Waxing Poetic (farm blog)

Welcome to Shiloh's world!
Posted 6/17/2013 3:12pm by Shiloh Avery.

lo mein

mixed veggie lo mein

kale chips

kale chips


Two things happened today that heightened my own appreciation for what we do here.  First, I uploaded pictures from my camera to find only pictures of food we had prepared from farm ingredients, and second, I received a call for a wrong number.  The woman on the other end of the line was disappointed to not find Marjorie on the other end of the line and then asked if anyone in our household had diabetes.  I admit that I giggled a little bit, and replied that we were an organic vegetable farm as if that were enough answer in itself.  But afterward, I thought that maybe it is.  “I don’t do this for my health” is usually an apt statement when applied to one’s work.  But in our case, perhaps it is done for our health.  At least partly.  I often get asked about the particular nutritional content of one vegetable or another and I have to admit ignorance.  It’s a luxury, perhaps, to never really need to worry about those little particulars, which we don’t because we assume we’re doing okay just eating all the stuff that comes from the farm.  In the absence of work benefits like health insurance and paid sick leave or vacation time, food from the farm becomes a hugely important benefit.

Posted 6/10/2013 4:57pm by Shiloh Avery.

Nathan harvesting in the rain

Nathan harvesting lettuc in the rain

Mitch in the rain

Mitch in the rain


A month or so ago this season started to look a little too reminiscent of the 2009 year of the flood (what was the Chinese zodiac sign that year?  The water buffalo?).  Tired of wet feet, Nathan decided to go get himself a pair of rubber boots.  Always the gambler, Jason promised to buy those boots for Nathan if, after he bought them, the season dried up.  Sometimes with superstition, a farmer feels like it just can’t hurt to err on the superstitious side.  And for a week or so, it looked like it was going to pay off.  But here lately, well….it looks more like the investment in boots is going to pay off for Nathan’s feet.  Really, if you’ve been praying for rain, stop it!  We are floating around the farm here.  The mud is getting so deep that Nathan’s actually likely to lose those new boots in it.  Alas, what can a farmer do about the weather except bet on rain boots.

Posted 6/3/2013 6:01pm by Shiloh Avery.

Jason mowing with swallows

Swallow belly with Jason mowing in background

swallow skimming freshly mowed field

I did my best with the camera I had on hand (just a point and shoot) to capture the moment


Mitch asked me today how many hours Jason and I work a week.  As a rule, I’ve never added up said hours for the risk of it being depressing.  But today, curiosity got the best of me and I relented.  Although the answer varies throughout the season and depends on the weather, the general answer right now is about 75.  That answer surprised me a little bit.  It seems like a lot.  Perhaps it is a lot.  It wasn’t until later that evening as I was packing the last few items into the cooler for an order tomorrow while Jason was mowing that I realized the gist of my surprise.  There’s a lot of joy incorporated into those 75 hours, which help to minimize in our minds how hard we work.  Evidence of this joy gets presented to anyone lucky enough to get around to tractor work in the late afternoon or early evening.  The swallows have trained themselves to the tractor and show up to feast on all the insects you disturb in your work, which is evidently quite a few as lots of swallows show up.  It’s quite a sight to behold and never fails to bring an awed smile to my face.  I mean, what if we could eat that way?  Just fly around with our mouths open and gobble up anything that happened to get in our way.  Formidable!  (Just think how much more work we could get done!) Even just observing it happen brings infinite joy into our long days.

Posted 5/27/2013 6:21pm by Shiloh Avery.
blooming blackberries blooming blackberries


Since we didn’t actually frost last Saturday morning (despite spending six more hours preparing for it!), I find that I can look up and enjoy this positively lovely weather we’ve been having.  Really, it’s perfect.  Finally not raining (I did actually knock on wood after I typed that!), sunshine without excess heat and humidity, breezy…I mean really!  It’s like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow following such a supremely challenging spring.  And we’re still here to enjoy it!!!  We are so busy this time of year that we can tend to plow through the days with our heads down, barely noticing the natural marvels around us.  But Mother Nature has her way of pushing up on your chin to force you to look at her.  This season, she does it with scent.  Tucked into every nook and cranny of the farm is a heavily scented blooming plant.  On one end, there’s the hillside of blackberries in full intoxicating bloom; at the creek the air is tickled with honeysuckle perfume; and along the driveway, odiferous multiflora rose meanders on the breezes.  It gives me an inkling to linger….

Posted 5/20/2013 6:37pm by Shiloh Avery.


cleaning up frost blankets

Gretchen and Shannon folding up frost blankets

Nathan planting peppers

Nathan planting one of 2880 peppers

Shannon mulching

Shannon mulching before planting a thousand winter squash


I finally did it.  The boxes have been sitting there for a month—in limbo.  But I’m calling it.  Cold is over.  Well, at least cold that calls for frost blankets and long johns.  Today, I busted out the shorts, put away the wool sweaters and removed all evidence of frost protection from the fields.  Now, it’s time to play catch up.  Time to tackle that ever enlarging to-do list.  It’s amazing how much time we spent this year just putting out and removing frost blankets and all the related equipment.  I wish now I had added it up so I’d have a ready-made justification for how behind we are.  But after last Tuesday’s 28 degrees, we’re putting all that behind us.  We’ve brought in the reinforcements and kicked it into high gear to make up for the loss.  Last week, we just about cleaned out the greenhouse that was backed up and overflowing.  I think big jobs should get two spots on the list.  Last Wednesday, we planted 2880 pepper plants but only got to cross that one job off from the list.  It hardly seems fair to have busted our butts all day long and only get to cross off one thing.  It’s not near enough reward for all that work.  So even though it makes the list look yet even longer, I’m writing this week’s big jobs on there twice so we can have twice the satisfaction in crossing them off. Now if only it stops raining long enough…

Posted 5/13/2013 5:33pm by Shiloh Avery.

drowning spinach


tomatoes under frost blanket tent

late frost (tomatoes under frost blanket tent)


the enlarging to-do list


We do our best to control whatever we can here.  Don’t we all?  Unpredictable spring cold snaps?  We erected some hoop houses (unheated greenhouses) to protect the crops, and bought frost blankets for the crops left out in the field.  Too much rain on sensitive crops?  We built “umbrellas” to fool them into thinking it was California.  Well California it is not.  And this year, Mother Nature is doing her best to thwart our attempts to control her whims.  For the crops that can no longer be rained on, she sent floods to sneak in beneath the umbrellas.  A little hail for the crops that have been thriving in this wet and cool weather.  And how about a late heavy frost to challenge even our most valiant efforts to protect the sensitive babies?  So we scramble and delay and do our best to breathe life into the farm.  Each weather challenge adds a whole new set of tasks to our perpetual “to-do” list, and each delay makes the list even longer.  We spend each waking moment, and more than plenty of our sleeping (or should be sleeping) moments changing plans and solving problems, doing our best to “out-think” nature.  We’ve had to put much of our other “thinking” life on auto-pilot for the moment.  Just yesterday I opened the cabinet to obtain an aspirin for a burgeoning headache, but I was thinking about frost protection for baby tomatoes.  Auto-pilot dictated that when I open the cabinet, I get out a toothbrush and toothpaste and brush my teeth.  Thus, I found my teeth sparkling clean for the second time that morning.  After all, good dental hygiene is important.


Posted 5/6/2013 5:09pm by Shiloh Avery.
Sandy planting potatoes Jason and Lee building a cabin

Shiloh's mom Sandy planting potatoes and Jason' dad Lee building the cabin

I spoke with a reporter the other day was doing an article on our mentor farmers, Alex and Betsy Hitt of Peregrine Farm.  (Here's the actual article: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/04/30/2858861/one-farm-grows-many-farmers.html)  I found myself comparing them to parents.  In a sense, they “raised” us as farmers.  This got me thinking about parents, and how they’re never really done “raising” their children.  Both of our parents have helped immensely with the start-up of our farm and continue to do so.  In fact, each time they visit, they work their butts off!  We once tried to take a day off while my folks were visiting and they refused (“No! There’s work to be done!).  Jason’s father “visited” us specifically this spring to help Jason build our third employee cabin.  It’s not just us either (as I’m sure many of you parents can relate).  I delivered to Hatch last week and it was Zach’s mom who greeted me at the door, readying the restaurant for opening. As if we weren’t approaching 40, they still take care of us.  They lend us tools, expertise, labor and money (not to mention love).  It is not any different with our mentor farmers.  10 years after working there, they’re still “raising” us as farmers.  We still call for expert advice and even borrow tools from time to time.  We owe our careers to our parents, both biological and “adopted.”  As I watch the rain out my office window pour incessantly down on our fields, I’d like to take this moment to say “thanks.”

Posted 4/29/2013 6:16pm by Shiloh Avery.
frost-damaged squash plant frost-damaged squash plant

We gambled with the summer squash and the weather and lost


I’m not a gambler.  Or so I thought.  No really, I’ve spent entire weekends in Las Vegas and didn’t plop the first penny down toward gambling.  It’s that ole’ Midwestern conservatism I think (although they do have casinos in the Midwest).  But wherever it comes from, I consider myself risk averse.  Well then, let’s consider my career choice…  Did you consider it?  Yeah, it kind of makes you think, doesn’t it. Again and again, we gamble out here on the farm.  We come back year after year, pitting crop earliness against the chance of the weather, rolling the dice in hopes that seeds germinate, playing roulette with weeds, hoping our backs don’t go bust.  In fact, if you look at it from that perspective, it appears we might need to seek help for our gambling addiction. 

Posted 4/22/2013 7:53pm by Shiloh Avery.


Jason moves chicken house to pasture

Jason moves the chicken house out to pasture

The first chickens to leave the house

The first brave chickens to leave the house for pasture in the morning

Jason collects the first egg

The first egg!


On Saturday, we added a few chickens to our livestock mix.  Livestock seems to have taken over my camera.  It has Jason shaking his head and muttering things about “childless couples.”   It’s true, isn’t it.  I’ve begun collecting substitutes for children.  Not in the literal sense, of course.  I rationalize it because they all have farm jobs. Still, critters need me in a way that plants don’t.  Plants need care, attention, and perhaps even love and sweet talkin’, but they just grow up too quickly.  Once we’ve planted them in the ground and given them their best shot, they’re likely to survive without us.  Maybe not thrive, but survive.  With critters, it’s just not the same.  The pigs crave our attention.  Whenever we come around, they get up from their lazy stupor, do a couple of happy tail spins, then follow us around in perpetual curiosity.  So far, the chickens seem to depend on us to remind them where their roosts are and where they’re intended to lay their eggs.  I swear the chard doesn’t even notice when I wander over to check out its progress.

Posted 4/15/2013 5:22pm by Shiloh Avery.
skinning the haygrove skinning the haygrove

"skinning" the tomato umbrella


I attended a workshop on meat production last Friday.  You may have noticed from the full takeover of my photos that we’ve taken on some hog production the season.  There is a potential expansion of Tumbling Shoals Farm on the horizon and we’re considering adding more livestock to the mix.  But that’s a whole different train of thought.  At the end of the workshop, Chef Jay (I can’t remember his last name) from Lucky 32 in Greensboro got up to speak.  I found myself in that awesome state of head nodding validation as he pontificated on integrity drawn in by knowing who you are feeding.  Some of you might remember me expounding on the same thing a couple of years back. The federal department of ag did this whole “know your farmer, know your food” thingy.  Tom Vilsak standing there in his suit and tie—the whole bit.  I believe in that too, don’t get me wrong, but it had me waxing poetic about the benefits of knowing who you are feeding.  Like chef Jay, I believe that knowing the families you grow (or cook) food for brings a whole other level of integrity into the system.  It makes us want to go that extra mile to bring you a special quality product.  Different, I suppose, from boxing it up and sticking in on truck to be mixed in the vast wholesale market to end up on some anonymous plate.


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