Coverdale: On the Grow

Krista Connor

From Farm to Fork to a CSA to barn dances, the historic Greenville land is host to a cornucopia of creative and often delicious events

As stars flicker over the panoramic 352-acre sweep of Greenville’s Coverdale Farm, strings of lights illuminate a hill overlooking woodlands where 160 people are seated at long tables laden with courses of farm-grown vegetables and family-style servings of salad, ratatouille and Angus steak. Glasses tinkle lightly as guests make new acquaintances and pour each other paired tastings from Dogfish Head bottles—Midas Touch, 61 Minute, 90 Minute IPAs.

The occasion is Coverdale’s autumn Farm to Fork, a display of community in celebration of the harvest.

Coverdale Manager Michele Wales, who envisioned the now annual event seven years ago, describes the late-September experience as an evening of engagement and mindfulness of what’s on people’s plates.

“Sitting and dining on the land where so much of what’s on your plate came from—that makes my head want to explode,” Wales enthuses. “It’s so beautiful for me. I’m hoping for people to experience just how powerful a meal can be with other great people. We nourish folks with this beautiful food that we’ve worked so hard for throughout the year, and fall is the perfect time to celebrate what we’re growing and raising. To see our food transform to art on a plate is really exciting.” Note: the food was prepared by Susan Teiser of Montrachet Fine Foods, located on Kennett Pike.

The heart of Farm to Fork is aligned with all of Coverdale’s happenings and programs: creatively teaching the community about the sources of their food.

Guests are welcome to traipse through the farm's U Pick field for flowers and veggies. (Photo courtesy of Coverdale Farm Preserve)

Guests are welcome to traipse through the farm’s U Pick field for flowers and veggies.
(Photo courtesy of Coverdale Farm Preserve)

The farm, which dates back to William Penn’s time, was owned for years by the Greenwalt family. In the 1990s, the family turned the land over to the Delaware Nature Society, which also oversees Ashland Nature Center, the DuPont Environmental Education Center, and Abott’s Mill Nature Center.

In 2000, Wales became one of the first full-time farm staff members. “We transformed sallow fields and empty barns into a classroom where we were charged and are still charged with educating others,” says Wales.

The DNS, which recently celebrated its 50th year, is a private nonprofit environmental organization that promotes environmental education, advocacy and natural resources conservation—and is what Wales calls the gateway to connecting with the natural world.
This makes Coverdale wildly popular for school field trips, summer camps and more.

“We’re all so very passionate and dedicated to the mission of connecting people to the sources of their food by growing and raising food, and engaging and inviting everyone that comes down our driveway to get as excited and passionate as us about what we do,” says Wales.

She says an exciting seasonal change has come to Coverdale.

Aside from its dozens of events and programs, Coverdale has typically been closed to the public except for Wedneday afternoons during the season. But on Wednesdays and Saturdays this past May-September, the farm was open to the public on a more frequent basis. On these days, guests who visited could choose to stop by early in the morning to help with farm chores like bottle-feeding calves, collecting eggs and tending to pigs. They also were invited to forage in the farm’s U Pick field for tomatoes, peppers, flowers and other vegetables. For a more relaxing afternoon, guests were welcome to pack a lunch picnic at any of the tables beneath the oak trees along the driveway. Staff members were on hand to “teach you whatever you want to learn,” says Wales. She says these days are excellent low-key ways for families to enjoy the farm at their own pace.

“It’s been really successful, so we’re looking to increase activities and more opportunities for the farm to be open in 2016,” says Wales.

HolsteinCalf_drinking_milk

School children feed milk to a Holstein at Coverdale. (Photo courtesy of Coverdale Preserve)

A mainstay for Coverdale is its Community Supported Agriculture program, in which members are signed up to receive a select amount of produce from June-October each week. Free cooking classes are offered to CSA members, who may sometimes be in a creative stupor—when, for example an Oh, No, Not Another Week of Lettuce class might be of use. At the end of each season a party is thrown, and everybody brings homemade food to celebrate.

Coverdale’s education program—school field trips, programs for children, families and adults—runs year round, with dozens of classes for everyone. This includes an upcoming family hayride series in October and November featuring pumpkin carving on Oct. 18 and learning about the cider-making process on Nov. 8.

Then there’s what Wales calls the “big event”—the annual Harvest Moon Festival, Oct. 3-4. The weekend, free for members and nonmember children under 5, and $5 for nonmembers, is filled with artisan demonstrations, children’s activities and crafts, hayrides, music and food trucks.

For adults, a basket weaving class (Oct. 10) and a cookbook club are offered. The Cookbook Club, hosted by DNS and the Hockessin Book Shelf, serves up an evening of cooking and eating on Oct. 8 and Nov. 12. And for people interested in raising and butchering their own meat, there’s the two-day Pasture To Plate: Poultry Processing & Cooking, Dec. 12-13.

The key to knowing what kinds of events to host, Wales says, is implementing options that are connected to food, the farm, and the landscape at Coverdale. She says one important theme is “putting culture back in agriculture,” which was the inspiration for a new barn contra dance series. The dances are slated for Oct. 23 and Nov. 6, and will continue on various dates in 2016. Led by an experienced contra caller, the evenings will be filled with bluegrass, and guests from beginners to experienced will learn traditional dance steps from contra to square dancing.

With so much going on, Coverdale certainly utilizes its four full-time staff members, says Wales, but as she puts it, a lot of dedicated people are necessary to make all the moving parts move fluently. That’s why volunteers are so helpful, she says. “We couldn’t do it without them.”

Qualified people are invited to work in almost any area: program instructors, educators, animal husbandry, vegetable production, and more. For more information on how to get involved, visit the website.

Ultimately, sharing ideas and encouraging others to do so is what keeps Coverdale so fresh and creative, Wales says. While she and the other fulltime staff members are behind the scenes planning, they are constantly listening to ideas from instructors and volunteers.
“We’re part of a community,” says Wales. “We know each other so well, and people have ideas, so we share.”

Visit delawarenaturesociety.org/CoverdaleFarmPreserve for more.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.