One reason I enjoy the spring is because it offers the opportunity to turn goals into action by using up all the stored energy collected over the cold winter months. Simultaneously nudging us out of our collective slumber, the spring rewards us with beauty and the reminder that life goes on, like it or not! I was under the impression that spring in eastern North Carolina would be more like a week long oddity but it has been more of a steady unfolding with comfortable temperatures overall. I have begun to recognize that within the group of us, we have all established a common ground in terms of our work, and supporting one another in the stuff of everyday life. Marisa had all five of us attend a workshop on team-building where we were able to express individually our values, interests, and challenges. This exercise was beneficial in giving us insight into how respect means more than just getting along with a person because they like the same things as you do or do things the same way that you do. Respect, in fact, has a lot more to do with upholding a respectful environment within which people who share different beliefs can move freely. I take this lesson to heart and appreciate how much each person brings to the job everyday, because everybody is bringing something different.
A major incentive for me to become an apprentice was the opportunity to integrate agricultural work with community outreach and leadership training. So you might imagine I was looking forward to making this hearty vegetable salad for the EFNEP cooking class demonstration.
All of us are delving deeper into our community worksites in terms of understanding what the goals are for the summer and how we can best provide support. I am working with staff at Dillard Academy and attended a cooking demonstration for fifth graders, hosted by Maria Limon of FoodCorps, where the kids harvested lettuce grown in their school garden. I was impressed with how many questions the kids had about growing food. Next time I see them I will need to have some peer reviewed research at hand.
We have been conducting evaluations of vegetables from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds, which means we are looking at consistency of color, texture, and size, as well as determining quality in flavor and sweetness. A great variety of produce is harvested and weighed, and we hope that this data will assist Baker Creek with their work in preserving and marketing heirloom seeds.
We have acquired four steers on the small farm unit, and they teach me to find a balance between wanting to pal around with them in their pen, and realizing that they could in fact, end me. So I admire from a distance unless I am on animal duty. We have them on a rotational grazing formation so every couple of days the boys are moved to a fresh plot of pasture of diverse plants such as dock, fescue grass, vetch, lespedeza, and crimson clover to name a few.
We have been learning a lot about cover crops as well as cover crop and animal interaction. The idea is that you take leguminous plants (which are plants that fix nitrogen in the soil), and grasses which add carbon, and the ratio of these mixtures should increase soil organic material and provide a supply of nitrogen. The main advantage to keeping soil covered at all times (whether it is in production or in cover crop) is to prevent soil erosion and to increase soil organic matter over time. The order of operations for cover cropping systems goes something like this: Plant, reach maximum biomass (the end of flowering), sample biomass, flail mow depending on circumstances, and then disk the soil to incorporate the cover crop, which may have to be done twice. There are other methods of killing cover crops besides flail mowing, and for no-till practices rolling/crimping the cover crop down when the seedhead is starting to form but not fully formed provides a mulch to plant directly into.
The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association held its annual Piedmont Farm Tour last weekend, and the four of us went off to visit a variety of small farms throughout the Piedmont region. This was an excellent opportunity for us to ask some questions and see for ourselves what full operations look like on diversified small farms. Thank you to CFSA for allowing this opportunity and for all the farmers who took the time to open themselves up to the public for a whole weekend.
It’s been a busy spring but we know how to keep our spirits up.
ps) Happy Mothers Day 😉