hunters,” King says. “My dad was a gatherer. He loved life and to see things grow and animals and plants alike seemed to love him back. It is hard to carry on without him. He taught me everything.”

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Andrew Garst: Valley Creek Farm

Ever since he was 15, Andrew Garst has been fitting farming around his schoolwork –first as a student at Daniel Boone High School and now at Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Elizabethton. In December, he will graduate with a degree that certifies him as a diesel technician, but he has no plans to stop farming.

The investment, planning and years of experience is something you can’t walk away from. “Once you get farming, you just keep going,” he says.

Garst has been accruing that experience all his life. His family’s Jonesborough farm is Valley Creek Farm, which combines a commercial business raising registered Simmental cattle with a half-acre produce garden supplying the family’s stand at the Jonesborough Farmers Market. All of the family – Andrew, parents Shirley and John and sister Kimberly – have been involved at some point. Garst has had a part in all aspects of the farm – showing cattle at area fairs, hauling cattle to market in Knoxville or Pennsylvania and planning and planting the garden.

“We’ve always farmed,” says Andrew’s mother Shirley, who helps out at the booth most weeks. “We got started at the market years ago because we had all this extra produce and found ourselves giving a lot of it away.

“A friend was selling his vegetables at the Kingsport market, and Andrew went to work for him part time. He gave us some tips, and we realized we could sell at this market on our own.”

The Garsts are in their fifth year selling at the Jonesborough Farmers Market. Homegrown farming techniques are also part of the family’s secret of success. While the farm’s land is from John’s family, Shirley brings her legacy, as well, to the operation.

“We always start our seeds in a water bed,” Shirley says “and years ago my dad came up with a simple idea to make planting easier.”

The water bed is a foam tray that floats in a few inches of water. Traditionally used to start tobacco plants, the tray has 288 small square compartments, each with a pinhole in the bottom and a small amount of soil. The key to the success of this technique, they realized, was to plant each seed at a uniform depth.

 “So my dad came up with this idea: a piece of plywood cut to the same size as the tray, with 288 marbles glued to it,” Shirley says. “Each marble is positioned to press into the center of each square of soil, making an identical indentation where every seed can be dropped.”

This method helps the Garsts start a wide variety of garden produce: tomatoes, squash, zucchini, okra. They also grow potatoes, green beans, mixed lettuces and raise free-range chickens for eggs.

In addition to learning from his family, Andrew Garst also learned much of what he knows from high school agriculture classes and the mentoring of a family friend. That background gives him the expertise to lead the process of mapping out the season’s work. Over the years, Andrew’s leadership on the farm has increased, and he now plans all the planting on his own.

“You’ve got to really plan your garden,” he says, “and as the season goes on, you need to know what needs to be done right away, and what can wait.”

Garst also spends time getting to know the “personalities” of his crops and animals. “What many people don’t understand is on a farm, your cattle or your vegetables or whatever, they’re your employees,” he says. “You figure out how to get them to work for you for the best production you can get.”

Weather also plays a huge role in a farm’s success each season. This year, the wet summer didn’t greatly affect their plantings. They planted 500 tomato plants, and only a portion suffered from blight.

Garst enjoys the self-directed nature of farm management. “And it’s rewarding to be able to make a living doing this,” he says.

The money he has made helped him get a vehicle in high school and is helping with living expenses while in college. Garst says he might have to cut back a little on farm work once he starts a job that uses his degree, but he would never stop farming all together.

Garst plans to sell through the end of the season at the farmers market, and on Oct. 5 when the Saturday market is closed for the storytelling festival, Valley Creek Farm will sell their kale, collards and curly mustard thru the market’s online ordering system. For more information, visit

Cooked Greens
Shirley Garst likes to cook greens the “good ol’ Southern way.”  Here’s her method:

Wash your greens and chop if desired. Put greens in a pot of water and boil until tender. Remove greens from water and then cook lightly in bacon grease in an iron skillet. Serve and season to taste with vinegar, salt and pepper.

Baked Kale or Kale “Chips”
Contributed by Karen Childress
“When I saw my friend’s 5 children begging for more baked kale, I had to have the recipe!”

1.  Remove kale leaves from stem, wash and tear into 2 inch pieces.  Spin leaves in a salad spinner or pat with towel to get as dry as possible. 
2.  Toss kale with a small amount of olive oil to coat evenly and lightly (olive oil cooking spray works also). 
3.  Arrange loosely on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with salt, seasoned salt or even a dash of chile powder.
4.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, watching closely so leaves don’t scorch. 

I recommend checking at 10 minutes and remove kale that is ready (should be dry and crispy).  Leave any kale that is limp and wet on the baking sheet, and bake a few more minutes until crisp. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Jeff & Jolene Stratton: Chapo's Chile Patch

Jeff and Jolene Stratton never expected to become “the pepper people.”

The couple moved to Tennessee from Colorado in 2009. Originally from Arizona, both are retired from careers in law enforcement. During their 10 years in Colorado, they lived and worked a variety of second-career jobs ranging from retail to railroads to education. 

Along the way, they grew gardens and enjoyed the pastime. “We’d always grown peppers and veggies to some degree,” says Jeff Stratton. “In Arizona we grew things in barrels because the ground is so hard. In Colorado we had fields and irrigation, but when we moved to Tennessee we discovered raised beds and it makes growing so much easier.”

They also discovered how much they missed chile peppers. “Out West, especially in Arizona, roasted chiles are sold everywhere,” Stratton says. “Little stands with roasters are all over the place. Roasted chiles have a very distinctive flavor and aroma. When we got here, we missed them and we thought we’d start growing, and then people would request them, and then next thing we know we’re selling chiles at the farmers market.

“Our first planting was in two raised beds in summer of 2010. Now we've expanded to 20 beds with 49 varieties of chile from 15 countries, plus some assorted herbs and other veggies. We have peppers from Asia, Africa, South America, India.”

While the garden area is about the size of an average two-car garage, the pepper operation is spread throughout and around the Stratton’s Jonesborough home. They start seed in late January under lights in the basement, then transfer plants to a small outdoor greenhouse before setting them out in garden beds in late April or early May.

The Strattons produce is Certified Naturally Grown, a certification process very similar to organic certification. They grow to CNG standards of sustainability – without pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers. They also make their own growing soil from composted materials.

The Strattons call their operation “Chapo’s Chile Patch.” “’Chapo’ means ‘little short guy’and that’s what they called me when I was in the police force,” says Jeff. “Chile we spell with an e. That’s the Spanish spelling used out west. You can spell it chilli or chili, but to me ‘chili’ is what you serve in a bowl.” 

The Strattons started selling at the Jonesborough Farmers Market in 2011 and have been expanding their reach ever since. In addition to the Jonesborough market, they sell their peppers and powders at markets in Johnson City and ETSU. They also sell direct from their website and to restaurants, including the Parson’s Son Barbeque restaurant (for their hottest barbecue sauce).

They’ve been winning prizes too. “Our chiles have won awards at various county fairs and growing contests,” Stratton says. “We took nine prizes in at the Greene County Fair in 2011.”   

The Stratton’s chile powders also garnered national attention last year with a mention in Paula Deen’s September 2012 magazine.

Chiles have also added another dimension to the Stratton’s community involvement. Already involved with St. Mary’s Church, the Jonesborough Kiwanis Club, Toastmasters, the Storytelling Guild, and three quilting guilds, the Strattons now provide chiles and volunteer time to the Farmers Market’s Farm to Table fundraiser and also to Second Harvest's Farmer and the Chef Fundraiser. During Jonesborough days they co-sponsor the hot chile pepper eating contest with the town and this year they plan to help with the October chili-cook-off.

But “the goal is to enjoy ourselves,” Stratton says. And, he says, they most enjoy interacting with their customers and educating people about the world of chiles. Stratton loves to talk about chiles, and loves the opportunity to describe Scoville thermal units that measure pepper heat.

“After three seasons, we have certain customers who come looking for that special pepper – the Spanish Padron, that Turkish Corbaci, the world's hottest Ghost pepper, that Brazilian Uba Tuba and of course the roasted NuMex green chiles. If you’ve got a favorite chile, come talk to me. If you’ve never had a good chile, come taste them and try them. You owe it to yourself.”
A favorite recipe from Chapo’s Chile Patch:  Stuffed Cheese and Bacon Chile Poppers
No quantities are listed here.  Adjust for the number you need!   The Strattons suggest about 4 pepper halves per person for an appetizer.
1)      Choose your pepper.  This recipe works well with Jalapenos or Santa Fe Grandes.  Cut peppers lengthwise and scoop out to your taste.  More seeds=more heat.
2)      Blend a cheese mixture of your choice (we prefer a soft, white, cheese like feta, soft goat cheese or cream cheese, you can also add grated sharp cheddar or monterrey jack).
3)      Crush and add your choice of nuts to cheese for extra flavor and consistency. 
4)      Bacon (optional).  Cook, crumble and mix in with cheese, OR wrap 1/3 slice of bacon around the stuffed pepper, pin with toothpicks.
5)      Grill over open flame until bacon is done, or bake on a foil-lined pan at 375 degrees about 20-25 minutes until hot (and if wrapped, bacon is cooked).
Let cool and enjoy!

Hot pepper note:  Capsaicin oil from chiles can burn eyes or skin.  Wear gloves or plastic baggies and wash hands after handling hot chile peppers. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Andy McIntosh: McIntosh Woods

By Kasey Jones
What he now does as a hobby, Andy McIntosh used to do to survive. McIntosh has been gardening for as long as he can remember, growing up on a small farm in South Unicoi County where he and his family would raise their own food and preserve as much as possible to eat through the winter. McIntosh says, “No matter what I’ve done as a career, I’ve always kept a garden and preserved food.”

After growing up on the family farm in Unicoi, McIntosh enlisted in the Army and served for three years during the early years of the Vietnam war. Upon his return, he got his teaching degree from ETSU and began teaching high school mathematics at Unicoi County High School.

After 10 years of teaching, McIntosh began a second career in industry with Nuclear Fuel Services, where he worked for 28 years. He retired approximately four years ago, settling into gardening, which he loves to do.

McIntosh has over an acre of land that he dedicates to gardening. He grows a little bit of everything that is typically found in a garden, as well as peach and apple trees.

“I’ve got some fruit trees,” he says, “I’ve got about six peach trees and some apple trees. I grow quite a few potatoes, a lot of tomatoes, a lot of beans and a mixture of everything else.”

Much of what McIntosh grows in his garden are the same foods that he and his family raised when he was growing up. McIntosh also uses the many of the same preservation methods that he and his family used on their farm.

“We always preserved a lot of foods when I was young,” McIntosh says. “We primarily canned foods, then freezers came along and we started freezing a lot of fresh fruit. So I continue to do that; I’ll can about anything!”

McIntosh also dries fruits and vegetables from his garden, though this is limited to a select few fruits and vegetables. The drying leaves the dried fruit or vegetable with more concentrated flavor than it would have were it eaten fresh. And dried produce must be reconstituted with water and then cooked.

“I dry some beans,” he says. “I have dried some fruit, but mostly beans. Not a lot of people do that anymore. They’re commonly called shuck beans or leather britches, they’re a green bean dried.”

While McIntosh enjoys much of his produce himself, he also sells a portion of it at the farmers market in Jonesborough, as well as at his farm, McIntosh Woods. McIntosh has been with the Jonesborough Farmers Market for about four years. While he and his family used to sell their produce at the farmers market in Asheville, N.C. during the late 1950s and early 1960s, this is the first farmers market that he has done during this stage of his life.

“This one [Jonesborough] is different in that everything here is locally grown,” he says. “The one in Asheville had produce from everywhere, more like the one in Johnson City, now. Produce might be coming out of Carolina, out of state somewhere, from Virginia, but I think if it’s a local market, it should be locally grown.”

McIntosh intends to garden as long as he can, enjoying both the food and the work.

“I just hope more people start gardening,” say McIntosh. “It’s great food.”

Freezing Vegetables (from
The best vegetables to freeze are fresh from the garden or farmers’ market and at their peak ripeness. Start by trimming and washing your vegetables under cold water. Remove any stems and wash under cold water. Peel if necessary. Cut to desired size, if necessary, according to their intended use (for example, carrots can be left whole or dice them for an easy soup addition). It is very important to blanch vegetables before freezing them. It stops the enzymes that keep vegetables ripening, helps get rid of dirt and bacteria, brightens color, slows vitamin and mineral loss, and wilts and softens the vegetables so they are easier to pack. To blanch vegetables, bring a large pot of water to a boil (use at least 1 gallon of water per pound of vegetables). Add the vegetables to the water. Once the water returns to a boil, cook the vegetables 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and transfer them immediately to a bowl of ice water until they are completely chilled. Drain the vegetables well. Tomatoes do not need to be blanched before freezing. Just wash, peel (if desired) and remove the core.  

Choosing Containers
Frozen food can develop rancid flavors as a result of contact with air. Prevent this by choosing containers that are moisture- and vapor-proof. Opt for glass jars, metal containers, freezer bags or other plastic containers that are designed for storing frozen foods. If using plastic bags, be sure to remove as much air as possible before sealing. A vacuum sealer is also useful for removing air and preserving quality.

There are two kinds of packing: solid-pack and loose-pack. To solid-pack produce, place prepared food in the desired container and freeze. Solid-packing conserves space and is useful when planning to use large batches of frozen vegetables or fruit at one time. To loose-pack, freeze one layer of fruit or vegetables on a cookie sheet. Once the produce is frozen, transfer it to the storage container. Loose-packing takes up more space, but it is easier to remove just the amount desired, such as a handful of peas or a cup of raspberries. Be sure to leave head space (open space at the top of the freezer container) when solid packing produce, as foods expand as they freeze. When loose-packing frozen foods, headspace is not necessary as the foods are already frozen. Moisture or food on the sealing edges of the container will prevent proper sealing, so wipe all edges clean before sealing. Label each container with the name and date packaged. Most frozen produce will keep for 8 to 12 months.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Jose Diaz

By Kasey Jones

Freedom is important to José Diaz. He raises his chickens free on his farm and his vegetables free of chemicals. Diaz also likes the freedom he has found in the U.S. to earn a living on his own land, not squeezed by the crowding and competition of his homeland.

Growing up in Carretero, Mexico, Diaz would help his father grow vegetables and care for their goats, horses and donkey. Diaz later moved to the United States, where he established legal residency in 1987.  “I like to work here,” says Diaz. “It’s easier. It’s easier for me. You can work very hard but make little in Mexico – $10 a day. I didn’t work there for very long … Too many people and not many jobs.”

After picking oranges in Florida, Diaz moved to the Tri-Cities area where he has worked at a number of jobs, including Scott’s farms in Unicoi to outdoor maintenance at the Johnson City Mall, but his passion is for farming, and in 1995 he purchased his own farm in Jonesborough.

“I raise animals,” says Diaz, “goats and chickens. And I grow vegetables.  The goats are Nubians for milk and meat. Eat them. Hamburgers. I sell to people direct from the farm. I have 20 goats. I had to raise less goats to do the vegetables, because they keep me really busy.”

Diaz grows corn, onions, beans, cilantro, squash and butternut squash. Instead of using chemicals or sprays on his plants, he uses the manure of his goats as fertilizer for some of his vegetables.

“I talked to a lady the other day and she said, ‘How much are your beans?’ And I said, ‘$50 a bushel.’ She said, ‘Over there, they’re $36.’ And I said, ‘Well, mine don’t have chemicals.’ She said, ‘Well, that doesn’t matter. They’re all the same. Chemicals don’t matter.’ Well, they do to me. I don’t want to chemical myself to death.”

While Diaz doesn’t make a lot of money from farming, he enjoys his work and raises organic crops for his own health, as well as the well-being of his customers.

“I’m happy to do it as long as I can,” he says. “People talk about, ‘You won’t get rich.’ I’ve never been rich. I don’t worry about it. I like to work with animals. I’m good with my hands. I’m not a mechanic. I can break a car. Farming keeps me healthy. I feel good about it. You’ve just got to get in there and do it. A lot of people don’t like this life, but I do.”

Diaz raises many of the vegetables and animals that he raised while living in Mexico. “We would raise corn and squash and goats,” Diaz says. “We would make cheese. My mother would make the cheese. We would work with the animals and she would make the cheese. It’s a lot of work. People would say, ‘Well, that little piece of cheese is expensive.’ Yeah. It’s a lot of work”

While Diaz primarily raises his goats for meat, he also uses their milk for his calves and pigs, as well as in “my own half-and-half.”   

Diaz has 175 free-range chickens that live on his farm. Because they are free-range, Diaz often has to hunt for the chickens’ nests and eggs.

“[My chickens] are loose from the morning all the way to 7:30 at night,” says Diaz. “They run around out there and they’re happy chickens. Right now I have around 100 little ones and 75 big ones – the ones that lay the eggs. They lay all over the place. Sometimes they hide eggs from me. There was one time for one or two weeks I couldn’t find them.  I didn’t have eggs to bring to the market because they were hiding them. Then one day I found three nests with 22 eggs in each place. After they lay some eggs in the nest, they go and make a new one. Chickens are funny .”

After having raised vegetables for most of his life, Diaz has learned that there isn’t always a strong correlation between hard work and good crops. He accepts this as a fact of life.

“I stay very busy all the time. Sometimes things work, and sometimes they do nothing. Sometimes you plant something and take good care of it and it won’t grow. Something you don’t think you care too much, it grows real nice. This happens. It’s in the farm.

“People tell me, ‘You aren’t going to get rich.’ But I say, ‘I eat well. I eat good.’”

Meet Diaz and find his free-range eggs and produce at the Jonesborough Farmers Market. On Saturday he will have one his Mexican specialties, tomatillos.

What is a tomatillo? If you’ve eaten salsa verde in a Mexican restaurant, you’ve eaten tomatillos. Though the name suggests that tomatillos are small green tomatoes, they are not. They’re in the same family as tomatoes but they are fruitier and more acidic than a regular green tomato.  Always look for tomatillos that have filled their husks, as they are not fully mature until they do. Remove the husks, then rinse the tomatillos, which will be sticky, and they’re ready to cook.

Look for tomatillos that are relatively small, about 1 1/2 ounces, or slightly larger than walnuts. Tomatillos are a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, as well as dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, niacin, potassium and manganese.

Tomatillo Salsa Verde Recipe

To cook the tomatillos, you can either roast them in the oven, or boil them. Roasting will deliver more flavor; boiling may be faster and use less energy. Either way works, though boiling is a more common way to cook the tomatillos.


  • 1 1/2 lb tomatillos
  • 1/2 cup chopped white onion
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 Jalapeño peppers OR 2 serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and chopped (you can use whole for more heat if you want)
  • Salt to taste

1. Remove papery husks from tomatillos and rinse well.

2.  Cook using the method of your choice:

2a Oven Roasting Method Cut the tomatillos in half and place cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place under a broiler for about 5-7 minutes to lightly blacken the skin.

2b Pan Roasting Method Coat the bottom of a skillet with a little vegetable oil. Heat on high heat. Place the tomatillos in the pan and sear on one side, then flip over and brown on the other side. Remove from heat.

2c Boiling Method Place tomatillos in a saucepan, cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove tomatillos with a slotted spoon.

3 Place cooked tomatillos, lime juice, onions, cilantro, chili peppers, sugar in a blender or food processor and pulse until all ingredients are finely chopped and mixed. Season to taste with salt. Cool in refrigerator.

Serve with chips or as a salsa accompaniment to Mexican dishes.  Mix with mashed avocado for lower-fat alternative to guacamole. 

Yield: Makes 3 cups.