Norwich Meadows is a 50 acre certified organic farm, four hours Northwest of New York City. Our long drive gave us a fairly accurate picture of the trek that farm-owners Zaid and Haifa Kurdieh and their workers make to the city two to three times each week. The Catskills were breathtaking, but the drive was exhausting—and we weren’t carrying produce or trying to make it to our destination by a certain set time.
Also, our trip was not without its own bumps: we returned with a cracked windshield and a speeding ticket—things that each farmer can accumulate any time they leave their farm to come sell at a farmer’s market. However, when I stepped on the farm, I forgot the annoyances of the trip and my creaky legs and tight muscles. The farm was buzzing with activity and life.
Before taking me on a tour of the farm, and in between the screeches of his daughter’s visiting parrot, Zaid Kurdieh chatted with me about his farm’s past, present, and future. Some people are lucky enough to work a job for which they are perfectly suited. Zaid is one such person: running Norwich Meadows combines his love and prowess for agriculture with his innate entrepreneurial sense. As he said, “I guess I’m sort of an entrepreneur. I love agriculture and I love business.” Zaid is a man with an inherent sense of purpose, unwavering in his beliefs and guided by a strong code of ethics. It was impossible for me NOT to feel inspired.
“As far back as I can remember, I was always intrigued by growing things. When I was a kid, I was always planting something. Most of it failed, but I was planting something. When I got to the age of 16-17 and was contemplating ‘what am I going to do for college’, I basically considered two things: one was industrial engineering and the other was agriculture and business. In my Masters program, I wrote a paper about my future farm. Of course, my future farm looks nothing like the farm I have now.”
The Kurdieh’s journey to managing a 50 acre (and growing) farm has been a steady one. Zaid’s business and marketing sense have established Norwich Meadows as a thriving farm with varied customers. They reach their customers through their updated website, numerous restaurant partnerships, community supported agriculture (CSAs), a consistent market presence, a focus on varietals, and even a partnership with an international farm. Despite these enormous undertakings, Zaid’s calm and focused demeanor keeps the farm on track.
Zaid cares for plants like he would his own children, in a way that is both tender and aware. When I first arrived at the farm, I drove to the main area of Norwich Meadows, where the 30 hoop houses stand, thinking he’d be there. One of his employees directed me to his house, where he was ‘taking care of his babies’. Zaid and his wife Haifa’s children are now adults; the worker was referring to the greenhouse behind their home. The greenhouse sits on the site of their original half-acre farm where Zaid nurtures and cares for fruit and vegetable seedlings. As I snapped a few pictures, he was quick to comment that he had had the watermelon seeds soaking for too long (a half a day too long) and he really needed to plant them.
The Kurdiehs started the farm in 1998, long before the neighboring houses in their development were built. They used “an acre here and a half acre there”. Two years later they partnered with Yusuf Harper and bought the farm down the road. In 2009, they added an additional field and this year they’re renting a farm in New Jersey as well. “My head should be examined”, Zaid wryly remarked. This year on their farm in New Jersey, they’ll plant fall and winter crop and next year they plan on having workers at the farm.
Norwich Meadows Farm grows over forty fruits and vegetables, with multiple varietals of each product. They harvest over fourteen varieties of lettuce and nearly forty varieties of tomatoes. Each variety is selected for its flavor and taste: they aim to sell the most flavorful varieties of each product. Zaid explained, “We’re trying to grow produce that tastes better. We want our tomato to taste better. The flavor of a fruit or vegetable is a function of the nutrients it takes in. A lot of things are out of our control [like low sun], so we try to work with the things that are in our control.”
Zaid refuses to grow a variety simply for its transportability. For example, Norwich Meadows grows yellow watermelons, which are known for thin rinds and general fragility. When Norwich Meadows transports these varieties, they inevitably lose some, yet are willing to make that sacrifice due to the watermelons’ amazing flavor.
Along with their enormous quantity (and quality) of produce, Norwich Meadows has raised and processed both broiler and layer chickens since 2006. The birds are marketed as Halal, meaning that each animal is raised ethically and is processed by a Muslim. The Kurdiehs are weighing options for how to raise and sell more meat within the constraints and limitations of New York state slaughterhouses. Zaid shared that a few years ago, they raised some goats, a sheep, and a steer. The animals had to be sent to Vermont for processing. They sent a 1200 pound steer and got 280 lbs of hamburger back. In addition, an entire sheep disappeared. Needless to say, they’re back to the drawing board.
Zaid is well aware that agriculture is a risky business. This awareness prompted Zaid, his business partner, Yusef Harper, and his wife to become community focused. “Our philosophy is to start a community around our farm…to specialize in food.” Beyond growing and selling their food at farmers’ markets, Norwich Meadows is involved in other important food relationships: CSAs, restaurant relationships, and a successful partnership with a foreign farm. Each growing season, the farm’s ten seasonal workers come over from an Egyptian organic farm. In exchange for their time and labor, Zaid and Yusef are helping market the Egyptian farm’s certified organic dried herbs.
Zaid emanated pride when speaking about his relationships with some of the best restaurants in New York City. He works with restaurants that are on the top of anyone’s list of sustainable and aware dining establishments, including Gramercy Tavern and Blue Hill. Zaid’s relationship with Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern is a very important one; it not only opened the door for Zaid to begin sourcing to other like-minded restaurants, but it continues to bring necessary validation for all of the hard work Zaid and his staff put into growing flavorful food.
Many people try to practice what they preach—Zaid eats what he preaches. He’s proud of his products and thinks that they are some of the “best around”. When he and his wife have extra time after a farmers’ market, they enjoy dining at their clients’ restaurants. “It gives [the chefs] a sounding board; it gives us ideas. You meet all kind of people, including our customers from the market.”
Norwich Meadows is always open to new restaurant partnerships with restaurants that are mellow and easy to work with. “We do a really good job—I think our stuff is really good…we’re looking for people that have an appreciation of something that’s better.”
In addition to their restaurant sourcing, Norwich serves a gamut of customers at several markets around New York City (see a full list HERE) and twelve CSAs. Zaid and Haifa thrive off their customer interactions. “It’s part of our culture to be friendly. It’s not a show, it’s the way we are. Here’s our philosophy: if I take a penny from you, unjustly, I will go to Hell for that…and I believe that. I’m not cheating because I don’t like hot places! That’s our reason for being fair. Another reason beyond that is we’re going to feed you what we eat.”
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