Thursday, August 12, 2010

It tastes sweet

Ahhh, finally a moment to pause, to relax, to's the 12th of August, the 71st anniversary of the Wizard of Oz, and our sixth month into this particular adventure. It always helps me to reflect on 6 months prior to an aware moment, or anticipate 6 months into the future, to keep my bearings on life, Time, the great turning of the Wheel, and 6 months ago I think we finally placed our first seed order. After many long nights crunching numbers, flipping thru pages, arguing for one variety or another...I would get SO hungry for a fresh tomato or green bean, a ripe eggplant or sweet ear of corn, as I read the descriptions of each delectable vegetable we were choosing. It seemed almost unreal to imagine such warmth in the air and to smell the piney scent of a tomato plant as you rustle under its leaves searching for that ripe red (or pink, or yellow, or purple!) fruit. And yet we trust that day will come, and so ... here it is! Ah, here come the procession of harvests. All the tomatoes we could hope to eat and more. The sweet corn (one of them) didn't make it. It was the first corn we planted and naively thought the crows understood how much we loved and respected them and they would do the same for our interests (corn seed in this instance) but alas, the crows ate all but a few seeds! We put up scare tape that worked really well for the other 3 corn plantings - most of which are dried corn varieties, Flint and Dutch Butter Popcorn. So we do have corn...we have a red sweet corn that isn't nearly as sweet as the few ears the crows deigned to leave us. It's an absolutely beautiful piece of work, though. The shucks are completely red, a deep deep wine red, and the kernels start out creamy white but turn ruby from the outside in. Finally you find a ripe ear that is as red as a merlot, as tempting as Delilah. And the flavor is satisfying, if only mostly because it's such a treat to eat something so heavenly hued. This corn can also be a dried corn, so we're going to let most of it dry and grind it up and make "magenta polenta" isn't that exciting?!

Where have we been?! What have we been doing?! Wow, it's been - I don't even know how to begin, but that's what I'm trying to do so I'll stop trying and do - it's been recognize how little you know when you've spent so much time learning a thing is humbling. Yet the sweetness of that hard realization is that you get to learn stuff...and that is what life is all about. So there are many opportunities for invention and creativity, for experiment and mistakes, for challenging the inherited unconscious assumptions we have about growing food and farming and living in the seasons and striving toward a sustainable lifestyle so that we may leave an inheritance of hard-won wisdom for our 'children' to improve upon. That is an honor I humbly accept. It's been exhausting...we have worked ourselves silly! Which is a neat place to be in that you are too tired for bullshit...I don't know how else to explain it. We are learning how to harvest and process all kinds of foods, and not just what recipe to use, or the best system for canning, but how to pick things in time and rotate harvests, processing, and a little rest time. We just figured out we need rest. Apparently we haven't learned that lesson very well! We keep having to relearn it. Two and a half weeks of canning and we finally took a night off tonight. BUT! We have 111 half pints and 13 pints of elderberry syrup. Well, not anymore cuz Gabe sold 2 cases today. By the way, we are selling elderberry syrup to our friends, family, loved ones. We got peaches, beans, squash, blueberry jam, 16 pints of ketchup, marinara, chopped tomatoes, and lots of things fermenting: brined cucumber pickles, brined pickled green beans (they were purple but they lost their color), and a kind of jardiniere which is just lots of random veggies like beets, carrots, peppers, celery, etc. pickled in a brine together, spiced with fresh tarragon. Wow, now that I list that it doesn't seem like much! But I guess it's the whole process, from picking and cleaning and prepping and cooking it down to canning...Gabe just brought 12 cases of mason jars home to add to our 12 we already had, so I guess we'll at least do that many more : ) And I guess all in all it's a lot. That's enough rambling for now. There's impossibly too much to catch up on, I'll reflect in the long, dark winter months...for now...

We are going to do something a little different here, or at least try to! We are going to start our apothecary here online. This seems like a fine place to have a website, it's so simple and easy I can maintain it, and we can update our inventory as it's harvested and available. With that...

Fennario Farm & Apothecary is pleased to offer our first batch of elderberry syrup for sale! The Elderberries are respectfully wild-crafted by me and Gabe, and carefully transformed from purple-onyx jewels of fruits to a rich vibrant velvety purple syrup that will keep you well. The FDA doesn't approve me saying that, but my body doesn't need the FDA to tell it when a medicine works.

How to use Elderberry syrup (in our experience - please share yours!)

At the very very first onset of feeling like you might be getting sick, take it! It seems to work best at totally preventing illness - which in a way makes it hard to prove it works, cuz maybe you were just going to feel a bit run down and not get sick, but if you want to chance it that's up to you. We take it at this point. Usually we'll take a half pint of syrup in one or two doses, depending on how bad we feel. You can take it if you just have been exposed to someone with the flu or a cold too. in these early stages you don't need to take as much, it seems. I guess it all depends on how well your immune system is functioning in the first place, or how often you are exposed to flu'll have to figure it out for yourself so just use this as a guideline to start with. You can take 4 oz two days in a row, or 8 oz. It's really good in teas, especially teas that augment that healing action, like boneset, yarrow, echinacea, goldenseal. Ah, that brings me to goldenseal. We combine the syrup with the goldenseal and it tastes like chocolate! I'm serious. It's gourmet. I think these two are the best partners for preventing the flu or a cold. Generally I use herbal medicines as my body instructs me, and I encourage you to listen to your body's cues for how much and how often you take a medicine. Listen to it shift slightly when your immune system kicks in to fight off a bug. Listen to what foods and drinks it asks for. There is a profoundly distinct difference between how our bodies tell us what we want and how our minds tell us. I encourage you to discover that as well. But if for some reason you don't catch yourself feeling slightly ill, you find yourself in a full-blown flu episode, take it in small doses frequently, like 2 oz every 2 hours.

It's good straight out of the jar, in tea, in your water bottle that you drink on all day (that's a great way too because it gives you little doses very frequently), on your icecream...wait! you don't feel good! Hold off on the icecream til your better : )

The Elder herb is a miraculous gift of healing to humans. I read that a doctor of old would tip his hat every time he passed an Elder bush, so great was his respect for this medicine. And the more I get to know it, the more I am convinced that I shall never, never be without her healing powers.

I've missed writing here. We are going to move away from Blue Hill/Paw Paw probably in November, so the horizon of our departure is in view now, a mere 3 months away. There is so very much to do between now and then, but everything is exactly as it should be, and we have survived the rapids of spring chaos and summer intensity, and look forward to the languid days of autumn as we reap the rewards of all this work and planning and canning and praying...and dream up the next piece of heaven we'll be getting our hands into.

This next place is gonna be out of this world : ) I can't wait to tell you about it! Hey, maybe you already know about it, before us even! Let us know if you do... But for now we are savoring the last piece of this treasure we were so fortunate to receive...

Many years ago, as a matter of fact it was 9 years ago nearly to the day, I went with a Gemini and a Scorpio to a fabulously fancy Chinese restaurant in Orlando. I was at the last peak of my 20's, perched precariously on a precipice from which I was about to fall, and was high on a new taste of life, and I got a fortune in a cookie that has been my No. 1 favorite fortune ever since...9 years later I feel again on a peak, but this one affords a much more benevolent view of my future, and I savor these words that are still true

It tastes sweet.

Love and Light and order your elderberry syrup! Or go pick your own, I'll help you make them into syrup : )

Monday, May 31, 2010

It's about time

It's about time I wrote something here! It's been a month since I last posted, and that's largely because this last month has been full. F.U.L.L. Since I last wrote, we moved me out of my home in Hendersonville and both moved into the "abarnment" here at the farm. We got invited to sell at the Greenlife tailgate market on Sunday mornings, merely 2 days after our deal with Wayne fell through. This "deal" was that we would kind of cooperatively grow produce together and sell through him at his two tailgate markets. I'm so glad that didn't work out! Because being able to represent ourselves and our produce directly to our customers is so much more rewarding. Gabe and I both love interacting with people and educating them about where their food comes from. We also get to be creative and inventive with products. For instance, we started selling pesto we make from our excess kale, spinach, and chard. People love it! We sampled it 2 weeks ago, just to give people another idea of what to do with all the greens they buy from us, and everyone kept asking how much it we made some to sell this weekend. It's so fulfilling to make people smile from the inside out.

I was made for this...every time I'm harvesting, seeding, planting, weeding, I feel this thought like an exhalation of satisfaction deep within me: "I was made for this". Jesus said "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you." These words have ceaselessly turned in my heart since I first read them, and ultimately decided for me that I would pursue this dream I am now living with fervor. (sp?) (is that a word?!) And I can almost feel this "what is within me" thing being brought I harvest leaves of kale and lambs quarters, as I hand a bag of vibrant greens to someone, as I listen to the plants tell me what they need. I'm so grateful for this opportunity!

Sometimes at market people thank us for growing their food. Sometimes I want to say something like, "really?! This is the most satisfied I've ever been, I can't imagine NOT growing your food" and then I realize that there are lots of people who have no inclination to farm, or grow food for sale. And then I just say "it's my pleasure". I know how they feel, I guess. I thank my hairdresser for being a hairdresser - I have NO desire to cut people's hair! Or my own! And countless other professions. If we are all bringing forth what is within us - if we were all to "follow our bliss" as they say, what a different world this would be! We'd almost not need any money, you know?

As for the farm - things are going remarkably well. Considering I had to check out for about 2 weeks to move, etc. We've had some amazing people come help us out. Our worker traders are so delightful. Our newest, Jessica and Christina, started last week. An old acquaintance of mine, Kelly Buchanan (boy), came out and helped all day on Friday. Our old faithful worker Kelly (girl) has been steadily assisting in the most pleasant of ways. Andy, Gabe's friend, was a lifesaver. I want him to get a job so he can support his family, but I love being able to hire him while he's between jobs! He's such an incredible gift to this farm. My friend Jena saved many of my herbs, and for that I am forever grateful to her. Every market we meet a few more people who want to come trade work for fresh veggies. Jessica said that she appreciates the therapy she gets from working with the earth - she's able to forget about all the distracting thoughts that take up too much of our time, and take our attention away from what's important - Life! Our new friend Jason has been amazing too. He is fast becoming a strong voice and marketer for our farm. He helped set up at the last two markets and his help was so invaluable. And our CSA members - Bill, Reece, and Kelly - are so siked to be a part of this. I don't know what it's like to farm all by yourself and sell your goods to some middle man, never knowing the people who eat your food, but I can imagine it's not as fulfilling as our blessed situation. Last week all our CSA friends came to market and my heart overflows with joy to recall the looks on their faces and see how excited they were to be eating such good food. This is such a community building venture - or it has the potential to be if you approach it that way.

We've been harvesting kale, spinach, chard, baby greens salad mix, head lettuce (gorgeous!), wildflowers, broccoli greens; this week was our first harvest of broccoli heads! We put the kale, spinach, chard, and broccoli greens into a braising mix and people love that. Like I said, I make pesto with the greens and the last two weeks we've harvested strawberries from my friend Joel's farm and sold them as well as some freezer jam I made with the berries. Over the past 5 markets we've evolved our presentation at the market, our booth. We are striving to create an atmosphere of a farm kitchen - very welcoming, comfortable, clean, beautiful...I think it's making a big difference b/c our sales are increasing every week. Next we have to finish designing our logo so we can make a sign to hang up with our farm name, behind us at our booth. People still have a hard time understanding what we say when we tell them our name! Any ideas how we can say it better? : ) yesterday a woman thought Gabe said we were "venereal farm" ugh! I like "scenario" better than that....but then another woman didn't ask me to repeat myself when I told her our farm name, she went right into the chorus of Peggy-O, just like she outta!

So this is my first real day off in over a month...I'm unpacking boxes, setting up my apothecary, and just enjoying myself. The kitties and Gabe are napping in various spots around the tiny house, it's not raining right this minute but blessedly it has been raining since the wee hours. Oh how we needed that rain! The fireflies out here are really otherworldly - they first appeared around the end of April, which I think is really early, and another thing is they flicker until nearly dawn! We have this huge window beside the bed and I can go to sleep looking at a universe of twinkling glowbugs amidst moonlit poplars and oaks and locusts...then get woken up by one of the 2 roosters Wayne keeps ("they're very friendly" he says). It's wild, it's hard work, but it's exactly where I want to be and what I want to be doing.

Thanks for reading this : ) I hope you are well rested, satisfied, surrounded by loving friends and family, in good health or on a path toward good health, and most importantly, I hope you are bringing forth what is within you. If I can help you do that I will...

Much love to you! Blessings!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

On Literature and Agriculture

"Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt" - Shakespeare (by way of Patrick Hamilton)

If ever there were an observation more pertinent to farming and our situation specifically I have yet to hear it. Reading Richo Cech's new book today I was reminded of the important role faith plays in all this growing business. We undermine ourselves, those around us, and Life itself when we doubt - lose faith. What is amazing and miraculous and I suppose expected is that Life continues on without us!

The 'weeds' we try and try to eradicate spring like the 'devil' from severed tap roots; discarded plants with roots laid to dry in the sun seem to flourish; yet we worry about the lettuce or tatsoi!

There is so much more to all of this, and while I maybe should write about it here - it's still forming and becoming - and I'm still having faith.

That there will be a home for our friends the plants, and for us.

I really just wanted to share that quote with you. It's entirely appropriate for us right now.

In Love, Light, and Faith,

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Water, water everywhere

Hallelujah, it rained. And the temperature dropped to April, so the frantic finding of irrigation has receded somewhat. We still need to develop an irrigation system, but the rain and cooler temps have bought us some time. The field actually stayed pretty wet even though it didn't rain for 2 weeks. Even as late as Monday, when we dug into the soil it was nice and wet beneath the dry, cracked surface. There were a thousand weed seedlings too, all yellow and white and underground - just waiting for a rain to bring them to the surface.

The "plan" is working out great! We have been planting into beds that Wayne made with his tractor. The "beds" the tractor made are more like guidelines really. They create pathways between them we can walk on and inside the beds we make them fertile, soft, and wet. Sounds lovely, doesn't it? We've been taking a hoe and carving out rows into the beds, sometimes planting into the furrow other times planting onto the hill. We planted the onions, leeks, kale, and broccoli into the furrow but the lettuce went on the hill. This will hopefully keep it cleaner. We knew the weeds were going to be challenging on 2 acres, but this planting method might work out great - the field has been undisturbed for a few weeks, and so as we hoe into the beds to plant, we expose all the weed seedlings just below the surface. We might be stirring up new weed seeds, but it feels good to be getting a handle on the weed problem when they are so little and easily managed.

We're learning more about irrigation systems. Another few options we've explored are using a hand pump or a treadle pump. The hand pump is cheap, which is great. I think it can hook right up to 2" hose of sorts (lay flat, pvc) and pump water up to a height of 10 feet. The treadle pump we could build ourselves, so it would also be cheap. Online I read it could pump up to 7 meters...the treadle pump uses leg power while the hand pump uses arm power. Then there's the 12 v DC pump which would be solar powered. We found one that can pump 22 gallons per minute which is great, and I think up to 22 feet. Of course you need other accoutrements with it; the pump is around $200 compared to the hand pump which is $90. Then there's the straight-piped gravity fed system. We could put a larger diameter pipe into the stream far enough upstream to get a "head" of 30 feet or more. A 3" pvc intake pipe should work fine. So we could bury the pvc pipe into the stream and use the bank essentially as a sand filter, carry the water downhill to the field - this may be a length of 1,000 feet or more - and it should have enough pressure to irrigate at least 1/4 of the field at any given time. I like this idea the best though it requires long lengths of pipe or tube. We haven't decided which system would be best. I forgot to mention the possibility of cisterns - we could put a 300 gal cistern at the top of the field, with a good 10 or 15 feet of head; we could put 55 gal drums in places, 5 gal buckets, all kinds of things. And lastly there is furrow irrigation, if we could get a flow of water into the field and dig furrows into the beds between the rows then it would just run the length of the bed. I like the simplicity of this design and the fact that it uses little petroleum products. Any suggestions or advice?

Thank God we're in Taurus. Aries was about to drive me mad and burn me up and set the world on fire! Did you see the pictures of the volcano erupting with red lightning in the sky in Iceland? That's how I felt! An email I got read: "such and such webinar cancelled due to volcano" - all matter of fact. The seeds sure are germinating well now.

We've had so much help at the farm, it's been inspiring. Last week a group of guys showed up and helped Gabe put in a deer fence (T posts, wire in 2 strands, solar battery). I don't know how we would have done that without their's humbling and encouraging. And friends and family came to help plant in the greenhouse and the field - worker/traders are coming...we're figuring this out as we go along, but here from the beginning we are reaching out to some larger community and are being answered and joined in this adventure - it's refreshing! We're meeting people we may have never met otherwise, and sharing in the joyful opportunity this land is lending.

I give thanks for the fertile Earth, the nourishing Rain, the fellowship of loved ones, the succulence of greens, the challenges that are making us grow both out and more densely within, I give thanks for the chance of Life that today was given again.

Love and Light,

Monday, April 12, 2010

Method? Madness? Both?

At this point I can say that if you go into farming, you're crazy. If you're not crazy, you'll become crazy. Fortunately for me, I'm mad, which is a higher level of crazy, so I'm OK.

Now that we have the most important item of business attended to, I'll tell you about what's so crazy: everything! No, really, imagine this: you spend every waking minute of your life creating seedlings that can get planted into the field, and then it's time to plant them into the field at the SAME TIME that you need to keep creating seedlings that you plant into the field, but now you're working on watering the plants in the field, and planting them, and watering the seedlings in the greenhouse, some of which need to be planted, and where was I?

Crazy, right. I'm crazy. No! I'm mad! I'm not alone. There are lots of farmers, so there are lots of crazy people out there, growing your food. It's not as dangerous as it sounds. We're crazy in the way that squirrels are crazy in the fall, you know, gathering nuts and stuff. There's just SO much to be done! :) And it's all GOOD stuff!

Do you want to just hear about what's happening? OK...well, we started planting in the field! We have 500 feet of broccoli, a few hundred feet of carrots and turnips (gold and baby white), peas, 500 feet of potatoes, some kale and onions, and mesclun. We hand-watered these babies and covered them with Agribon row cover, to keep in the moisture and protect them from foraging deer. We have a LOT of lettuce to transplant but we are dealing with a few things here: labor, water, and soil amendments, namely compost. We are stretched a little thin on the labor thing (see above); working on getting a gravity-fed irrigation system set up, and having a hard time finding 5 tons of good compost to spread on the field, so we are adding worm castings plus choice amendments to each planting (things like greensand, colloidal phosphate, lime, etc.) This is very time-consuming as we have to "truck" each batch of amendments in essentially in a wheelbarrow. And hauling water in 5 gallon buckets from the stream is hard. So...

The skinny on gravity fed irrigation: check this out

Look on the left side of the page for the topic, if you're interested.

I balk at technical undertakings, like hooking up my record player to my stereo, anything computer or cellphone related, and irrigation. But I'm hardheaded too, so I persist through my obstinance (sp?). And I've learned a LOT about irrigation the past few days.

In as many ways as we can, we'd like to be petroleum-independent. The old farming ways, that are actually new, are heavily reliant on petrol. Tractors, pumping water, synthesis of fertilizers, trucking things to and from the farm. All these things add up to a heavy carbon footprint. We are fortunate to have the ability to gravity feed water to our fields to support our plants in the ways they need. It's just a matter of designing an intelligent system to do this.

Which we can. I learned a lot from Tom at Snakeroot Organic Farm. Tonight I got confused while reading his informative discussion on the topic and just called him up and he spent half an hour talking to me about what to do at our farm. For nothing! He's just that kind of guy. Before that, I called Mollie LeBude from Forest Creek Farm and Nursery and she talked me through this irrigation thing too. Farmers are crazy, but they're pretty damn helpful.

Here's the dry details on our irrigation: we have a stream, a small one, about 30 feet above the field, so with 1/2 lb pressure for every foot drop of slope, we'll get about 15 pounds of pressure for our watering system. This is great! We can put a pipe in the stream with a filter, run it downhill for the 30 feet we need, connect it to some tubes that can be connected with smaller tubes and run into our rows with plants and they'll get water. We want to use "lay flat" tubing I think instead of the black plastic tubing Tom from Snakeroot uses. It's just a matter of what's available, really. Lay flat is blue tubes you see in fields. It's ubiquitous around here. I think I mentioned in an earlier post about how farmers need a wide range of skills and knowledge, and here we are learning that a basic understanding of physics is extremely important..

Knowing the diameter of the intake tube with the length of downhill slope will tell us how much water pressure we get, which will tell us how many gallons per hour (the tubes, called 'drip tape' that actually water the plants emit 1/2 gal per hour) we can muster. Or something like that. I have to finish learning this tomorrow. I'm tired tonight. I haven't had a day off since my birthday, and before that it was a long time.

How does this fit in the seasons? And living in the flow of the seasons? It's all madness now. The Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland was/is definitely an Aries. "Mustard?! Let's not be silly!"

my favorite clip ever!

There is so much more to say, but instead I'll just wish you a Very Merry UnBirthday!

And say Happy Anniversary to me and Gabe - we met a year ago today, and our lives have been forever changed from that merry meet.

Blessed Be!

Friday, March 26, 2010


The cycles of the seasons are all about expansion and contraction. Sometimes we feel this all in one day, or one week, but certainly in the parade of the seasons. As we move from the watery, emotional depths of Pisces, the oldest sign in the astrological year into the youngest, firey, emergent sign of Aries, I pause to reflect on the year past and the year to come. As if in some equal balance, some poise, between the great uphill and the great downhill, of sorts. I am grateful for the rest and the reflection.

As I peer into the recent past I see all the incredible work Gabe and I have accomplished, and in such a short time! It amazes me but it is not surprising - when your heart is so fully devoted to a task, work is easy. Work that scared me unto paralyzation before (starting a business! yikes, that used to be an incomprehensible task in my mind), preconceptions and expectations of the quality of work I ought to do haunted me as I explored new worlds, wondering if I would be able to accomplish this thing we have set out to do...but the light of my heart, my passion, burned through the mists of doubt and here I am, here we are, on the brink of a growing season ready to immerse ourselves in the loveliness of farming, of seasons.

How fortunate we have been! Would we have landed this gig in August - ay! That would have been problematic! Even March...we would have made it work, I know, but we are so blessed to have been given this opportunity so well aspected.

Today we received our Biodynamic (BD) planting calendar "Stella Natura" to be precise. Also, the herb seeds arrived! Aconite, Boneset, Chelidonium, Mugwort, Wild Lettuce, St. John's Wort, White Sage...and more! The Apothecary begins ...

There is increased interest in locally grown and available herbs - this is exciting, especially for the apothecary side of our farm. I envision us selling the elderberry syrup that kept us well all winter, and maybe some goldenseal tincture and some dried herbs for making tea or extract; we would love to sell wholesale to manufacturers, or maybe to a local Apothecary that would sell our stuff to the French Broad CoOp or Greenlife.

What an honor it would be to grow herbs for people's medicine! Growing herbs is interesting - so this herb seed order we got today is mostly comprised of plants that are biennial or perennial, and may take a few years to establish themselves to the point where you can harvest them. In farming, many people are used to annual crops - our diet is heavily reliant on annual crops. Things like asparagus and berries and apples and artichoke are perennial crops and usually kind of expensive. In my years consulting with and marketing for medicinal herb growers, I've found that many expect that they can just 'plug in' an herb crop for a food or commodity crop. This may be the case sometimes, like with Echinacea spp. or California poppy, but many herbs don't fit this category. It takes a certain kind of grower to stick with an herb crop.

I envision our focus to be on eclectic herbs. Check out this link, it's my very favorite:

The Eclectic Physicians are all represented here - Felter and Lloyd, Peter, many more I didn't get the chance to 'meet' in that most wonderful of all work-spaces: the library at Gaia. One of my offices used to be in front of the bookshelves in the Gaia library - they kind of 'stuck' me there, and the placement was dreamy! To be backed by the likes of these have old books at hand for reference, to have their silent choir informing my every interaction - what grace, what blessed random positioning.

Well, it's almost April Fool's Day - a good kind of New Year for this Ram. Pretty soon we'll be planting those potatoes that are all spread out on sheets and towels and whatever else seemed appropriate in my herb room; and peas and beets and carrots and chard and turnips and parsley and all those lovely transplants thriving in the home Gabe fixed for them. For now, for tonight, there is a pause before the rush is really on...

Our plants are growing steadily in the greenhouse. Some of the broccoli is big, and the little kale, lettuce, eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, and hyssop and all the rest are contentedly growing under our (mostly Gabe's) loving care. This is so fun! Thanks for supporting us!

Good night and GodDess Bless!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Two Peas in a Pod

We are fully immersed in planting....and taking care of baby plants. Farmers are like new parents each spring. The hope of the gestation, the nurturing, all the preparation for receiving the gift of new life! We are so immersed in it, we've become, ourselves, like seeds. The camper now resides beside the greenhouse and it is a miniature version of our new home at the farm. It has everything we need - in miniature! Yet we must prepare for when our seeds need new homes in the field.

The field has been plowed and we're waiting for it to dry out again so it can be disced and tilled and then we can plant there, hopefully by the first of April, a certain somebody's birthday. The Moon will be in Scorpio then so we'll be busy planting, and hopefully celebrating a little too : )

Gabe got the greenhouse working: that was an immense task! We cleared out all the tall weeds that the house was full of, and Gabe and Wayne built benches to hold the flats of seeded trays. Gabe got about 2/3 of the house ready and today started to make benches for the rest of the trays we'll need to seed to be ready to plant into the field. I planned, mixed soil and filled trays, and seeded trays.

When Christa and I went to Greece I experienced a moment in Crete that I knew I had been waiting my whole life to feel: shopping at an outdoor market by the Mediterranean. I've been shopping at tailgate markets in WNC for 12 years at least, but there was something about participating in that ancient tradition of gathering your food in an agrarian society that coaelesced so many desires for me in that one moment...and this weekend I had that same experience. I have been preparing for this farming thing my whole life. And I am finally here! WE are finally here, as we have both been preparing to be our whole lives. Selah!

A month ago I felt like I was running as fast as I could to board a farm train - buying seeds, fertilizer, getting the business part going, planning, networking, at the speed of light. Now I feel firmly on that "train" and it's traveling as fast as I thought it was when I first spotted it. But now it's feeling easier in a way. We're still planning, but when in doubt we just plant seeds and say "we'll figure it out". We are on this train and it has its own momentum.

We couldn't be happier, really. We're working as hard as we ever have, but we're working for ourselves. "Noone's breathing down my neck" says Gabe. Except ourselves. And we work ourselves harder than any other 'boss' would.

So: we have planted these, and more - broccoli, kale, 10 kinds of lettuce, tatsoi, echinacea, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, onions, leeks, chives, marshmallow the herb, elecampane, foxglove, artichoke, parsley, orach, purslane, statice, strawflower, valerian, hyssop, and that's all I can remember.

There are so many we'll be direct-seeding around the first of April: carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, chard, spinach, lettuce, kale, collards...

Wish us well. Better yet, come visit!

We could always use some help too. There are so many things to be done! We are so blessed to be working with Wayne, and he having a 40 yr old working farm, yet there is still so much basic, beginning stuff to do it is sometimes overwhelming. It's fun to help : ) The joy and satisfaction of immersing yourself in assisting the plants' work is incomparable. I'm sure animal farmers feel this way, I'm just such a plant lover that this is my paradise...especially with my pod-mate <3

Spring is this weekend! Oestara Oh Lovely One! She Returns!

In Grace,

Thursday, March 11, 2010

at the speed of spring

When I thought of this venture before it actually happened, I asked to be immersed in the seasons, in the turning of the Wheel, and now as it is happening all I can think is Whheeeeee! We are turning FAST on this wheel! I always knew Time was relative, subjective, and it surely is. The relative speed of Time for us now is FAST like molten lava where there should be individual grains of sand passing thru the narrow lane in the hourglass which separates the past and future. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Because Time is so quickly speeding by I'll be brief...

We are seeding flats to start transplants so they'll be a month or so earlier to harvest than they would be if we direct-seeded them into the field.

The field got plowed Tuesday : )

We have more varieties of lettuce and greens than should be legal.

Gabe got the greenhouse working and that's how come we can plant all these seeds.

We need some help! If you want to come work and get paid in produce later we'd probably kiss you.

We're going to spray a biodynamic mix on the tilled field to help the grass breakdown.

This weekend hosts a glorious combination of a new moon in Pisces, so we'll be seeding lots of green leafy things.

Tonight is my last night with Rana, as 'my dog'. Carole told me tonight that in Arabic Rana means "beautiful, beloved". She is both, and will be both in her new home.

When we think of farms, often we are mislead into paths of thought that tread solely on consumption: zuchini, corn, food, fuel; a farm IS like the stomach of an organism that is a family - maybe of friends, maybe of kin, but a farm is not an isolated entity. In as much as you cannot have a community of stomachs - you cannot have a farm isolated from a community that arterially weaves and threads within and without, connecting and nourishing through the connections organs that contribute to the vitality of the whole.

That is your tangent for the night.

Goddess Bless and Be Well!

Take your elderberry and your goldenseal as well,

Saturday, February 27, 2010

yummy sounds

I don't know how to make this song just play when you pull up this blogspot, so copy and paste the link into your browser, and then read what's new! : )

We love cornbread, butterbeans, and .....each other across the table <3

Friday, February 26, 2010

It's a Mouthful!

Things are moving along albeit at a slower pace than we like to see. Gabe is almost finished with the camper. He had hoped to move it today but it might not be for a few more days. Our cover crop seed order has been delayed 3 times! Once due to snow and twice due to 2 trucks breaking down that were going to deliver the goods. Hopefully our order will get here next week, and HOPEFULLY the field will get plowed next week too! This plowing thing is triiicckkyyy.....there is a very small window in the spring to get your plowing done. Winter is so wet and cold, you do severe damage to the soil if you plow in unfavorable conditions. Wet soil is easily compacted, which makes the field not drain and roots have a hard time penetrating the compacted soil, so you're plants are very unhappy with this. It does not pay to rush the plowing but you can't dilly dally either! Most farmers say you get one good day in the spring to plow and you better get on it! Wayne's going to plow our field for us. He's had some tractor trouble but has a smaller tractor he can use and it will be just fine. So it hasn't hurt us yet that our cover crop seed order isn't here. I'm sure it will get here right on time, and then we'll get that planted and feel so much more sane about things. We ordered a biodynamic field spray that you spray on right after tilling, it is supposed to help the microorganisms break down the grass and stuff after tilling. Maybe we'll spray part of the field and not the other part and see what the difference is?

Speaking of experimentation, we are doing an on-farm trial with heirloom-type hybrid tomatoes! This is VERY exciting! Here's the low-down on heirloom-type hybrids:
A tomato is not simply a tomato, like a person is not simply a person; tomato genes differ widely within the species - there are over 1,000 types of tomatoes I think. Don't quote me on that, it's close to accurate but the point is they vary widely. Some of these differences are visible (these are called phenotypes, or bodily characteristics, like in humans the color of our hair/eyes, or the shape of our toes) and some are harder to see, like the ability to ward off a plant disease. Humans are this way too, right? Some of us are more susceptible to certain diseases, or even inherit a disease genetically thru our parents.

Well, when you breed a tomato by crossing one type with another (the pollen of a brandywine fertilizes the ovule of a beefsteak, say), you make a hybrid. That's it. Most of you remember Mendel's peas, right? Some people are scared of the word hybrid, but hybridization is just selection by humans; selection happens all the time naturally.

Heirloom-type hybrids in this case are crosses of heirloom tomatoes with hybrid lines (developed from heirlooms anyway, b/c that's all we had for many years). These hybrid lines were developed for certain qualities over the last 75 years or so. The kinds of traits tomatoes have been bred for over the last 75, give or take a few 20, years are things like 1) thicker skin 2) delayed maturation of fruit and 3) "boxey" bodies - do you notice a trend here? Correct! They have been bred to be shipped long distances. How bout that? They have not been bred for 1) flavor 2) flavor or 3) flavor. Did I mention they don't taste very good? You probably already noticed this. Well, sometimes the genes that make for a good flavor are combined with genes that do not allow the plant to resist disease, like late blight for example. So you have a potentially wonderfully tasting tomato, but you can't eat it b/c it dies before the fruit is ripe. Bummer! Herein lies the beauty of breeding for disease resistance and flavor. That is what Randy Gardner, the recently retired tomato breeder with NC State, started doing about 5 years ago. The result? Some absolutely gorgeous, delicious, disease resistant varieties. This is so exciting!

Organic farmers have few options available to them for controlling the most devastating tomato disease: late blight (Phytopthera infestans). Even conventional growers with their arsenals of chemicals can't really stop phytopthera. Did you know phytopthera caused the potato famine? So choosing genetically resistant varieties is important. You reduce the amount of spray you use and the plants just grow better. The picture with this post is of an heirloom-type hybrid planted last year. This picture was taken near the middle of October last year. Considering that late blight moved in to our area in mid to late July, this is extremely impressive. Am I being too much of a science nerd here?! I just think this stuff is fascinating. Particularly when it comes to organic farming.

Organic farming strives to minimize off-farm inputs, creating a holistic system of agriculture that is as self-sufficient as possible. Importing fungicide sprays onto the farm, whether they are organic or conventional, is expensive in many ways. Choosing plants that are resistant to diseases common in your growing area is smart in so many ways. We are excited to be a part of this trial that hopefully will result in the release of the these yummy, super-tomatoes that can stand up strong against the "Plant Destroyer!" Phytopthera.

Phytopthera infestans is a mouthful, isn't it?! So is our farm name : ) Gabe pointed this out to me....what do ya'll think is a better "tag" for our farm: "High in Organic Matter" or "It's a Mouthfull!" ? ? ?

I guess that's all for now. We now have broccoli, valerian, and hyssop seeds sprouted. It's been very cold in my house so some of our seeds are lingering, waiting for it to warm up a bit! Our plan is to get into the hoophouse next week and start sowing cool-weather crops for transplanting, as well as some vegetables that have a very long growing season, like peppers and eggplant. With a warm, sunny hoophouse the seeds should start sprouting all over the place!

Love and light and hang in there a little longer, spring is coming!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

And then, it was warm

We placed another seed order! It was last Wednesday, but I've been too busy to tell you about it. Between making hearts for valentines, placing the seed order, teaching a class on sourcing raw herbal materials, working a little at the farm, and keeping my life together (with a job - we had the winter vegetable conference last Wednesday and Thursday) it's been hard to stay on top of this!

As much as I love it, this seed ordering business is a bit grueling. You have to do a lot of math! And we are really trying to order only certified organic seed so that's another consideration....

The things we think about when ordering seed: first you want to find a variety that has some disease resistance to common pathogens of that species; it should be suited for your climate so you have to find that out. Of course our climate changes more than other areas: this year I think we're going to have an abundance of rain again, like last year, so we're going for the cooler, wet tolerant varieties as opposed to the drought hardy ones. Ideally you want the varieties that mature quickly and you'd be surprised at how much that varies. With peppers alone you can have one variety mature in 60 days while another matures in twice that time! Ah, timing....this is something that we can wrap our heads around while we're waiting for the next round of seed to arrive (and finishing Gabe's camper, and getting the hoophouse ready to plant into, and gathering all the soil mix and trays and heating the hoophouse, etc...)My next job is to come up with a spreadsheet that informs us of all this information, so Gabe can come up with a calendar of when to plant what so we have a continuous supply of yumminess as the seasons allow.

This farming thing requires a wide range of skills! I've always heard it said, but now I'm realizing it intimately. Gabe fixed his propane heater today for his camper! It's about 35 years old and it's amazing that he got it running. I'm so blessed to have a farming partner like him. He is patient and cunning - a mix rarely encountered anymore these days.

We got an amazing mix of vegetables this round. The first round was mostly cool season stuff like peas and greens, broccoli and herbs. This time we got more herbs, some flowers, all kinds of root vegetables, peppers, more greens, the list makes me hungry! It takes about 2 weeks from the time you order til when you get your seed so you have to plan ahead. Gabe has been amazing for keeping us on top of that seed flow. Oh! We have broccoli, valerian, and hyssop baby plants! My friend and coworker Landis gave us some lights so we can keep the baby plants happy until the hoophouse is ready to move into. It's begun!

In addition to all this other stuff we've been doing, I've been taking the necessary steps to creating a legitimate farm business (bank account, tax id number, etc.) and I was surprised how little information is available online for this. I found a lot of sites that basically repeated the same info: organic farming is good; most farmers are over the age of 55 so younger farmers are good; there are grants available to younger farmers; all this on the surface stuff but nothing telling me about the structure of taxes and how we fit into that as farmers, nothing to say what's required or granted....I called the IRS and they were helpful. But we have a long way to go, and a lot to learn, about the business side of farming. There is a new book out now, I think it's called the Organic Farming Business Handbook and I'm excited to see what it offers.

I was reading an organic farming book the other day, and it said something to the effect of 'people nowadays think organic farming is a return to the ways things were 50 or 100 years ago and this is not correct". In my forays into websites purporting to offer help on starting a new farm business I found the erroneous description of organic farming as being "free from ANY fertilizer" among other untruths. I guess it spoke to me of how distant many people are from the lives of plants, let alone farming practices. It's a scrappy life for plants out there in the wild, like it is for animals. Field grown plants, or cultivated food, require fertilizers! A fertilizer is just a food source for plants. It can be raw or composted manures, other plants that are decomposing and offering nutrients, minerals, all kinds of things. I have come up against this misconception of organic farming so many farming is not some kind of idealistic, utopian way of growing food. It is complex and benefits from an understanding of soil chemistry, plant physiology and all kinds of other wisdom like how to get an old propane heater running to warm the transplants in your hoophouse. This is technology. Further, with so many of us active online there is a need for basic computer skills (to host a blog or website), accounting, other mechanical abilities, a knowledge of the ecology within which the farm rests, the ability to run a business.... I don't know how the stereotypical image of a farmer came to be one that shows her illiterate, unaware of the environment, and waiting on a government handout. Farmers are scrappy too! I hope I'm scrappy enough...

This blog was meant to capture the subtleties of the changes that occur as this farm dream becomes a reality, as well as to let my peeps know what's happening "in real time" as I've quickly lost the free time to chat about it on the phone or in person. I can say that in the last month I've become more familiar with the business aspects of this farming venture, they aren't so scary as they were a few weeks ago, we're wrapping our heads around the scale of it all, we got another CSA! Thank you, Reece!!! And thanks, again, to Bill for being so excited about his CSA that he's sharing that excitement with others....and the whole process of uprooting to move to Madison county is going swell. Gabe's camper, which he'll be living in until the abarnment is ready, is beautiful, chic, and functional in a most graceful way. And now it's warm.'s getting warm. Spring is coming! Neal saw crocuses today! They usually don't show until Newt's birthday, March 4th....

That's all for now, folks...


Monday, February 15, 2010

Meet Fennario

For those of you just getting to know Fennario, we wanted to tell you some more about it and show you some pictures we took yesterday!

So the farm is located in Madison county, about 7 miles out on Little Pine Rd. off of 25/70, towards Hot Springs (yay!) The road goes back back back into the blue ridge mountains and there's just a few houses past the farm. The field runs east to west, which means we'll get precious sunshine all day long on our field. This is pretty amazing because of the geography. All around are very high mountains and that makes for sketchy growing. Most vegetable plants require lots of sunshine, like 12 hours a day, and any of you who have tried to grow in half-day shaded lots know what kind of challenge it is to grow plants with limited sunlight. So our challenge will be shade! Gabe is working on this. He plans to build a shed down by the garden: to keep our tools in, to put the produce in to keep it cool while we continue, and for us to rest in during the hottest part of the day. It is much easier to address the need for shade rather than the need for sun. We are so blessed!

There is a stream that runs beside the field on the north side. This is great because we might need to irrigate the field and we have a water source. We don't have a pump, or any of the lines to run the water into the field, but we've got water and it's easier to get water from a stream into a field rather than get a stream by the field! See how blessed we are?!

The field will be divided into 2 parts: a wholesale side and a garden side. We are planning on growing mostly squashes in the wholesale side. We need to be able to make some money, mostly to keep ourselves going with this farming thing. You wouldn't believe how expensive farming is! Even with the master of thrift, Gabe, at the helm! I hear folks in the Piedmont mention the triple bottom line of sustainability all the time. For those who aren't familiar with this, the triple bottom line of sustainability is: economic, social, and environmental. In order to truly be a sustainable farm, we need to be sure it sustains itself within these three parameters. Economic being one of them, we need to make sure we continue a flow of income that allows us to farm in the future (pay the lease on the land, buy seeds and fertilizer, etc.) but also pays us for working it. Environmentally concerned, we are going to employ certified organic practices to sustain the land and the ecological health all around the land. The socially sustainable bottom line is complex, but we are constantly reaching out to our community of friends and family to have you be a part of this in any way you want to be.

We want to extend some thanks to some of you who have been absolutely instrumental in making this possible. First, our parents: John Chester and Evelyn Hamilton and Susan and Bob Mennel. Their support and belief has been so welcome and amazing. It is one thing to work so hard to bring a dream to life, but it is another to have so many loving people celebrate and support you as you do it. They say it takes a village to raise a child, I think it takes a village to raise a farm!

We also want to thank our friends. We got our first CSA subscription from Bill! Thanks so much, Bill! I wonder if you have any idea how much your support and encouragement mean to us?! CSA's for those of you who don't know about them, are a way for farmers to offset the huge costs associated with early season planting. Each spring farmers have to pay out lots of cash for seeds, cover crop seeds, fertilizer, equipment, the list goes on and on. Once the cash starts flowing its no problem, but at this stage of the season the cash has flowed out and out and ain't coming in for awhile! Thank you Bill!!! I know you're going to be so happy and full from all the yummy produce, herbs, and flowers you get as part of your CSA. So a CSA is Community Supported Agriculture. Basically what it entails is a subscriber, like Bill, buys into the farm in the spring giving the farmer some cash flow to buy all the necessary things. Throughout the growing season, usually about 20 weeks, the CSA subscriber receives fresh produce weekly. Since this is our first year on this land we don't want to commit to too many subscriptions. We figure we could safely supply about 5 shares this year, not knowing how the land will produce. So we might accept a few more but we plan on selling the excess from our garden plot to restaurants, people who just want a bag of veggies every now and then, and some other markets.

We'd love to answer any questions you have about the farm! Please let us know what you are curious about. There is so much to tell you!

We are going to make every effort to keep this updated with pictures and stories so stay tuned!

Happy Valentines day and Happy Chinese New Year! It's the year of the Tiger which is very auspicious for our beginnings on this farm. Tiger gives you the courage to embark on new ventures.

Love and Light and Happy Growing!

Friday, February 12, 2010

As We March Down

On February 1st, or thereabouts, we signed a lease to farm 2 acres in Madison county, NC. The land is called Dewey Bottoms. It's across the driveway from Lonnie's Bottoms. Dewey and Lonnie used to raise tobacco here. They're gone but people still raise tobacco around there. We'll be growing a wide range of herbs, vegetables, and flowers.

This blog is an attempt to capture the ride this has already shown itself to be. In the space of about 3 weeks I have traveled further with farming than I have in the last 10 years. I want to capture what is happening.

I may be working backwards here, but we decided to name the farm Fennario Farm and Apothecary. That's a post for later, where that came from. We're going to grow food and medicine, like wise folk should :)

For now, suffice to say that it's been a long three weeks with our heads in seed catalogues, ears up against phones talking with any and everyone, and hands longing to be in that sandy loam by that churgling stream 'tween those high craggy mountains.

so it begins....