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....