Choosing a life as an organic farmer was an act of rebellion for Don Kretschmann. “Just about every job you take is a compromise. But organ- ic farming, well, I got to do it my own way, and the only person [who] could get hurt by that was me,” he says.
Kretschmann, now 67, was a physics major at the
height of the Vietnam War. “Theoretical physics at the
time was used first for the newest and greatest weapons.
I didn’t want to be involved with that,” he says.
By exercising his conscience, Kretschmann became
the pioneer of the modern organic-farming movement
in western Pennyslvania. He farmed a couple of locations
in the region before he and his wife Becky purchased the
first 38 acres of what would become Kretschmann Family Organic Farm in Rochester in 1978. Over the years,
they’ve expanded to an additional 40 acres. “It’s a reverse
subdivision. We just pasted it back together again in little
pieces,” he says.
At the time, there weren’t many models for
Kretschmann to follow. He looked to the late Paul Keene
of Walnut Acres farm in Penn’s Creek, Pa., and to the
pioneering work of the Rodale Institute in Kutztown for
inspiration. He also talked to some of the older farmers
in the region. “I’d pick their brains as much as I could for
their institutional knowledge,” he says.
In the beginning, Kretschmann cast a wide net selling
his produce. He sold to schools, hospitals and restaurants; for a time he was Giant Eagle’s primary supplier of
summertime basil. “I’d pull up [to the produce ware-house] in a little station wagon or Volkswagon Bug with
a car full of basil. The whole place is full of big semis, and
then there’s little old me,” he says.
Now, Kretschmann’s farm thrives with a popular CSA
program, though he also sells wholesale to the popular
Zelienople hamburger restaurant Burgh’ers.
Despite a robust business and the respect of the
sustainable farming community, he keeps working to
improve. For example, he’s digging deeper into the world
of the soil biome, noting that what looks like simple
dirt actually is a complex, biodiverse community of life.
“We’re still trying to piece together what all of those
things do and how they all fit together. And how do they
interact with a plant’s roots?” he says.
There’s still so much to learn.”
In my opinion, this is the best
eggplant dish, bar none. We
fell in love with moussaka on
a trip to Greece in 1975 before
kids, with fond memories of
days when we could sleep
in deck seats on ferries from
island to island.
2 eggplants, sliced ½ inch thick
1 lb. ground lamb or beef
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
½ cup chopped parsley
1 cup tomato sauce
½ cup wine
2 cups milk
2 tsp cornstarch or flour
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup grated Kefaloteri or
¼ tsp cinnamon
Directions: Sprinkle eggplants
with salt, let them sit for 10
minutes and then pat dry. Oil a
cookie sheet, lay out eggplants in
a single layer and brush tops with
oil. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes.
At the same time, fry the meat,
onions and garlic together. Once
meat is browned, add parsley,
tomato sauce and wine. Layer
eggplants and meat mix in a 9x13
casserole dish. Mix milk, eggs,
cornstarch and a ½ tsp. of salt, and
pour into layered casserole. Top
with cheese and bake at 325F for
45 minutes to one hour.
Don Kretschmann has been leading the organic-farm movement in western
Pennyslvania since 1978. // B Y HAL B. KLEIN // PHOTO B Y LAURA PE TRILLA
GROW. COOK. DRINK.