ALLEGANY, NY – “When you drop a tomato, it shouldn’t bounce,” farmer Mark Printz said, comparing the produce he grows at Canticle Farm with that sold in grocery stores.
Printz was speaking Saturday, a hot sunny afternoon, during Canticle Farm’s eighth annual Heavenly Harvest Farm to Table fundraiser.
Bringing fresh, organic food directly from the barn to the table has been the mission of Canticle Farm for the past 17 years. Founded by the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany in 1999, Canticle Farm serves to grow and sell what it terms “honest food” and also to donate it to lower-income community members.
The crowd was the biggest to date, said Canticle Farm employee Kelly Hendrix. Attendees were treated to live music, farm tours, sustainable-living education booths, chair massages and a bonfire. Some opted for the Pedal to Plate bike ride, and many took the options of participating in the basket raffle or buying beer from Four Mile Brewing.
The cost of the chef-prepared dinner was $30 (with an extra $20 charge for the bike ride). Food prepared by Steve Dodge, who works at the Motherhouse, included hand-passed appetizers of zucchini stuffed with sausage and bread and toast with bruschetta, locally sourced char-grilled beef and chicken kabobs, Mediterranean-style rice, crisp farmstead salad, and blueberry and strawberry ice creams served with shortbread cookies.
Among the three exhibitors who had sustainable-living education booths during the event was Mike Padlo, who harvests his own honey right in his backyard in Olean.
He offered samples of warm, sweet honey to everyone who passed by.
Padlo only sells his honey through word of mouth.
“I don’t do it for the money,” he explained. “I do it for enjoyment.”
As the day went on, it became clear that the theme of the event was centered on giving back.
The Pedal to Plate pre-dinner ride had been added to the Heavenly Harvest in 2015 and attracted seven to eight people, recalled rider JoAnn Dombeck. This year the number of riders doubled to between 14 and 16. Participants could bike as far as 31 miles to Salamanca. Dombeck said she rode 25 miles and that though the ride was hot, it was beautiful.
“I think the youngest one was about eight years old, and he was doing great. He went a mile out and a mile back, so he did fantastic,” Dombeck added. “It was really great seeing all levels of people out there riding.”
Sister Anne and Sister Melissa, members of the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, peacefully enjoyed their dinner, noting that all of the food on their plates, including the ice cream and cheeses, came from within a 50-mile radius.
“It’s a chance to bring the community together to experience the farm,” said Sister Melissa. “It’s a fundraiser, but it’s to get the community together to celebrate and to use the produce.”
The sisters had been among those who started Canticle Farm, said that 20 percent of the proceeds from the Heavenly Harvest goes to local food pantries and homeless shelters.
As the diners finished their meals, they placed the reusable dishes, bowls, cups and utensils in marked bins. The fact that waste was at a minimum brought the farm’s message full circle, the sisters noted.
Printz, who has worked on Canticle Farm for 15 years, gave tours throughout the event. Local, sustainable farming is extremely important to him, and he pointed out that it’s easy to taste the difference in produce when it goes directly from the farm to the truck.
“This is not a job, this is a livelihood,” said Printz. “There are natural ways of doing it. We just don’t always take the quickest, cheapest, fastest way. We understand that it is a whole process.”