Producer of the Week: Brian Steer

Steer's vegetable field at spring planting time in East Coventry Township, Chester County. Photo courtesy of Brian Steer.

Steer’s vegetable field at spring planting time in East Coventry Township, Chester County. Photo courtesy of Brian Steer.

Brian Steer refers to himself as a “potluck” gardener and grower. “I have learned from talking with other growers, from research, and from experience,” he said. “And I have come to realize that success or failure is often beyond my control. Thus, the potluck.”

Just take one look at Brian’s colorful selection of eggplants, peppers and heirloom tomatoes, and you might be inspired to adopt his potluck approach, too.

Brian is a Pottstown farmer and the owner of Steer’s Vegetables and Herbs. His fondness for farming began when he was 12-years-old and grew string beans from seed. “I was amazed that the beans grew so vigorously and that I could grow food right in the backyard!”

Brian began growing commercially four years ago when his efforts to grow a variety of heirloom tomatoes resulted in a plentiful yield. He had more tomatoes than he could eat or give away to his family, friends and neighbors.

At the UM Farmers Market, patrons seek out Brian for his delicious heirloom tomatoes. “These are tomato species that have been around for many decades, if not centuries, and are genetically unmutated,” he said. As such, growing them presents a fair share of challenges. “Once ripe, they don’t last long. Many appear oddly formed. Heirlooms can’t be transported very far without damage, and are vulnerable to disease. But the taste of a good heirloom tomato is unbeatable.”

While growing heirloom varieties may prove challenging, Brian maintains his passion for growing based on three main reasons. First, he likes receiving positive feedback from customers who enjoy his vegetables. They make the labor well worth it. Second, Brian likes studying the process. “Watching the growing season unfold, seeing what insects are about, and what animals, which diseases, what mistakes I made and need t0 correct next year, and how the weather affects the crop,” he said. And third, Brian finds personal rewards in his farming role. “The peace of being in the field at any time, but especially at dusk, even if soaked in sweat and covered in sunscreen and bug repellant,” he shared.

While the rewards are great, the effort involved in farming cannot be overstated. “I think many of us are unaware of just how much hard work is required to grow vegetables organically. You can’t just plant seeds and come back later to harvest,” Brian said. “You must water, control weeds and animals, pinch unwanted growth, tie up, cut away disease and blight. Constancy is a must.”

“Industrialized agribusiness and its exploitation of labor has made food very cheep in the United States,” Brian explained. “I think many people – maybe subconsciously – assume that the price is low because production is easy. We all would do well to remember that ‘the laborer is worthy of his wages.'”

The patrons at the UM Farmers Market, according to Brian, appreciate him as a laborer and are very curious about his work. They ask questions about what he grows and how he does so. Many will share their own “gardening adventures” and recipes with him.

Brian enjoys being at the market because of these patrons and the folks who run the market. “The staff is always positive and helpful. It’s amazing when you consider the staff is volunteers who show up every week – and simply do not fail,” he said. Brian refers to the market atmosphere as upbeat.

Brian also shared that three of the founding members of the UM Farmers Market – Erika Spott, Lydia Dan Sardiñas, and Tina Garzillo – recently presented at a meeting in Pottstown where an organizing committee is looking to start a farmers market there. “These are the kind of people who make the Upper Merion Farmers Market such a great pleasure,” he said.

Thank you, Brian!

Please stop by Brian’s booth this week to check out the unbeatable taste of his heirloom tomatoes and other vegetables.