Waxing Poetic (farm blog)

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Posted 10/19/2009 6:19pm by Shiloh Avery.

Fall field 2009

Half of this year's fall field in the beautiful Tumbling Shoals Valley


I have a thing for french fries.  I consider myself a connoisseur.  And no, McDonalds fries are not really up to snuff, but they’ll do in a pinch.  And this was a pinch, let me tell you.  We were all sitting around at the library discussing Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and local food (and why everyone should love Tumbling Shoals Farm) and there was all this guilt.  It seemed that reading that book elicited a lot of guilt from folks around here.  There was a funny story about being in the grocery store suffering a mild panic attack thinking, “there’s nothing in here I can buy!” 

But all this discussion about eating close to the source did not elicit guilt in me, my friends, oh no!  It ignited an incalculable desire for french fries.  I had already consumed my daily dose of local healthy veggies, yes sir, I was headed for McDonalds.  This was a pinch, after all.  I should have gone through the drive through.  Despite all my scoffing at the mere principle of a drive through, I should have driven through.  I even considered it, but my bladder and the usual excessive cleanliness of any McDonalds restroom dictated otherwise.  But then came the guilt.  I guess you could call it that.  But really it was more a fear of embarrassment, of getting caught.  I parked, thanking the inertia that has us still driving an anonymous van rather than one painted with the Tumbling Shoals Farm logo.  I walked into the rear entrance, ostensibly to use the restroom first, but probably just in case I got caught on the way in, I still had the ready excuse of the restroom.  But then my desire for salt and fat had me up front in front of all those people.  My eyes darted furtively around me, “why is that man looking at me that way, does he know me?”  “What if someone here saw the article in the Welcome to Wilkes magazine?”  I wished for a disguise while I silently tapped my foot waiting for the contraband, cringing every time the door opened with fear of a familiar face.  I nearly ran to the van with my booty and relief washed over me as I pulled away.  I got away with it!  And then, to my desperately awaiting mouth went a french fry and woosh, all of that anticipated joy was lost.  Ugh.  Not even worth it.  Old stale McDonalds french fries.  Should have stuck with local stuff.


Posted 10/12/2009 6:08pm by Shiloh Avery.
purple cabbage
Purple cabbage
October asters
October Asters
A large flock of grackels
taking off

When most people think of the seasons, they think of winter, spring, summer and fall.  You and I might think something more like greens, summer squash, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers.  In many parts of Africa, there are but two seasons commonly acknowledged: rainy and dry. But around here, there are a lot more signs of the seasonality of things.  There is the Turkey visitation season (last year I counted more than 40 in our local flock!) There is the season of the blue jays.  There is the spring fireworks season with the spectacular dogwood, cherry and redbud explosion of colorful blooms.  There is the passing through of the Northern Flickers and the hatching of the Swallows and Indigo Buntings.  There is the explosion of the tick population and their subsequent disappearance (a much celebrated season around here).  There is the buzzing of the Tupelo Gum when the bees find it blooming and the blue season of the Tupelo berries.  There is hunting season when those pesky deer seem to disappear.  And now: now it is the purple season.  Wild native purple asters are awakening the green forests before the forests can awe us with their own color explosion.  And the iridescent purple grackles have returned en force.  Open the door and a thunderous explosion of purple tinted wings temporarily clouds the sky. 


Posted 10/5/2009 9:35pm by Shiloh Avery.

Savoy cabbage plant

A recycled picture of a savoy cabbage (the camera with new pictures is on a road trip)


A year or so ago I read an article in the High Country Magazine about a few local Ashe County farmers that I knew.  Most of them had come into farming as a second career.  You know: left a corporate career to play in fields of barley thing.  They spoke of the career switch as a search for a slower, simpler life.  I’m sure now, that the interviews must have taken place in October.  I laughed at the time.  “the slower, simpler life.”  While I never found myself climbing the corporate ladder, I have had a couple nine to five jobs in my time on my way to this land here, and I recall the nine to five life with free weekends a much simpler and slower life.  Not satisfying, mind you, but definitely slower and simpler.  But now October has arrived and my tired body is slowing down, the cool weather is slowing the crops down, and the shorter days have me inside at a reasonable hour (kind of like nine to five).  So yeah, I can see their point now. 


Posted 9/28/2009 7:17pm by Shiloh Avery.

flood up against a bridge

Our little creek becomes a pond!

a new river forms

a new river forms to feed the

water rushing over new flower beds

Water flowing over the newly planted bed

flooded creek

Little Tumbling Shoals Creek
over the irrigation line

Like bookends to a most challenging season, floods arrived this weekend bigger and badder than even the spring floods.  This time, it’s too late to panic or really even worry.  All the crops that suffer from rain are on their way out anyway and as long as the water doesn’t sit too long, the fall crops will be okay.  All the same, I can’t help but remark on the coincidence of this most recent flood.  As if to say, “we survived.”  We move on.

The seed catalogues have begun to arrive in the mail, which pushes me into a Pavlovian planning session.  Jason says there should be a support group for people like me: SCA (seed catalogues anonymous).  Seed catalogues are inherently exciting with their bright pictures of beautiful veggies; I want to grow everything in them!  Last year, I’m afraid, Jason gave me a little bit too much free reign with the seed order and we ended up growing seven different kinds of eggplant.  And I won’t even get into the chilies.  But this is an exciting time of year.  This year especially as we venture into many new things, including a move out of the camper into a new house!  We expand to full capacity in annual crops, we’re planting blueberries and blackberries and asparagus, and we’re constructing three “hoop houses” to extend the season and keep rain off.  It all begins with the arrival of the seed catalogues.  Feel free to make requests!


Posted 9/21/2009 5:31pm by Shiloh Avery.

Shiloh drilling the top purlin

Jason going with his gut intinct

Celebrating the assembly of our puzzle

The assembly of our "puzzle"


Jason had us do this little exercise once where instead of saying “the government,” we say, “the people” since “the government” is supposed to be an extension of “the people.”  The idea was to put a face on that entity. “The People” have recently launched an initiative called “Know your farmer, know your food.”  Wow.  Are the feds catching on?  You can watch a brief video of secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack stiff in his suit and tie talking about local food: www.youtube.com/usda, and comment.

I’d like to propose a similar initiative called “Know who you’re feeding.”  See, this whole concept is a circle really.  You are on a first name basis with the person who grows your food and thus, know how your food was grown. But it works that way for me too.  Knowing that John’s daughter is in South America, and that Susan’s cat is sick, and that Mikelle and Mike just found a little dog that her dad adopted and that Becky’s twins love green beans and the color orange makes people real to me. And real people with real faces and lives make me the farmer care about what I’m feeding them!  I love when you bring your kids (or parents) to farmers market and introduce them to me.  I love knowing about your lives.  It’s a community:  A living organism.  My role in that community is to grow food.  Others have different roles, and together, we make a thriving community.  Oops, I guess I should have turned on the sap alertJ

A lot of us complain that the heart of the problem with our food system is that it’s centralized.  Well, this may be true but I think the real problem is that it’s anonymous.  There are no faces on either side of that system, so no real reason to care.  In a centralized anonymous food system, you don’t know how your food was grown and the farmer doesn’t have to tell anyone (the exception being certified organic). Don’t get me wrong, I realize that we small scale growers cannot entirely meet the food demand.  We don’t often grow grain, for example, but we serve a very important role in connecting people with the land their food is grown on and with the folks who do that work.  Of course I think that’s a very important role in the local community and food system.  I’m glad “the people” appears to think so too!



Posted 9/14/2009 8:27pm by Shiloh Avery.

Fall field 2009

I think it’s always like this:  the feeling that I’m trying to hold onto the last particles of sand as they slip through my fingers.  What was once a mountain of sand in the spring that I thought we might never see the end of is now just a few grains.  Slippery little suckers.  We watch the summer crops ease into retirement and the summer heat relax to the song of the cicada.  We’re in the penultimate week of the harvest shares and we’re talking end game with Maggie and all of it makes me just a bit sad.  Like a little family is breaking apart. Just grains of sand in the wind ("we are star dust...").  With a promise of renewal in the green of the fall garden.  It’s just a promise, but it’s enough for me to slide into all of this farm disassembly that begins to happen this time of year. We call it “putting the farm to bed.”  It’s a slow process, but the signs of its approach are here.

Savoy cabbage plant

Posted 8/31/2009 8:21pm by Shiloh Avery.
Jason showing off tonight's roasted pepper, tomato and goat cheese calzone
Jason shows off tonight's roasted pepper, tomato and goat cheese calzone
Chile relleno
Chile relleno!!!
homemade tamales
Homemade tamales wrapped in corn husks!

My mother quit cooking right after I left home and she went back to work.  They took to eating out a lot, or microwaving frozen meals.  I always thought that was a bit unusual.  (I went to school in the south, all my friends’ moms cooked big ole’ southern meals every time I visited).  But after reading Michael Pollen’s August 2nd article in the New York Times Magazine, I realize my folks were just part of a growing trend of people not cooking.  The article is titled “Out of the kitchen and onto the couch: how American cooking became a spectator sport, and what we lost along the way.” 

A while back, I wrote about eating seasonally for health. Well, Michael Pollen has given me a new one: prepare your own food for health. Pollen’s research shows time spent preparing food is directly linked to physical health: “The more time a nation devotes to food preparation at home, the lower its rate of obesity.  In fact, the amount of time spent cooking predicts obesity rates more reliably than female participation in the labor force or income.”  Wow.  He goes on to tell us that the average PER DAY amount of time American’s spend on meal preparation is 27 minutes.  27 minutes a day?!!! 

Upon learning that we don’t own a TV, people often ask us what we do in our free time.  I never understood the question.  I countered with, “how do you find time to watch TV?”  But I get it now.  That’s what we do in our “free time”: we cook.  Okay, okay, I know I’ve already told you all that Jason does most of the cooking, but I do help.  Honest!  I am like the prep cook.  So even though he’s in charge, it’s still something we do together.  It’s a sort of bonding process and it is important to us.  Maggie used to marvel how we’d work such crazy long hours, come in at dark and still prepare a nourishing meal.  I think she’s used to late evening meals now.  But my point is that even though our “in season” lifestyle doesn’t technically allow it, we still take the time to prepare a meal.  It is nourishing to more than just the gastro-intestinal.  It is nourishing to our souls.  There’s just something about preparing and eating a meal together (even at 10 o’clock at night!) that fulfills some deep primal instinct.  Okay, maybe not primal, but you get the point.  Eating well involves this process we call cooking and it saddens me that so many people are missing out on that.  Remember the cookbook called “The Joy of Cooking”?  Doesn’t that just say it all?  I don’t know when the last edition was printed, but mine is a 70s era copy.  I envision all those cookbooks languishing on thrift store shelves.  That’s just it: we’ve lost the joy somewhere along the road to frozen meals and booming take out dives.

homemade pizza

Even pizza can be ridiculously beautiful and delicious homemade!




If there’s anything you’d like me to hold for you here at the farm (for pick up Tuesdays or Fridays from 5pm-7pm), at the Wednesday Hickory Farmers’ Market (noon to 5:30), or the Saturday Boone farmers’ market (early am to noon), please let me know my phone or email!  Thanks!

Posted 8/24/2009 7:41pm by Shiloh Avery.
Chamber of commerce tomato tasting
Tumbling Shoals Farm hosts a "tomato
tasting" for the Wilkes Chamber of
Commerce (wouldn't you know we ended
up between tomato plantings!)
Our "parking lot" for the tomato tasting
Our hay field becomes a parking lot for
the tomato tasting event.


I caught myself referring to this season in the past tense the other day.  Oops.  Not that there aren’t parts of this season that I’d like to put behind me, but we are heading into PEPPER season for crying out loud (not to mention the greens growing in the fall garden)!  At market on Saturday morning(after rising at 4:30 am),  I found myself actually smiling to myself before 7a.m., before I even finished my coffee, even giggling a little perhaps, as I placed those beautiful sweet treasures in their box.  Then, as I caught myself smiling, that made me smile even more.  Chalk up another point for August!  It’s time for our grill to be constantly occupied with various shapes and shades of roasting peppers.  They show up in the scrambled eggs, in the lunchtime sandwich, an afternoon snack, and in various forms for dinner.  And they never overstay their welcome.


Posted 8/17/2009 8:23pm by Shiloh Avery.

Our new hoophouses

An oversized puzzle (our new hoophouses!  Ha evil step-mother nature, try to thwart us next year!)


August.  I almost feel like I need say no more. I used to think of August as the most brutal farming month.  In fact, a wise old farmer once advised me never to evaluate my profession in August.  The weeds are a mile high, the wicked hot air presses down on me, and the insects arrive en force.  But I’m welcoming this August with open arms.  It brought along with it the first hot and dry-ish weather we’ve seen all season, which is what all our summer crops have been waiting for.  Insects, I suppose, but that includes colorful butterflies, the summer serenade of the cicada, and, well technically not an insect, the hummingbirds also come out in force in August.  This is the time when I love working in the flowers. And weeds, well, I suppose that can’t be helped much after all the rain, but all in all, I’m inclined to defend August this year.

I’ve been talking a lot about thwarting Evil Step-Mother Nature next year.  Well, our hoophouses arrived today!  To us, they’re basically big umbrellas under which to grow strawberries and tomatoes (and actually harvest some!!!), but they also offer a little season extension (earlier tomatoes and late strawberries).  It was exciting to unload the truck, but it will be even more exciting to put them up, I’m sure, as right now they appear like an oversized puzzle.  Hmmm.  I think Jason will manage that project.  We intend to get one of them up for strawberries in the next few weeks, so be on the lookout pictures of frustrated faces. 

Posted 8/10/2009 8:35pm by Shiloh Avery.

The latest weather related heartbreak

The latest weather related heartbreak: the third and last planting of corn laying down on the ground after Wednesdays storm.


After last Wednesday’s latest weather related disaster, I’ve taken to calling her Evil Step-Mother Nature.  I guess she didn’t like that too terrible much because she decided to give me what I’ve been wishing for…in the extreme of course!  Sun and heat!  Why do they call these the “dog days?”  What is it about a dog that causes us to sweat, dehydrate, move ridiculously slowly, and become exhausted?  If I’d have invented the phrase to describe these days, I’d have called them the “okra days.”  The okra has actually jumped up and down for joy.  I swear it.  It’s become an everyday picking event, and one we might consider a twice a day picking event if we had it in us to do that much work.  I haven’t heard the eggplant complain lately either.  So, okay, Evil Step-Mother Nature has made her point, and I swear I’m not going to complain from my comfy chair here in the air conditioning:) knowing my crops are kicking it into gear as I type.  But I’m NOT going out there either:)


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