Meet the Flavor-Focused Farmers Cultivating More Than a Thousand Crops - Modern Farmer

Meet the Flavor-Focused Farmers Cultivating More Than a Thousand Crops

For Zaid and Haifa Kurdieh of Norwich Meadows Farm, crop diversity guides what grows.

“People can get almost everything at our stand,” says Zaid Kurdieh of Norwich Meadows Farm.
Photography by Brant Shapiro.

On most farms, a crop field is a timestamp that reflects a specific moment in a specific place. The fields at Norwich Meadows Farm, however, are more akin to a time capsule—or even a treasure chest. With their meticulously selected collection of approximately 1,300 crop varieties, farmers Zaid and Haifa Kurdieh have gathered generations of global agricultural activity on about 250 acres in Chenango County, New York. 

The motivation behind the astonishing array of fruits and vegetables at Norwich Meadows Farm has always been, first and foremost, flavor.

“We grew up eating very flavorful produce,” says Kurdieh of himself and his wife Haifa, who were both raised in the Middle East. Kurdieh was born in Los Angeles, but spent his early years living in several different countries abroad, including Jordan, where he met Haifa while attending high school. After relocating to the United States, they wanted to share the tastes of their childhood with their new community. “An aspect of our culture is hospitality, so we want people to be able to enjoy what we enjoy.” 

What began in 1998 with a few types of Middle Eastern vegetables grown in their backyard garden has since expanded into what Kurdieh refers to as “an international endeavor that is way bigger than our culinary heritage” and builds on the cultural identities of all 40 or so members of their farm team, as well as partnerships with farmers around the world. As their farm community gains new members, new seeds from their native countries, such as Korea and Italy, are added to the vast collection now cultivated at Norwich Meadows Farm.  

Zaid and Haifa Kurdieh met while attending high school in Jordan. (Photo: Brant Shapiro)

These partnerships include years-long collaborations with two seed companies: Tokita Seed Company in Japan and Row 7 Seed Company in New York, both of which were established in 2018 and guided by the same goal: to grow the most flavorful food possible. With Tokita, Kurdieh became a participant of the Oishii Nippon Project, which seeks to preserve heirloom seeds cultivated for hundreds of years in Japan by sharing these seeds with growers everywhere. With Row 7, Kurdieh joined a team that includes chef Dan Barber of the Michelin-starred Manhattan restaurant Blue Hill and plant breeder Dr. Michael Mazourek of Cornell University to develop dazzling new crops. 

Nowhere else beyond the borders of Norwich Meadows Farm will you find a field of negi (an allium similar to scallions that has grown in Japan for centuries) one season and a field of koginut (a squash developed in the US and first made available for sale just five years ago) in another. 

For Kurdieh, this balance between tradition and innovation—and the crop diversity that has flourished along the way—is both a business decision and a personal preference.

Norwich Meadows Farm relies on a variety of revenue streams that cater to buyers big and small, but its most significant source of income depends on its presence at farmers markets around New York and New Jersey. Among these is the Union Square Market in New York City, where home cooks and some of the world’s most famous chefs shop side by side. 

“People can get almost everything at our stand,” says Kurdieh. “And every week there’s something new. Having all that variety makes us stand out.”

Farmers markets are Norwich Meadows Farm‘s most significant source of revenue. (Photo: Brant Shapiro)

“Variety” applies to both the extensive range of produce available—everything from berries and beans to ginger and greens—and the numerous kinds of any given crop, all of which are grown organically. Depending on the season, customers might encounter 80 varieties of tomatoes, 40 kinds of peppers, 25 types of beans or a dozen different kinds of potatoes.  

Kurdieh explains that this approach to farming is also a risk mitigator. With so many different crops growing, the failure of one does not result in the failure of the farm as a whole. This is especially important as Norwich Meadows Farm experiences increasingly erratic weather patterns linked to the climate crisis. 

“Overall temperatures are up, but the swings are much more pronounced and that has killed crops for us,” he says, citing an unusual period of freezing temperatures during a recent winter that destroyed half their garlic crop.   

Crop diversity helps to mitigate the risk of adverse weather. (Photo: Brant Shapiro)

The advantages of biodiversity justify the enormous challenge of keeping track of more than a thousand unique crops at a time—particularly while Norwich Meadows Farm is currently understaffed due to a labor shortage affecting the entire agricultural sector—but it is the excitement of exploration and experimentation in the fields that underpins the business, which has come to be considered a trend leader in the food industry. 

“Working with chefs and breeders and other people is very, very rewarding, especially when you can help make new fruit and vegetable varieties that are more healthy and more tasty,” says Kurideh. “It makes the demanding nature of this business a lot more palatable and fun.” 

The work of farming has never been easy, so finding the fun in it is essential. For the Kurdiehs, the pursuit of flavor is what makes it all worth it, and for those who have the fortune of tasting what grows at Norwich Meadows Farm—whether it is the first season or the thousandth season for a particular plant variety—the delight of biting into a perfect piece of produce at its peak is timeless.

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10 months ago

Love the work! Inspiring