Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Since one of the oft touted benefits of buying local food is that you get to know your farmers, I thought I would present you with a thumbnail biography about the Farmer and myself so that you might have some small insight into why we do what we do. We have never really done that before because it is very weird to write about yourself. If you read this blog, you know that growing things is a big part of our life, so I am just going to write about the non-NMFO stuff. Hope it turns out okay...

The Farmer

The Farmer was born in 1959 and grew up mostly in Charlotte. His dad was in law enforcement and his mom worked for the school system but they both grew up in the farming community where we are presently located. His parents moved to Charlotte in the late 1950's but because their family ties remained strong, the Farmer spent lots of his weekends and most of his summers coming back to the farm where he spent much of his time helping his grandad and great-grandad work on the farm. He also spent a lot of time outdoors which is where he developed his great love and understanding of nature. One of the reasons he got into organic farming is because of the connection to that love of all things natural. To be able to make a living doing something that is such a noble venture, as well as something that is part of your very core being, is about the best job I can think of right now. Besides, he has the greenest thumb this side of the Jolly Green Giant.

In Charlotte, his family lived outside the city limits, in a rural area where there were still several working farms. When he was about 12, he had a job, before school, at the dairy farm behind their house, feeding the cows as they were being milked. He had a great big bucket that he had to keep refilling at the silo and hauling back to the barn to keep the cows happy and calm. I think he might have also done some milking when he was a teenager.

After graduating high school, he attended college in North Carolina, where he played soccer (first ever freshman to start for his team...he was pretty good) and got a degree in Industrial Design and Engineering. He then spent 15 years or so working as an engineer for a design firm that made precision and micro instruments for industrial uses. Things like drill bits the size of a human hair and stuff like that. He also worked on projects for the auto and computer industry. Eventually, he left the field of engineering and headed west to pursue another life.

All of his life, the Farmer gravitated toward to the water, rivers, lakes or the oceans, which lead him to take up sailing at a young age and he remains a proficient big boat sailor to this day. His love of wind, water and waves, sparked an interest in a fledgling sport back in the early 80's called "windsurfing". Quickly mastering this sport, he spent several years with a corporate sponsorship on the windsurfing circuit. Kite boarding came along in the 90's and the progression into that sport just came naturally. Today he continues to pursue these sports, whenever he can get time away from the farm to do so.

Gifted with an incredibly right and curious mind, the Farmer is a true Renaissance man. He has many wide and varied interests that don't involve water. He is a licensed falconer and knows a whole lot about raptors. He plays guitar, Dobro, banjo and percussion. He practices yoga. He can build just about anything from the ground up and can make fire with a couple of sticks and a strip of leather. One area of particular interest to the Farmer is the study of Native American spiritualism and culture, particularly the Hopi. He hopes to complete his spiritual healing studies someday. And he always tells the truth, even if it stings a little. The Farmer is pretty cool.

The Farmer's Wife

I had a wonderful childhood. I grew up in a small town near the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains that was big enough not to be "backward" and small enough so that everybody pretty much knew each other. I was a "town girl" who had grandparents with a farm just outside of the city limits. They grew a huge garden every year which fed us pretty well and that granny taught me how to cook with ingredients fresh from the garden and the value of preserving part of the harvest every year.

Besides the big garden, there were also had apple and cherry trees to climb. We played under grapevines that Granny constantly admonished us to stay away from, lest we get stung by yellow jackets or bees. I don't remember ever getting stung by a yellow jacket until this past year. They had a mangy 3 legged cat that hung around the barn most of the time and presented us with tiny kittens to play with many times. (back then nobody spayed their pets). They gave her away a couple of times but she always returned so they just gave up. I loved that old raggedy cat. I won't say I ran wild at their farm, but is certainly was a free and wonderful place to be.

My other set of grandparents lived in town but had a huge back yard that was a wonderland to me as a child. That grandmother was from up North and cooked weird and exotic things like asparagus or rhubarb pie, with ingredients from her own garden. They had a crab apple tree in the back and a quince bush covered with big thorns and she made jelly out of those fruits. They also had a couple of apple trees that I wish we had saved cuttings from because I now realize that they were heirloom varieties. There was one tree that had the absolute best apples I have ever tasted. I don't eat apples to this day because of that tree...haven't found a variety that even comes close to the flavor and I searched for years before I gave that quest up. The closest I ever came was the old time Rusty Coat.

My grandfather also had a solarium where he grew some really exotic plants, like the giant jade tree that was taller than me as an adult or the Bird of Paradise plant that bloomed almost continually and from which he sold the flowers to the local florist. He also had a full sized lemon tree in the greenhouse that he used the lemons from to make incredible lemon meringue pies for which he was well know among the local widows ( my grandmother died with I was 19).

These city grandparents were organic gardeners and I remember growing up reading Rodale's Organic Gardening magazine because there were always several issues on the coffee table in their den. They had a big compost pile in the far corner of the yard, next to the asparagus/rhubarb beds and I used to marvel at all of the worms when I "helped" my grandfather turn the pile.

That early exposure (I was probably around 10 when what I was reading in the ROGs at their house started to sink in a bit) really shaped my lifelong interest in organic growing methods. In the late 60's I finally made the connection between organics and what was happening to the environment, to health issues, etc. Reading "The Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson had a tremendous influence on my views about the world.

After graduating from high school, I worked through my life by going off to college, getting married, having kids and working my way up to a successful career. My marriage failed and I was at odds on what direction to take with my life. It was a very confusing time and I was really at a loss for where to go next. One dream I never lost through all those years was to go out West and find a commune where I could grow my own food, get back to the land, live free, etc. (Of course that was my dream! I grew up in the Sixties...).

It took me two years to make the decision but I decided to see if any of that dream was still alive. I finally quit my job in 1994 and a week later I was on the road. The reality of it turned out to be that I just needed to clear my head and re-evaluate the direction my life was taking and it worked. Through those travels, I discovered that my dream had matured considerably and that my path was not what I had envisioned at all. That is what brought me to the place I am today. The best thing about taking that dramatic step was that I found someone to share my journey.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It is WooHoo! time at the Farm

Going to the mailbox is becoming more and more fun lately because the seed catalogs are rolling in every day now. Last year, I got on some new mailing lists for seeds, plants, equipment, etc. and some of those have arrived. I haven't even opened a single catalog yet because I want to sit down and just start going through them one at a time until I have perused them all. Usually I open them as they come in but thought I would do something different this year.

Ordinarily, I would not order a paper catalog (tree hugger, remember?) but I can't compare varieties, etc. using the computer. I have a big old oak library table where I do my paperwork and I can spread about 10 catalogs around and flip one to the other. Since I am mostly looking for ethnic, open pollinated and organically grown seeds, I start there but if I see a variety that is not being produced organically I have a whole other process I have to go through. We are required to use certified organic seed (no GMO allowed in certified seed) unless we can verify that we checked all sources available to us and did not find the variety produced that way...that is a job when you grow over 100 different varieties. Also, we only use seed sources that publish a "safe seed" pledge if they are not organically produced varieties.

Sometimes, I get heirloom seeds, organic or not, from seed savers like myself and from all over the country. One particular seed friend that I trade seeds with is in Southern California, almost down to Mexico. She grows all kinds of native Mexican chiles and loves to get our southern varieties, especially okras, in trade because they will grow in her hot dry climate. Sometimes they do better, too, because she doesn't have to deal with the humidity like we do (fungi are a problem for her). She turned me onto a Chocolate Chile that has become a favorite with us and a variety I have never seen in any seed catalog. It is dark brown, mildly spicy and tastes like it was smoked, even when eaten fresh! Gotta love that! But back to the subject I was on before I took that little trek off path.

Once I get a feel for anything new that I think we might want to grow, I research the varieties more thoroughly online (the blurbs in seed catalogs are meant to "sell" on on a variety, so I like to check out the real skinny on them by looking at online blogs and forums that discuss the realities of them. Don't always find them but I would say that 8 out of 10 times, I do. Then I have to present my arguments to the Farmer for his approval (sometimes he sees something I totally missed). There is a lot more to what we do here than just picking up some seed packs at the local seed store and sticking them in the ground. It actually takes us about 2 months of research and planning to get our farm plan like we want it.

Soil and field prep will start as soon as the ground dries out enough to get anything done. Right now the ground is "sticky" meaning that it sticks to hoes, plows, etc. and makes getting any field work done nearly impossible. There was an announcement last week that the drought in Rowan County was just declared officially over (in December...) and so we will be scrambling in February to get things prepped for planting. That is also about the time we will start out seedlings for planting out in April (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, herbs) once it is warm enough to set them in the garden without fearing a hard freeze. April planting will becomes the June/July/August crop of those items.

The good news is that we have lots of things in the ground that will "winter over" and pop up out of the ground and/or start growing again, as soon as we start having warmer days, usually in mid-February. We learned our lesson a couple of years ago, when the winter was so wet we had trouble getting anything planted in time to start our season on time. We were about 2 weeks late on planting and that put us behind until summer. One thing about farming is that there are continual lessons to be learned and if you don't pay attention, you will suffer later. The weather in this region has become so unpredictable in spring and so extreme in summer that some of our growing methods have changed radically in the 10 years we have been doing this. Maybe since the drought has broken, the summer will not be so brutal in 2009. Keeping my fingers crossed for that.

Monday, December 22, 2008

CSA brings responsibilities for the shareholders, not just farmers

" a shareholder in both the bounty and the risk, I understand that nature ultimately decides what I receive and when I will receive it."

That is a quote from the first paragraph of our CSA membership agreement and it is a powerful statement. For anyone who is considering membership in CSA (any CSA, not just ours) I would like to give some insight into what being in a CSA means. While every CSA is different in some way, the basic premise is pretty much the same.

Buying into a CSA is an investment in a working farm, not hiring a produce delivery service. No investment comes without potential risks, as well as potential rewards, and a CSA is no exception. The member's investment returns are paid with the labor of the farmer, the use of his land, water and other resources and as a portion of harvests received. There are many factors that can affect the outcome. Anything that happens on the farm affects the CSA, ergo the members are affected, also.

Nothing is ever guaranteed in any investment, especially one involving a farm venture. When a crop is less than expected or fails completely members share that outcome. There is never any way to know exactly what conditions will provide which bounties or crop losses and a CSA member should be prepared for either situation.

Members of a CSA invest in a specific year's seasonal crops and harvests, in return for a specified number of week's products during that year. Ours happens to run for 30 weeks and our growing season runs from April to April. Sometime in that 12 month period, we will fulfill our 30 week obligation to our members. We do our very best to provide it as a weekly portion for 30 consecutive weeks, but there can be no guarantee that this will be the case. The same is true for most any CSA.

Generally, the operator of a CSA knows pretty well what members can expect to receive over the seasons, but there is never any way to say exactly how much or exactly when crops will come in. Say a strain of green beans is supposed to take 65 days to produce, that is only an average and usually if growing conditions are optimal. With the weather in this region being so unpredictable and extreme sometimes, there are many many factors that weigh into a successful year's harvests. Part of the farmer's expertise comes in with being able to plan, execute and deliver crops by being able to work around these variables.

Any venture in which the ultimate successful outcome is dependent on variables like weather conditions, insect pests, crop failures, flooding rains, wind damage is stressful. It is business as usual in our region. Organic field grown crops are considerably more susceptible to any adverse conditions because of the nature of how these crops are grown. With all the factors that weigh into a successful growing year, a farmer who is bringing in a decent crop of 30, 40 or even 50 different varieties is quite a feat, yet we do that consistently here at our farm.

Food doesn't just happen. Growing certified organic food takes capital, extensive knowledge, patience, perseverance, hard work, luck and sometimes even a small miracle for any crop to come to its full fruition. The farm labor has to be done, sometimes 50-60+ hours per week, in searing heat or bitter cold ( farmers work year round to provide food during the growing season). The varieties are chosen (picking out good ones is a skill in itself), the seeds are bought and planted, the weeds hoed and pulled. Planting, picking, prepping and packing has to be done.

All of that work is done no matter what the final outcome is and nothing changes that. I think that people don't realize is how much the farmer loses when there is a crop loss. The expense, time, effort, space, effect on future plantings, the scrambling to plant something to make up for the shortfall all falls on the shoulders of the grower. We have worked just as hard and put in just as much on a crop that didn't produce but a bushel of produce as we did on the one that produced ten.

The CSA farm/member relationship is not a simple one. Being in a CSA means that you have to be willing to support your CSA farm, financially, spiritually and personally. Most people join a CSA because they want to know the person who grows their food and develop ties to that person, even if it is just to say "hi" when the share is picked up for the week. Having that supportive membership means a lot to the farmer.

Most CSA operators are extremely dedicated to their members and the expertise and skill of the farmer has something to do with the end results. Unrealistic expectations about the CSA farm usually leads to disappointment or an unsatisfactory experience with CSA membership. Going into the relationship with realistic ideas about what can and might happen and appreciation of the amount of work involved in growing and managing a CSA can make a big difference in your CSA experience.

CSA membership is an immensely rewarding experience for most people who join one. Beautiful fresh, healthy produce, sharing in bountiful harvests, feeling good about supporting a family farm and getting to know the person who grows the food you feed your family should be enough to make CSA membership worthwhile.

Helping to support a small sustainable farm is also a great way to put your "green" food forward by actually doing something pro-active to improve the environment. Most small farms pollute less, protect the land from environmental concerns and use methods that make the food that they grow much safer and healthier than anything you can buy at a supermarket. Reducing the carbon footprint related to your food supply is certainly a positive thing.

So, after reading all of that, if you think that being in a CSA might be the thing for you, go out and find one in your area. You can look on websites and or you can search the Web using keywords like CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, farm share, local produce along with your state or Zip Code (otherwise you will find CSA's from California....).

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Not such a great idea...

According to serious environmentalists, one of the worst ideas of 2008: Carbon Offsets

The wanna-be environmentalist's "Get out of Jail Free" card, carbon offsets enable companies or individuals to invest in tree farms or wind power as a way to compensate for their carbon footprints. Problem is, offsets don't change behavior. They're just the green equivalent of confession, making people feel better about their eco-sins but not stopping them from committing them.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Wrote this a while back and never published it...

The title of this blog is "Simply Sustainable - My Life on an Organic Farm". It mostly talks about the ups and downs of living and working as a farmer. But I wasn't always a farmer. In fact, my previous incarnation was about as far from farmer as you can get. I worked in the financial services industry for over 25 years....securities and commodity brokerage, to be specific.

My epiphany that maybe that industry wasn't where I needed to be came to me back in 1992 and it took me two years to shake myself loose from it and "retire" from my long career there. I have never looked back, although sometimes I do miss the money. Of course, that only lasts for about 30 seconds because my old life always flashes before my eyes and brings me back to reality because the truth of it is that I am not sure that I would have survived another year in that business, much less the 13 years since my departure.

I have worked hard to distance myself from the reality that most people live in daily (9 to 5 job, big mortgage payment, credit card debt, etc.) on purpose. I gave up a lot by today's standards of success to get to the place I am in my present life. The money, the house, the car, the travel abroad...none of it really ended up meaning much after all, once it was gone. For a while, it was kind of like an out of body experience, but when I settled back down to earth, it was all good. Like anybody else, my life is far from perfect, but it is much closer than the marjority of people that I know. I have truly never been happier in my adult life.

Of course, I would not be honest if I didn't give a lot of credit to the people around me who have supported and loved me no matter how radical or strange my choices may have seemed to them. And I certainly could not have reached this level of
satisfaction in my life without having my best friend by my side every step of the way. Sometimes, there are people who come into you life that have a profound effect and if you have the wisdom and openess to accept what they bring to you it can change your life forever. Not to sound cliche, because I truly belive this, opening yourself up to the endless possibilities of the Universe is the most important step anyone can take to having their best life ever. We are only given one life at a time to live, so make this one count.

Monday, December 1, 2008


I hope that everyone is faring well during the recent economic turmoil that has been affecting us all. The state of the world is very fragile right now and I pray for peace and harmony every day and for the health and happiness of all. It is not an easy road to travel but if we take it slowly and mindfully, things will be brighter at the end of the road. The Farmer and I have given a lot of thought to how to do our part to help out those who want to be in CSA but who might need a little assistance with making that happen.

Trying to keep our CSA accessible and affordable is a very challenging proposition. By not raising our costs at the same level that other industries are raising theirs we have pretty much kept out prices at the same level for the last several years. This has been a tremendous burden because our production costs have tripled in many areas. Last year, we did increase the price of CSA to a level that would allow us to include delivery of shares to members but that has proven to be an "if it ain't broke don't fix it" scenario. (Who would have thought that gas prices would have spiked at $4+ per gallon right in the middle of our busiest season?) We will be going back to pick up locations for next year and have added one to the list, so now there will be three choices. In addition, we have changed the structure of our CSA to include more affordable payment options and expanded CSA overall by establishing partnership with other local farmers.

For the first time ever, we are accepting monthly payments (after the initial deposit) for membership in our CSA. We have set up a PayPal account to take credit card payments (although there is a small admin fee -theirs, not ours- to use this system).

Also, we are offering a Month-to-Month Share that requires only a one month at a time commitment. There are a couple of restrictions on the Month-to-Month option. This share is not available in May and June, during strawberry season, and it is not available as a 100% organic produce share but overall is still a great CSA option.

We had not planned on having Charlotte back in the pick up rotation next year but the demand was such that we had to pay attention. For that reason, we have added the Charlotte Regional Farmer's Market back into our schedule for 2009. We will be there on Saturdays again starting in late April (CSA officially starts May 2, 2009). There will also be lots of our organic produce for sale at this market but a limited number of varieties. We are doing 2 other markets now and don't want to spread it too thinly so our farm plan includes growing some of our more major crops (okra and sweet potatoes for example) in quantities enough to accommodate all of our venues.

All of the information about these new options are published on the website at

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanskgiving to Everyone!!!

Hello to everyone. It's been a while since posted anything new here. It has been crazy busy around here lately but I am taking time to write this brief post right now to give our holiday greetings to everyone who reads this blog. I have a little downtime to myself because I waiting for eggs to boil (got the under the chickens this morning). I am going to make these rocking curry stuffed eggs for Thanksgiving dinner today. Oh-oh! Now I hear the beeper going off on the egg timer and I am off to make my eggs.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Revelations about buying organic in supermarkets

I hate grocery shopping. I love to cook and so everything I see (except for paper products, etc.)is a potential ingredient for something tasty so I get total sensory overload and buy things I will never use. Because I only buy organic, this can get quite expensive so a trip to the grocer store for me is an exercise in self-control. Once in a while, though, we do go to the supermarket and last week, the Farmer and I went to SuperTarget. It is like sticker shock on a new car, every time we go and this most recent trip was not exception.

(Note: Everything we bought was certified organic, except for the mayo)

  • 2 medium sized Slicing Cukes (What a disappointment these things were. I cut the first one and it had a big hard mass of seeds in the middle that I couldn't even cut with a knife and we threw it out. The other one was dry and yellow inside, even though the outside looked perfect.)

  • 1 Pgk (7 Small) Tomatoes (Campari's, about the size of a pingpong ball)
    12 ounces was the pkg wgt. They were quite tasty but they didn't go very far.

  • 1 Med. Yellow Squash and 1 Med. Zuchinni (pkgd. together - not quite 1# wgt. We had 2 meals from those.)

  • 4 avocados (which were partially black inside...yuck! I made gray guacamole...tasted okay but looked horrendous)

  • 1 lb bag of green onions

  • 1 Amy's Spinach Pizza (on sale last week so we indulged)

  • 2 bags organic frozen french fries (don't ask)

  • 1 lb bag carrots (there are 5 carrots in the bag)

  • 1 head of broccoli

  • 2 boxes of organic oatmeal (on sale)

  • 1Pkg of 6 flatbreads

  • 2 pkgs organic cheddar cheese (likewise on sale and an indulgence)

  • 1 Jar of peanut butter (staple)

  • 1 lb organic butter (staple)

  • 3 lb. bag of onions (staple) (We already used all but 2 of the onions, 5 were in the bag.)

  • 5 lb bag of russet potatoes (staple)

  • 1 Jar of Mayo (staple)

That is the entire list of what we bought. If it looks like a lot, it isn't. Everything listed above fit into 3 bags...and the total was $106.87. That means that the average cost of each item listed was about $3.50 (of course some were more, some were less...but that is the average.) I think if I had been buying conventional food, I could have gotten 2 or 3 times as much for my money.

I feel good about the fact that we grow the majority of our own food and that this trip to the market was a relatively rare occurence. I do watch for organic bargains where I can find them and stock up, if and when , it is something that I know we will use. I have been know to buy out an entire stocking of a product, if it is a good deal and I can make good use of it down the road. Organic chicken stock was a recent purchase....I bought 15 cans at less than $1 each.

When I do buy off farm produced items, I am very diligent about certain aspects of what I am purchasing. I never buy organic products from out of the country, unless I know exactly where they came from and the situation with organic certification for the country of origin and/or whether or not it is a fair trade item. Since these items are as scarce as hen's teeth in my culinary world that is not much of a problem for me. But we do like organic raw almonds, for example, ergo I have to get them from a non-local source and I consider them an indulgence, to have once in a while, not a staple food item. I don't know too many people who grow them in this area (although I do know one person with an almond tree, just down the road from our farm).

If you are smart with your organic shopping, you can eat healthy food at a reasonable cost, especially if you supplement your produce with fresh local in season items when you can take advantage of them, preserve things for later when things are in season, and learn to make you own foods from scratch, instead of buying prepared and processed foods. It may be a little more expensive but in the long run you will be healthier and stronger for it and probably a lot more self-sufficient.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Delaware Project update

If you have followed this blog for a while, you probably know that I have been almost obsessed with Delaware chickens for quite a while. Delawares are a critically endangered domestic breed chicken that was the most popular fowl in America for a while in the 1940's.

Being critically endangered means that there are 5 or fewer breeding flocks (or 500 breeding birds worldwide) being managed and that the fowl is in danger of being lost. Same as with species in the wild...extinction of domestic livestock is something that many people don't ever think about. I think that losing these breeds loses some of our history and, as with our comittment to preservation of historical heirloom food plants, I am determined to do my part for this chicken breed.

Back in April, after searching nationwide for a source to obtain some of these chickens, luck smiled upon me and I contacted someone in my own backyard who had some. I guess my passion for this project (I want to establish a breeding flock of Delawares) must have touched him because after a few conversations, he offered to sell me his entire flock from adult birds to
day old hatched chicks (he had them in the incubator at the time) so I jumped at the chance. Needless to say, I was thrilled because I had called all the way to Montana to try to find these
rare birds in quantity and then they just fell into my lap.

The original group consisted of 14 mature hens, 5 roosters (I only took 2...they are HUGE) and about 80 chicks ranging in age from 3-4 weeks down to the day olds that hatched the morning of the day when I picked them up. The chicks were the progeny of these 14 hens and the roosters so it really is a big ole family. (We have other chicken breeds, too but not quite as many as the Dels.)

That was back in April and now the chicks that survived are almost as big as their parents. Of the 80, we lost about 10 to predatation and accidents. All of the original adults survive. There are just about the same number of roosters as there are hens now. The young hens are almost at the proper age to start laying themselves. At the present time, the chickens have total free range of the entire farm, if they want it, but stay pretty close to the henhouse, where they are housed at night to keep predators from them and where they are .

While predation of your livestock is usually not funny, there are situations than can be. We have a couple of Cooper's Hawks that live in our area. These are the true chicken hawks, not the Red Tail Hawk, which is commonly thought to be the culprit. Cooper's are bird predators, while Red Tails are rat/mouse predators. Anyway, these chickens are so big that the Coop's just sit in the trees and scream down at them because they know they are way too big for them to even try to prey on and so the chickens just turn their heads and look up at them and don't even try to get under any cover. Our game chickens run for the hills when anything crosses the sky, even a plane, but the Delawares just kinda of get an attitude like, "Yeah, right..... ".

Some of our hens probably weigh in at about 6 lbs and the two mature roosters, Spartacus and Hercules, go about 8-9 lbs. each. And they are gentle giants. No squabbling among them like some of the other chicken breeds we have. The roosters actually seem to cooperate to keep the hens safe and satisfied. Of course, they have about 100 ladies to share between the two of them and they take their responsibilities very seriously. Some of the young roosters are getting a little "cocky" and they are quickly dispatched but the hens, not the roosters. Totally funny!!

I hope to have Delaware chicks and pullets for sale by next year but for now, I am keeping all of them safe and healthy, which is very satisfying for me. After this post, there are some pictures of the gang, so take a look if you are interested!
Hercules and some of his "girls", chilling in the shade.
Doofus, one of the young Delawares. Hope he grows into those feet.
Spartacus showing me his good side...
Taking in some barnyard sunshine.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Twice a year, once in spring and once again in the fall, our weather in this area just can't seem to decide which season it wants to be in. Last week and again this week, we are seeing evidence of that with the wild temperature fluctuations. It was 82 degrees one day and less than 36 hours we had a low of 34, which is a 48 degree difference.

There are not too many places that have such roller coaster rides for weather as this one. It wreaks havoc on trying to get crops like we grow to settle into one season or the other. We have many, many things planted right now. They grow like mad for a while, then slow to a crawl, so it is hard sometimes to get Fall actually started, especially when summer like temps tease us one day and frost licks at our heels the next.

The late summer varieties are lasting way longer than normal. Eggplant, peppers, basil and other herbs are humming along like nothing is happening, although we did water them down the other day when there was a frost warning for our community. The Fall varieties are coming along but taking a little longer because of the warmer temps. Not so great if you are getting tired of the summer stuff but great in the long run because the Fall stuff will peak and last longer into the cooler season and so take us thru the end of our CSA, provided nothing else weird happens with the weather. Once we get into late November and early December, then the chances of a cold snap come into play.

We have 8 weeks left and CSA will be done for the year. If members take away nothing else from this season with CSA, they should have a greater grasp of what a small farmer faces when trying to bring in a seasons crops. Factory farms that plant only one thing and do everything mechanically and chemically don't have to fret over much. Diversity require faith, patience, expertise, finesse and a whole lot of good luck to produce the end result. This is the main reason that the US is down to about 80 varieties. If you go into a grocer in Modesto, California and buy a head of lettuce, it is exactly the same variety you would purchase here....keeping it boring and simply is key to factory farming.

We originally took up focusing on heirlooms because we wanted to preserve and enjoy the same foods that our great- and grandparents lived on. Tastes much better too, because we grow things for flavor, nutrition, beauty and interest, not whether or not it can be packed into a train car and shipped 3000 miles or if it will last 3-4 weeks on the grocer shelf (think shipping tomatoes...and where does the nutrition go?).

Things have gone much better this year than last year during the drought and we are well pleased with it all. Of course, the gas price hikes and shortages were not so much fun, were they? We still have stations here in Mooresville that don't have premium petrol, only regular, but the price is $3.09 instead of $4.09.

Knocking on wood that nothing drastic happens in the next 2 months, we should finish out the season no problem. Except for the disaster that is delivery, it was a pretty good year all 'round. Once our season is finished, we can sit back, breath a sigh of relief, take a month off and start the process all over again.

Farming organically is a year round system. I will be working on the farm plan in Dec./Jan. and the Farmer will be back in the field by February, doing soil prep. Overwintered crops will start to pop back up as soon as we have some warm days, even in February, and we will be back in full swing by the end of March or early April. CSA doesn't start until May next year unless we have a bumper early crop and start a few weeks early. Since there is still a pretty good chance of weird weather conditions until about the first week of May, we decided not to fight it next year and just wait it out.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Garden Helper coming to call

This beautiful mantis was perched outside our kitchen window this morning, stalking a meal in the azaleas. Can't tell from this pic but she is about 4 inches long. Tried to get her to turn her head so you could see her face, but she was intent on an insect that was probably her breakfast.
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That's the way things are in my universe...

I try really hard to keep adding things to this blog, but we are so very busy this time of year that it is an almost impossible task. For that reason, I have posted a quarterly, in depth entry on what happened in the previous quarter and some insight into what might be happening in the next. So, if this post seems particularly long, there was a lot going on this summer.

The Way Things Are.... October 2008

We are now rushing into the Fall season for 2008 and looking very forward to working in the cooler temps. Even cold rainy days can be exhilarating, provided you can duck inside periodically for a warm up and a cup of Chai. So far, the last 3 weeks have had nearly perfect weather, rain included.

I am loving life in that regard since this is my absolute favorite time of year, weatherwise, except for really big snows. Those are the best! They come at the time of year when we don't have to feel guilty for being in the house by the fire all day, cozied up with a good book or some videos. Even if the power goes out, we are good to go because we are just as comfortable with no electricity as we are with it. The only thing the Farmer misses is that he can't plug in his Fender but he just switched to the acoustic and it's all good. We heater our home with a wood stove for the first years we lived here, just updating to a heatpump year early last year, so we can keep warm and make dinner, even if the power goes out. And truthfully, I like that much better and being electrified. Also, if the power goes out, remember not to panic about your freezer/fridge.
If the power it out, it is usually colder outside than in the fridge anyway, so just put your milk outside. Or fill the cooler up with snow and put it in there.

But, I am getting off subject, as usual. This year has been one of ups and downs so far. The gardens have yielded a bounty of crops over the summer season and we still have some of the late summer season veggies coming off like crazy. Eggplant, peppers and okra are still making fruit, although with the first frost, there goes the end of summer. And since the average first frost date in this area is October, 14th, there isn't much time left...just a couple of weeks at most. That opens the door for the next season, which gives new meaning to the phrase "going green"!

About a month or so ago, because of the rains that came with Fay, Gustav and Ike (those storms obviously didn't hit us but certainly influenced our weather for several weeks), we were late getting much of our fall crops into the ground. We have talked to a couple of neighbors who ran into the same thing. Crazy thing about rainfall in this vicinity is that we have little pockets that get vast amounts of rain when others get almost none and so there is a misconception that when you watch the weather of the local TV station, everybody's weather is exactly the same.

Because we got plantings in late this season, we took a bit of a different turn and just basically planted every cooler weather seed we had in our inventory, which was considerable. For example, we planted arugula, collards, canola, specialty turnips, winter radishes, salad radishes, Asian greens of all types, about 30 kinds of leaf lettuce and 20 kinds of head lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, chard, kale, mustards, Chinese cabbages, broccoli raab and more. We planted over 1 1/2 acres of green stuff. Figured that overplanting would yield enough for the rest of fall and winter and also serve as a cover crop between now and next years plantings. Vegetation turned back into the fields are green manures, even if they are weeds, so it is the perfect scenario for what we are trying to accomplish in this area of the gardens.

In addition to all the planting, weeding, picking, etc. that goes on around here, there is also a lot involved CSA management. I wish more farmers would catch on to this distribution is a great thing for everyone but I can see why they are put off by the concept, especially if time management is a problem for them. To make it work, planning is crucial. What goes on in the gardens is pretty much under the watchful eye of the Farmer, so that is no problem. But when you start trying to deal with things that are totally out of your control, things are different.

In the past, we have always had our members pick up their shares at a specific location on certain days of the week. This year, I got it in my head that we were expending too much energy, etc. in our CSA by having people drive to get their weekly divvy because I was concerned about the impact we were having on the environment.

I had canvassed the members last year and was astounded that the weekly carbon footprint of our CSA was almost 1500 miles for the collective. I decided that me driving 350 miles was more environmentally friendly (which it is, but highly impractical, it turns out.) and opted to deliver shares this year. This venture (home delivery) has proven to be the most frustrating, all consuming thing we have ever done at the Farm. The slightest disruption at the farm, ripples out to the delivery schedule and creates more work for everyone involved.

I suppose if we had a person who just did delivery it would be great, but this farm runs with only the 4 hands that the Farmer and I provide and taking 2 of those hands away for 2-3 days per week has proven to be more of a burden. The wear and tear on me personally is another wrench thrown into the machine and so we have abandoned the whole idea of delivery for next year. We are going back to the old system of pick up locations. Hopefully, members can choose the location closest to them and we can reduce our impact that way. It is still local food and it is still not driving a tomato 2800 miles, so I can live with that system.

In 2009, another of our goals concerns education about organic and biodynamic farming principles and practical applications of those principles. The Farmer and I will be working on planning some on farm educational opportunities (weekend seminars, work-study programs) to help spread the good word about what we believe are some of the most important knowledge and skills a person can possess in these uncertain times we are living in today.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hazardous Duty at New Moon Farm

Hi to everyone. Welcome to yet another chapter in the saga of My Life on an Organic Farm.

I think that Farmer's Wife should be on the list of most dangerous jobs. So far this year I have been bitten by spiders at least 3 times, twisted my ankle about 10 times, been sunburned and windburned, had poison ivy in places where I can't figure out how the heck it got there in the first place. I have been out in the wet and cold until I had a sore throat and bronchitis, in the heat until I almost had sunstroke, nearly been killed about 5 times driving produce around, stepped on a poisonous snake, I have repetitive motion injury from picking and pulling weeds, my hands and feet are so rough and dry from constantly being in water, dirt, heat, cold, you name it, that I could refinish wood without sandpaper. I have had splinters of wood everywhere you can imagine and almost lost a fingertip from an infection from a eucalyptus spine that got lodged under my fingernail. I constantly have itchy watery eyes because I am allergic to most pollens and get contact dermititis when I touch okra, eggplant, squash and tomatoes. Plus, I can't take anything for it because I am allergic to and/or overeact to most prescription drugs. One benadryl will knock me out for 8 hours and I can't work when I am comatose, so I just suffer mostly. Yesterday was a new one, even for me.

Last night, about 8:45, as I was getting out of the car from yesterday's delivery route, something hit me in the chest and then fell down my shirt and started stinging me. Next thing I knew I was swooning and experiencing the most excrutiating pain I have felt in a while. My entire upper torso felt like it was on fire. I started screaming and literally ripped my shirt off and flung it into the air and ran into the house. I am allergic to many insect bites ands stings (not deadly but bad enough....) because I have an overactive immune system (mosquito bites swell up like marbles when I get bitten and itch for days on end). I don't know if that is good or bad. I read today online that wasp/hornet/yellow jacket stings are not nearly as painful or venemous as a bee sting, UNLESS you are sensitive to them because you have an overactive immune system. Welcome to my world.

The culprit this time was a baldfaced hornet. I DO NOT recommend getting stung by one of these buggers... the bald faced hornet is not really a hornet, just a giant yellowjacket about 3/4 long. These are the things that build those big papery nests that look like gray footballs. We have been seeing them quite a lot recently, even had a couple on the back porch, but can't locate the nest anywhere, so it must be up high in a tree. Thank goodness they will be gone by the first frost (can't take the cold...think they hibernate) so we should be able to find the next when the leaves fall, so hopefully they will go elsewhere. Because they are beneficial insects, we won't try to kill them but I am not sure they will do me the same courtesy.

Today I have a handsized bright red welt on my chest that is mostly red and hot as a firecracker. It itches like crazy, but at least the pain in my shoulder and neck has abated. Anyway, I didn't get much picking done today because I didn't sleep last night and then I took benadryl after lunch and was on the sofa for most of the afternoon. The Farmer and I planted all morning, til lunch time...I mostly handed him seed packs but at least I was out there. Go, me.

Anyway, given the state of the financial industry right now (had a 25 year career in that biz), I think I will continue to take my chances on the Farm. At least I don't have to swim with sharks or cozy up to rabid wolves out here.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Spit bugs and barking dogs

Well, that title certainly got my attention. Of course, it was my title, so I guess I should explain the significance.

After the rain a couple of weeks ago, we had an unprecedented number of spittle bugs all over the place. Spit bugs are one of my least favorite bugs (next to the chewing gum bugs) because they make this "nest" that literally looks like a big lugie. And they put them on everything. Imagine going out to the bean patch to pick green beans and finding that the entire patch hosting a spit bug family reunion. It made me so mad I screamed really loud, hence, the barking dogs part of the title...three of our JRTS thought something required their chorus of barks and howls and the melee that insued over the spit bugs was quite chaotic for a few minutes.

Chewing gum bugs, thank goodness, are not very prolific. But every once in a while, I turn over a leaf and there is what looks like a big wad of chewed gum. Same texture, same color, same random shape. Closer inspection reveals that it is actually a cluster of really large white eggs but the first time I ran across on of those I started to get all hyper because I thought one of the interns was spitting his gum out in the rows. After I looked closer, I realized what I was really looking at but they are pretty icky, too.

Some of the insects in the garden are actually quite beautiful. We have a predatory spider in abundance in the okra, the Green Lynx Spider. They are pretty shy and hide under the leaves, but they are voracious and will attach insects much larger than themselves. They don't appear to make webs and more or less ambush their prey. When I first saw one, I was fascinated and looked them and and discovered they were important to agriculture as a biological pest control so
I was pretty happy that they are occurring here at the Farm without any intervention from humans (like relocating them to the fields). The fact that they are there naturally speaks to the health of our biodiversity here.

The Red Velvet Ant is another spectacular insect we see often. Although it is called an ant, it is in fact the flightless female of a species of wasp. While they are very beautiful, like the aforementioned spider, they can deliver a powerful sting, so painful that it has earned them the nickname "cow killer" because supposedly the sting is enough to "kill a cow". They are very shy and I have never been stung and don't intend to be anytime soon.

Some of the other insects I have seen in the gardens over the years include several I have never been able to identify satisfactorily and of course, couldn't or didn't try to catch to research. Two examples that I spent an inordinate amount of time researching (yes, it was that impressive).One I discovered was the Golden Tortoise Beetle (picture at right) and it really is a metallic and shiny gold as the picture appears. The other still eludes me.

Thursday, August 28, 2008




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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Typical of summer craziness

I haven't posted to this blog for weeks, simply because there hasn't been time for me to do so. I promised a glimpse of the "simple" life, on an organic farm and this is as real as it spare time for anything that isn't hoed, picked, watered or fed.

Right about this time of year, you start wondering what you were thinking when you decided you needed to "get back to the land" and farm for a living. But that really isn't totally true in my case. I had a very long career in a totally unrelated field (finance) and was relatively successful in that career. I lived in a cool house on Lake Norman, drove a luxury car, didn't think anything about paying $100 for a haircut. Now I am lucky if I can remember to comb my hair, much less find the time to have it done anywhere. Some days I think maybe it would be an okay thing to go back into the corporate sector where I could earn some serious money again and it has on rare occasions been tempting. But it only takes one drive into Charlotte to bring the flashback to what that life was like and any notion I might have been entertaining about doing something different that what I am doing how flees like smoke in a hurricane.

This year things have been a bit better, was far as the drought conditions we suffered through last year, but frankly this area is far from out of the woods. We are not enjoying the same volumes of rain that other parts of the Piedmont are experiencing this summer, which is a frustrating situation. For some reason (location, topography, Lake Norman, who knows) many of the summer storm systems that could potentially bring in any wet weather here go right around us. We watch and track large systems that might bring some moisture and we literally watch them split in half right over the lake and go on both sides of us. The only typs of weather system that might bring us some serious rain is a tropical storm or a hurricane coming close and heaven knows, you dont' wish for those to happen. We have a neighbor who is a dairy farmer and he mentioned the same thing last time we talked to him. Said it was about the most frustrating thing he had to deal with because if affects his pond, ergo his cows and his living. Of course, he has the same attitude that we do...he wouldn't do anything else but farm. So, if you choose this life, you also choose to accept whatever Mother Nature throws at you and make the best of what you do have to work with.

We put in a well this year and that has helped us out a good bit this summer but the irrigation system part is not finished by a long shot. The well cost more than double what we anticipated and we are still paying that off, so there wasn't a lot of extra money for piping, etc. That will have to come next year. So, for now, we have a whole lot of hoses.

One hold up this spring was that the new well wasn't completed by one of the critical times we needed it. The driller was in great demand and very busy and so it was finished until nearly a month later than we expected. Also there was a tremendous amount of grit in the water for about a month which clogged up the hoses, sprinklers, etc and so we weren't able to utilize the water source as we needed to until about the middle of July, when it settled.

Don't get me wrong, if it hadn't been for the well from that point until now, some of our crops might have been fried in the heat and dry conditions that prevailed this summer. However, our sweet potatoes, okra and a couple of other varieties are in the upper fields where there is NO water source but Ma Nature and they are growing fine. The soil in that field has a little better moisture holding capacity and so the small amounts of rain that have fallen have been sufficient. That is why we plant the crops that can take the hot dry conditions in that field.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Typical Day on the Farm

Wow! It has been a while since I had time to post anything. Since I am always telling people how busy I am, I thought I would take you through a typical (no "wildfires" that need putting out, in other words) day of my life at the Farm this time of year.

5:30 Get up-Some days this is easy and some days it is really hard. Usually it depends ono what I did the day before and if there are any "kinks" I need to work out before I get out of bed.

5:40 Take Maggie out before she has a conniption fit. She begins whining around 5a.m. and escalates her volume until you would swear Beverly Sills is in the kitchen singing the aria from Aida.

5:55 Back inside. Put kettle on for breakfast. Breakfast usually consists of oatmeal, a fresh egg that I got from under one of the hens the day before. I make tea for me and coffee for the Farmer. Some days it is a bagel and cheese, no time for preparing much else this time of year.

6:00 Feed and water the outside dogs. Put a load of clothes in the washer while I wait for the kettle to boil. The Farmer has to take Jack (his dog) out. He won't listen to me so I am relieved of that duty. The other JRTS are outside in the summer, so I don't have to take all 6 out. That is only in the wintertime.

6-6:30 Doing the breakfast thing. Cleaning up dishes, etc.

6:30 - 7:00 Personal know what I mean...showers, toothbrushing, emails, etc. Also, do a couple of quick chores like put away the load of laundry that was washed, dried and folded the day before.

7:00 - 7:45 Time to feed and water chickens. We have the hens and the henhouse, which is where I start. Then I head next door to feed the little chicks who are presently housed at the parent's house because their chick pen is better than ours. It is totally predator proof and my 50 or so Delaware chicks need to be safe!!! I play with them a little bit and let them out into their chick corral so they can run around and take dustbaths, etc. They are still babies and need protection from hawks, racoons, coyotes, possums, stray dogs, etc. so they are kind of incarcerated at this time of their lives.

8:00- Head out to the field. Stop and play with the puppies for a few minutes before I start watering. I will start at one end of the field or the other and water row by row. This is necessary because different plants need different watering methods (some are on soaker hoses, some on irrigation ditches, etc.) and I have to tend to each plot as I go. The potatoes have to be handwatered row by row, for example, and that alone will take more than an hour. I will not finish watering in the 3-4 hours of the morning. After hoses, etc. are set I will weed, pick, plant, check and remove insects, monitor seedlings, etc. while each plot is watered. While I am watering, the Farmer will be doing the heavier labor, like shoveling and placing mulch on tomatoes, tractor work, building trellises for plants, etc.

(IF it is a picking day, the entire routine changes. When a picking day is coming up, I feed and water the chickens an extra portion the night before so they can wait until after I pick to be fed and watered again...confused yet?)

Picking day schedule:

6-7:00 Pretty much the same every day

7:00-Noon I will start picking around 7:00 am before it is too hot to wilt the veggies in the field. I only have a few hours of opportunity to pick certain things because once they warm up and start to look wilty, there is no point picking because they will stay wilty.

Since I am the only picker it will take me the better part of the morning to finish everything. Spinach and leaf lettuces are actually picked mostly one leaf at a time. Other greens, likewise but if they are bigger, it is a bit easier. Green beans take forever to pick. Root veggies are probably the easiest to pick but they have to have the dirt/mud (if they were watered recently) rinsed off. Okra is the worst thing in the garden to pick and melons are really easy because you can see them readily and don't have to seach for them but they are heavy. Picking grape tomatoes is my absolute favorite because for every four I pick, I usually eat one. The Farmer says I eat up all the profit, but too bad, so sad...I love those little 'maters! Squash and eggplant are pretty easy to pick but, like okra, the leaves have bristles that make you itch and the eggplant have big thorns on the calyx that will stick you if you grab one at the wrong place.

Anything that needs to be hydrocooled will be flushed with cold water in the field (this used water is applied back into the garden). The water from our well is about 48 degrees and is perfect for hydrating and cooling down veggies, which is a bit of a preservation method. The water is only on the produce long enough to reduce the temps. Once they are cooled, they are placed in a shaded area or in the cooler (which is a converted refridgerator) until ready to pack for CSA or the market.

Once everything is picked, cooled and prepped, there are a couple more steps to be done. While none of our produce is washed and ready to use, roots crops, gritty greans, etc. all have to be "prepped" by extra rinsing, etc. but you have to be careful not to over do it. Then after all that is done everything has to be weighed, measured, divided and packed so it can be delivered but I do that a little later in the day.

Noon-1pm Lunch/heat break. Prepare lunch, eat lunch, clean up from lunch. Throw washed clothes in dryer (the clothesline pole broke this winter and haven't had the time to put up a new one yet or I would be hanging them out). Sometimes we have lunch next door with the parents or we go check on them during the lunch hour.

1pm -4pm Back outside by this time. On cooler days, this is the time the plant shed would be watered, okra thinned and weeded, moving soaker hoses around the garden to where ever they are needed next....this is not that much fun. Moving a mud covered wet soaker hose that is 100+ feet long around the garden is like wrestling with a really limp anaconda that occasionally wakes up and wriggles just enough to get mud all over you. Soaker hoses are alive....

Continue with watering.

Check on the dogs and cats again to make sure they have plenty of clean, cool water. Likewise I check on the big chickens. The chicks have a watering system that I don't have to worry about too much during the day. On scorching days, we take this time to run errands, do any grocery shopping, go to the bank, etc., or do anything we need to do that can be done inside or off the Farm. If it is not too hot, we are back outside watering, etc. again.

4pm-6pm Dinner hour. Take another shower because by now I am covered with dirt, sweat and possibly poison ivy. Try to do more laundry if need be, do a couple of household chores. Read the mail (snail mail) if there is any. Make the dinner, eat the dinner, clean up from the dinner.

6pm-7pm Big chickens into the henhouse and locked up for the night (predators again, you know). Fresh water if necessary. They have a huge feeder that holds 50 lbs of food at time, so I only have to fill that about every 2-3 days, depending on how hungry they are. And yet, I routinely life 50 lb. sacks of feed. Go back to feed, water and bed down the chicks for the night. This is the time I let them out into their "playpan" to take their dustbath, peck at bugs and just hang out with me. These are some people friendly chickens by the time they are grown. We have a portable puppy pen that I have attached to the front of their pen and I open the doors and let them out for a while, supervised by me for about an hour. And yes, they play, mostly play fighting between the little roosters, but it is definitely fun time. All of their feed pans, waterers, etc. have to be washed down because they like to get on top of everything and of course, they poop on stuff. Yuck.

7PM-Dark-thirty Once the sun has set behind the trees and the biggest garden plot is in the shade we are out once more. Planting transplants is usually done now so that the seedlings will not have to endure the heat of the day. Transplant shock is a killer and this reduces it greatly.
Any new seedlings planted will also be watered, so again, the cooler temps of the evening will enhance their survival rate. Any seeds are also planted at this time of day and watered in for the same reason. If the soil temps get over 100 degrees, most seeds just sit in the ground and never germinate which wastes time, effort and money, so we are very careful to do what we can
to assure successful plantings. In this incredible heat we have been having over the last few summers and are looking at yet again this summer it is an almost constant struggle to keep things going. Even with the new well we put in and having a constant source of water now, that is sometimes only a bandaid. If the ambient air temp is over 95 there is not much you can do for somethings.

If delivery is coming up the next day, th is also the time I usually try to pack up my CSA shares for delivery or as much as I can. I get all my stuff ready at this time so I can work for a couple of hours while it is cool on delivery day mornings and then I will be ready to head out around 9-10 am, so I can miss the traffic. On delivery days I usually work around the Farm for a couple of hours, do my deliveries which takes about 8 hours and come home and do my evening farm chores, like chicken patrol, dogs, etc.

Dark-thirty-Feed the dogs, cats and everything else that gets fed at night. I feed at night because of insects during the day and also the animals don't want to eat much when it is hot.
Play with the dogs for a while. Pet the cats and play with the kittens. Check the locks on the chicken pens one last time.

10pm-My work day is finally almost over. Take another shower and put on some clean clothes that haven't been worked. Maybe have a snack. Sit down in the recliner and fall asleep before the chair gets warm. Wake back up in time to see the last 30 seconds of whatever television program(if the tv is even on) I missed the first 55 minutes and 30 seconds of.

11pm-Time for long last...maybe. The inside dogs are taken in and out several times during the course of each day, so they are ready for their final outing right before bed. They have to go out on leashes at this time of night because there are predators, etc. out at night and running up on a racoon or coyote in the dark could be disastrous for a small dog like Maggie. Jack could probably take a coon or possum, etc. but not a coyote. They are huge, by the way, and we have them all over out here. You can hear them howling down the holler at night in the summer and it is like being in a B cowboy movie. They are actually probably about a mile or two away but it sounds like they are down behind the barn. The closest I have seen one was on the next road over from us, but it was in broad daylight in the middle of the day. He ran across the road and stopped right on the centerline and just looked at me. He was HUGE, too, bigger than a German Shepherd, if you have never seen one. What a gorgeous animal!

After taking the dogs out for half an hour and walking all around out back, I am wide awake again, especially since I took that nap. Now I will have trouble falling asleep for a while. I might read, type blog entries, etc. until I get sleepy again.

12am I am now asleep hopefully. And I will be up at 6am to start all over again.

What I outlined there is a typical day, with no emergencies that need tending to, no drama, just routine. Just a simple day on the Farm. For those of you who think farm life is one idyllic moment after another, it isn't. And while it is hard work much of the time, that work is on my schedule. It feels good to work outside, although it feels better some days than others. There is tremendous satisfaction in what I do and peace in the doing of it. There is also constant joy, whether it be in seeing the plants you nutured for so long finally come to fruition or from watching a couple of chicks scratching in the dirt while their momma watches over them. There is a profundity to living this close to the land that has deepened my understanding of myself and the world around me. I love my life and I wouldn't trade it.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Recently I read an article on the Rodale Institute website about how many organic farmers in California were opting out of organics and going back to conventional farming. Many of them simply dropped their certification and continued to farm exactly the same way they always did... organically. Almost to a person, those interviewed said it was simply to expensive and too labor intensive to continue to be certified. One farmer said it cost him $1800 to grow an acre of certified organic spinach versus $300 to grow the same field conventionally. And with the cost of fuel and supplies going up on an almost weekly basis, there will be more farmers "jumping ship" in the near future.

Since many consumers are very uneducated about exactly what "certified organic" really means they are opting to shop for price instead of for the quality and safety of their food supply. And I totally understand that. If I didn't have 17 acres of organic food right out my back door, I am not sure I would be able to be as "organic" as I am now. I am able to spend my food budget on what many people consider organic luxury items since we grow 90% of what we eat.

Even conventional food prices are rising in some part of even this country to levels where middle and upper middle class families are cutting back on some things. Having a source for local produce and other food products is a blessing for many people because there are so many parts of the country where there is extremely limited access. Having a source for local certified organic produce is unheard of in many areas, especially in North Carolina.

Shopping at local farmer's markets is a great way to supply the weekly produce (and other needs, depending on the market) for your family. Even better is belonging to a CSA because over the entire length of the season you will save substantially on your fresh food costs and be provided with an array of produce you might not otherwise have access to. While being in a CSA is a gamble, if the farmer is good at what he does, the reward is well worth the inherent risk of belonging to a CSA.

At New Moon Farm, we are dedicated to our members and they are the ones we consider with nearly every spade of dirt that is turned in the gardens. Because of the great diversity of varieties grown, and the way we grow them, we don't face total crop failures, even in the most extreme conditions (drought last year, for example). We grow what we call "micro-crops", sometimes only 3-4 rows of something rare or especially hard to grow, so that our members can be exposed to things they would never have the opportunity to experience. While a weekly share may sometimes be smaller than we anticipate on a given week, there has never been a week where members only got 1 or 2 items in their box. And when there is bounty, everybody shares in that bounty.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

San Francisco-America's First Eco-City

We lived on the West Coast for a number of years, almost dead center between Seattle and San Francisco. Either one was about a 6-7 hour drive and we often headed south to Frisco for a long weekend when we could get away. I have been in love with this city since I first visited in 1968, at the height of its "hippie" days. Over the years, as I visited at different ages and stages in my life, I came to love its diversity, beauty and just the very energy of the place. If I had to pick my favorite city in the world, it would be Paris (which I love with a passion), with San Fancisco coming in a close second. So, I was very interested to read the article on how the city is turning into the "greenest, organic" city in America. The link below will take you the the MSN Travel article in its entirety.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


"The Cornucopia Institute is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Through research, advocacy, and economic development our goal is to empower farmers both politically and through marketplace initiatives. The Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit. We will actively resist regulatory rollbacks and the weakening of organic standards to protect and maintain consumer confidence in the organic food label."

The Cornucopia Institute is a non-profit watchdog organization that is doing tremendous things to protect the integrity of organics which affects anyone who cares about this issue...and we should all care about it since it affects our food supply and our environment.

This organization has an incredible website covering issues that affect us all. Articles are excellent, with information that is clear and easy for every one to understand. I highly recommend that you become involved in what is happening to your food source. If you care about the planet, you should be involved. If you care about your children, you should be involved. JUST BE INVOLVED!!!! Get on their email newsletter and updates list today!

Read the most recent (May 12th) update about the integrity of the Horizon Dairy Label controversy. This has been raging on for a long while now and is heating up again. If you buy Horizon products and were unaware of the situation with this company, this would be a good introduction to what is going on with them. (Links below are live so just click).

These huge corporations are the reason that some people are starting to doubt the National Organic Program. Since they are the headline grabbers, small dilligent farmers who are really invested in the ideals of organics are being mostly ignored because their small voice is nothing compared to a giant conglomerate with money to hire lobbyists and lawyers. When organic consumers only shop for price and don't look at the issues behind the organic label, we all suffer in the end.
America’s Largest Corporate Dairy Processor Muscles Its Way into Organics
Clout-Heavy Dean Foods Kills USDA Investigation of Their Horizon Label

On the Cornucopia website, there is also some excellent information about which huge corporations own organic labels. Lots of folks buy organic from what they assume are small family owned companies. Nothing could be further from the truth in many cases. See whose pocket your organic dollars are going into. BUY LOCAL and stop organic tyranny. If that sounds a little dramatic, visit this website and you might not think so anymore.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

First Farmer's Market Day of 2008

This Saturday we will be attending our first market day of the year 2008. The new Davidson NC Downtown Farmer's Market will have a "soft" opening from 8am until noon so all of the vendors can get a feel for this new market.

We will be there with some veggies, so if you come out, look us up. We have not been assigned our spaces yet, so I can't say where we will be but look for the sign that says "ORGANIC".

After this Saturday, the market officially opens and we will be there every Saturday until it closes in October.

Friday, April 18, 2008

It's Farmer's Market Season again!

Important announcement concerning New Moon Farm Organics in 2008.

Lots of exciting things are happening at the Farm this year and we wanted you all to hear about them straight from the source. For the past 7 years, we have been coming to the Charlotte Regional Farmer's Market. For 2008, however, we have made the decision to take on a new venture in addition to CSA, the new Davidson Farmer's Market. For those of you who live north of Charlotte, around the Lake, in or near Davidson, Concord, etc. this is going to be your opportunity to have a real farmer's market in your vicinity!!!

This decision has been a big one for us. We have made some lasting friends and had some very loyal customers during those years. We have seen some of the regular vendors at the CRF market every Saturday for our 9 month market season. After 7 years, some of them have come to seem like family and we will miss them.

When we moved back to N.C. 8 years ago, it was with the intention to homestead the family farm, grow all of our own food and to expand on living our simple, organic, sustainable lifestyle. In that first year's growing season, we grew way more tomatoes than we could use. We gave them away until folks said, "Enough, already!". So, at the suggestion of a relative, we brought several bushels of red, ripe, organic heirloom tomatoes down to the Charlotte Market on a hot Saturday in August, just to see if we anybody might want some of them. We sold them all in less than 2 hours.

That first crop of tomatoes started us on the journey that we continue on today.Even though we have collectively been growing and eating organic food for more than 40 years, neither of us ever dreamed we would be so incredibly lucky as to also be able make it our livelihood. The evolution of New Moon Farm Organics would not have been possible without the presence of the Charlotte Regional Market, its staff and its devotees and we are grateful for it all.

But, as with all things, there is a time and a season for change. 2008 is now the time for us to move forward down a new path. We are very excited to announce that we will be among the Founding Farmer's at the new Davidson Farmer's Market, located in downtown Davidson, N. C. With the opening of the Davidson market we finally have the chance to serve our own community and are excited at the prospect. You can visit their website at for more info about the location, hours, vendors, etc.

***I was recently notified that the Davidson Market will have a "soft" opening on April 26th, as a kind of dry run for the vendors. We will be there with stuff to sell and while it might be a little chaotic, but it will be a chance to get some early spring items while they are still around.***

This new market will afford us the opportunity to be much more involved in our own community, which has been sorely underserved with fresh, local and organic food for a long while. Also, because we are committed to a living the most sustainable life we possibly can, having a market so close to us is a tremendous blessing. Our travel time and distance to this market is about one third that of commuting to the Charlotte Market location. Reducing our impact on the environment is important to us and this move makes sense from that standpoint, too.

We would once again like to sincerely thank everyone who has supported us in Charlotte and hope that you will visit us at the Davidson Market if you are in the area. We will be there every Saturday, from 8am until noon, beginning the first weekend in May, 2008. This market will be much like the market in Matthews, in that it is a producer's only market. There are already over 20 committed vendors for this market, so there will be plenty of diversity of products there, all FRESH, LOCAL AND FARM GROWN!

Between operating our CSA and having the Davidson Market on our schedule, we will be pretty busy, so I doubt that we will be able to attend Charlotte more than a time or two this summer. Info posted here on this blog concerning events, available produce, organic issues, etc. Our website is located at:

Thursday, April 17, 2008


The Cornucopia Institute is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Through research, advocacy, and economic development our goal is to empower farmers both politically and through marketplace initiatives. The Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit. We will actively resist regulatory rollbacks and the weakening of organic standards to protect and maintain consumer confidence in the organic food label.

The Cornucopia Institute is a non-profit watchdog organization that is doing tremendous things to protect the integrity of organics which affects anyone who cares about this issue...and we should all care about it since it affects our food supply and our environment.

This organization has an incredible website, with issues that affect us all posted in language that we can all understand, so that the information is clear and easy for every one to understand. I highly recommend that you become involved in what is happening to your food source. If you care about the planet, you should be involved. If you care about your children, you should be involved. JUST BE INVOLVED!!!!

Read the latest information about the integrity of the Horizon Dairy Label controversy. This has been raging on for a long while now and is heating up again. (Links below are live)
America’s Largest Corporate Dairy Processor Muscles Its Way into Organics
May 12th, 2008
Clout-Heavy Dean Foods Kills USDA Investigation of Their Horizon Label

On their website, there is also some excellent information about which huge corporations own organic labels. Lots of folks buy organic from what we assume are small family owned companies. Nothing could be further from the truth in many cases. See whose pocket your organic dollars are going into. BUY LOCAL and stop this organic tyranny.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


Just a quick note to say that this is our busiest time of the year and posting will be a little erratic for a while. Bear with me, things will slow down in a month or so, once we are not fighting the crazy spring weather around here....
Keep checking back, though, I may find some time in the evenings when I am not too tired to type.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Thomas Jefferson, President, Statesman, Farmer

1803 Nov. 14. "The class principally defective is that of agriculture. It is the first in utility, and ought to be the first in respect. The same artificial means which have been used to produce a competition in learning, may be equally successful in restoring agriculture to its primary dignity in the eyes of men. It is a science of the very first order. It counts among it handmaids of the most respectable sciences, such as Chemistry, Natural Philosophy, Mechanics, Mathematics generally, Natural History, Botany. In every College and University, a professorship of agriculture, and the class of its students, might be honored as the first. Young men closing their academical education with this, as the crown of all other sciences, fascinated with its solid charms, and at a time when they are to choose an occupation, instead of crowding the other classes, would return to the farms of their fathers, their own, or those of others, and replenish and invigorate a calling, now languishing under contempt and oppression. The charitable schools, instead of storing their pupils with a lore which the present state of society does not call for, converted into schools of agriculture, might restore them to that branch qualified to enrich and honor themselves, and to increase the productions of the nation instead of consuming them." (TJ to David Williams, L&B.10.429-30)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Gentlemen, start your seedlings!!!

While it is still a tad early to plant all but the earliest of the spring veggies, it is just about the perfect time to plant others. I have received the last of my spring seed orders so we are busy putting them in the ground. Now I get to start on summer seed orders.
Some of the other lettuces I have this year are imported heirlooms. Many of them are Italian because of the great diversity of heirlooms available from two of the oldest Italian seed companies, Bavicchi Sememti (since 1896)and Franchi Sementi (since 1783). Obviously, these two companies have been around a LONG time. I believe that Franchi Sementi may be one of the oldest, if not the oldest, seed suppliers in the world, so I guess it is an heirloom, too. Another very old seed company is Vilmorin in France and while many of the heirlooms you see in the marketplace today were originally introduced by them, they are a very modern company and produce many modern varieties as well.

While, there is not quite so much clamor to come up with new hybrids in other countries, seeking to improve varieties is something all seedsmen worldwide try to do. In other places in the world, the approach to the seed trade is a little different than here in the U.S. Lots of older varieties have been continuously offered by these companies since they opened their doors. Also, I think it is kind of thrilling to have the original strains of heirlooms from the location where they originated. Sometimes heirlooms are "improved" strains of these oldsters and so even though they may be old enough to be considered true heirlooms, I want the "granny" strains if I can get them.

Some of the lettuces we are planting this year have marvelously descriptive names. For example, there is one lettuce that has long slender leaves that grow in a rosette and resemble ribbons. The name of this lettuce is "Cocarde" which is a spelling of the French word for "the ribbons adorning a woman's hat". And if you stretch your imagination, you picture why this lettuce was so named. It grows a about 12-14" or higher and it probably does resemble ribbons that might be fluttering atop a ladie's hat.

Our lettuce selection this year contains Batavian, Bibb, Butterhead, Cos (Romaine) and Leaf lettuces. Most of these types are never seen in supermarkets because they do not ship well and need to be eaten as freshly picked as possible. These lettuces make that wimpy iceberg lettuce pale in comparison, in flavor, texture and nutrition. More about that in a later blog. I keep falling off the subject of seeds today for some reason.

One thing that is different this year is the number of onions we are planting. Last year, we planted around 2000 sets and most of them made small onions. With the drought, we simply could not provide them with the 30+ inches of water that is recommended over their long growing season. We ate the last of them in January but they were starting to sprout a little....
Anyway, this year, we decided to plant alot more onions, since we are going to be able to water them regularly.

So instead of ordering 2000, we ordered 5400. That is a whole bunch of onions. But the kicker is that we got the wrong ones. Two cases were the right ones and the third case was a different type of onion and we are not sure that they will grow in this area (onions are finicky about where they are grown. Has to do with the # of daylight hours, etc.). When I called to company, they were very apologetic and said that kind of mistake doesn't occur very often but it is their busiest time of year and stuff happens.

The grower then very kindly sent us a case of the proper onions, "gratis and sorry we goofed up" so now we have 7200 to plant. Oh! my aching back, one more time. We hand plant the little buggers, so each one has to have a hole punched in the dirt, the onion "set" into the hole and then the hole filled in and tamped down. Big onion growers have crews and machinery to do this job which is why supermarket onions are so cheap. You plant them once, irrigate them and then pull them up a couple of months later. Not much labor after the initial planting. We have to hand plant, hand weed, hill up, hand harvest, then dry, sort and store the harvest. Big difference. But the ones we grow taste so much better!

The sugar snap peas that were planted several weeks ago have already sprouted and are coming up. We should start harvesting those in early May. These are succession planted, which means every 2-3 weeks, we plant a few more rows, so that the harvest will be extended over a longer period.

The eggplant and tomato seeds have been planted in flats and are coming up now. In 4-6 weeks, we will have strong healthy seedlings, ready to plant at the proper time, which is late April. Hot weather varieties can't be put out until the last chance for a hard freeze is definitely over, so we wait about a week past our last average frost date, which is April 14th. We generally have at least grape tomatoes by the last of June but usually the first real tomato comes off the vine around the Fourth of July.

Some of the early season varieties might come in a week earlier, but they are usually the mealy, pithy, tasteless red globs that pass for tomatoes in the supermarket. Heirlooms make these imposters pale in compairson, so it is definitely worth the wait. Once our own homegrown tomatoes are done for the year, I usually don't eat another tomato until we have our own again. Call me silly, but tomatoes are my absolute favorite veggie and I have zero tolerance for those horrible "shipping tomatoes" that supermarkets try to pawn off on us. Yick!!!Blechk!PTooey!!!

The eggplants are going to be widely varied again this year. As usual, we will have the big old "Black Beauty", which is of course an heirloom and a classic Italian variety. There will be several other colors, shapes, sizes and origins. The peppers will abound this year, with almost 15 varieties in the running. Some of them have names like "Ram's Horn" and "Sheep's Nose" and come in colors like "rosso" and "giallo", in addition to "verde". Some are sweet as an apple and some are hot as a volcano! I can hardly wait to make my first batch of salsa!!!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Everyday miracles and natural magic!

These are acorns from the huge oak trees in our back yard. The acorns stay hidden under the fallen leaves all winter long. Eventually, it becomes warm enough and moist enough and they get their signal to sprout. The fallen leaves act like a "nest" for acorns until that perfect proper time comes for then to sprout. This is the beginning of a forest. One of the neatest things about these oak sprouts is that they already have the beginnings of bark. Notice the pattern on the sprout. It is a tad smaller than a pencil in diameter at this point and about 4 inches long if I could stretch it out. I imagine this sprout is about a week old. I pushed back some leaves to finds these sprouts. There are literally hundreds under the blanket of leaves but squirrels, birds and other wildlife know they are under there and only a few will survive. Life feeds on life.

This tiny nest belonged to a hummingbird. We were taking a walk in the woods last fall and as I stepped over a fallen log, I happened to look down and there, attached to a broken branch was this tiny nest. It stayed attached to the branch for a couple of months, but I guess it dried out too much and fell off. I put it in the branches of our Christmas tree and it fit on the limb perfectly. (Those tiny feathers came from another bird, by the way. Probably some type of wren.) I wish you could see how intricately fashioned this nest actually is. There are layers upon layers of thin sheets of what appears to be pieces of dry leaves. There is also some kind of animal fur lining the inside.

Here, beside the hummer's next is another nest I found recently. It is most interesting to me because it is made almost entirely from the long stiff hairs from the tails of the dairy cows that live in the big pasture just on the back side of our farm. At first, I thought it was from one of my Jack Russells, but I pulled one out and immediately recognized that it was from the cows. There are lighter colored ones on the top and darker ones on the sides and bottom. This next is as soft as a blanket. This one is a little bigger than the other one. The quarter is for reference as to the size of these tee-tiny nests.

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