Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
Strawberries ripening on the plants
A honeybee feasting on blackberry nectar
I try my Midwestern best to remain calm and steady—no extremes. But there are moments of intoxicating joy that sneak up on me here on the farm. What I mean is: sometimes I just can’t help it. Often, this time of year (the time of insanity—is there a line in “Turn! Turn! Turn!” that says “a time for insanity”?), we’ve got our heads down, working so hard we forget to look up at the magnificence surrounding us, both cultivated and natural. We lose touch with the glory that is spring, when the world is screaming “yes! Life!” all around us (really, it’s a bit over the top for my Midwestern sensibilities). But nature has its own wake-up call and is not afraid to use it. Take yesterday, for example: I was listening to the radio on my earphones while operating the tractor at a high and loud engine RPM. You’d think that would be enough to drown out nature, but I passed the strawberry field and was nearly knocked off the tractor by the most intoxicating scent: ripe strawberries! My mouth watered Pavlovically (oh yes, I did just say Pavlovically), and I was forced (Forced! I say) to descend from my throne of oblivion and feast with wild abandon till I lay, belly up, bloated and smiling like the village fool. Then, as if that weren’t enough to make me stand up and notice, this morning the scent of wild blackberry blooms overpowered my senselessness like a child’s stomping feet and shrill scream: “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!” Hello nature, I got your message and am returning your call.
Newly planted tomatoes underneath their umbrella
There is a sarcastic saying for desiring credit for something ordinary: “do you want a cookie for that?” I admit, I always want a cookie for accomplishing ordinary tasks. It doesn’t matter that it’s in the job description and that it is expected of me, I still want that acknowledgement. Hey Jason, did you notice I did a load of laundry? Yes I’d like a cookie for that. Hey! Did you see I hoed a row? Yes I’d like a cookie for that. You get the picture. Well, recently, it seems, that figurative cookie has been arriving in the dough, so to speak. Twice already in the past couple of weeks, Brooke has brought over cookies for no apparent reason. And then today, just when my tummy was a-grumblin’ and I started eying up the strawberry field for snacks, our neighbors brought us cookies! Alas, your strawberries remained safe (for the moment).
Putting away the frost blankets
Some people call it the “blackberry winter.” We call it the “squash frost.” Nearly without fail, a week or two after we plant our summer squash, comes a frost. There’s no use in waiting a week or two to plant it; that will just push the frost even later when there might be even more frost sensitive babies like tomatoes and peppers in the field (we tried that in 2009, and got a May 18th frost). So, we call it inevitable, plant the squash, pack up the frost blankets and put them away (that, too, is required. If you leave the frost blankets out, the frost will still wait until you put them away before it arrives), then just count on dragging them back out a week or so later. And so it goes on Tumbling Shoals Farm. So…we planted the squash last week and folded up all the frost blankets and put them away, and sure as a death and taxes, here comes a frost Thursday morning. How about that? Part of me wants to feel all smug about my wisdom (I do admit to leaving the trailer parked next to the frost blanket storage), but boy do I dislike hauling those blankets and bags of rocks around (literally, bags of rocks—to hold down the frost blankets in the case of wind)! Luckily for me, it will happen like magic while I am away at our first market of the year at the Downtown Hickory Farmers’ Market on Wednesday. For current pictures of the tomato umbrella project, click here! Don’t forget to check us out on facebook!
Covering the tomatoes with a little extra protection for a cold night (this hoop house still standing strong!)
Plastic is strong. Structural, we might even call it. I’ve heard plenty of farming horror stories about farmers who lost greenhouses because the plastic would tear, so the relentless wind just bent the metal hoops out of its way. You’d be better off to cut the plastic to let the wind through; it’s cheaper to replace than the metal hoops. “How do you know when to cut the plastic?” Brooke asks astutely. How do you know when to cut the plastic indeed? As it turns out, this is a common theme in agriculture: when to cut your losses and move on. So I’m declaring right here, in front of everybody, that I am coining a phrase and I want credit for it 30 years from now. How did we know it was time to give up on the spinach planting, cut our losses and till it in to seed something else? “You just gotta know when to cut the plastic.” How did we know to mow over the blackberries and try again next time? “You just gotta know when to cut the plastic.” Else, you might find yourself with more loss than you bargained for.
transplanted onions, the beginning of the 12,000 transplants
I’ve always wanted to make a farm exercise video. Or advertise the Tumbling Shoals Farm weight loss camp. You know, you pay me to come and work on the farm where you eat only organic veggies and do 12,000 squats. I just added that up. Yesterday, we planted this year’s 12,000th transplant, which, roughly translated, means we did our 12,000th squat so far this year. Which, since we don’t begin planting until the end of February, means that we did 12,000 squats in a month. No wonder I found myself soaking in a tub of hot water last night and begging for a massage today.
Every winter, I make quite a strong effort to rest, and a somewhat feeble attempt not to fall completely out of shape in anticipation of what March has in store for me. But March still kicked my butt this year, as it does every year. Luckily, help in on the way. Our employees arrive next week! Which means that it’s already April and we’re only a month away from the first harvest of fresh organic veggies. I admit, I’m a might bit tired of eating potatoes, carrots, cabbage and butternut squash, which are the things we managed to store over the winter. The cupboards and freezer are beginning to look a little bit bare and I admit to purchasing lettuce at the store a couple of times just to have something at least somewhat fresh.Our 2011 harvest shares are sold out; contact us to get on next year's waiting list.
We finally entered the facebook world! Check us out for quick updates, food and agriculture related links, pictures, etc. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tumbling-Shoals-Farm/100581960023289, or go to facebook and search for Tumbling Shoals Farm.
Shiloh and Jason
Tumbling Shoals Farm
Tomato "umbrella" with tomato plants inside at Peregrine Farm
photo by Alex Hitt
I keep attempting to delude myself into thinking I’m still on vacation. But today came calling with fierce reality. First, we filled to maximum capacity both of our germination chambers in our greenhouse with newly sown seed (I hope you’re getting hungry!) And second, we received notification that our tomato umbrella is arriving this week (including a 1300 pound roll of plastic!) and will need to be unloaded from the tractor trailer it is arriving on. You might have noticed that we’ve had two less than stellar tomato seasons in a row. Tomato plants are a might bit wimpy and don’t like to be rained on. This wimpiness is the biggest challenge to organic tomato production in North Carolina. After two frustrating tomato years, we decided to explore our options. Option 1: move to California. Well, you probably can see the complications involved in that choice. Option 2: Spray the heck outta them suckers (You may also have noticed that tomatoes are one of the most sprayed crops). Well, you can also see the complication there, being that we grow organically and don’t like to sell things we wouldn’t feed our own children (or nieces and nephews in our case). Option 3: Bring California here (read: keep the rain off the tomatoes). Well duh! But Mother Nature just doesn’t tend to listen to my pleas (see 2009!), so how in the world are we going to do that? An umbrella! Or lots of umbrellas (like a 1300 pound roll of umbrella)!
Hence the title: big changes at Tumbling Shoals Farm. We are putting up a giant umbrella over the entire tomato field! This is both incredibly exciting (good tomato years, even if it rains!) and incredibly intimidating (unloading a tractor trailer in the road, screwing support posts 20 feet into the ground, erecting 15 foot high umbrella supports and pulling plastic over said supports, yikes!), but mostly exciting. Stay tuned for adventure stories on the progress of that project, beginning with the unloading of the tractor trailer.
Remember that we are in open enrollment for the 2011 harvest shares! A couple of changes happening in that department too (I promise to update the website this week!): we are offering a new pick up spot on Thursdays at Twenty One & Main in downtown Elkin. And we are offering again pick up points at McRitchie Winery in Thurmond (also Thursdays) and Western Carolina Electric in Moravian Falls (Wednesdays). Shares are selling faster than I anticipated, so if you’re sitting around thinking about it, you better get your registration in soon! A $100 deposit holds your share. We might not make it to April before selling out this year so if you’re hungry for fresh organic veggies, get on board. You can print the registration form here.
We’re looking forward to growing food for you this year!
Sam with a June Harvest Share in 2010
I know, you’re snowbound, it’s cold and you’re eating stews and soups (from this past season’s butternut squash and carrots I hope!) and certainly not thinking about the fresh bounty of spring. But I just finished reading Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food” and it has me feeling all jazzed up for this coming season and I’m hoping to get you excited too. It is precisely this excitement that feeds my desire to plant those first seeds (in just two weeks!) to begin the season.
It may be that Pollan is driving the boat here, but all our cooking magazines (and quite a plethora of cooking magazines arrive here monthly) are talking about the same thing: eat local veggies! Here’s what Scott Mowbray, editor of Cooking Light, had to say on the matter:
The best news in healthy eating is the confluence between “delicious” and “good for you.” Lines and divisions blur: So-called health foods seem quaint; highly processed diet foods lack appeal. Whole foods, local when possible, globally flavored, cooked with joy, are in. And the rules are simpler: more plants, less meat, and get exercise.
In “In Defense of Food,” as part of a simplified map to better health, Pollan recommends joining a CSA (like the Tumbling Shoals Farm Harvest Share): “…buying as much as you can from the farmers market, or directly from the farm when that’s an option, is a simple act with a host of profound consequences for your health as well as for the health of the food chain you’ve now joined.”
On that note, we’d like to announce “open enrollment” season for the Tumbling Shoals Farm harvest shares! We are accepting deposits and full payments for shares on a first come/first serve basis (we sold out last year so get your registration in early!). For more information or to sign up, check out “Share in the Harvest” on the website. We have listened to you and have made a few adjustments this season (more on that on the website), but the structure is basically the same: 20 weeks (May 4th through September 14th) of a mix of fresh in-season produce for $500 (full share) or $300 (half share). That’s about $25 worth of fresh organic fruits and vegetables a week for 20 weeks!
Benefits of the Tumbling Shoals Farm Harvest Share (with lots of quotes from “In Defense of Food”):
Benefits to you:
- You support the local food chain and the local economy (it’s like voting with your tongue!)
- Shake the hand that feeds you: “[In the industrial food system] a wall of ignorance intervenes between consumers and producers and that wall fosters a certain carelessness on both sides. Farmers can lose sight of the fact that they’re growing food for actual eaters rather than for middlemen, and consumers can easily forget that growing good food takes care and hard work.”
- Eat more fruits and vegetables! (it’s like a pre-paid fitness club membership-if you’ve already paid, you’re more likely to use it, with all those fresh ripe nutritious veggies already purchased and in your fridge, you’re more likely to get more of them into your diet!)
- Eat the freshest organic produce around: “Recently a handful of well-controlled comparisons of crops grown organically and conventionally have found appreciably higher levels of antioxidants, flavanoids, vitamins and other nutrients in several of the organic crops. Of course, after a few days riding cross-country in a truck the nutritional quality of any kind of produce will deteriorate, so ideally you want to look for food that is both organic and local.”
- Improve the diet through diverse, seasonal eating: “[When purchasing locally] you automatically eat food that is in season, which is usually when it is most nutritious…eating in season also tends to diversify your diet-because you can’t buy strawberries or broccoli or potatoes twelve months of the year, you’ll find yourself experimenting with other foods when they come into the market….The CSA box does an even better job of forcing you out of your dietary rut because you’ll find things in your weekly allotment that you would never buy on your own.”
- Planning meals made easier: “What’s for dinner” gets easier when you are eating seasonally because you begin with what’s in your box and build the meal from there. Instead of “what in the world should I make for dinner,” it becomes, “Let’s find a good recipe for squash (or carrots, or broccoli, etc)”
- Build a food community: attend Tumbling Shoals Farm events and meet others on the ark of local food
Benefits to us:
- We get to know who we’re feeding: “Accountability becomes once again a matter of relationships instead of regulation or labeling or legal liability. Food safety didn’t become a national or global problem until the industrialization of the food chain attenuated the relationships between food producers and eater.”
- Because you’ve purchased your share ahead of the season, we have income right at the time we are purchasing all our seasonal supplies
- Knowing how many families we’re feeding ahead of time makes planning how much of each crop to grow a lot easier!
- Building a food community: We love getting together with other people interested in food and cooking and eating. Let’s eat together!
For more information on Tumbling Shoals Farm Harvest Shares, click here.
An old friend of mine, in asking how to feed his family better food, told me that some days it would be 5:00 before he and his wife would look at each other out of the haggard chaos of family life blankly and ask, “dinner?” My aunt spoke of the same thing. “It’s not the cooking that’s the problem,” she laments, “it’s the figuring out what to cook!” This winter I realized that I understand this problem. Being bad at food preservation (or not bad at it, per se, but bad at accomplishing it at all), we, too, struggle to decide what to eat in the winter. After the hard freeze that finished off even the hardiest kale in the garden, we suddenly had to think about what to eat “from scratch.” What I mean is this: during the growing season, our menus are dictated by what’s coming in from the fields. So the thinking about “what’s for dinner” begins there: with the ingredients. Then it’s only a matter of looking for a recipe containing those ingredients. Easy. Sometimes the sight of the veggies themselves will spark a memory of a tasty recipe. Or there are lots of websites, including ours, that allow you to search for recipes by ingredients. Or sometimes the ingredients do just fine by themselves (sungolds anyone?) And if you become a Tumbling Shoals Farm CSA member, we also provide all our favorite seasonal recipes.
So this is one of the many benefits of a CSA (which is what I recommended to my friend as a way to feed his family better). They are the building blocks of your meal planning. Another is this: you have all the freshest vegetables in season already there in your refrigerator each week so you’ll automatically be eating more fresh fruits and veggies than you probably would have otherwise. The other day I read in a fitness magazine a recommendation to "purchase in advance" because if you've already spent the money, you're more likely to do it! It was referring to gym memberships, but I think the same thing applies to eating more veggies. According to all the research, this is precisely what all of us need right? So paying in advance for your veggies makes you more likely to eat more of them! For more details on our CSA, click here.
Probably not a world record, but definitely a farm record!
If the mist didn’t set off the orange and red colors on the maple tree outside my office window, I’d say today was gloomy. But it does, and it isn’t. Besides, I’m here, inside, cozied up to my computer with a cup of tea, gazing absentmindedly out the window at the brilliant colors changing slightly in the subtle undulation between cloud cover, mist and fog. This is what it means to be November. This and early morning gunshot echoes, hollow call of crows, scurried scolding of squirrels and a kind of mid day stillness that seeps through the skin like the moment before a memory with eyes glazed and her head cocked. But today it is the rhythmic tapping of rain on leaves that sifts through thoughts, soft as flour on my fingertips. This is the pause before the pause. Tomorrow will bring sunshine and cold fingers in the dew and wash water. Memories of my grandmother, whose hands were short, fat and nail bitten like mine, and evidence of a lifetime of hard work. Days like these I can almost touch the rows of jars in the root cellar, lined up like soldiers, protecting the seasonal bounty.
Speaking of seasonal bounty, this is the official last week of our season here at Tumbling Shoals Farm. We will have produce available for pick up here at the farm on Friday, November 19th from 4p.m. to 5p.m., and we’ll be at both the Hickory farmers’ market (7a.m. to noon)and the Boone farmers’ market (10a.m. to 2p.m.)on Saturday, November 20th. After Saturday, we call it a season! Thanks for your support this year and happy holidays!!
I do declare I have a thing for hats!
Which is serendipitously good since
A farmer has to wear many hats.
Though I never intended, I sometimes find myself clad in a plumber’s hat;
The same could be said for the electrician’s cap.
It’s the nature of the job, these accidental hats.
Once a week I like to try on a photographer’s hat,
A writer’s cap-
(A tweed beret I’m sure),
And in the office on a cold and rainy day
I need my thinking cap!
Why, I need a whole shed for all these hats!
Today, it was a rain hat for me,
Tomorrow, I’ll don a sun hat with glee!
When the season begins as well as when it ends,
A wool cap fits best.
But Saturday afternoon, once we’ve bid each other a temporary goodbye,
I’ll put on the best hat of all:
My beach vacation hat!
See you at Thanksgiving!