Vendor Profile: Brent & Teresa of Bright Raven Farm & Apiary

There's a new vendor at market! Well, sort of... Bright Raven Farm and Apiary's banner (featuring a striking image of their avian namesake) started flying at Ithaca Farmers Markets this season. But Bright Raven's owners, Teresa and Brent, have been regulars at the Farmers Market since 2001, when their business, then known as Red Tail Farm, came on board. They have been homesteading, farming, and bee-keeping on their land in Jacksonville (near Trumansburg) since 2000.  Several days a week, Brent or Teresa takes leave of their veggies, orchards, and hives to sell their delicious products. You can find them on Saturdays at Steamboat Pavilion, on Tuesdays at Dewitt Park, and on Wednesdays at East Hill Plaza.

Teresa with Bright Raven's eye-catching banner at the Dewitt Park Tuesday Market

The name change has been a while in the making... Teresa and Brent both grew up in the Ithaca area, and when they started their farm, Red Tail seemed appropriate, as they are both have a great love of wildlife, and the red tail hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) was a common sight in the skies and trees above their fields. But for some reason, the name just never felt quite right, and their customers had a hard time remembering it. People always seemed to refer their farm as "Brent and Teresa's Farm" rather than by its given name.

One of many items available at market: delicious raw honey!

Teresa and Brent recently began seeing and hearing ravens around their farm, while up until that point, they had not encountered them in our region. The raven sightings reminded them of a long-ago pivotal moment in their lives, when they were camping and chanterelle-gathering out in British Columbia (where ravens are abundant).  At that point, Teresa and Brent had spent two years in Bolivia, where they lived and worked with farmers in remote villages in the Andes. The experience had a strong impact on both of them. Afterwards, in the wilderness of B.C., they made the fateful decision to start their own farm in the Ithaca area, where they both had their own roots.  Reflecting back on their reasons for that commitment, and on the exceptional intelligence of the raven, along with its ancient (and continued) spiritual significance to peoples around the world, they decided upon Bright Raven Farm & Apiary.

Brent with an assortment of Bright Raven fruits and veggies in at the East Hill Plaza Market on a recent Wednesday evening

The common raven (Corvus corax) is a large black bird, related to the American crow but quite distinctive, with a wedge-shaped tail, a lower-pitched croaking call, and a tendency to travel individually or in pairs rather than in large flocks.  It is also much larger than a crow, and one of the largest passerine species. A raven is, incidentally, around the same size as a red tail hawk! One final conjecture on Bright Raven/ Red Tail's bird-inspired farm names: as farmers work in their fields, bent towards the earth, it is important for them to remember to straighten out their backs and turn their faces upwards from time to time. Naming your farm after a bird, and being on the lookout for the namesake, seems like a pretty good reminder!

Bright peppers and bright tomatoes from Bright Raven Farm

Meanwhile, back on the farm, Brent and Teresa have built up an amazing farm and homestead. Their two kids, Milan and Luca, who are 5 and 3 respectively, help out on the farm as much as their busy schedules will allow, and their steadfast farm dog, Misha, protects the crops from rodents and other invaders.  Bright Raven Farm & Apiary is an amazingly diversified operation, with a huge variety of annual vegetable crops, as well as fruit trees, a blueberry patch, a flock of hens, and lots of bee hives! They have some hoop houses for season extension, where they grow berries, tomatoes, spring greens, and a bunch of other crops. There are fields full of carrots, radishes, beets, and other root vegetables, rows of endives and escaroles, plots of several types of winter squash, and much more. Teresa also finds the time to write, as a regular contributor to Edible Finger Lakes magazine. The next time you pick up an issue of this periodical, keep an eye out for her column, "Notes From the Farm," in which she eloquently expounds upon a variety of farming-related topics. That is one way to learn a bit about the goings-on at Bright Raven. Of course, if you want to learn more about Bright Raven Farm & Apiary, your best bet is to visit Brent or Teresa at market and pick up some fruits, vegetables, and honey! The flavors of the food they produce will tell the story of all the love and hard work that went into growing it. But since you're here on the internet right now, and probably not at the Farmers Market, let's do the next best thing and enjoy some scenes from the farm!  

Teresa among the blueberries


Apples growing up happy and chemical-free in Bright Ravens orchard


Plums too!


Transplants get a bit of extra protection starting out


The great spaghetti squash round-up!


Chickens live it up eating bugs and veggie leftovers, and migrate around the property in their mobile coop


Misha rules the fields with an iron paw


A wagon load of winter squash

Vendor Profile: Vinnie of Berkshire Hills Honey Bee Farm

This is Berkshire Hills Honeybee Farm's co-owner and beekeeper Vinnie at last Thursday's Hancock Street Market.  Berkshire Hills has only been with us at Ithaca Farmers Market for a couple of years, but they have been in business since 1874, which certainly makes them one of the oldest businesses at market!  They bring a delightful variety of honey and other bee products to the Wednesday market at East Hill Plaza and Thursday market at Hancock Street.

Berkshire Hills' Honey Stix are a popular item, and a convenient way to get a honey buzz on the go...

For Vinnie and her husband Bob, who is a fifth generation beekeeper, working with bees is a family tradition, and their knowledge continues to be passed down through the ages. Their 14 year old grandson Ivan has been working with bees for a few years already, and sometimes helps at market, as does his 5 year old sister Haven, who was at market with her grandmother last week.

Vinnie and her granddaughter Haven are glad to offer samples of all their different honeys to a curious customer

The incredible diversity in colors, flavors, and textures of honey is a result of the constantly changing nectar sources from which the bees feed throughout the season. Bob and Vinnie do not grow a large monoculture of one crop, but allow their bees to enjoy nature's buffet of Japanese knotweed, goldenrod, sunflowers, hollyhocks, clover, apple blossoms, and whatever else might be in bloom. They have over a hundred hives, and keep them in a few different yards, providing maximum foraging opportunities for the happy bees.

Berkshire Hills' Honey comes in all colors, textures, sizes, and flavors!

Creamed honey (the one in the top center) is a thick, creamy type of honey which takes advantage of honey's natural tendency to crystallize when the conditions are right. After extracting honey from their hives, Vinnie and Bob find a batch that is already forming crystals of a desired consistency, and mix it with honey of another consistency, and through a magical process involving time and temperature (and lots of mixing), creamed honey is formed. If you want a more scientific explanation than I have been able to provide, you should probably ask the folks at Berkshire Hills to explain it to you. Or better yet, get a jar of their special creamed honey to take home! Vinnie reports that a creamed honey and peanut butter sandwich is Haven's favorite, and she is a real expert on these matters.

This soap looks good enough to eat, but you are probably better off using it to wash your hands after a messy peanut butter and honey sandwich


The bee pollen, you can definitely eat. It is the main source of protein for the bees, and a nutrient-rich superfood for humans (it's great in yogurt!)

To see photos of Vinnie and Bob and their family catching swarms, which is a pretty awesome thing to see, you can check out the Berkshire Hills Honey Bee Farm Facebook page. They also have all of their products listed in greater detail on their website. The best way to learn more about Berkshire Hills Honey Bee Farm is to visit them at East Hill Market on Wednesday from 4-7 or at the Hancock Street Market on Thursday from 4-7. They are one of the many excellent reasons to shop at the weekday markets!

See you at market!


Vendor Profile: Noelia of Oxbow Farm

Around 25 miles southwest of Ithaca, as the crow flies, beautiful vegetables grow in the fields of Oxbow Farm. This small family farm, which is owned and operated by Noelia and her husband and co-farmer Tim, is nestled in a quiet valley in Erin, Chemung County. Noelia and Tim have been sharing the fruits --and veggies-- of their labor with Ithaca Farmers Market shoppers since 2010, making this their 6th season as vendors. Oxbow Farm has been a staple of the Thursday evening market (which is now at Hancock Street) since they joined the Market, in addition to selling from their booth at Steamboat Landing on Saturdays and Sundays. Noelia reports that their Swiss chard enjoys quite a bit of local fame as their most frequently-photographed product, with hundreds of shoppers taking pictures of it at the weekend markets. It is difficult to resist snapping one colorful shot...

Oxbow Farm's famous Swiss chard, with sign hand-painted by farmer Tim

Nutrition experts say to "eat all the colors of the rainbow," so after you get your photograph of the display, try taking a piece of it home to decorate your omelette or dinner plate! Noelia grew up in in Massachusetts, and Tim in Colorado, but they met when they were interns together on a farm in New York State (adorable, but true). They knew that the Ithaca area would be an ideal community in which to live and farm, so in 2007 they bought some land with an old farmhouse in Erin, and Oxbow Farm was born! As the farm has grown, so have their two daughters, who are now 7 and almost-4. They often help out their mom at market on Sundays.

A young shopper and her Dad picking up some fresh herbs from Oxbow Farm at Thursday's Hancock Street Market

The latest project on the farm is the addition of several hoophouses, which extend the growing season. In our climate, especially in a valley where the cold fog settles, and hills to the East and West make the sunrise a little later and the sunset a little earlier, hoophouses are a real asset for farmers. Oxbow Farm recently ran a successful Kickstarter campaign, which allowed them to build a brand new 30' x 72' mobile hoophouse, and they also have 5 smaller hoophouses. This allows them to start planting as early as February, so they have fresh mustard greens ready for sale at the first market of the season, in the beginning of April. Later on in the season, heat-loving crops like cucumbers benefit from the hoophouses all summer long!

These Oxbow cucumbers speak for themselves...

To connect with the nice folks at Oxbow Farm, you can visit their Facebook page or, better yet, stop by and say "hi!" (and pick up some beautiful produce) on Thursday, Saturday, or Sunday. You'll recognize their colorful signage and Noelia's friendly face!

In case you were wondering, "What the heck in an Oxbow?" they have been kind enough to provide an illustration of this traditional farming implement on their hand-painted sign

In case you were also wondering, "Does Oxbow Farm use pesticides and/or synthetic fertilizers?" : Nope!


Vendor Profile: Nancy of Captivating Clay Creations

Nancy is the artist behind Captivating Clay Creations, which is celebrating their 7th colorful year at Ithaca Farmers' Market. When you see her at her booth, she is likely to be creating a new piece of jewelry during any free time. She is also likely to be answering questions from curious market shoppers. The most common question she is asked at market is: "Did you paint it?"
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The business' sign displays the incredible variety of colors, patterns, and textures Nancy creates using colored polymer clay

With the patience of a person who has been teaching for many years (which she has), Nancy explains that her Captivating Clay Creations are not, in fact, painted. The intricate designs are formed through a process called millefiori, a glassworking technique which has existed since ancient Roman times. The Italian word millefiori, which means "a thousand flowers," refers to the flower patterns which are common in this art form. The basic premise of millefiori is at a long, cylindrical "cane" of the desired pattern is built and rolled out (like making worms out of clay), and then tiny slices are cut off, with a beautiful, tiny pattern visible only in the cross section. Nancy likens the process of working with this technique to making paper snowflakes, where you don't know exactly how the finished product is going to look until you unfold it.

An assortment of Captivating Clay Creations barrettes made using a variety of techniques

Nancy came to Ithaca from Ann Arbor, MI, in 1992. She was working as a teacher and started doing an arts and crafts class with one of her colleagues, which is how she discovered her interest (she may have referred to it as an "obsession") in working with clay. The type of clay she works with is polymer clay, which is sold under the brand names of "Sculpey" and "Premo." It comes in a rainbow of colors, is non-toxic, and can be worked at room temperature, all of which make it a great medium to work with. Nancy gets a lot of inspiration from other forms of art, such as paintings and textiles. Her designs all start with colors, and the color combinations inform the way the pieces eventually take shape.

Pictures frames, pens, boxes, and whimsical animals, all of them available at Captivating Clay Creations

Captivating Clay Creations have made their way all around the world, as tourists and students from all over visit the Ithaca Farmers Market and bring jewelry and other beguiling local crafts. The acorns are a popular item, as they combine a symbol of our region's natural surroundings with the creativity of our craftspeople!

Acorns!! The caps are from real acorns, and the other part is a creative re-interpretation

Nancy also creates custom orders, such as barrettes in different sizes, specific clay animals, and once, a polymer nativity scene! Visit Nancy and check out Captivating Clay Creations at Steamboat Landing on Saturday or Sunday, or at East Hill Plaza on Wednesday from 4 to 7. She will probably have a few new creations on hand, and will be happy to answer any questions as you admire her work. Hopefully, after reading this, you won't need to ask her if she painted all the the designs with a tiny paintbrush, but if you do, that's OK too!

Nancy working at her booth at the East Hill Plaza Wednesday Market

Vendor Profile: Kristof of Solaz

If you have visited the Ithaca Farmers' Market during the past 25 years, you have probably eaten a burrito (probably more than one) from Solaz. You probably also recognize Kristof, the founder and proprietor of this iconic IFM business.  If you're not sure whether a Solaz Frijoles Negros or Breakfast Burrito has graced your tastebuds, we can jog your memory with some related imagery: IMG_3458 (2)IMG_3459 (2) Kristof has a pretty simple recipe for success: "I cook what I want to eat." It just so happens that what Kristof wants to eat, most of the rest of us want to eat too, judging by the long lines that form in front of Solaz on any given day. Kristof moved to Ithaca in 1988 from Sonora, Tuolumne County, California, deep in the Gold Rush country of the Sierra Nevadas (where they really know their way around some Mexican food). He started Solaz at the Farmers' Market in 1989, with the original plan being to sell his salsas. After a little while, he decided it would be easy enough to make burritos on a camp stove... and serendipitously enough, he came upon a free kitchen stove on the side of the road. After removing the range from the top and making a few adjustments, he was in the burrito business! Kristof has a knack for finding useful equipment, and the know-how to repair and customize it. He takes pride in the fact that most of his equipment was salvaged.

Long-time Solaz employee April prepares a burrito at the Dewitt Park Market

Kristof has between 1 and 3 employees working at a time, and he credits them with keeping his business afloat when he was recovering from a leg injury a few years ago. April, who went to high school with one of his daughters, has been working with him for 4 years. For many years, his two daughters worked at Solaz, but at the moment they are both busy with their own business ventures. All of Solaz's salsas and fillings are, of course, made from scratch. Their ingredients are locally sourced whenever they are seasonally available. They often uses produce from Mandeville Farm in Spencer, which was their neighbor booth at IFM for many years. Solaz will be making calabacitas with their summer squash next week. Kristof often shares food with farmer Janet Mandeville, and has witnessed the evolution of her taste in salsa: she used to only like the mild varieties, but has since become a fan of Solaz' hot salsa.

Kristof's Havanese, Zephyr, can often be found at Dewitt Park Market on Tuesdays. He's even cuter in person.

One more interesting fact about Kristof: He has personally sorted hundreds of tons of dried beans during the course of his career. Every single bean in a Solaz burrito has been personally looked at by Kristof 3 times during the sorting process, in search of any trace of grit or gravel that may have ended up in the beans when whey were harvested. This task is so crucial that he insists on doing it himself rather than assigning it to a member of his trusted staff. It takes him 25 minutes to clean 25 pounds of beans. He knows that even a tiny bit of sand in a burrito would be enough to make you not want another bite. Rest assured that the beans in your Solaz burrito will be pristine!

Another satisfied customer!

If you want to learn more about Kristof and Solaz delicous burritos, you can find them at Steamboat Landing on Saturdays and Sundays, and at the Dewitt Park Market on Tuesdays. Buen provecho!