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.
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!
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!