Stefan Hartmann—owner and operator of the 16-acre certified Black River Organic Farm in Ivanhoe, NC—has set the bar for organic and local farmers in southeastern North Carolina for more than 15 years. Using scientific methods of composting and rotation, Hartmann and his staff plant a selection of traditional and heirloom vegetables, which give the best quality and taste. His hard and thoughtful work has inspired a large community response, including a devoted following at the Downtown Wilmington’s Riverfront Farmers’ Market.
“Every Saturday morning (at the corner of Princess and Water streets), I have a following of regular customers who make a beeline for my produce stand,” Hartmann says. “Supporting local organic farmers is the best thing people can do if they really want to help promote the small farmer and sustain regional agriculture. Otherwise, the excess has to go to our wholesale company (ECO-HUB in Durham), and the local farmer has a hard time making any profits.”
This fall Black River’s produce at the market includes pumpkins, sweet potatoes, Asian mustards, arugula, kohlrabi, kale, collards, lettuce mix, braising greens, radishes, turnips, and broccoli. Several local restaurant chefs also use Hartmann’s veggies in their recipes. Executive chef Dean Neff of PinPoint (114 Market St.) is a big fan and makes a special called “Black River Organics Roasted Sweet Potato and Apple Soup,” made with sweet-potato green-pumpkin seed pesto and urfa chili.
“We have seen a real increase in restaurant sales,” Hartmann says. “Brasserie du Soleil and Circa 1922 are big supporters. James and William Doss of Rx and Pembroke are staunch advocates of organic and local farmers and are extremely dedicated. Dean Neff has made PinPoint Restaurant one of the best eateries in our area.”
Lovey’s Natural Foods and Café and Tidal Creek Co-op also buy produce from Hartmann. Both offer a hot bar and salad bar, with vegan and vegetarian choices. Just as well, Hartmann has motivated the Southeastern NC Food Systems program (SENCFS), known as “Feast Down East.” The nonprofit helps small farmers sustain and build their farms, and connects them with local markets and restaurants.
“We work with about 40 farmers in a 100-mile radius from our home base at UNCW,” executive director Jane Steigerwald says. “We deliver every Tuesday and Thursday at the Food Hub in Burgaw at the historic train depot. We use an 80/20-percent system, with the higher figure going back to the farmer. Stefan has been with us since the beginning.”
One SENCFS member, Brittany Taggart, organized Crop Mob—a group of wannabe farmers and other volunteers who harvested elephant garlic at Black River this past June in return for “a very good meal.”
Hartmann’s concerns for the environment extend both world and state-wide, and he is one of the 70 farm members to comprise ECO-HUB in Durham, N.C. ECO-HUB markets and distributes wholesale Carolina organic farm produce to retailers, restaurants and buying clubs. Hartmann has helped ECO-HUB grow from a $240,000 business in 2004 to a $3 million-plus operation today, with 80 percent of sales going right back to the growers. Buyers get fresh organic veggies, herbs and fruits, along with the knowledge they’re helping farmers protect their family land.
Hartmann has encouraged interns from “all over the place,” and right now has Justin Stocks Brill from Washington, D.C., working as his apprentice.
A grateful young man, Brill says, “Stefan is like the Yoda of organic farming. He successfully keeps things simple and practical and is a master of efficiency. His heart is not just in his work, but in the community around him. I consider it a privilege: the days I get to spend on his farm, learning from him.”
“Farmers’ markets have exploded and organic farming has increased dramatically during the past 10 years because people are demanding healthier food,” Hartmann tells. “In the Rose Hill area alone, there are several large farms, some as big as 300 acres.”
While the impact of the Farmer’s Almanac or the position of the moon in planting affects some farmers, Hartmann is dedicated to cultivating and overseeing the land daily. “The moon does impact germination of seed, but in this farmer’s life, I plant every week,” he clarifies. “I grow 50 different vegetables, using meticulous crop rotation. Rye, clover and fetch are used as cover crops to control weeds, and being good stewards, we do not irrigate if we’ve had sufficient rain.”
The “we” includes Nadia Garcia, Black River Organic’s foreman, her sons and a few other part-time staff. During harvest, seasonal workers are hired to make the job timely.
The flooding of Black River due to Hurricane Matthew was devastating to Black River Organic Farm. Greenhouses are nearly full of water and parts of the farm totally are submerged. They are now collecting donations via Go Fund Me at www.gofundme.com/save-black-river-organic-farm-2u3zyvg.
Black River Organics Roasted Sweet Potato and Apple Soup
Courtesy of Dean Neff, PinPoint Restaurant
Sweet Potato Green Pesto
1 c cleaned and blanched sweet-potato greens (see instructions
on big pot blanching)
½ c toasted pumpkin seeds
1 c olive oil (may be cut ½ and ½ with pumpkin seed oil)
1 tsp chopped thyme
1 tbsp chopped sage
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp lemon zest
Big pot blanching: This technique is especially important when blanching green vegetables. The goal is to quickly cook the green vegetables and still retain the brilliant green color. Big pot blanching requires three important steps:
First, the water needs to be at a rolling boil. Avoid putting too much of the greens in the boiling water at a time, as not to cool down the boil and have the green color fade to brown.
Second, salt the water at a ratio of ¼ cup of kosher salt to 1 gallon of water.
Third, quickly and totally submerge the greens into iced water. With leafy items, squeeze out all of the residual water before using.
Sweet Potato Soup
2 tbsp olive oil
1 quart medium diced sweet potatoes
1 tart apple, peeled, cored and diced
1 large white leek, chopped
2 stalks chopped celery
1 bay leaf, star anise pod, small bunch of thyme, and rosemary tied with twine
2 quarts low sodium vegetable stock plus 1 c reserved
1 c of cream
¼ c honey
½ tsp orange zest
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large non-reactive soup pot over medium heat, add olive oil and the diced sweet potatoes. Gently cook the sweet potatoes, and stir only when they are beginning to brown (about 8 minutes). Add the apple, leek and celery, and cook for another 8 minutes over medium-low heat.
Add the herb and spice bouquet, stock, cream, honey, and orange zest. Simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.
Remove the bouquet, and puree as finely as possible. Press and strain the puree through a fine mesh sieve. Adjust the consistency if needed with reserved vegetable stock and season with salt and pepper.
Top with sweet potato pesto and a light sprinkle of mild dark chili flakes, like urfa or ancho. Serve piping hot!
Black River Organic Farm is located at 4457 Ivanhoe Rd, Ivanhoe, NC. (910) 532-2437. www.blackriverorganicfarm.com