Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bringing Elsea in

Healthy Eating

Our vision for healthy eating is quite simply a homegrown diet. We believe focusing our attention on the system that produces our food -- instead of trying to merely quantify the nutritive properties of mass-produced, supermarket commodities -- will lead us to the healthiest possible eating. In other words, we believe the ultimate consumer assisted by an army of nutrition experts and doctors shopping at the "healthiest" supermarket can't assemble a diet as healthy as simple, homegrown food. We also believe that it's absurd to try to separate questions of what's good for us as eaters from the questions of what's good for the land, what's good for the farmer, what's good for farm animals, and what's good for the farming community. Considering these questions as one organic whole is the surest path to healthy eating. Of course, some things like synthetic pesticides, artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated "vegetable" oil, Cool Whip, Miracle Whip, or synthetic fertilizers are by their very nature not homegrown, so our understanding of what's homegrown applies as much to what goes into growing and processing food as to where the food is grown. Those are all examples of what a homegrown diet is not, but how would a person eat if he weren't a consumer of those things? It's relatively easy to eat homegrown garden crops during the growing season, but that's only one small part of a complete diet. What about grain products (and the meat from grain-fed animals), dairy, fats/oils, pulses, alcohol, and sweeteners? These and others are all types of food that we're not content to cede to corporate agribusiness. Although grains are perhaps the most basic agricultural crop, the labor-intensive nature of harvesting grains on a small scale has all but eliminated local markets. Regulatory burdens have eliminated community-scaled, commercial dairies. Likewise wineries and breweries. The most familiar tree fruits have been almost entirely replaced by highly chemical-intensive orchards in the quest to meet consumer demands for cosmetically perfect fruit. So how then can a person eat the kind of diet we're talking about? A person certainly can't go to the store and buy it. A truly healthy diet like we're envisioning necessarily requires a lot more involvement on the part of the eater, especially given the infantile development of our homegrown food economy. That kind of involvement would include things like putting up food in season to eat out of season, friends cooperatively purchasing and dividing up shares of meat animals, and city people arranging for farmers to grow things for them in homegrown ways. It would mean paying significantly more for certain kinds of food where industrial and chemical shortcuts have accustomed us to artificially low prices. It would involve a lot more effort and knowledge in the kitchen, relearning home economics -- for example, making one's own mayonnaise or yogurt or vinegar from raw ingredients. Of course, all this, if it happens at all, will only happen one step at a time. It's easy to let oneself become an uninvolved consumer; it's much more difficult to regain the knowledge and skills necessary to a homegrown diet. We're eager to rebuild and to help others rebuild the kind of local food economy that can offer a complete, homegrown diet. We're always glad to share and pass on whatever we can to help in that effort.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Do you know how many genetically modified crops go into your diet? Do you know what it would mean not to support genetic engineering with any of your food dollars? Did you know that almost all animal feed in the USA is made from genetically modified crops? Do you know how extraordinarily limiting it is for us to feed only locally grown, non-GMO feed to our animals?

We're very much opposed to genetic engineering, particularly of crops. Beyond all the unknown risks to the animals and people that eat these crops and to the ecosystems in which these crops are grown -- risks that are as novel and unpredictable as the engineering itself -- we're just as concerned about the extent to which GMO crops take control of our food system that much further out of the hands of the local farming community and leave our fate in the hands of giant corporations that have no particular concern for -- or even knowledge of -- our communities. GMOs only facilitate larger farms with less diversity, greater demands for nonrenewable inputs and dependence on the global economy, greater accumulation of waste liabilities and pollution, and the further disintegration of human farming communities.

The list of GMO crops being grown commercially is presently still pretty short, but it impacts a huge percentage of food items. Corn, soybeans, sugar beets, canola, cotton, and alfalfa are the major crops. (GMO-Papaya and some summer squash varieties have also been released.) You may not think you eat a lot of corn and soybeans, but consider the corn syrup in your tomato sauce, the soy lecithin in your chocolate bar; consider the regular sugar made from sugar beets that sweetens whatever doesn't already have corn syrup in it; consider the "vegetable" oil in your mayonnaise and salad dressing; consider all the additives, the conditioners, "natural" flavors, thickeners, and all the other mysterious things on those long lists of ingredients. And accounting for even more acres of GMO crops, consider all the meat and eggs and dairy products from animals raised on GMO crops. Corn and soybean byproducts typically make up almost the entire diet of poultry (both meat birds and layers) and hogs. Beef and dairy cattle are likewise fed diets heavy in corn, corn silage, soybean meal, and cottonseed meal. Even the alfalfa fed to dairy cattle is potentially GMO. Even farm raised fish eat pretty much the same feed. The biggest difference between different kinds of animal feed is typically just the ratio of soybean meal to corn. That means our local grocery store wouldn't have a single cut of meat of any kind, no milk, no other dairy products, and no eggs that have any real chance of being GMO-free. Even the great majority of small farmers selling "all-natural, hormone and antibiotic-free" meat or eggs have been sucked into the GMO tide; unless they grow their own grain their options are very limited.

In just over a decade most Americans have gone from eating a completely GMO-free diet to eating GMO's with every meal of the day, and quite disturbingly most Americans don't realize anything ever changed. Should consumers really have so little involvement in and say over what they eat, let alone what impact their food dollars have on our land? We see this massive, behind-the-scenes switch to GMO agriculture as further evidence that the corporate food system is inherently untrustworthy. We think consumers would be well advised to do everything they can to regain some control of what they eat: to prepare their meals more and more from scratch, to avoid prepared and processed foods, to grow what they can, and to seek out and support the local farmers that can offer independence from the corporate food system.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Heirloom field corn

Our heirloom open-pollinated field corn stands high above us on this July day. This fall, we'll harvest the ears and let them dry in our corn crib. We will then shell them and grind them into a delicious old-timey tasting cornmeal.


The following blurb from an article about an organic apple orchard in western North Carolina caught our attention: "The majority of consumers think 'organic' means we don't spray with anything," Owings [a North Carolina Cooperative Extension agriculture agent for Henderson County] says, "But in fact, we actually spray twice as often, but we spray with USDA-approved materials...That's one of the reasons it's three to four times more expensive to grow organic apples than it is conventional apples. An acre of conventionally grown apples would cost $700 a season for pesticides and fungicides; an identical organic crop's price tag for organic crop protectants is about $3,400."
That example strikes us, first of all, because it's so unlike traditional organic practice. Although we would generally feel better about USDA-organically approved fungicides and pesticides than their conventional counterparts, the model of farmers or orchardists spraying nearly five times as many dollars worth of industrially produced sprays on their crops doesn't especially make organic sense to us. Shouldn't buying organic produce mean retaining more community control and keeping more dollars in the community, not increased industrial dependency?
We have to wonder why all these sprays are necessary at all. Surely apples were grown and enjoyed in North Carolina long before all the fungicidal, insecticidal, antibiotic, etc. sprays became available. What makes that traditional model of organic agriculture impractical or undesirable today? Global trade and the related spread of non-native pests and diseases may have heightened the problems, but we suspect most of the problems with the traditional organic model are a matter of practical choice on the local level. We suspect three changes are chiefly to fault for the demise of traditional organic practice:
1. Consumers generally make their purchasing choices based more on how produce looks than on what practices were used to grow it. Obviously, this is especially true when consumers have no idea what practices were used to grow a crop. Chemical agriculture has set a consumer standard of cosmetic perfection that, particularly with crops like apples, makes it extremely difficult for traditional organic practices to compete.
2. We have shifted in our eating habits more and more to pre-processed food. We buy applesauce instead of canning our own applesauce and apple juice instead of pressing our own cider. One consequence is that most of our processed apple products now come from China, where apples can be grown more cheaply (but with who knows what methods!) Really the only market left for local growers is fresh fruit, and all lower grades of domestic fruit are waste. When processing grades of apples count for zero, local growers will have that much more incentive to spray everything they can to maximize the amount of cosmetically perfect, table grade fruit.
3. Small farms have given way to the supposed economies of scale of large farms. Large farms have a natural affinity for chemical solutions, especially when the alternative is labor-intensive, and so labor-intensive, organic practices have waned. Did you know, for instance, that apples are thinned by means of chemical sprays instead of hand-thinning as used to be done?
So what does all this have to do with us? First, we want you to know how we grow and how we approach the problems of agriculture. We believe strongly in homegrown, low-tech solutions. Spraying nearly five times as many dollars of industrially produced sprays as conventional farmers is not our idea of organic. Second, we want to encourage you to think about your own role in shaping our food system. Do you more often ask yourself how does this look than you ask how was this grown? Do you take the time to process locally grown food at home instead of buying pre-processed food from far away? Do you value small farms and the knowledge and accountability that come from dealing directly with local farmers?
We have a lot to learn about apples yet, but we're keeping hope in a much more traditional model of organic farming, both when it comes to apples and everything else we grow.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New additions

Here's a photo of four of the new additions on our farm this summer. The tall one is our helpful intern Michael. The great pyrenees pups were born a month ago and are being trained up in their duty as guardian dogs to our small goat herd.

Mowing the lawn

Here's a picture of Noldi, our JerseyXHereford steer grazing his way around the house.

Monday, June 29, 2009

What's happening on the farm

We thought it was time to give you an update of what was happening on the farm these days.
First, we have some animal births to announce. Peaches, our great Pyrenees guardian dog, had a litter of 5 pups in late May. It's a favorite chore these days to go feed the dogs and check on the growing pups, the stocky little balls of fur. The guard dogs live in the pasture with our small herd of goats, protecting them from would-be predators. The little pups are being trained up in their role as livestock guardians and we hope to sell them once they're weaned.
Next came the first two goat kids to be born on our farm, twins, one male, one female, from our Saanen dairy goat. At this point the kids are drinking up all her milk, but we plan to milk her after we wean the kids and maybe experiment with cheesemaking. Another of our dairy goats is still expecting, but we're not really sure when!
There was also a litter of kittens recently, Nora's new playmates. These too have a role to play on the farm and we were happy to see their mother training them this morning, sharing the latest catch.
And then there are all the biddies!!! For the past two months, we've had hen after hen go to setting, giving us a continuous supply of biddies hatching. We're thrilled as mother hens protecting the biddies and helping them forage make for the best small farm way to raise up replacement hens and produce meat for our freezer. Lately, though, we can't keep all the broody hens out of our nest boxes! Just today, we had a hen hatch some guinea keets (eggs from a neighbor). We're hopeful for these, as guineas are supposed to eat a lot of some problem insects. And they are just fun!
And then there are the biddies that came through the mail last week. We're raising another 100 meat chickens this summer with the help of another addition to our farm, an intern, Michael Spangler. Michael, a senior at Davidson College, came to us this spring wanting to work on the farm this summer break. He is our first intern and we're appreciating all his help, especially getting projects done that might not otherwise get done in this busy season. The purpose of the 100 meat chickens is to generate some summer income for Michael, so for those of you that have wanted to get chicken from us but didn't want to handle the processing yourselves, this is your big opportunity: we're going to offer these chickens fully cleaned and dressed. They are Silver Buffs, a meat breed used especially by pastured poultry farmers. As with all of our chickens, we feed them only locally grown and non-genetically modified feeds, especially forage from complete free range. We bet you can't find chickens like this anywhere else in the industrialized world! We'll keep you posted on their availability.
Now for a quick crop report. We're very excited to be growing the field corn that we sell as white cornmeal on our own land this year. In the past, we've share-cropped on a friend's land. Growing it here has helped us to take better care of the corn, most notably growing a preceding cover crop of crimson clover. And the corn is looking really good! This open-pollinated heirloom corn originated in the Brushy Mountains. Typically growing 8-10 feet tall with very large ears, it is quite impressive to see. We hope many of you can join us for the harvest day this fall.
All 19 varieties of tomatoes are looking good and we're working hard to keep them trained and pruned. We're about to start harvesting the potatoes in large quantities, hopefully with the help of the tractor this year. It looks like the potatoes have really liked all this rain -- we just hope what's under the ground looks as good as what's above. The green beans are coming on strong, though the Mexican bean beetles seem to be coming on pretty strong, too. These are the little yellow larvae critters that skeletonize the leaves and then move on to munching holes in the beans themselves. We haven't come up with a solution to them except to plant a lot of beans, some 800 feet, and hope for the best. As mentioned in the intro, the cucumbers and squash have been a no show. We did just replant them in the hopes of a later harvest, but they're not fans of intense heat. We planted twice as many sweet potatoes this year in the hopes of having potatoes to offer from fall on into the winter. Eggplant, peppers, corn, okra, and summer peas (crowders, pinkeyes, etc.) are all in the ground and growing.
And finally, news from the bee yard: it was our worst ever spring crop with all the rain. While the weather seems perfect now, warm and dry, and the sourwood flowers are in full bloom, there must be little nectar in the blossoms as the bees are mostly staying home. We haven't given up on a summer honey flow, but as the days go on with no increase in bee activity our hopes decrease. Sourwood is certainly a mysterious tree and a very undependable honey crop.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The garden

At one point this spring, I thought that someday we may need to get an irrigation system. I haven't thought about it since with all the rain for the past month and a half. For the most part, the vegetables are growing well in response to the constant water. In low spots in the garden though, the plants are doing poorly. A year like this helps us consider water management on the farm to prevent erosion.


Several of you all have asked us questions about what we wrote the week before last about nutrient cycles and returning nutrients to farmland. We probably should have been clearer about some of the first steps that can be taken. Much of nutrient recycling is logistically very complicated, and while we can suggest a few initial steps, what we want most of all is to encourage you first to think in organic terms about the problem and then to work with us and other farmers in discussing and developing solutions in the margins of the mainstream economy. We're living in a miserably under-developed stone age of nutrient recycling, so the work we all have to do will be the work of pioneers.
One thing we said last time that may have needed further explanation was our use of the word "organic." We definitely didn't mean to suggest that food scraps, for example, that came from conventional farms shouldn't be composted or included in nutrient cycles. We believe that anything that is or was or comes from a plant or animal (from any living organism) ideally belongs in a complete nutrient cycle. When we talk about "organic nutrient sources," we're talking about the nutrient-containing residues of living organisms. The short-term (unsustainable) alternative to those residues is chemical fertilizers, and that's the only contrast we meant to make.
Some of you all asked us whether we thought specific wastes would be good nutrient sources for our farm, whether we'd like to have food scraps or yard wastes, for instance. Food scraps and yard wastes are potentially good starting points, but the chief trouble with such things is that they're mostly water and air, and it doesn't make sense to spend energy transporting water and air. In order to begin to make real progress recycling nutrients from food scraps or yard wastes, those nutrients would need to be concentrated, presumably by rotting down as compost, before any extra effort is made to transport them out of the city to the farm. A fanciful solution would be for us to build or purchase a composting container at the farmers' market location that you all could dump your surplus food scraps into when you come to the market each week. Realistically, that's probably too challenging an idea for the city and the owners and organizers of the farmers' market, which leaves us looking for ways to help you compost wastes at your own homes. If this is all starting to sound overwhelming, then perhaps you're beginning to appreciate how much work we really have to do to escape our mainstream economy of wastefulness.
So what first steps can we suggest? Eggshells are a nutrient-dense leftover that might easily be returned to the farm. Left in an open container they will shortly dry out, after which they can be crushed. (In a sealed container they'll get nasty.) We could quite feasibly collect at the farmers' market all the eggshells all of our customers could bring us each week. And if you do have the means or the motivation to compost food scraps and/or yard wastes, we can definitely find ways to collect compost from you, even by the truckload if it were to ever get to that point. And if you're ever coming to the farm, we will gladly work with you to properly recycle *any* organic nutrient sources you'd like to bring to the farm. Meanwhile, please continue to seek new and better solutions with us.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


You might wonder of all the kinds of meat to sell why we're raising veal calves. Although once fairly common in Western cuisine, veal is an oddity -- and an especially high-priced one at that -- in North Carolina kitchens today. Moreover, veal is perhaps more closely associated with the abuses of factory farming than any other meat. That's a shame, but so is most of modern, industrialized agriculture. What we suspect a lot of people fail to realize is that what's sensible and economical for a small, low-tech farm like ours often varies drastically from what's most profitable for large factory farms. Chicken, for instance, is the cheapest meat to produce when chemical fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, artificial stimulants, confinement "houses", genetically modified crops, etc. are plentiful; on a small farm, following organic principles, chicken is an especially challenging meat to produce for market, especially in quantities comparable to the amount of veal we can raise. Of course, veal is the same animal as beef, so you might ask why we don't just raise all our calves out as beef. The trouble with beef is that it takes well over a year, often closer to two years, to finish a beef steer. That's problematic because high quality, tender meat depends on a good rate of growth and therefore on nutritionally high quality feed, and the nutritional quality of pastures generally goes way up and down over the course of a year. Factory farms don't worry about the seasonality of grass, because they feed cattle mostly on grain. Grain certainly makes tender meat, but it would be a ridiculously expensive way to feed cattle apart from chemically intensive Midwestern mega-farms. The nice thing about veal is that the cow maintains a top quality feed supply (milk) for the calf, and because it only takes a few months to raise a veal calf, we can raise more calves when the grass is rich and milk is plentiful and fewer calves or no calves at all when the grass is poor and milk production drops. In other words, veal allows us to raise high quality meat in a cost-effective, seasonal way. If you consider other grass-eating animals that are raised for meat, the meat of the young, milk-fed animal is traditionally considered far superior to that of the mature animal (e.g. lamb vs. mutton.) And in comparison to beef, veal remains a gourmet, specialty item. A different logic applies to small, low-tech farms like ours, however, and so we can offer veal at least as affordably as comparable beef. If the logic of organic principles, of small, local, low-tech farms makes sense to you, too, then we encourage you to try veal. Pasture raised veal fed real mama's milk is a small farm delicacy worth enjoying.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


This past winter we found ourselves with an abundance of good ingredients for making homemade soap -- tallow and milk and cream -- and so we looked up some recipes and put together the most "homegrown" soap recipe we could. After trialing a few variations, we came up with the recipe for the milk and honey soap we're offering now. We rendered the tallow from the fat of locally raised beef steer. For the liquid we used 100% milk and cream (no water) from our Jersey cow, Elsea, along with a little bit of honey from our bees. The milk and cream, in particular, are supposed to give milk soap its gentle, moisturizing feel. The tallow produces a hard, long-lasting bar. We're excited to be able to replace supermarket soap with soap that we can make with, other than the little bit of soapmaking lye, all local and homegrown ingredients. We'd love for you to try some of our old-fashioned soap enhanced with milk and cream and maybe even let it be a regular substitute for soap made of industrially produced ingredients.


From a nutrient perspective harvesting is the opposite of fertilizing. Everything we grow and then sell contains nutrients that come out of our soils. When we sell vegetables or eggs or meat, we're exporting nutrients off our farm. If our farm is going to keep producing, those nutrients need to be returned to the soil one way another. Conventionally, nutrients come from mines, are chemically processed with fossil fuels, are applied by the farmer, and the nutrients leave the farm through leaching, run-off, and through the sale of farm products, often polluting waters or contributing to landfills in the end. The organic ideal is a complete cycle: nutrients that leave the farm in the form of food and feed would be returned, however indirectly, in the form of compost and manures and other forms of organic matter. This is where we want to ask for your help. Do you have any nutrient sources, anything organic (in the sense of having come from a plant or animal) that's not getting returned to the soil like it ought to be? If so, we're interested in finding ways to cooperate in returning those nutrients to productive land. Of course, there are lots of things that can make nutrient recycling complicated. Nutrient sources can be difficult to transport because of bulkiness or excess water weight. Some nutrient sources can pose health or varmint issues if not handled properly. Sometimes forms of organic matter get mixed with heavy metals that can be toxic to soils. We want to start with those things that are easy and work toward the ideal. Composting can greatly facilitate nutrient recycling. When organic waste material breaks down in a compost pile bulk is greatly reduced, water weight is lost (thereby concentrating nutrients), weed seeds and plant pathogens can be killed by the heat of decomposition, and otherwise harmful wastes can be effectively sanitized. Grass clippings or leaves can form a good base for a compost pile. Some relatively nutrient-rich things like egg shells can simply be air dried and crushed. If you're asking yourself: can't I just pay the farmer to take care of this for me? Do I have to be involved? The answer is that if you eat, you're already involved in agriculture and in nutrient cycles. The only organic alternative we have to directly or indirectly retrieving nutrients from consumers is to import organic matter from conventional farmers. (For example, we've purchased straw mulch from a nearby farmer.) That's certainly helpful to our nutrient situation but it only displaces the abuse of organic nutrient cycles to our neighbor; the only solution that's ultimately organic is recycling. Hopefully we can work together more and more as stewards of different stages of a truly organic nutrient cycle.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


This past winter news broke that something like a third of USDA certified organic farms in California had been using synthetic liquid nitrogen fertilizers in violation of organic rules. The fault lay principally with a large fertilizer manufacturer that was deceitfully using conventional chemical sources to manufacture its fertilizers more cheaply. It was a case of outright fraud that apparently went on for seven years (including almost three years after officials were first tipped off), affecting a huge segment of the USDA certified organic system. Normally, according to the regulations of the USDA organic program, land that has had chemical fertilizers applied to it cannot be used for the next three years for organic production, but with whole corporate networks of farms compromised (like salad mix giant Earthbound Farms), organic certifiers announced that those organic rules would not be enforced. Organic regulators assured consumers that synthetic fertilizers are perfectly safe.
That episode raises lots of interesting questions. It's particularly telling that so many organic farms in California depend on one-for-one substitutes for conventional fertilizers, substitutes that farm workers were unable to distinguish from conventional chemical fertilizer, and that are used exactly the same way with the same results. Are "organic" fertilizers that big companies process in big factories and that arrive in a bottle or a tanker truck, apart from massive frauds, otherwise not organically suspect? What is the ecological cost of such fertilizers? Why are California organic farms so dependent on factory fertilizers? What about the business model of these farms makes traditional, identifiably organic fertilizer sources (like leguminous cover crops) impractical? Why were organic certifiers so eager to secure the status quo following these abuses? How trustworthy can the USDA organic system be -- even when it comes to meeting very limited, legalistic standards -- when it's so far away, so convoluted, and so heavily industrialized? We see the whole episode as a further indication that the marriage between organic agriculture and supermarket-scale agriculture is shaky and ultimately unsustainable.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


A lot has happened on the farm since the farmers' market ended last October. Winter set in early and hard bringing a quick end to our late fall crops. We spent a lot of our time this winter working on fencing and other livestock-related projects. Much of what we're doing with livestock is still very experimental and inefficient, but we believe strongly in the importance of diversity to our farm, as well as the importance of reclaiming control of agricultural sectors largely lost to small farms. We added Barbados blackbelly sheep and Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dogs to the farm in December, as well as another Jersey cow in March. We'll tell you more about our plans for our pastures and the sheep another time, but the short story is that the sheep have been a lesson in what doesn't work. (Anybody want to buy a breeding pair of Barbados blackbelly sheep?) All in all the dogs have worked quite well for us, and they've helped simplify the way we manage our dairy goats, but their role as sheep guardians will have to await a different breed of sheep more suitable to our circumstances. Elsea, our first cow, had her first calf born on our farm right before Christmas. It was a bull calf sired by the neighbor's Hereford bull. He's a healthy calf with an easy temperament to work with and is growing very well. By next summer he should be the first finished beef steer we will have raised.
We just finished planting the first crop of field (cornmeal-type) corn that we've planted on our own land. (We've only sharecropped field corn until now.) The remaining strips of crimson clover that we grew as a nitrogen-fixing cover crop are blooming beautifully right now, and the bees seem to be enjoying them, too. The bees have had a rough go of it until just lately. Conditions were very poor for the bees last summer and early fall, and we suffered heavy losses. This spring, in part because of the cool, wet weather the bees have built up very slowly and aren't up to size yet for the honey flow that's already beginning. We're expecting a very small honey crop this year. Meanwhile, we're rebuilding for next year and trying to temper our forward-looking management with lessons learned from last summer's dearth.
The garden crops have been a mixed bag -- as usual -- so far this year. We had unexpected, heavy insect pressure through the cool, wet weather. Seedcorn maggots killed half or more of the 4000+ onion plants we grew and set out, and cutworms have been systematically thinning everything from the cabbage to the radishes to the lettuce to the onions. Neither of those insect pests has ever caused significant damage to our spring crops until this year. Our later seedings of spring crops are generally looking a lot better than the earlier plantings. If it doesn't get too dry or too hot too soon we're still very hopeful for the late plantings of lettuce, spinach, beets, etc. The Irish potatoes are also looking very promising so far. We set out our largest yet strawberry crop last fall. They didn't grow as much and get established as well through the off-season as they normally do, but the plants are looking pretty good now, and there are a lot of small, green strawberries already. Of course, there's lots more happening in the gardens, but that's a little news from the off-season.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Baked goods are part of our regular farmers' market offerings. Our specialties are brick oven style loaves and cinnamon rolls.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Dipping candles

We've been spending these colder winter days indoors dipping our beeswax taper candles. They are 100% beeswax and made with wax from our hives. Our beehives are not treated with any chemicals; many of the chemicals used in beekeeping can accumulate in the wax.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Really Free Range

If you've been to visit our new farm -- and if you haven't we invite you to make plans to do so -- you probably saw our chickens running around the farmyard. Some people, when they come to visit, comment that they haven't seen chickens running around like ours in a couple generations. As easy as it is to find "free range" eggs in supermarkets, you might expect to see some of these hens that are now supposedly out in the open, but even as farmers interacting with lots of other farmers, we've never seen or even heard about a real "free range" flock that supplies a supermarket. So what does "free range" or "free roaming" mean? Most likely it means only that chickens are crowded in confinement houses instead of being in individual cages. In such crowded conditions, hens typically have to be de-beaked to prevent cannibalistic pecking. You can bet the factory farmers raising such chickens -- or paying the immigrant laborers that do -- aren't relying the least bit on actual forage to nourish their birds, even if, as in the case of "USDA organic" flocks, they're given a token run beside their confinement houses.

When we use the term "free range" we mean that our chickens are completely unconfined all day, free to wander as far as a chicken wants to wander (in the forest floor, in the orchard, in the pasture, around the gardens, etc.), and able to scratch up enough worms and grubs such that genetically engineered oilseed byproducts (and any other sort of so-called "natural, vegetarian" protein supplements) are completely unnecessary. (We go to extraordinary lengths to feed all of our animals without the use of any genetically modified feedstuffs.) We believe those worms and grubs -- not just a square foot's worth but thousands of square feet per chicken -- are the most valuable and important part of free range. Worms and grubs are nature's free (and ecologically benign) gift to chickens and they are chickens' natural source of protein; the industrial alternative is massive Midwest monocultures (almost always genetically modified), using tremendous quantities of fossil fuels to synthesize everything from the fertilizer to the pesticides, causing problems like soil erosion and pollution of rivers and aquifers, and processed by agribusiness corporations beyond the control of any farmer. Nonetheless, free ranging chickens isn't an easy choice. Fewer and fewer locations allow for the successful free ranging of chickens any more. (We used a moveable fence to rotate enclosures when we lived in Wilkes County.) Even now, our farm can naturally only support a relatively small flock. Predators like stray dogs and hawks have taken a significant toll on our flock over the years. Allowing our chickens free range has also required us to invest in fences around our garden spaces and young trees. We believe we're approaching a different kind of efficiency, though, a kind of efficiency not built on cheap fossil fuel and slave-like immigrant labor but on diversification and creation's natural bounty, and we're very proud of the simple yet extraordinary quality of our eggs and chickens.