Springtime is a busy time in greenhouses around the Northeast as seedlings finally dare to poke their heads up towards the increasing light and warmth. In the greenhouses at Freund’s Farm in East Canaan, Connecticut, the family’s own patented, biodegradable CowPots made from their dairy herd’s composted, odorless manure provide a fertile beginning for vegetables and flowers with which they will later stock their farm market and catering operation.Whether in the greenhouse or around the kitchen table, the Freunds celebrate the #Passover #Seder w ppl they love. #FarmerFriday Click To Tweet
Last year, the Freund family used one of their greenhouses to fill a different seasonal need: they hosted an extra-big annual Passover Seder meal for about 40 guests surrounded by hundreds of kale, lettuce, radish, beet and tomato seedlings. “We like to share this tradition with people who are curious and might not have the chance to experience a Seder,” explains the Freunds’ oldest daughter, Amanda. Between family, friends and employees, “We had so many people coming, we couldn’t fit anywhere else.”
The weeklong holiday starts tonight [April 22] this year and a smaller crew will fit around the Freunds’ dining room table to commemorate the escape of the Hebrew people from slavery into freedom. Passover also shares themes with spring season rituals across several cultures and religions that celebrate fresh starts and new life. “The correlation of Passover and springtime is even more evident on the farm,” says Amanda, “like being able to use our own eggs from my sister Rachel’s flock and going out to the garden to dig horseradish.”
Horseradish—representing the bitterness of slavery—and boiled eggs—symbolic of new growth—both play a key role in the meal-centered Seder service. Last year in the greenhouse, the family set up a model train to carry the ritual foods around the table. Even packets of Cabot butter went along for the ride to be spread on matzah, the unleavened bread that is probably the most widely recognized Passover food; many Jews give up leavened breads and legumes, corn, rice, most other grains or products made from them, for the whole week to recognize the urgent trek made by their ancestors which allowed no time for bread to rise.
Amanda treasures memories of her grandfather, the family’s first dairy farmer, presiding over the Seder table and of her dad’s matzah brie, “the best ever,” for which he soaks matzah in a French toast-like batter before frying it in generous amounts of melted butter. She also has vivid recollections of creating a Seder for a group of friends with a few Jewish colleagues when she was serving in the Peace Corps in Zambia. “It’s always cool to share it with others,” Amanda says, “but it is so deeply rooted in family for me, I really missed being home.”
Amanda Freund’s Tips for Vegetable Garden Success
- Start fresh: New, sterile potting soil is important for the health of seeds and plants.
- Be patient: Don’t get carried away with the first warm days of April; respect seed packet outdoor planting dates for your zone.
- Feed the soil: If you’re anxious to get going, add compost to your garden beds now.
- Be realistic: Don’t plant more than you can maintain; “Summer comes quick and so do weeds,” cautions Amanda.
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Melissa Pasanen is an award-winning Vermont-based journalist and cookbook author with a focus on food, farming and sustainability. She was the writer for The Cabot Creamery Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2015).