Eat the Purple Carrots!

Bonnies tomato basil salad

One of the best things about a Saturday visit to the farmers’ market is the huge array of colorful vegetables. Not only are these vegetables beautiful, they also are loaded with healthy plant flavonoids. These are also sometimes called phytonutrients. They include a wide range of chemical substances from plants that are biologically active, but not a vitamin or mineral. They most often occur as pigments in plants. Some examples include anthocyanins in blueberries, lycopene in tomatoes, and flavones in parsley. Most bright colored fruits and vegetables are loaded with them. I think we are just now beginning to understand the potential health benefits of these plant compounds.

In plants, flavonoids provide the beautiful colors you see in leaves, fruit and flowers. They may also be a part of the plant’s defense mechanisms to help ward off insects, fungi, bacteria, and nematodes. Flavonoids may also provide some antioxidant protection to plants that enables them to survive oxidative stresses such as drought, salt, and heat. It is possible the same antioxidant properties of flavonoids that protect plants, are also part of what makes them so healthy for humans to eat.

There is strong indication that phytonutrients might have important health benefits. In vitro studies indicate that flavonoids may be anti-allergenic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-microbial, antifungal, and anti-cancer. There are at least two publications documenting that flavonoid intake reduces the risk of gastric cancer. (González CA, Sala N, Rokkas T (2013) and Woo HD, Kim J (2013)). There are also multiple studies examining the effects on cardiac risk factors such as inflammation, blood lipids, glucose metabolism, and hypertension.

One of the best known examples of the health benefits of flavonoids is blueberries. If you Google “blueberries memory” you will find multiple articles and videos about the brain boosting power of blueberries. The Annals of Neurology published an article stating that eating two or more servings of blueberries a day may delay memory decline in the elderly. It is not the vitamins in the blueberries doing the work here. It is these lesser known plant chemicals! Blueberries aren’t the only super foods. All plants contain some. In general, brightly colored plants contain the most. It is a great idea to make a concerted effort to include bright fruits and vegetables in your diet. Things like berries, beets, dark green leafy vegetables, rainbow colored chard, purple carrots, and many others. You will find them all over the farmers’ market. Make it your goal to search out the most colorful items you can find.

I believe we will begin to hear more and more about the benefits of these phytonutrients. Eating colorful fruits and vegetables very likely has benefits even beyond the healthy vitamins and minerals: phytonutrients!

Eat Your Veggies,
Robin

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Pork Roast with Fresh Figs

Figs and pork seem to be made to go together. August is the time in North Carolina when figs are ripe, so it is time to cook this elegant dish. Although this dish is very simple, everyone will think you are a cooking genius because it looks complex and tastes delicious. My good friend Sheila Tennaro gave me the basic idea for this recipe.

pork roast with fresh figs before

Ingredients
• 5-6 fresh figs, chopped
• Grand Marnier
• Boneless pork loin
• Thyme
• Salt
• Pepper

pork roast with fresh figs recipe

Directions
• Cover the chopped figs with Grand Marnier and let sit for 30 minutes
• Butterfly pork loin lengthwise.
• Drain most of the Grand Marnier and spread the fig mixture on the butterflied pork roast.
• Season the mixture with thyme, salt and pepper.
• Close up and tie it if it won’t stay closed
• Season the outside of pork with salt and pepper
• Sprinkle some fresh thyme leaves on the top
• Bake at 350-degree for about an hour
• Remove from oven and let rest for about 10 minutes.
• Cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices. You should see the fig mixture in each slice.

pork roast with fresh figs

The season is short for figs. Be sure not to miss your chance. Have fun impressing everyone with this one, and don’t forget to include plenty of fresh veggies!
Robin

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July on the Farm: Chickens

kids in the chicken yard

Finally! Rodney the Rooster is going to be a father! One of his ladies is sitting on a big pile of eggs! This is great news. For months, these chickens have been living in a separate area of the farm, designated specifically for reproduction! We were beginning to wonder what was wrong. Why is it that ladies in the laying area will go broody all the time? Then we put three ladies and a rooster in a beautiful wooded area, just to have babies, and NONE of the ladies wanted to brood. We honestly were getting very close to dispatching Rodney and putting his three ladies back in the laying area. I think they have finally come through though. One lady is brooding away. Rodney looks proud. Maybe it took longer than we expected for them to adjust to their new home.

Barred Rock 2

Meanwhile, back in the laying house, the ladies are hard at work. We finally seem to have gotten the upper hand on the snake problems. I’m not sure if we relocated enough of them to thin out the population, or if summer is just time when there is so much food available to snakes, they don’t have to be bothered with going in the chicken house.

black snake

Some of our young hens are thinking about laying their first eggs. We found a very tiny egg recently. Often, young hens will lay really small eggs when they first start laying. It was barely bigger than a robin’s egg! The mature ladies are hard at work doing a good job with their egg production. They haven’t slowed down much due to heat. They normally are quite happy in July, because they get some of their favorite produce. Chickens absolutely love tattered old kale that we pulled out, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and melons. We throw tons of these types of scraps to them in the summer. They can eat bins and bins of produce scraps in no time at all. The only thing bothering our chickens are the hawks coming around. We have young hens, that are small enough for a hawk to think it can snag one. These young hens are small enough that some of them squeeze through the fence and get out into the open area, where hawks can see them. That normally doesn’t end well. Not only that, but once hawks realize there are easy-to-snag chickens around, they tend to come back again and again.

young hens on the loose

We heard a big ruckus in the chicken yard the other day, and a huge red tailed hawk was out there sitting on the ground eating a hen. The chicken was too big for the hawk to carry away, so it killed it and just sat on the ground to eat it. Needless to say, the other ladies were not happy at all about this. Jay shooed the hawk away and composted the poor dead hen. Without a doubt, this hawk will be back. Many chicken farmers struggle with how to deal with this situation without resorting to shooting a beautiful and protected hawk. It is difficult because, as I mentioned, now that the hawk knows where dinner is, it will be back. Our solution has been to put tomato stakes in the ground all over the chicken yard. The goal is to create a space that is so littered with stakes, the hawk can’t get in there and navigate very well with its broad wingspan. You can tie long strands of silver ribbon to the top of each stake to make the area even more confusing and difficult for hawks to swoop in.

ladies and yard stakes

We also make sure there is plenty of overhead cover, such as a shack they can run in, and huge oak trees to hide under. Although these strategies work pretty well, none of this is perfect. This is one of the main challenges with growing chickens with full outdoor access. It is so much easier to keep them in a protected house. Now you know why eggs from pasture raised chickens cost more. It is because pastured hens are so much more difficult to manage. Chicken farming would be much easier and cheaper if we just closed the hens in the henhouse and let them happily lay eggs, well protected from predators. Sometimes I wonder if they might be calmer and happier under such a scenario. Then I come to my senses and consider how happy chickens are rolling in the dust and chasing around bugs and worms. I also believe eggs that come from hens that are eating a diverse diet of plants, bugs, worms, and anything else they can find, are of much higher quality and better taste than any other eggs. So our ladies are going to have to keep dodging the hawks!

Eat your veggies,
Robin

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July on the Farm: in the Office (part 2)

Fall is coming.

seedlings

I know it is hard to believe, but July is the time we plan for fall crops and get the seeds ordered. The fall crop actually gets planted by mid-August. We often try to be the first to market with several crops, so we may even push the common wisdom and try to plant some of our fall crops by early August. We have a few gardens with good afternoon shade and irrigation that work pretty well for this. Our planting strategy is to first plant the fields that are closer to the house and have irrigation. This is essential because it is so hot here, these fall crops will not germinate and grow without adequate water. We will plant our second planting of fall crops in the fields that are farther away. Seed selection is tricky for fall plantings because the crops planted in late summer need to be very heat tolerant, and the crops planted later in the Fall need to be very cold tolerant. Read and choose varieties carefully if you are a grower. Also be careful to choose varieties resistant to the insects and diseases you think you will encounter during the growing season you are targeting.

seed packets

I am perusing the seed catalogues now. I love this part of my job. I want to plant everything! The only problem is that ordering seeds takes a pretty big hit out of our monthly budget each July and January. We make it work in January because we have spring CSA sign ups during that time, which brings in income with the sign up fee. There is no fee for our existing spring CSA members to rejoin for the winter, so no sign up fee money is coming in. Not only is July too early for most members to start thinking about a winter CSA, but they are still trying to figure out what to do with all the summer eggplant they are getting! My favorite seed choices for fall include brussel sprouts, mixed lettuce, mixed kale varieties, colorful root vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, and cool season herbs. Each one has its own strategy behind which variety to choose.

Lettuce Garden

Lettuce: Choose a heat tolerant variety for early planting then shift to a cool season variety for later plantings that will be harvested in the winter. Plant the warm season varieties in places with afternoon shade and irrigation. Plant the cool season varieties in full sun and in fields farther away.

Kale: The most heat tolerant varieties I have found are Lacinado and Siberian kale. These go in first. Then I plant Red Russian for later season harvests, because it tolerates cold much better. I also specifically look for something colorful and different. I might do Redbor this year, or even a Portuguese kale.

Broccoli and Cauliflower: As with all winter crops, I buy heat tolerant varieties and cold tolerant varieties for successive plantings. For broccoli and cauliflower I also look for good disease resistance as well as pretty colors. The seeds for colorful broccoli are extremely expensive, but these crops do demand a slight premium at the market. The key is to not waste any of the seeds. This means I need to germinate them in a seedbed, then transplant the seeds into the field. If I direct seed them into the field with my seeder, too many get wasted. It has to be done by hand. I used to contract with a local greenhouse grower to grow out my seeds into transplants. That got too expensive and I couldn’t justify it based on the price I can get for the crop.

brussel sprouts

Brussel Sprouts: These are a challenge because the time from when the plants emerge to when they can be harvested is very long. They also are not very heat tolerant, so they cannot be planted too early. This means that if they are planted in early September when it finally cools off a little bit, they may not have time to mature before it gets too cold. We use two strategies. The first is to find varieties that have some heat tolerance and the shortest possible days to harvest. The shortest I have found is 90 days. Plant them early, and be ready to cover them with frost protection if you have to. The second strategy is to find very cold tolerant varieties with a long days-to-harvest and try to overwinter them for an early spring harvest. I’m going to do some of both this year. Last year it didn’t work because it got so cold that everything froze out. This year might just be a little warmer. Everyone loves Brussel sprouts. It is worth the extra work and a bit of risk.

Baby Mixed Root Vegetables

Root Vegetables: I choose sweet turnips, colorful beets, colorful carrots, and different types of radishes. I don’t hesitate to direct seed these crops with close spacing, because I can remove some of the crop as baby root vegetables, and allow the rest of the crop to mature to full size. If is funny, but root vegetables sell well as babies, but it is much harder to sell full sized beets or turnips.

Herbs: Great winter herbs include several types of parsley, dill, cilantro, and chervil. We plant all of these and love them. These also make great beneficial insect habitat, so I love having them all around the farm.

Herbs

By the end of July, we have at least half of our fields empty and are preparing to plant Fall crops in August. The chore list for the last week of July includes removing many of the tattered summer crops, composting, tilling, raking, and preparing to plant. I can hardly wait! I love fall crops, and honestly think I might be better at growing cool season crops than summer crops. Not only that, I love the huge diversity of cool season crops. Bring on the winter farming!

Eat your veggies,
Robin

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Choosing Seeds for Fall Planting

Bells Farm

July is the time to choose seeds for fall planting. Many fall crops are planted in August in North Carolina. My favorite seed choices for fall include Brussel sprouts, mixed lettuce, mixed kale varieties, colorful root vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, and cool season herbs. Each one has its own strategy behind which variety to choose. Normally, when I think about which varieties to plant, I have two main criteria. The first is environment. I want to know the variety I pick will thrive in the temperature I expect the crop to be growing in. After that, I look for disease resistant varieties because we don’t spray fungicides, copper or sulfur on our farm. If you look closely at the catalogue description of the seeds you are considering, it will normally tell you if the variety is tolerant of heat or cold, as well as give you a list of the diseases to which it has reasonable genetic resistance. Don’t ignore these details. It can be the difference between a successful crop and a failure. Ability to tolerate the environment and resist diseases is more important that how pretty the picture is. Below are my choices.

Lettuce

Lettuce: Choose a heat tolerant variety such as Tropicana for early planting then shift to a cool season variety such as Winter Density for later plantings that will be harvested in the winter. Plant the warm season varieties in places with afternoon shade and irrigation. Plant the cool season varieties in full sun and in fields further away. Look for disease resistance to downy mildew, viruses, and bottom rot.

Red Russian kale

Kale: The most heat tolerant varieties I have found are Lacinado and Siberian kale. These go in first. Then I plant Red Russian for later season harvests because it tolerates cold much better. I also specifically look for something colorful and different. I might do Redbor this year, or even a Portuguese kale. There are very few diseases of kale in the winter, so I do not worry about that when choosing seeds.

cauliflower

Broccoli and Cauliflower: As with all winter crops, I buy heat tolerant varieties and cold tolerant varieties for successive plantings. For broccoli and cauliflower I also look for good disease resistance, as well as pretty colors. The seeds for colorful broccoli are extremely expensive, but these crops do demand a slight premium at the market. The key is to not waste any of the seeds. This means I have to germinate them out in a seedbed and then transplant the seeds into the field. If I direct seed them into the field with my seeder, too many get wasted. It has to be done by hand. I used to contract with a local greenhouse grower to grow out my seeds into transplants. That got too expensive and I couldn’t justify it, based on the price I can get for the crop.

brussel

Brussel Sprouts: These are a challenge because from the time the plants emerge to the time they can be harvested is very long. They also are not very heat tolerant, so they can’t be planted too early. This means that if they are planted in early September, when it finally cools off a little bit, they may not have time to mature before it gets too cold. There are two strategies. The first is to try to find varieties that have some heat tolerance and the shortest possible days-to-harvest. The shortest I have found is 90 days. Plant them early and be ready to cover them with frost protection if necessary. The second strategy is to find very cold tolerant varieties with a long days-to-harvest and try to overwinter them for an early spring harvest. I’m going to do some of both this year. Last year it didn’t work because it got so cold here that everything froze out. This year might just be a little warmer. Everyone loves Brussel sprouts. It is worth the extra work and a bit of risk.

Root Veggies

Root Vegetables: I choose sweet turnips, colorful beets, colorful carrots, and different types of radishes. I don’t hesitate to direct seed these crops with close spacing, because I can remove some of the crop as baby root vegetables and allow the rest of the crop to mature to full size. If is funny, but root vegetables sell well as babies, but it is much harder to sell full sized beets or turnips.

Herbs: Great winter herbs include several types of parsley, dill, cilantro, arugula and chervil. We plant all of these and love them. These also make great beneficial insect habitat, so I love having them all around.

Seeds

Growing fall and winter veggies is one of the best things about farming in the South. The possibilities are endless. Time to get out the seed catalogues!

Eat Your Veggies,
Robin

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Chicken with Dijon and Tarragon

tarragon-chicken

I try to include herbs in our CSA bags each week. Surprisingly, our members have more questions about how to use these beautiful herbs than they do about the veggies. Here is a great way to use tarragon. You can make this recipe with either French or Mexican tarragon.

Ingredients:

• Fresh pasture raised chicken (whole or cut up)
• 2 garlic cloves
• Dijon mustard
• Olive oil
• Small bunch of tarragon
• Salt and pepper

Directions:

• Heat your oven to 375
• Chop up and mix well the garlic cloves, small bunch of tarragon, a splash of olive oil, and a squirt of Dijon. I use my “Magic Bullet” for this, and it is very quick and easy. It should make a sort of paste.
• Smear this all over your chicken, including under the skin. If you are using a whole chicken, don’t forget to smear the inside and maybe shove a peeled onion in there.
• Wrap the chicken up and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours. Or, if you don’t have time, then go right ahead and move to the next step.
• Sprinkle with salt and pepper and put the chicken in the oven uncovered. Cook until done. For pieces, it will take about 40-45 minutes. It will take longer for a whole bird.
• Enjoy with the rest of the beautiful veggies in your CSA bag! And you can go here for other veggie recipes to accompany this chicken.

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July on the Farm: in the Field (part 1)

Trellising is everything!

Tomato-Trellis

We have a fairly small farm that is only about 6 acres. Many of the crops grown in the summer are big! They take up a lot of space. Some examples are rambling tomatoes, vining cucumbers, crazy Chinese longbeans, pepper plants and eggplants. Because we don’t have much space, we go up with these plants. We trellis or stake almost everything in the summer. Our tomatoes are all up on 6 ft trellises; our beans are on a trellis; our cukes are trellised; and even our peppers and eggplants are staked so they stand tall. I wonder how much square footage we are actually growing in if you consider both the horizontal and vertical space.

bean-trellis

Good use of space is not the only reason we pound so many polls and string so many crops. Keeping the crop off the ground also helps manage many diseases and insects. Many of the worst diseases can at least be suppressed by setting up a situation where the plants catch a breeze, good light, and the foliage dries quickly. There also are several fungi residing in soil that cause plant diseases. This includes Rhizoctonia, Pythium, and Phytophthora. Fruit that doesn’t touch the ground doesn’t have nearly as many problems as fruit lying on the ground. Some insects also are less problematic on crops that are off the ground. For example, cucumber beetles don’t seem to bother the top part of cucumbers that are trellised, however, they will eat up plants on the ground. Flea beetles seem to do the same thing on eggplant. Once the eggplant gets up off the ground and staked, the beetles aren’t a big problem anymore.

What’s Picking

blueberries

Summer vegetables are in full spring in July. We are picking BLUEBERRIES, raspberries, blackberries, all kinds of beautiful tomatoes, several types of cucumbers, squash of many colors, peppers, eggplants, purple, green and yellow snap beans, Chinese longbeans, heirloom pole beans, herbs of all types and many basils. We are even digging parsnips! That is a new one for us. We are still digging the last of the beets, turnips and carrots. We also have a few local farming friends who help us out with peaches, cantaloupes, watermelon, and corn. This makes for a very full CSA bag! July is why everyone loves local produce.

ryannicholson

Did you notice that I mentioned that we also get some produce from a few other local growers? We do this for several reasons. One is that the crops we get from other local growers take up a lot of space without high yields, compared to land needed. Corn and melons are both crops like this. There are also some things that we just don’t grow as well as others do. Peaches fall into this category. Although we have several peach trees, we rarely even manage to get any of them harvested, due to insect damage. We have a friend in South Carolina who does a great job with peaches. We love supporting local growers and want them all to be successful. These collaborations allow us to pack an even more diverse and delicious CSA bag.

Eat your veggies,
Robin

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Managing Small Acres by Interplanting

Many urban and small farmers produce a huge amount of food on a small amount of land. I’d like to share a few suggestions for others who are interested in making maximum use of minimum acres.

First, plant fat rows with multiple crops. As long as you are doing the majority of the work by hand, there is no need to leave drive rows of wasted space between crops. “Small rows means saved space!” must become your motto.

fat-rows

Second, don’t wait until a season ends to plant the next season’s crops. When harvesting cool season vegetables, harvest so that you create spaces to plant summer crops. For example, there are tomatoes in my lettuce row, my kale has squash planted under it, my carrots have peppers interplanted, and the onions and the radish are amongst the blueberry bushes. As you can see, my fat rows are a melting pot.

squash-and-kale    blueberries-and-onions

The downside to this planting method is everything must be managed by hand. Even the soil, which can suffer nutrient depletion if not managed REALLY well.

On the upside, aside from saving space, interplanting creates a diverse planting that prevents insects and pathogens from causing too much damage. For instance, I planted some eggplant transplants in an area surrounded by carrots and kale. The little transplants, which are tucked in happily, have thus far not been bothered by flea beetles, the most common pest of young eggplant.

As for my planting process, as soon as the cool season crop is completely harvested, we pile compost in the rows around the new summer plants. We also keep a thick layer of straw on the ground to suppress weeds and build the soil as it breaks down.

My interest in this area is not limited to my own experience. I have also read books about companion planting in which the authors suggest there could be synergies when certain crops are planted together. If this is true, I haven’t mastered it. Can the same be said for my readers? I would love to hear your opinions.

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Why We Love Chefs Who Serve Local Produce

Why We Love Chefs Who Serve Local Produce

I travel a lot on business, and every time I am in a new town, I specifically look for restaurants that serve locally sourced produce, cheeses, fish, and meat. My husband and I also do this when we go on vacation. The last time we were on vacation, we went to two great restaurants in Pawley’s Island, SC which stated on their website that they serve local foods, Chive Blossom Café and Perrone’s . We do this because we are passionate about supporting restaurants that support the local farmers and artisans. These restaurants and chefs need our commitment to support them, because they in turn are supporting the local providers and their community.

Local products are rarely the cheapest, although they are almost always the tastiest. Every Saturday at Atherton Market in Charlotte, NC, we see a dedicated handful of chefs come by searching for the freshest and most beautiful produce, cheese, and meats. Chefs from restaurants like Heritage, Heirloom, Passion 8 Bistro, 300 East, Fork, The Asbury, and more. Some of these chefs have already been to several markets before they even arrive at Atherton. They are truly on a hunt for the best. Think about this: Most restaurants have a dude with a big truck and a dolly, hauling in boxes of food from a food service company. Much of that food is washed, cut and ready to toss on the plate. That system is so much easier for a restaurant than spending half a day sourcing the best and freshest the local farmers have to offer. Not only is commercial food easier for restaurants, it is also cheaper. Local foods are normally more expensive and require more time and effort to buy, but oh how much better the taste and quality of the food when the chefs source it locally!

Here is a great example. When I was in Charleston, SC last week on business, I went to two different restaurants. One of them, Muse Restaurant and Wine Bar, specifically featured local produce. The tomato mozzarella salad I ordered had gorgeous, multicolored, perfectly ripe, local tomatoes and a local mozzarella that was like silk. Words can’t describe the beauty and taste perfection of this dish. It was a simple salad that plenty of restaurants serve. The quality of the local ingredients they used in the dish made it something amazing. Conversely, the second night I was there; I ate at another restaurant and ordered a similar salad. This time the salad, although less expensive, featured “food service” tomatoes with little taste or color, and non-descript cheese. Fail! The quality of the food served at restaurants featuring local ingredients will top that of restaurants working with food service ingredients every time, hands down and amen (not to mention nutritional value, but that’s a whole other post)!

Not only do chefs, who source their products locally, make a sacrifice of convenience and cost, they also have to change their menu weekly (or even daily) to accommodate what is available locally. Every week they put their creative energy into coming up with beautiful and delicious dishes that highlight the ever changing seasonal produce. This isn’t easy. Imagine the pressure of creating something amazing every week, with a room full of people ready to judge your heart felt creation. If you have ever perused the restaurant reviews on Open Table or Yelp, you know customers have no mercy when it comes to restaurants. Life might be easier for the chef who could come up with a great menu once, and only need to change it a couple of times a year. Chefs who feature local produce don’t have that luxury. They put it on the line anew every week or more. Wow, talk about stress!

Why We Love Chefs Who Serve Local Produce2

This is why we love chefs who serve locally sourced foods. They go to a lot of trouble, spend more time, money and creative energy, risk more, and sacrifice more to source high quality ingredients in their restaurants. This not only supports the local economy and a host of small farms and businesses, it also brings the very best to their tables. We understand how challenging this is, and appreciate what it brings to our local community. If you have not had “local foods” as criteria when choosing a restaurant, reconsider. These are some of the best restaurants in town. These Charlotte chefs rock!

Eat your veggies,
Robin

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Don’t Work Yourself to Death on the Farm

Vacation We started July with a vacation! Taking time to step away is a critical part of the business for several reasons. One of the most important reasons is that farming is truly a 7-days-a-week business. It will relentlessly grind you into the ground with no mercy, if you aren’t careful. Here is an example of what the typical work week looks like. Monday: Work starts at 7:30 a.m., with one worker picking produce for the CSA and restaurants. Another worker is doing general farm work such as fertility, mowing, hoeing, and trellising. Another worker is organizing and packing our CSA bags for Tuesday. Jay manages all this, while I work a “regular job” because, sadly, farming barely pays the bills. Tuesday: Early 7:30 a.m. CSA delivery, followed by restaurant deliveries, followed by evening CSA delivery. Carlos Transplanting Wednesday: This is a pure hard work day. Four workers show up to help. We pick, prune, hoe, till, compost, pick, plant, trim, weed, clean, mow, trellis, stake, pull crops out, put crops in, and anything else that needs done. The day starts at 7:30. Workers go home at 3:30. We work until 6:30, or until the jobs are done. Thursday: We pick produce for Friday restaurant deliveries, visit other local growers to add to our restaurant offerings and round out our CSA, and begin organizing and preparing for CSA and market packing on Friday. Friday: Friday is our most difficult day. Again, we have three workers. One worker is responsible for picking everything for our CSA, restaurants, and farmers’ market. Another worker is responsible for packing our CSA. The other worker does anything else that needs done, mostly helping to pick for the market and CSA. Everyone together makes sure that by the end of the day, the CSA is packed and everything is packed for two Saturday markets. This day often runs long and we fall into the bed exhausted. Farmers-Market Saturday: Up by 4:00 a.m. and out to the pack house to load the truck by 5:00. CSA and market produce all go in the truck and we head out by 6:45. Another worker arrives by 7:00 a.m. to get the produce going to the Union County farmers’ market. We work the market until 2:00 pm, then head over to deliver our CSA at 3:00. Finally, we get back home near 4:00 p.m. and still have to unload the truck and clean up. Another long day. Sunday: We fight hard to not work the day away, however, a few things have to happen. On Sunday we enter all our receipts into Quickbooks, decide what produce to deliver our CSA members the following week, and send them an email to let them know. We decide what produce to offer our chefs, and send them an email to let them know. We also take the time on Sunday to walk around the farm and list everything that needs to be done the following week. We create a huge “to-do” list that is several pages long. Then we schedule it out for the following week, and delegate things to the appropriate workers. This may sounds like a full day’s work, but we really hope it isn’t. We want to be able to spend relaxed time together, maybe go to church, maybe enjoy some time doing something fun like kayaking. It can be challenging. Seed Packets Not only do all these daily farming tasks need to happen, but we also have a multitude of other activities that have to be squeezed in somewhere. This includes managing social media, answering email, writing original content and articles, strategizing what we will be planting in the future, ordering seeds, and communicating with other growers and customers. So, can you see why a “shutdown” on the farm is important? It is essential we not only take time off, but also go away. If we don’t leave the farm, we will just keep on working! The work never ends. This is the first year we actually scheduled several breaks within the CSA season, which includes Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day. It helps. It more than helps, it is essential. It takes non-busy time to be creative. When our brains and bodies are so involved with just getting through the day, and getting all the work done, it leaves no time to dream, improve, strategize, and create vision. Without vision and strategy, things can easily go awry. It is never good for a farmer to work themselves to death! Jay Dreaming Delegate Every week Jay and I look at our to-do list and try to figure out who we can teach to manage the tasks. We have great farm workers, and try hard to maximize their skills. Jonathan is starting to become adept at managing our CSA. He completes everything from making all label cards that go on the bags, prepping all produce that will go in the bags, deciding what to substitute if we are short on something, and confirming the label cards match the printout of  deliveries. This may not sound too complicated, but there are about a million ways to screw this up. Jonathan handles it well. jonathan-and-cullen We also have Vaden as our lead field man. Every week he gets our pick lists and makes it happen. He also has a marker board, where he takes note of things he sees in the field that need done. He organizes everything he picks. If it is for the CSA, it gets labeled and put in a certain area of the cold room. If it is for a restaurant it gets labeled, the weight recorded, and put in another area of the cold room. Lastly, he organizes how the produce for our two farmers’ markets are packed and staged. He does a super job managing lots of moving pieces. Next month I will tell you about Cullen. He is a young high school student who has been helping us this summer. He is eternally happy, which makes him a pleasure to work with. I’m still considering what aspect of our operation he should be responsible for. His skills are more than just simple labor. With this type of good help, we can do this. Without it, we can’t. Our challenge is going to be keeping these high quality workers. Farmers don’t make enough money to swing big paychecks for their employees (or themselves). People farm because they love it. I hope these guys love it. We need them.

Eat your veggies,

Robin

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