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Let It Grow

“Seasons round, creatures great and small, up and down, as we rise and fall”
~John Perry Barlow

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One eternal truth that I am constantly reminded of as I traverse this jagged path through life is simply that stuff takes time; typically more time (if done with quality and integrity) than the modern human has patience for in this era where we’ve grown to expect most everything to be instant or at least close to it. To me, this notion applies powerfully to food production and our food system as a whole in this country. It was also evident throughout my time at the small farm unit and during my community work at the WA Foster Center. Many a melon, cucumber, and sweet pepper were harvested underripe or downright unripe by myself and others. Sometimes it’s difficult for the novice to know how to identify peak ripeness, but, more often than not, it’s just difficult to have that restraint to hold back from harvesting that full-bodied, outwardly vibrant fruit. However we can learn that if we give it time and let it grow it will develop that inner vibrance of sweetness, nourishment value, and flavor complexity.

 

Now that the 2015 apprenticeship has concluded, we can look back at the wealth of knowledge and experience in sustainable agriculture that we have gathered through nearly a full growing season here in eastern NC. With summer now fully in the rearview, the summer squash, hot peppers, okra, corn, and zinnias of the season are but a memory that conjures thoughts of sweltering heat and t-shirts saturated with dirt and sweat.

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Ahh, summer memories.

We were able to put together some hefty late summer donations though before saying goodbye to those crops until next year.

 

We departed in the heart of the fall season, but during our final weeks we were making steady harvests of kale, collards, kohlrabi, cabbage, turnips, and mustard greens with more crops due for harvest very soon.

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Beautiful violet and green “Red Giant” mustard greens.

The moringa trees that we planted as seeds back in May have grown up so fast. It seems just yesterday they were tiny seedlings, now they have become their own little forest with heights of nearly 15 feet. For those unfamiliar with moringa, it is a tree native to India. Leaves and seed pods can be eaten or used in herbal medicine. It is of high nutrient value, particularly with regard to vitamin and mineral content. It is also sometimes used for water purification.

My work at the WA Foster Center and the pasture-based beef unit moved along steadily. With just a little of the summer crop still producing at the Foster Center, I transitioned 2 of the raised beds over to fall vegetables. A lot of the focus at the beef unit during the fall season was on baling hay and weaning of the calves from their mothers’ milk.

About a month ago we attended and volunteered at the Carolina Meat Conference in Winston-Salem. A number of thoughts and ideas from the conference really stood out to me. First, the notion that meat from older animals being somehow inferior to that of younger animals is in large part just cultural perception, when in fact meat from older animals (while usually not AS tender) it typically more flavorful. Also, the keynote speaker spoke on the need for more properly managed livestock to improve pasture land, reverse desertification, and in turn help reverse climate change. Finally, I found it surprising that it seemed a theme amongst speakers that we, as Americans, consume far too much meat and it is not sustainable. I certainly strongly agree, and believe there is an abundance of evidence to back that belief, but I didn’t expect it coming from people who make their living in the meat business.

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Cured ham aged for years to be sliced prosciutto.

Lastly, on our work on the small farm, we continued maintaining our memorial herb and flower garden adding some perennials such as rosemary while I recently noticed some ravishing new kids on the block (in the form of flowers) that are hangin’ tough through this colder weather.

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Journey to the heart of the sublime Cosmos.

Amongst the countless tangible lessons learned over the past 9 months, there have been a number of more abstract lessons learned and beliefs solidified- most of which apply to life outside of farming.

Policy made from a distance is too often misguided and ineffective- this applies to sustainable agriculture, food inequality, food insecurity, food safety, and most anything you can think of in my opinion. I hope we can learn that those who know best what is needed to alleviate issues in those sorts of areas are usually those entrenched in it and are familiar with the struggles first-hand. More “from the ground up” input and influence has the potential to start turning the tide where things have swayed far off track in my eyes.

You can’t always tell a fruit by its skin- often while harvesting tomatoes in particular I would come across a gorgeous, almost ideal looking fruit only to find, upon further inspection, it had been infiltrated by worms and/or had an entire side that was rotten. Conversely, some of the fruits with a rough outer appearance of scars and cracks were the sweetest and most exquisite on the inside

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Some fruits are just impeccable inside and out; a few lovely Maxifort/Cherokee Purple grafted tomatoes

Letting go at least some- I have always had great personal struggle with letting go. I have made some small, yet significant strides in that area during the course of this program. With farming, you’re going to lose sometimes, and the unexpected will arise; in times like those one must learn the art of deciding where to hold on and where to let go- understanding that sometimes, as my favorite high school physics teacher often said, “good enough is”.

Second chances and resilience- in the spring, due to nutsedge overtaking our crops, we disked-in several rows including some chard that appeared weak and on its way out. However, weeks later, it was back, looking vigorous and healthy.

Strength and fragility- generally speaking, living things are built for survival. Plants and animals (including humans) alike are typically provided the tools to weather most of the adversity that may come along. If provided the basic necessities along with even somewhat favorable conditions, we will likely be strong and flourish. Yet, when conditions decline as a result of neglect, malnourishment, or an out of balance environment it allows stress, pests, and disease to take hold; the once healthy and robust life quickly becomes very fragile. When in a state of fragility it is difficult to recall what it was like to be strong, and when in a state of vigor it is difficult to imagine once being so vulnerable. Just as humans, sometimes when a plant is in a state of fragility or vulnerability it requires some intervention in the form of protection or support to carry it through to where it can sustain again on its own. Furthermore, it seems that oftentimes in nature those that require the most nurture and the most delicate balance of conditions are the ones that bear the tastiest fruit.

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One may wonder how I see my undergraduate studies in biochemistry applying to sustainable farming. My biggest takeaway from from my studies in biochemistry is that life is fascinating, amazing, and beautiful. All of the tiny, intricate processes that take place in any living body happen with such precision and just little steps at a time that make life on this Earth possible. So much goes into each seed germinating, each flower blooming, every heartbeat, and every breath. It seems almost inexplicable how it all works together to create such complexity and magnificent harmony in nature. It amazes me how biochemical processes have the ability, starting with a tiny seed nourished by sunlight, air, water, and soil, to transform, re-encode, and arrange life’s chemicals to create the tasty and nutritious fruits that are borne of the earth. In the world of sustainable, organic farming we are provided the constant gratification of witnessing the brilliant wonders of life up close with reduced modern day distractions.

It is my belief that, in nature, all living things are connected on this planet, and everything works together to create the natural balance that makes it all work. Through my time here on the farm and my time looking inward in recent years I have found what has seemed to elude me much of my life- my enthusiasm and my purpose. For me, getting into organic & sustainable agriculture is far more than working to just grow and sell food. It is more than my love of being outdoors and working with animals. It is about a food revolution. It is about strengthening communities. It is about working with nature to create a healthier planet with healthier air, water, and soil. Much of this country seems to have forgotten what healthy food is, where it comes from, and how it grows. If we can begin to abandon the excess, the race for more- more production, more consumption. If more of us can start getting out more from the boxes we’re in under artificial lights running the never-ending rat race, and put ourselves in fresh air, under the sun, and tending to the soil of the earth, working with the rhythm of life. If we can just slow down and begin to take steps, then we can just let it grow- let it grow into a planet where lives work in more peaceful harmony with one another, with whom we are all connected.

A single tiny seed, packed with information
A brief glimpse of light as it leaves its fruit
And nestles just beneath the soil surface
Darkness again, darkness until…
The time is right, the conditions just right
It sends its sprout to break for light
New life has begun…
Simply seeking elements necessary for lush growth
Until it can give back its seeds to the earth,
So as the cycle may begin again.

Closing Time
Alright, after my shoddy attempt at poetry, I’ll close. As I leave this apprenticeship to move forward, uncertainty lingers. But there is always hope- I keep reminding myself that “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” (Seneca (and Semisonic)). With that in mind, I will ride off to what lies next on my path and I will continue, “dripping in this strange design” (Anastasio/Marshall).

~Jamie

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To everything there is a season…

The small farm has been transitioned to fall production and so far everything is growing well. Despite the persistence of grasshoppers, aphids, whiteflies, and a variety of worms, our fall brassicas are hanging on tough. To recap my experience for the past month I attended a cut flower production workshop through the Cooperative Extension of Chatham County where I learned all there is to know about growing cut flowers for profit. The workshop spanned two days and was led by Debbie Roos, one of the best extension agents who maintains an excellent website, growingsmallfarms.ces.ncsu.edu with a list of resources for Chatham County and the state of North Carolina on workshops offered, pest and disease management, direct marketing, forestry, and anything else a beginning farmer could be interested in. She has great photos too, here is one from the workshop.

Perry Winkle Farm grower Cathy Jones let us loose in one of her gomphrena beds to practice harvest techniques. Photo Credit, Debbie Roos

Perry Winkle Farm grower Cathy Jones let us loose in one of her gomphrena beds to practice harvest techniques. Photo Credit, Debbie Roos

The workshop was also led by Wild Hare Farm grower Leah Cook. Both Leah and Cathy shared a wealth of knowledge they have gained through many years of experience growing and marketing cut flowers. We covered species/cultivar identification, harvest and postharvest techniques, irrigation, deer fencing and more.

Back on the farm, we have had a successful summer of peppers, tomatoes, and okra as our top producers.

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Iko Iko, Olympus, and California Wonder are all the varieties of peppers we’ve harvested

Crimson okra flower

Crimson okra flower

After such a hot August, we are all relieved to start feeling the weather change and rainfall has been better than before. This helps with our fall production because our irrigation is set divided into two fields on the lower part of the farm, which are then divided into quadrants for water pressure reasons. This allows us to control the water pressure to each block better than if we had not divided the irrigation system up in this way. The only other hurdle with irrigation this fall has been cleaning the sand out of the filter upon every change of watering. This is a common scenario when you are growing in sandy soils.

Getting some tractor time conditioning one of our fall fields.

Getting some tractor time conditioning one of our fall fields.

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Fall brassicas in their adolescent stage. We have a variety of produce growing, and we are all glad to have some greens again. Kale, collards, kohlrabi, cauliflower, chinese cabbage, broccoli, chard, and assorted lettuces are just some of what we have growing.

Taking ownership of the fall production has been gratifying for all of us, because now that we are in the last leg of the apprenticeship program, it is a welcome opportunity to put our technical and management skills in action. We are all pretty grateful for Marisa’s teaching style of allowing us to take on more responsibility for what happens with the fall crops.

The school garden at Dillard Academy

The school garden at Dillard Academy

I have been enjoying my work at Dillard Academy, the summer program revolved around food traditions in a global society, so the students were able to learn about different regions of the world and how/what food is grown. The garden consisted of primarily crops grown from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, which is a company that seeks to preserve heirloom seeds from all over the world, so this was a good intersection with the summer program’s focus on global food. I had some assistance from interns Chris, Alison, and Julianna in maintaining the gardens over the summer, and we also all had the opportunity to come into the classroom and talk with upcoming sixth graders about the dynamics of small farms in comparison to large scale farms and how the consolidation of the food system affects us all.

The four steers are doing pretty well, we are getting them ready to move down to the lower fields this week where we will supplement their diet with some grain so we can hold them in this pasture for a little bit longer.

Having a riveting conversation with my bovine counterpart, Jessica.

Having a riveting conversation with my bovine counterpart, Jessica.

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We had a good haul out of our home garden, despite all the initial damage from the deer. I grew ali baba watermelon and it was received by the crew as the best tasting variety we had. We filled up the white truck with Boston marrow squash, an old favorite that has a subtle flavor similar to butternut squash. Justin is pictured here with some peanuts he grew. Great job Justin!

I spent a morning with Mark and Jamie at the pastured beef unit, where we assessed the pastures and helped Mark corral a herd together to be sprayed for flies. Staying on top of how flies are affecting your herd is important for animal welfare and for production efficiency, and Mark has taught us a lot over the course of this program about the element of reciprocity regarding treating animals humanely. Quality animal treatment means you are putting a quality product on the market, stewarding and rebuilding soil with rotational pastures, and gaining returns on the investment and commitment you make to provide for animals.

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Jamie strikes a pose

Jamie strikes a pose

Lastly, we have been keeping up with the bees. We just gave them some sugar water to supplement their diet because this time of the year can be hard for bees to find enough to eat. I am still interested in pursuing basic beekeeping skills, but I have become a little shy after being stung repeatedly that maybe the venom has gone to my head. It will be different when I buy a fancy bee suit like Justin 🙂

Not only can he keep bees in this outfit, he can also impersonate an astronaut.

Not only can he keep bees in this outfit, he can also impersonate an astronaut.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll leave you with this misty morning fog rolling through the high tunnels.

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~Jessica

Here Comes the Sun

Portrait of a Compost Pile, curated for the Guggenheim Museum, 2015

Portrait of a Compost Pile, curated for the Guggenheim Museum, 2015

As you can see summer is in full swing here and we are all accomplishing a lot at the small farm unit. We have crafted a gigantic compost pile out of turkey litter and straw, evenly moistened and covered with black plastic to heat up to 150 degrees. Through careful timing and management of the summer field we have been able to get far enough ahead of the nutsedge so that competitive advantage has been established.  We have achieved this through tilling in between the rows of the till side of the summer field and hand weeding around the tomatoes and peppers. On the no-till side we have been mowing and weed whacking around the squash, cucumber, and melon plants to continuously deplete the energy of the nutlets.  One of the best ways to accomplish these tasks in record time is to invite ten interns to assist you in your efforts! The interns arrived from various corners of the country to learn more about organic production and we could not be happier to have the chance to meet such an enthusiastic group from various fields of interest in sustainable agriculture.

The whole crop of interns and apprentices!

The whole crop of interns and apprentices!

We have also been very lucky in that the Caterpillar company was generous enough to donate new work boots, gloves, safety goggles, and shirts to the interns and apprentices and we are all truly grateful for this quality equipment.

Here I am receiving my Cat swag

Here I am receiving my Cat swag

In other news, the guys are very excited about the blueberries that have been ripening and bursting with flavor, I keep catching them in the bushes.

Caught red handed burglarizing blueberries

Caught red handed burglarizing blueberries

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Ray and I work in the long term farming systems research unit every Thursday, and lately we have been marking off plots for soil sampling that will occur later in the season.

Ray using GPS coordinates to mark off soil sampling areas in various plots to determine the long term effects of various crops and tillage applications on soil.

Ray using GPS coordinates to mark off soil sampling areas in various plots to determine the long term effects of various crops and tillage applications on soil.

Community work has been going well and everyone is excited to have the opportunity to work with children in the garden on various topics related to food production, healthy eating, and gardening. I have three interns, Jules, Alison, and Chris, who are assisting me and Maria (the Food Corps lead at Dillard Academy) with the summer program. We hope to have some educational activities and nutrition lessons for the kids in the coming weeks.

Justin beaming with pride in the library garden

Justin beaming with pride in the library garden

Marisa organized a family field trip to Virginia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. for all of us. We piled into the coach van and started our adventure, which I was very excited about because I did not bring my car to Goldsboro. Although I made that economical decision, you can understand why I was excited to go on a three day trip!! We stayed with Justin’s family in Fairfax where we were treated like royalty. I had the most comfortable queen size bed of my entire 26 years of life on this planet. Thankyou Carrie Brill, you do not know how much that meant to me.

Our first stop was in Monkton, Maryland where we visited Connor and Christy who were apprentices with CEFS several years ago. They both run 12 acres of vegetable production at Little Gunpowder Farm, half an hour north of Baltimore City. We discussed the dynamic of being supported by the nonprofit Civic Works, whose mission is to work on community improvement, workforce development, education, and green programming throughout Baltimore. Connor and Christy run a community supported agriculture (CSA) program that has been pretty successful!

We proceeded on to Baltimore where we met a young woman named Sasha who works as a food justice consultant for the health alliance in the Park Heights neighborhood. She is organizing all aspects of a one acre community garden through which she has created the foundation for a truly bottom-up strategy of addressing urgent food security needs in her community.

Park Heights community garden

Park Heights community garden

Sasha’s work is inspiring because not only is she working to directly address food insecurity in Baltimore she expands and connects this issue with the lack of adequate health information and adequate access to care experienced by many in her community. This part of Baltimore is recognized as a literacy desert due to multiple libraries being closed down. Sasha provides books for people to take to their families when they come to get their share of vegetables. I am a more optimistic person after visiting with Sasha and seeing how possible it is to take a multifaceted, bottom up approach to community development and be successful.

We proceeded to visit Whitelock Community Farm in the Reservoir Hill neighborhood of Baltimore. Whitelock Community Farm is a resident-driven farm which aims to pursue affordable and sustainable fresh food sources, provide neighborhood job creation, and help revitalize the neighborhood through greening and positive community activity. The farm operates a farmstand, a bike powered mobile market, neighborhood composting program, and CSA. The farm began in 2010 when Reservoir Hill residents converted a vacant lot into an active urban farm with the help of hundreds of volunteers. This serves as a model community based project showing that providing neighborhoods access to land and resources is a sustainable way of revitalizing urban environments and building communities that flourish for all. In my opinion, this is the kind of investment that can bring returns we could only dream of seeing for many of our struggling urban areas across the US.

Mama Kay at Whitelock Community Farm

Mama Kay at Whitelock Community Farm

Next we met up with one of last year’s apprentices, the one and only Myeasha Taylor. She is kicking butt in Baltimore managing a piece of land on a vacant lot for the nonprofit Civic Works.

Myeasha and Marisa

Myeasha and Marisa looking over the cucumbers. Myeasha has been connected with Civic Works through her AmeriCorps service with Real Food Farm, which is an organization dedicated to improving food access and growing fresh food in Baltimore. 

Myeasha showed us the site she has been managing, where infrastructure plans are subject to the hurdles of zoning laws in the area that have left many vacant lots growing delinquent, and where many people have been moved out as a result of demolition. In the middle of such an economically disenfranchised environment, Myeasha is growing a whole variety of different vegetables and plans on hosting community film screenings and yoga classes for the public. One of the challenges of the reality of doing this work within the overarching power structure of a nonprofit is that the people doing the service everyday within a given community are often pulled in two directions by a desire to respond realistically to the observable needs and palettes of community members, and at the same time follow the protocol of the organization which is usually predetermined with less personal understanding of what the situation looks like on the ground. Myeasha walks this tightrope with grace, and we appreciate her taking the time to meet with us and help organize the sites we visited, making for a well balanced and insightful trip.

Our last trip was to Washington, D.C. where we stopped in at Eastern Market, the oldest fresh food public market in D.C. It was a great experience to see all of the different vendors selling amazing produce and cut flowers.

Jamie marveling at the peaches

Jamie marveling at the peaches

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sunflowers on fire

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After Eastern market we went to visit another star apprentice from last year, Philip Sambol, who is managing a grocery store called Good Food Market located in northeast D.C. Good Food Market offers produce, staples, some meat and cheese, and other groceries in a neighborhood that has traditionally required a bus trip for residents to get to a grocery store. We had a tour of the 1,000 sq foot store which offers a great variety of affordable foods, most sourced as locally as possible and with a generous blend of organic and conventional products that make the store approachable and accessible and not another high-end niche natural foods store. I appreciated this aspect of the store the most and feel that Philip is on to something great, as difficult as it is to operate a business with little space and equipment that would assist with keeping produce fresher longer. I bought rhubarb which warmed my spirits because I am used to picking it in Maine and have not been able to find any until I went to Good Food Market. Philip is responsive to what his customer base wants, and is open for suggestions, which is key for keeping a young business on its feet.

I learned a lot from talking with Philip about the opportunities and challenges for farmers looking to supply small grocery stores.

I learned a lot from talking with Philip about the opportunities and challenges for farmers looking to supply small grocery stores.

The guys with a case of Van Fever on the way home

The guys with a case of Van Fever on the way home

We had a great trip, and this experience gives me more motivation to continue to take advantage of the multitude of opportunities for education and practical application that I have as an apprentice at CEFS. I appreciate how lucky I am to be in this position right now and plan on using what I have gained here fully when I leave the program in November.

The magic continues…

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~Jessica

Moooving Right Along

The steer crew relaxing in the shade.

The steer crew relaxing in the shade.


Here comes the summer. We recently wrapped up our spring field work along with our Baker Creek variety trial. The last of the collards, cabbages, turnips, carrots, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and chard has been harvested for the season. Despite some losses, the spring season seemed to be quite successful overall.
Just harvested collard greens.

Just harvested collard greens.

A gorgeous Purple Top turnip.

A gorgeous Purple Top turnip.


We donated around 4,000 pounds of fresh produce during the spring, but we could have probably tacked on another 50 or so lbs of cabbage had it not been for the imported cabbage worm and Hank. How much cabbage does a woodchuck munch when a woodchuck does munch cabbage? The answer is: a lot! Or at least a little from a bunch of separate heads of cabbage. Our friend, the groundhog, who we have named “Hank” has taken up residence under the bridge; conveniently close to our spring field where he seemed to make nightly visits to delight mostly in the crisp cabbage we were growing. Fortunately he left some for us and the array of people in the Goldsboro community to whom we donate.
A nice head of cabbage that was spared.

A nice head of cabbage that was spared.


As we completed our spring season we simultaneously got to work on our summer field. Half of the field was tilled conventionally, while the other half was planted using a no-till method where we planted directly into the mulch/residue of the previous cover crop.
Planting into a mulch of ryegrass and crimson clover.

Planting into a mulch of ryegrass and crimson clover.


Our summer field will include tomatoes, zinnias, marigolds, peppers, cucumbers, watermelons, cantaloupes, squash, and zucchini. For our tomatoes we employed a trellising technique known as the “Florida Stake and Weave” as shown in the image below.
Ye ol' Florida Stake and Weave.

Ye ol’ Florida Stake and Weave.


Most of the harvesting lately has been of loads and loads of cucumbers from our high tunnels. The harvests continue to be very strong despite some issues with pests, disease, and nutrients.
Huge high tunnel Tyria cucumbers.

Huge high tunnel Tyria cucumbers.


As the apprenticeship moves along, we as apprentices continue to get better and better at working as a team.
Tractor teamwork!

Tractor teamwork!


Our work away from the small farm is coming into focus as well. I work twice a week at the beef unit where we constantly move one of the bulls, the cows and their calves to new paddocks for strip grazing. ‘Tis also the season for lots of hay-baling.
Handsome bull.

Handsome bull.


I also do some work twice per week at the W.A. Foster Rec. Center where I recently planted a variety of summer fruits and vegetables. As the school year comes to a close, I will be assisting the Foster Center staff with teaching the kids about growing, harvesting, and preparing fresh fruits and veggies.
Peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, Malabar spinach, and okra in a bed at the W.A. Foster Center.

Peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, Malabar spinach, and okra in a bed at the W.A. Foster Center.

Watermelon, squash, zucchini, cantaloupe, and zinnias in another bed.

Watermelon, squash, zucchini, cantaloupe, and zinnias in another bed.


Of course it is not all work and no fun. This past weekend we volunteered at an amazing event dubbed the Farm to Fork picnic where Triangle area farmers pair with Triangle area restaurants to dish out delectable hors d’oeuvres. Our job as volunteers was face-painting. Justin wanted to practice his craft on me, so, just like when I was a little boy, I got to be Spiderman for a day.
History repeats itself- almost 3 decades later at the Farm to Fork picnic.

History repeats itself- almost 3 decades later at the Farm to Fork picnic.


We also enjoyed a day away from the small farm to assist one of last year’s apprentices in getting his summer field planted.
Jessica, Justin, and Ray laying out drip-tape for the summer field of a former apprentice.

Jessica, Justin, and Ray laying out drip-tape for the summer field of a former apprentice.


I am trying my hand more and more at preparing the fresh produce we get from the farm. I am pleasantly surprised thus far with the results. I never knew that cooking fresh veggies was so fun and easy.
From top to bottom: roasted beets, turnips, carrots, kohlrabi, and rutabaga.  Kale chips before baking. And boiled turnips, kohlrabi, and baby beets.

From top to bottom: roasted beets, turnips, carrots, kohlrabi, and rutabaga. Kale chips before baking. And boiled turnips, kohlrabi, and baby beets.


Finally, as it warms up, we have started to get ripe blueberries and blackberries as well as flowers in bloom.
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Enormous Natchez blackberries.

Enormous Natchez blackberries.

County Fair Blend zinnia.

County Fair Blend zinnia.


Keep checking in- we’re just heating up.

~Jamie

Aww Nut…sedge!!!

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SPRING TIME IS ENDING!!!  I’ve constantly been humming the bambi song “drip drop drip little April showers” and now its the end of May and we are getting closer to the 90s in temperature than I would like to admit on the hotter days.  In the high tunnels it feels like 100 degrees, so I am really looking forward to experiencing the high tunnels in the summer time!

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Jessica posing after pulling up some strawberry plants!

Our group has finally started to feel more like a family.  We eat together often, and I must say, Jamie can cook one delicious pork tenderloin!  🙂 Life off the farm has started to become more planned and routine.  Wednesdays I have choir 🙂 which always brightens my week.  Although I absolutely love working on the farm, their is something nice about going home after work and doing something familiar like church choir, it makes me feel like I am just a little closer to home and family.  We have also had the chance to meet our awesome neighbors and could not have been luckier with our apartment situation.

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Nutsedge with its roots. PURE EVIL!!!!

Life on the farm has been very busy, and our arch nemisis “Dr.Nutsedge” has been invading our happy farm making weeding very very VERY difficult.  Just last week we spent a good portion of our Friday picking out all the nutsedge from our garden spaces only to see the evil weed come back over the weekend as if we did not even do anything.  It is truly eye opening to see how powerful a weed can be and how hard it can be to maintain organically sometimes.  We have learned that organic farmers have had to suspend their organic certification for a few years and then later come back just in order to contain certain weeds.  It is really crazy to see how much labor it takes to battle such a invasive and fast growing weed.  On the brightside, even though we lost a portion of our spring field, and our summer field is COVERED in nutsedge, we have managed to produce lots of delicious produce.  I’ve really enjoyed sharring some of our food with the local community, including our neighbors and community projects.

Speaking of community projects, I am becoming involved with the Goldsboro Library.  They have a BEAUTIFUL garden that has been filled with all kinds of summer goodies just starting to blossom in time for the first day of the junior master gardeners program that will start in June.  It’s looking like we will have a large group of children.  Donna has tasked a group of folks (including me) to be part of the task force for planing activities for the younger children up to the fifth graders. I am really excited at the opportunity to share the things I’ve been learning with the children.

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Goldsboro Library Community Garden

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Purple Cauliflower!!!!

Right now on the farm the biggest producer we have these days are the cucumbers.  We have donated hundreds of pounds of cucumbers just from one days harvest to meals on wheels.  I’ve enjoyed all the cucumbers myself and have discovered an amazing Thai Cucumber Salad recipe that has me addicted.  Marisa was especially excited over the cauliflower, and last week I got to do a mashed cauliflower demonstration for the cooking class at the extension office.  It was actually pretty good!  Teenagers came back for seconds, so I figure that has to mean something.

189Pests have started to show themselves now that the weather has warmed up.  Cucumber beetles, potato beetles, flea beetles, cabbage worms, groundhogs (he really likes our pointy head lettuce), and a mouse (who keeps finding its way into my lunch during the day time before lunch time…)

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Piglets are growing up fast!

The experience so far on the Small Farm Unit has been eye opening and simply amazing.  Marisa has done everything in her power to make sure we have a balance of classroom learning and hands on experience. The rest of the CEFS staff have all been wonderful as well. I have really enjoyed my Twice weekly time on the swine unit  playing with the baby pigs and feeding the mothers or soon to be mothers.  The staff really enjoys sharing their knowledge and they go above and beyond what they are required to do in order to make sure we learn as much as possible.  They are really great people, with generous hearts and respect for the world around them.

Stay tuned for my next blog!! It should be exciting as my fellow apprentice Jessica and I work with the Bee clubs president (Summer) to learn care and maintenance of the CEFS bee hives!!! I seriously can not wait!!!

Here’s The Dirt

Well Francis, you have some artists here at CEFS.

Well Francis, you have some artists here at CEFS.

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.

It's not just a salad, it's a health insurance plan!

It’s not just a salad, it’s a health insurance plan!

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.

Baker Creek radishes during a taste test

   Baker Creek radishes during a taste test

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.

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We have named them: Justin, Jamie, Ray, and Jessica.

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.

Ray taking a biomass sample.

Marisa and Justin in the freshly crimped rye and clover field, where we will plant summer annual vegetables.

Marisa and Justin in the freshly crimped rye and clover field, where we will plant summer annual vegetables.

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.

Coon Rock Farm in Hillsborough is hosting a trial of this hydroponic shipping container system. Does 600 heads of lettuce per week sound like enough to you? This could work wonders for areas of the country and of the world that have difficult growing conditions.

Coon Rock Farm in Hillsborough is hosting a trial of this hydroponic shipping container system. Does 600 heads of lettuce per week sound like enough to you? This could work wonders for areas of the country and of the world that have difficult growing conditions.

It’s been a busy spring but we know how to keep our spirits up.

Our resident jester, Justin, playing air guitar while hoeing nutsedge.

    Our resident jester, Justin, playing air guitar while hoeing nutsedge.

HAPPY PLANTING!

HAPPY PLANTING!

~Jessica

ps) Happy Mothers Day 😉

Fueling Our Dreams With Greens

Now that spring is in full swing we have all been working really hard. For starters, we have harvested the last of the lettuce and greens in the cool season tunnel which has been mostly donated to the O’berry Center, which is a facility for people living with developmental disabilities.

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Our strawberry project has been going well. We have been getting a plentiful amount of berries in our recent harvest, which too have been donated to the O’berry center.

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Our trip to Alex Hitt’s place in Graham N.C was a pleasure. A very wise man who has been very successful in the small farm world. Peregrine Farm has been around since 1982. If you ever get a chance you should check out Peregrine Farm at the Carrboro Farmers Market.

Here's Alex with Marisa showing us his transplant hole puncher he uses.

Here’s Alex with Marisa showing us his transplant hole puncher he uses.

We have all our cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers planted in our warm season high tunnel. We also have a grafted tomato and cucumber project going on in our other warm season tunnels.

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Our community work has begun too. We all have been getting our plans ready for the summer camps and programs Goldsboro has going on this year. We are all excited and ready to start. I have chosen the Parks and Recreation center and hope to teach the kids about how to garden successfully and the importance of local food. We have also begun our involvement with the extension service in the EFNEP cooking class, which is teaching people about healthy food choices and a healthy lifestyle.

A delicious veggie scramble

A delicious veggie scramble

In conclusion this program is teaching me something new everyday and I cannot wait to see what else lies ahead of us on the farm.

Peace,

RAY GRADY