The Fields Edge: Meet Alex Wenger
It’s not very often that you are in a room full of plant breeders – the scientists and seed savers behind our diverse vegetables and grains – but on October 16th at Glynwood Center in Cold Spring, New York, the ONP team joined a tent full of such passionate individuals at the Culinary Breeding Network Variety Showcase. One of these individuals, whom we have the honor of calling one of our exceptional farmers and friends, is Alex Wenger.
Alex is the founder and head farmer at The Fields Edge Research Farm In Lancaster, PA. He began the farm in 2010, after studying agriculture at Goddard College and following soon after with a Masters degree in sustainable food systems from Green Mountain College in Vermont. This path seemed almost ancestral: with his grandparents being farmers, he was raised to understand that food came from the earth and the many ways to preserve that very gift. His curiosity led him to venture into the cultural history of food and agrobiodiversity, working with local refugee communities and offering culturally relevant crops. On his farm and in his research, he also continues to explore “what can grow well together, what can grow well in our climate, what is not commonly grown, what is nutritious and what is there a niche for.”
During the showcase, we were able to learn more about Alex’s experience with growing and exploring ONP varieties as well as Tokita Seed as a whole. As it turns out, the company has aided in Alex’s journey into agrobiodiversity. “Tokita has a strong cultural grounding to its breeding work. It’s one of the ways I was drawn to Japanese varieties.” Through this lens, he was able to learn about the care and commitment our breeders take in providing exceptional varieties that acknowledge the work required by farmers to grow these varieties.
Another way that Alex described the importance of the subtleties he finds within Tokita seeds is through discovering new varieties such as the mizunas: “What Japanese varieties have offered on the whole, and especially Tokita varieties, is a lot of opportunities to see nuances in flavor as affected by crop physiology... Different varieties for different harvest windows that are selected to have different maturities and quality dates, those are really strong and developed in Tokita seeds in a way that other varieties that I grow aren’t. Tokita varieties give me more options than other seeds. We started growing the mizunas and even some of the cole crops. It opened my eyes to how many other varieties are out there we could be growing.”
Through the conversation, Alex was able to shed light on all of the Tokita varieties he works with at the farm including: Shokichi (mini kabocha squash), Zuccurì, Sungolds, Shishimai, Saku Saku, and surprisingly, the most vital, Mizuna. “The Golden Frills and Scarlet Frills mizuna are probably our most important crops from a paying the bills standpoint,” Alex explained. “It's always reliable – I know if I plant it, I am going to get a crop.”
Oftentimes there may be an abundance of produce that cannot be distributed in time, which Alex resolves this problem using lactofermentation. He even ferments Mizunas and Fioretto into a flavorful table condiment, and crafts amazingly vibrant pestos with the greens. For a quick family meal, Alex enjoys salted blistered Shishimai all summer long.
Being a farmer is not easy but can be one of the most rewarding careers. Alex described it perfectly in three words: Joy in being able to nourish people, Resilience in being able to roll with punches and learn from your mistakes, and Seasonality in understanding the many micro seasons in your environment.
If you are interested in learning more about The Fields Edge and Alex, please check him out on Facebook and Instagram @thefieldsedge!