Some of my friends and neighbors spent the weekend in a canoe, arms and shoulders stretching, pulling on paddles over lakes and rivers during the Adirondack Canoe Classic 90-miler canoe race. I am in awe of their determination and physical prowess, and I applaud their Adirondack spirit.
On the other hand, I do not have that physical prowess, and would not fare very well if I'd been given a spot in a canoe for this race. I do just fine behind the wheel of my bright red Matrix, though. I participated in my own version of a 90-miler while others were working hard at theirs. Mine had no canoe or water requirements, though. This is the time of year to travel downhill, out of the Adirondack Park, and into the St. Lawrence River valley where the closest Amish community has put down roots. Every year during our gardens' harvest time, I visit these gentle fellow gardeners, and bring home some of the bounty of their summer's labor.
Some of the bounty from Amish gardens after a short North Country road trip
(Photo — Randy Lewis)
Start time: 9 a.m.
We headed north on Route 30, turning on to Route 458 toward St. Regis Falls. Driving straight through the Falls, we approached the lovely little community of Dickinson Center and turned onto a riverside street which in turn became a dirt road leading to Route 11B. Our first Amish stand and farm is on Gokey Road, and on this sunny day, their gardens were breathtaking for the abundance of vegetables visible to the eye. Way off down the field, I could see at least one or two Amish folks harvesting crops for their stand. Closer to the road, the men folk were running their sawmill, creating usable wood from felled trees. The mother came out to help us buy our goods.
This family can grow the best watermelons in the world. Sure, we may be biased in their favor, but every year we marvel at their ability to bring such sweet fruit to our table; this year volleyball-sized, yellow, nearly seedless watermelons beg to be shared with fellow fruit fans. These farmers also have a number of squashes, eggplants, and several varieties of heirloom tomatoes, too, so we bought an arm full of produce, then were on our way.
About 10 a.m.
Reaching Route 11B, we drove a few miles toward Hopkinton, finding our next Amish stand on the north side of the road. Here the vegetable produce was set out in packs, boxes, and bags, ready for someone's kitchen, ready for being "put up" for winter. There was a huge variety of tomatoes, including different heirlooms, green and yellow peppers, swiss chard, garlic, beans, beets, and more squashes. It seemed like the entire Amish family was in the "store" when we arrived: at least five children under the age of 7 stood by to help their dad get vegetables for the customers. The youngsters wore the traditional garb and headwear of the Amish folks, and were delightfully cheery while we were there. We bought yellow heirloom tomatoes, hubbard squash, white onions, corn, cherry tomatoes, beans, and a cantaloupe. The dad tallied our bill, and we were on our way.
About 10:30 a.m.
Instead of heading toward Potsdam, where there are several more Amish stands along Route 11B, we turned back toward Dickinson, and stopped at the next Amish stand, less than a mile away from the cheery family we'd just left, on the south side of the road. Here we were greeted by the sight of handmade aprons blowing in the late summer breeze. Inside were baked goods like donuts, pies, homemade cinnamon buns, and fresh baked white or wheat bread. They also offered preserves like blackberry or strawberry jams, and a nice variety of eggplants, tomatoes, corn and zucchini. Our bounty filled the back of the car, and we still had two more stands to visit before our tour was done!
Visiting the Amish stands is a late summer treat. We often don't feel so bad at the small return from our Adirondack gardens when we can enjoy the bounty from theirs. They are marvelous gardeners, and they grow more than enough to share with "the English" folks who stop at their stands during harvest time.
By the time I'd come home to unload my fresh foods, made a quick trip to town and back, I noticed I'd had my own version of a 90-mile day. So a tip of my hat to those who worked much harder at paddling their 90-mile canoe race than I did driving my little Toyota. And another tip of my hat to those hardworking Amish farmers who made my weekend so delicious! I appreciate all your efforts as September rolls into our mountains and fall nips the air.
Randy Lewis lives in Paul Smiths, and is the author of "Actively Adirondack: Reflections of Mountain Life in the 21st Century," Adirondack Center for Writing's People's Choice Award for Best Book 2007.