Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
Shiloh's mom Sandy planting potatoes and Jason' dad Lee building the cabin
I spoke with a reporter the other day was doing an article on our mentor farmers, Alex and Betsy Hitt of Peregrine Farm. (Here's the actual article: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/04/30/2858861/one-farm-grows-many-farmers.html) I found myself comparing them to parents. In a sense, they “raised” us as farmers. This got me thinking about parents, and how they’re never really done “raising” their children. Both of our parents have helped immensely with the start-up of our farm and continue to do so. In fact, each time they visit, they work their butts off! We once tried to take a day off while my folks were visiting and they refused (“No! There’s work to be done!). Jason’s father “visited” us specifically this spring to help Jason build our third employee cabin. It’s not just us either (as I’m sure many of you parents can relate). I delivered to Hatch last week and it was Zach’s mom who greeted me at the door, readying the restaurant for opening. As if we weren’t approaching 40, they still take care of us. They lend us tools, expertise, labor and money (not to mention love). It is not any different with our mentor farmers. 10 years after working there, they’re still “raising” us as farmers. We still call for expert advice and even borrow tools from time to time. We owe our careers to our parents, both biological and “adopted.” As I watch the rain out my office window pour incessantly down on our fields, I’d like to take this moment to say “thanks.”
We gambled with the summer squash and the weather and lost
I’m not a gambler. Or so I thought. No really, I’ve spent entire weekends in Las Vegas and didn’t plop the first penny down toward gambling. It’s that ole’ Midwestern conservatism I think (although they do have casinos in the Midwest). But wherever it comes from, I consider myself risk averse. Well then, let’s consider my career choice… Did you consider it? Yeah, it kind of makes you think, doesn’t it. Again and again, we gamble out here on the farm. We come back year after year, pitting crop earliness against the chance of the weather, rolling the dice in hopes that seeds germinate, playing roulette with weeds, hoping our backs don’t go bust. In fact, if you look at it from that perspective, it appears we might need to seek help for our gambling addiction.
Jason moves the chicken house out to pasture
The first brave chickens to leave the house for pasture in the morning
The first egg!
On Saturday, we added a few chickens to our livestock mix. Livestock seems to have taken over my camera. It has Jason shaking his head and muttering things about “childless couples.” It’s true, isn’t it. I’ve begun collecting substitutes for children. Not in the literal sense, of course. I rationalize it because they all have farm jobs. Still, critters need me in a way that plants don’t. Plants need care, attention, and perhaps even love and sweet talkin’, but they just grow up too quickly. Once we’ve planted them in the ground and given them their best shot, they’re likely to survive without us. Maybe not thrive, but survive. With critters, it’s just not the same. The pigs crave our attention. Whenever we come around, they get up from their lazy stupor, do a couple of happy tail spins, then follow us around in perpetual curiosity. So far, the chickens seem to depend on us to remind them where their roosts are and where they’re intended to lay their eggs. I swear the chard doesn’t even notice when I wander over to check out its progress.
"skinning" the tomato umbrella
I attended a workshop on meat production last Friday. You may have noticed from the full takeover of my photos that we’ve taken on some hog production the season. There is a potential expansion of Tumbling Shoals Farm on the horizon and we’re considering adding more livestock to the mix. But that’s a whole different train of thought. At the end of the workshop, Chef Jay (I can’t remember his last name) from Lucky 32 in Greensboro got up to speak. I found myself in that awesome state of head nodding validation as he pontificated on integrity drawn in by knowing who you are feeding. Some of you might remember me expounding on the same thing a couple of years back. The federal department of ag did this whole “know your farmer, know your food” thingy. Tom Vilsak standing there in his suit and tie—the whole bit. I believe in that too, don’t get me wrong, but it had me waxing poetic about the benefits of knowing who you are feeding. Like chef Jay, I believe that knowing the families you grow (or cook) food for brings a whole other level of integrity into the system. It makes us want to go that extra mile to bring you a special quality product. Different, I suppose, from boxing it up and sticking in on truck to be mixed in the vast wholesale market to end up on some anonymous plate.
Pigs telling secrets
A pig with "pants"
I know I don’t need to mention that it was snowing and sleeting only four days ago. It’s all the rage in the small talk circles. But how can I not??? As farmers, we are so completely at the mercy of the weather that it’s hard to leave the craziest weather changes unmentioned. We were preparing a hoop house for tomato planting while it was snowing and sleeting. Said tomatoes were actually scheduled to go into the ground three weeks ago, but after last year’s damage, we’re erring on the “precious little baby tomatoes” side of things. So we planted them finally today, three weeks “late.” That’s kind of the thing on the farm. There’s not really a “late” per se. It’s a little loophole that we live in. There’s “early” and “right on time”, but never late. So I hope you’ll understand when we show up “right on time” with our crops a few weeks later than planned. As it turns out, you just can’t plan on the weather.
Lettuce in the hoophouse, just waiting to be put on a list
Although the nights still bring a bit of a chill, the sunshine of the days brings enough warmth to shed the top couple of layers of clothing and lessen the dread of sticking fingers in the soil. Nathan and Shannon began work on Monday and we are settling into the rhythm of the daily farm work and crossing things off lists. I am an obsessive list maker. I’ve got lists for every aspect of life, hanging about in every corner of my world. And there’s no glory like the glory of crossing things off from said lists. I guess that sort of make Nathan and Shannon gladiators. Since their arrival, there has been carnage of the lists. Beautiful scribbles everywhere. With the settling in of the rhythm, comes a deep satisfaction of shrinking lists. Now if Mother Nature would get on board, there will be harvest lists to add to that satisfaction.
We are going ahead with our Lenoir drop point and have just a few harvest shares left. You can get more information at www.tumblingshoalsfarm.com. Please pass along this information to your friends in Lenoir who might be interested. Also, we are planning our fashionably late but grand entrance to the downtown Hickory farmers’ market Saturday, April 13th when we are predicting our crops to catch up from the cold spell we’ve been surviving. We’ll see you there!
Lee from visitwilkesboro.com came out to the farm and made this cute video.
The farm under blankets (which really love the wind, I might mention;))
You may have noticed that I sort of disappeared from the virtual world for a bit. It’s just that the real world grabbed me for a whirlwind dance for a while. The weather whips around our heads (sometimes quite literally) like an angry insect and we get dizzy attempting to plan around its whims. The day’s plans change quickly and we’re constantly in motion. Every March we reach our management capacity. Inevitably, something gets neglected. This year it was the pho. Pho is a delicious Vietnamese brothy soup that involves boiling bones for a long time. We started it in the morning. While we were scrambling to get plants in the ground, row covers on baby plants, fields prepared for further planting, new plants seeded in the greenhouse, etc., somehow, we forgot about the pho. The light began to wane and we headed up to the house in anticipation of our delicious supper, only to find the house filled to the brim with smoke. Indeed. In the madness of March, we burnt the soup. A night out at the local taco joint, a few days of open windows, a virtual ton of laundry, and a deep cleaning and the house is fine. We have only a couple of more weeks of the whirlwind dance until the first of our seasonal employees arrive to rescue us from the madness. We are counting down the days until we are four rather than two.