Home grown: Family farm brings fresh food to campus

By Kathryn Kelly ’19

A profile on one of Lafayette’s main food providers, this piece will be part of a series of articles in which The Lafayette looks at where food on campus comes from.

Since William Penn deeded their land back in the very early days of the United States, Ryan Ehst’s family has tended their farm, the Ehst Homestead, along Route 100 in Bally, Pa. It’s about 50 minutes away from Lafayette.

Today, Ehst, the president of Butter Valley Harvest, grows heirloom cherries, seedless cucumbers, basil, butterhead lettuce, beefsteak tomatoes and salanova blend, which it delivers fresh to Lafayette every Monday and Thursday.

According to Ehst, there are many legends and stories attached to the Ehst Homestead, which he and his father now run together. One such story that has been passed on through generations of Ehst’s family has to do with revolutionary soldiers crashing a wedding and stealing the wedding reception meal.

“There was a wedding happening on the property, and a bunch of Revolutionary soldiers came and took the fete,” Ehst said with a chuckle. “Fete” is another word for the meal of a wedding reception.

Ehst said that when he was growing up on the Ehst Homestead years ago, it was a dairy farm owned by his grandfather.

“The dairy farm had about forty cows on it. It produced milk, and [my grandfather] grew corn and hay to feed the cows,” Ehst said, adding that he is about the tenth generation in his family to farm the land.

Now, Butter Valley Harvest grows produce not only for Lafayette but for other stores and restaurants throughout Pa., including restaurants in Boyerstown and Pottstown, as well as the Wegman’s in Easton, according to Butter Valley Harvest’s website.

Although the food Ehst provides is grown locally and is freshly picked for each delivery, Ehst says the food is not organic, since his farm is run hydroponically, meaning without soil.

“Nutrients are dissolved in the water and run throughout the crops. No soil is used, and crops are kept a few feet off the ground,” Ehst said. “There is nothing ‘alive’ in them, since there’s no soil. So it’s not considered organic.”

Ehst said that Butter Valley Harvest uses geothermal heating, a method of getting clean and sustainable heat from the earth and hydroponic farming to grow all the crops they supply to Lafayette year-round.

The only exception is for tomatoes, which are only grown from March to December, Ehst said. Keeping the crops in a greenhouse is also key to being able to grow crops year round, since it keeps the plants out of the elements.

Although Lafayette likes to buy from local farms and vendors whenever possible, it is important that these sources are able to keep up with the volume needed to feed Lafayette’s campus, said Campus Executive Chef John Soder. This is often a difficult task for smaller local farms, he added.

Butter Valley Harvest’s local status and ability to meet all of these criteria is what motivated Soder to go into business with them about four or five years ago.

But over the years, Butter Valley Harvest has had to adjust its practices to better meet Lafayette’s needs.

Ehst said the farm “phased out a wholesaler,” or in other words stopped selling crops to a store, and started growing more of what Lafayette needed in place of other crops.

“[Butter Valley Harvest] was a great fit [for Lafayette], because he can supply us with what we need,” Soder said. “He has a great product that is locally grown, beautiful, fresh and year round, except for tomatoes.”

“The lettuce on the salad bar [in Lower] was picked yesterday and delivered yesterday afternoon,” Soder added. “It doesn’t get any fresher than that.”

 

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