Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Arctic Vortex Isn’t Stopping Us

Our new orders are in at the dairy and we are now checking heats for breeding season. We check twice a day, in the morning at 8:00 am and in the afternoon at 4:30 pm. The cows that are in heat in the morning get bred that morning and the cows in heat during the afternoon get bred the next morning if they are still in heat. This is the most critical step in the breeding process and the simplest part to pick up as an amateur. The cows that we are checking are 12-15 months old so this is their first time being bred. The second breeding season after the cows are born is when they start breeding the dairy cows to begin milk production.  Last Saturday I was able to watch one of the dairy unit managers go through the entire process of artificially inseminating a cow. It was so remarkable to watch how a life is started and then to see the result 9 months later. Working continuously with the dairy has been an unexpected delight during my apprenticeship with CEFS.


Over the past month we have been putting up a high tunnel and while I am having a blast doing it, it has come with its own set of challenges. There is a bit of waiting on enough people and the right equipment to maneuver/ build such a large structure. This project has been so very enlightening and a much needed learning opportunity for me. This is going to be the 5th high tunnel we have on the small farm and it will be used for different research projects here in the future.

Three weeks ago Caroline and I started bee school at the Wayne County Cooperative Extension. I am extremely interested in keeping bees even though it may take a couple of years until I am in the position to have some of my own. This class is put on but the Bee Keepers of the Neuse and the members of this club could not be more welcoming and accepting of new people that are interested in keeping bees. By completing this course each student will be provided with the basics of maintaining their own hives and a list of resources for ordering their own supplies. There are also some great mentors that are thrilled to teach anyone what they know. Each week we discuss one or two topics. Below is a comprehensive list of the topics covered in the class:

  • History of bees and beekeeping
  • Honey Bee biology & anatomy
  • Honey Bee culture and society
  • Economics of beekeeping
  • Honey bee management
  • Safety
  • Honey bee hive products
  • Pollination and honey plants
  • Diseases & Pests


Last weekend Marisa, myself, and a few others went over to our bee mentors workshop and built 5 top bar hives. Like almost everyone in the states, we have been having quite the cold weather lately. However, we did not let that stop us from building our top bar hives. We just fired up the hot water to make coffee and did some building. I was with a team of people assembling the wax on each of the top bars and then I assembled my hive once all of the pieces were cut. I realize I work with my hands everyday but this was especially fun to build!

clean up

We even found some time to tidy up the small farm. Caroline, Marisa, and I dejunked all of our storage containers, organized all or our belongings, and labeled where each item is to help out our future selves.  All in all it has been a very satisfying cleanse for the small farm unit and it is now ready to shine for future visitors.


Happy New Year from the Small Farm!

Like this time of the year is for many people, November and December were a whirlwind of activity for us at the Small Farm Unit. That may seem strange since we are growing very little, but like many farmers in winter, we are kept busy with planning for the coming year and attending various conferences. We’ve had our share of travel around the state in the past couple months, too, and most recently we’ve been working to put up a new hoop house for spring production.

The conferences that we attended this fall were quite exciting and really two highlights of our experience as apprentices. First we spent a weekend in Durham for the Sustainable Agriculture Conference, which was put on by CFSA, a great organization that we are very fortunate to have in North Carolina. The only bad thing about the conference was that there were so many good speakers and workshops lined up that you couldn’t do everything! The Friday night keynote was a conversation between local WUNC reporter Frank Statio and Sandor Katz, the fermentation guru behind the books Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation, and a person who I have long admired and wanted to hear speak. He also did a workshop the next day that I attended, and that led Kayla, Marisa and I to make sauerkraut with cabbages and carrots that we harvested from the farm.

Conferences are a great chance to improve your knowledge as a grower, with workshops and speakers that can deepen your understanding of fundamental farming concepts or even introduce you to new things you’ve never thought of before. My favorite workshops consistently are those that are done by other growers, describing what they do on their farm from financial management to the way they do tasks like composting, growing transplants, and preparing beds for planting. It is also a great time to make connections in the local food movement, which is so vibrant in North Carolina. It felt great to be able to talk to people and explain to them what I want to do as a farmer and immediately have people offering to help me get there.


Butchery demos using whole and half carcasses at the Meat Conference. This one was a lamb.

We also attended the North Carolina Meat Conference in December, which is put on by a CEFS’ program, NC Choices. This conference is very focused on the meat industry, so it was a great gathering of farmers, butchers, processors, and buyers. We are extremely lucky to have such an organization in our state and this type of conference is very unique in this country- people from around the US travel to the conference because they don’t have similar conferences in their home state yet. Since it was a CEFS event, we served as volunteers for a portion of the conference, including helping out for an all-day butchery demo for breaking down a whole animal carcass into our familiar cuts of meat. So fascinating, it made me really interested in different cuts- where they come from, and different ways to break down the same parts. The food at this conference was also to die for for any meat lover!


Breaking down a half pig



making fresh sausage


Trotters are tasty too!

We’ve also been planning the spring and summer gardens, and I continue to do work on my community project with Dillard Academy in Goldsboro. It’s been a lot of fun collaborating with Leslie on projects for the school, including lunch room composting, vermicomposting, and a day of service with community members in the garden on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I have been teaching lessons to the children about composting and look forward to continuing lessons in the New Year. It does take a lot of planning, organization, and energy to keep the kids focused and interested, but when they are engaged and enjoying activities like building a compost pile or talking about fruits and vegetables that they like to eat, I truly feel what a difference we are making by offering these experiences.

Back on the farm, we’ve had several exciting building projects over the past couple months. We rebuilt our cold frame, where we will place our seeded trays of transplants when it is warm enough. That gave me good experience with using the circular saw, drilling, and building a wooden structure, which I really hadn’t had much experience with before. It was a fun project and gave me more confidence in my building skills, which are necessary for a farmer. We also are in the process of building a hoop house, which included a step where we had to disassemble the skeleton of a hoop house to move it to the new location we’ve chosen for it. There is a lot about this process that requires patience, but ultimately I am glad that I am getting such valuable experience with building the hoop house, since I will undoubtedly have to do this again as a farmer.

We continue to work at the dairy, still feeding calves, and Kayla and I both feel that we have learned a lot from our experience. We are planning to help with the breeding program in the new year, helping with heat detection by observing cows in the field. Kayla’s next post will probably have more information about this as we get used to our new duties.


Happy New Year from everyone on the Small Farm!