Some of us have hobbies we dabble in, maybe we immerse ourselves in, but often we find work, family obligations, and daily life fill our time. It can be hard to stay on track, at least for me anyway. Joe Chapman of Menemsha Farm has managed to stay on track with his hobby, better than anyone I know. Joe is co-owner and co-founder of the very busy and successful Doyle Construction since 1981. Over the years he has been able to find some balance and has created a backyard paradise with all the flowers, food, honey, and beauty one could desire.
“I always wanted a little farm,” Joe told me. He started with perennial gardens around his home tucked in the woods near Menemsha, the home he shares with his wife Susan and where they raised their two kids. After the perennials, Joe expanded to a vegetable garden with tomatoes, squash, kale, herbs, hot peppers, greens — a little bit of everything.
Then about eight years ago he decided to start a small orchard butted up against the vegetable garden. “Growing fruit is usually part of all farms,” he says scanning his small orchard of 15 mixed trees one day when I visited. “It can be difficult and time-consuming to get things right. I was also inspired by growers like Paul Jackson when I was thinking about adding fruit trees.”
Joe grows a variety of pears, including Asian, Bartlett, and Anjou. Also peaches, white peaches, Elberta peaches, and of course Granny Smith, Macon, Yellow Delicious, and the most amazing Snap Macs, sweet and juicy — great for eating or baking.
There is an insanely beautiful dahlia garden, about one hundred chickens for eggs, and honey bees.
When deciding what to grow, they started with an Asian pear tree because Joe’s wife Susan used to make a dish he loved — chicken curry with Asian pears from “The New Basics” cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins of Silver Palate fame. “Why buy these Asian pears we love, we thought; why not grow our own?” Joe laughs.
“The start was slow: I bought root trees in 5-inch pots, just barely 2 feet tall and found they just took too long, so as I added to the orchard, I bought 2-year trees that were more established, and stronger; they just took off from there.”
Like a traditional farm, Joes wraps things around each other — there’s a small pumpkin and squash patch right next to his fenced-in trees.
“Growing fruit took a lot to figure out; the predators are a big part of the problems you can encounter,” he says. “Skunks, raccoons and I just raised my deer fencing again — it’s the young deer that just leap over the fence.”
“Every year you do things differently to try and make your life a little easier,” he says as he points out the new heavy-duty tomato trellis he’s built. This past season has been a challenge, with no measurable rain for months. Still, Menemsha Farm is thriving and producing plenty of vegetables, fruit, and honey from several beehives peppered around his cleanly mown property.
Joe and his family eat what they grow, sell some items, and give away a lot.
A good friend of mine who has had a very successful career (and life) always told my boys to “focus on what you are good at and love to do.” It seems basic, but clearly can be quite fruitful.
Pear + Apple Crisp
When thinking about apples and cooking, it is so hard to not think crisp, served warm with iced or whipped cream on top. Filling your house with the ultimate aroma of fall, I could not think of a better choice. Adding fresh pears gives a little texture and delicious flavors of falls two favorite fruits.
Use 2 quart glass or ceramic baking pan
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
7 apples, combination Granny Smiths and other firm baking apples
3 medium pears, no over-ripened
Juice and zest one lemon
12 tablespoons butter, room temperature
¼ cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅓ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
1 cup flour
½ cup oats
½ cup sliced almonds
Peel, core, and cut pears and apples into medium-sized pieces. Toss in a bowl with lemon zest and juice. Set aside. For the topping combine all dry ingredients. Add room temperature butter and mix with a wooden spoon or hands. It should be clumpy, so do not overmix.
Pour apple, pear mixture into your baking dish. Cover with topping. Do not smash down, just try and cover evenly. It’s not a tight lid, it’s a topping.
Bake for about 40 minutes.