- Associated Press - Sunday, March 8, 2015

COCHRANTON, Pa. (AP) - Laban Kurtz quickly stepped out of the frosty subzero temperatures at his Cochranton-area farm and into his greenhouse, where it’s a balmy 70 degrees.

He surveyed the nearly 6,000 plants in his hydroponic kingdom, a mix of lettuce, leafy greens, tomatoes, red peppers and other produce.

His wife and daughter work alongside Kurtz in the greenhouse, with classical music playing from a nearby radio providing a soothing atmosphere.

Spring Harvest Farm, located about a dozen miles south of Meadville in Mercer County, is believed to have the only Community Supported Agriculture program in the Erie region that delivers produce throughout the entire winter.

Kurtz and his family will tell you they are out to change winter vegetable blues syndrome by specializing in locally grown, out-of-season food.

Their hydroponic greenhouse system uses water instead of soil to grow the plants, and they infuse the water with nutrients to raise nutritious produce.

Spring Harvest delivers food for 22 weeks in the winter to two locations in Erie, and one spot each in Millcreek Township, Edinboro, Meadville and Greenville. They have more than 70 customers, including 25 residents who live in the Erie area.

“Wintertime has always been a slump for the vegetable grower, so I try to use the greenhouse to our best advantage,” said Kurtz, 58, who earned an associate degree in agriculture from Ohio State University. “We offer clean, chemical-free local produce for people to eat in the cold harsh winter.”

Spring Harvest’s winter CSA, which began in mid-November and wraps up April 24, has been operating for the past three years, with customers going to the drop-off spots every Wednesday to pick up their food.

Carla Picardo has purchased food from Spring Harvest since the inception of the farm’s winter CSA.

The 43-year-old Millcreek resident was at Whole Foods Co-Op on a recent Wednesday collecting her box of produce from Spring Harvest, which included three bunches of bibb and leaf lettuce, five tomatoes, four red peppers, and three garlic heads.

Picardo, her husband and their 7-year-old son “eat a lot of fruits and vegetables” and are “mostly vegetarian” as a family, she said.

Picardo uses her weekly winter haul from Spring Harvest to make fresh salsa, grilled tomato, mozzarella and pesto sandwiches, and green smoothies every morning.

“There’s a certain freshness about it that you can’t find in stores. The color is the same for their tomatoes as it would be in the store, but the taste is a lot better and fresher,” Picardo said about Spring Harvest’s vegetables. “And there’s this nice delicateness and tenderness in the lettuce that you typically don’t find in the local stuff until the spring and early summer.”

Spring Harvest, which grows food year-round, offers three separate plans for customers in its winter CSA, ranging between $300 and $600 for 22 weeks of food.

“There’s a real movement in local eating, and buying local means your produce is not being shipped across the country. The customer actually knows their farmer,” Kurtz said Tuesday from inside his greenhouse, which he’s planning to expand in the spring so he can have the option to stagger crops and increase his lettuce production.

His wife and Spring Harvest’s co-owner, Bonnie Kurtz, also is a grower. She spent part of Tuesday morning filling channels with lettuce seedlings, planting various Asian greens, and keeping the greenhouse clean and organized.

“What we grow is healthy for you, and we grow it in a controlled environment. No cold nights in here,” Bonnie Kurtz, 61, said from the greenhouse, which the Kurtzes heat with coal and propane. “Inside you have a healthy plant. Those leaves are alive with healthy nutrients and enzymes.”





Information from: Erie Times-News, https://www.goerie.com

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