May 10, 2012

No, This is Us in a Nutshell....

        Yikes. Long time, no blog. I apologize to everyone chomping at the bit to read the latest from Puzzle Peace. I feel like last week was February, I blinked and it is May. I will try to recap the last six months as orderly as possible.
       Thomas found and purchased a used saw mill in January. It works like a dream to me, but of course, he has modifications in mind. The saw mill will be used to mill lumber for farm buildings, roosting house, sheds and projects. One day, we hope to build a house from lumber we have sustainably harvested, milled and cured on site. This was a major acquisition and one I thought we’d never find. He also modified a John Deere tractor to build beds in one or two passes. In the past, we built beds with a walk behind tractor with rotary plow that is very precise but cumbersome and time consuming. This tractor does in one minute what used to take twenty.  He widened the front axle and mounted a series of discs to the underbelly that rise and lower and are adjustable to either bust up, shape beds, or hill potatoes. It’s the setup of a cultivating tractor with discs instead of cultivator arms.
       We began taking steps towards creating a conservation easement. The first was a wetland determination that honestly blindsided us. The designated area is less than an acre of the Puzzle Creek bottom land that we will now put into conservation and remediation. This really means, we’ll let nature heal itself and we’ll also have a wildlife refuge jutting into our field. Kinda sounds nice now that I think of it but our initial reaction was dread of the oncoming headache.
        In March, we completed the greenhouse/hoophouse which was a long time coming. It was just in time to fill it with lettuce transplants which headed up less than 30 days later producing the most consistently large lettuce we’ve yet to grow. Thomas put in a dozen fruit trees shortly thereafter. With newfound pride and a sense of accomplishment, he hauled stagnant, broken equipment out of the field clearing our view and our minds.
        April was full of meltdowns, mostly emotional. I’m not sure what made this year so daunting but thoughts of the upcoming season produced anxiety like I haven’t felt since I began farming. Sadly, we lost nearly our entire flock of hens in April to foxes, coyotes, possums, weasels and/or raccoons. Live and learn doesn’t apply to this situation. This was a huge loss economically (as we’ve been investing in these hens for over a year) and a kick to our guts. Tomatoes went in, right on schedule just in time for one last surprise frost which damaged most of them killed a few and set back the potatoes at least two weeks.
         Our nearly two year project of creating a walk in cooler and packing shed is nearing completion. Last week, we used them for the first time and felt like the two of us could reasonably manage what was historically an overwhelming harvest.  While one of us harvested crops and brought them to the shade of the shed, the other kept them flowing through the wash water and into the cooler to chill at record pace.  
         Jersey birthed one kid in April, Vincent who will likely be raised for meat. Earlier this spring, we harvested goat meat for the first time, and sold it all as quickly as it was processed. This came as a surprise to both of us and has us scratching our chins, thinking about expanding the goat meat venture in the future.
        The mantra for this winter was “We aren’t getting as much done as we did last year.” We wrapped up the growing season in December, spent January feeling very guilty and unproductive. Our productivity didn’t really kick in until February when the urgency of unseasonably warm weather kicked in and we realized if we don’t get going, we’ll be run over. Now that I look back on what all we have accomplished, I feel so much better. This writing exercise has lifted my outlook. Thanks for reading.

November 30, 2011

Giving Thanks Down Home

Somehow we managed to convince the Abrams family to aim for a local Thankgiving this year. They didn’t even flinch, just a shrug. We could go on about how this is a more accurate celebration of the day, a reflection on the tradition of bringing in the harvest and preparing it with friends and family as they did in the beginning. ………The truth is, Thomas and I cringe at the holidays and what we politely and gluttonously gorge on, only to jumpstart our winter weight gain, kill our energy, and send us rolling in agony. Why did I eat that Jell-o, Cool Whip, and canned fruit medley? Why???

In our everyday lives, we shoot to incorporate as much, if not all our own produce, cheese, eggs, milk and/or meats into our meals. Obviously we can’t cover everything; coffee, bread, and mayonnaise are exceptions. Bread, beef, anything we don’t grow, we get from our wonderful food web of fellow sustainable farmers. The grocery store is reserved for dairy, tortillas, crackers, cereals, and sugar (where honey and molasses won’t do). Food is our paycheck and sometimes our method of payment is the barter system. In this sense, we are RICH!!! We are used to substitutions and adaptations of familiar americana into greener versions of their former selves. Naturally, it was assumed that Thanksgiving standards would be transformed or even replaced. Once we explained this to Mama D and Sissy realized the sky would not fall without cool whip, we were off. The following is a comparison of the feasts of Turkey Day past and this year’s adaptation.

2010 and BEFORE                                       2011
Butterball Turkey                                            2 Red Dirt Ranch whole chickens – roasted
Stovetop Dressing                                           with PPF carrots and PPF onions stuffed
Summer Squash Casserole                              with lime and apples
Canned Green Beans                                      PPF Home-Canned Green Beans
Frozen Yeast Rolls                                          Deviled PPF eggs
(canned) Pumpkin Pie                                     PPF Sweet Potato Casserole
Rice and Gravy                                               PPF Collard Greens Casserole
Canned Cranberry Sauce                                Homemade Biscuits with PPF lard, local     wheat flour, cut with organic all purpose
                                                                        PPF Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Kohlrabi
PPF Butternut Squash Pie with local wheat and PPF lard crust
Grocery List for this year:
Lime for chicken
Sour Cream
Cheddar Cheese (for greens casserole, non-negotiable)
All Purpose Unbleached Flour (to cut the whole grains in bread and crust)
Brown Sugar (for sp casserole)

I started preparing everything the day before. The chickens were salted and air dried in the refrigerator in order to seal the pores of the skin, locking in moisture. Casseroles are almost always better if the flavors sit together a day before baking. I cut carrots, onions, kohlrabi and potatoes the day before to save time later.  The morning of Thanksgiving, we started roasting the chickens, made the pies, started the slow simmer of the green beans, deviled the eggs and got a lesson from Mama D on how to make biscuits, I think the fact that I touched them cursed this batch as usual.

We pulled from our field, freezer, and pantry. The veggies and herbs you haven’t seen on our table at market were grown for our own supply and set back (onions, garlic, potatoes). Puzzle Peace Farm fed eight a local Thanksgiving feast, and the following day’s lunch, dinner, and another lunch (I grossly over prepared). Instead of the post meal sugar crash and coma, we went down to my old farm and loaded up some of my equipment left behind last season in the move. I can’t imagine we’d been able to do that with a stomach full of cool whip.

If you are sensing excitement and pride in my tone, you are correct! I am so thrilled to have reached this apex after 3 years of farming. We’ve eaten an imported feast for our whole lives and this is the kind of meal we’ve been waiting for. Let us give thanks to our families who have supported us in our journey of farming. What an appropriate way.

October 15, 2011

You Dig?

September brought with it SWEET POTATOES!!! Thus leading Thomas to declare, once more, that this will be his new, sole crop and his path to sane farming. I stood back as resident buzz kill, shaking head, repeating: “way to hedge your bets, buddy.” Some other people became completely reliant on potatoes before and we call them Ireland. Didn’t turn out so well. I’ll still root for diversification and leave the broad sweeping declarations to Thomas.  Here are our favorite great things about sweet potatoes:

  • Plant, water, wait, dig. If they take root in May, we may have to weed once but for the most part, we don’t worry too much about them until September. They keep the ground covered and grow steadily as we go about our business fretting over tomato blights and wild onions in the salad mix. 
  • There’s more tasty potatoes than one. We grow sweet, mild, savory, starchy, juicy, dry, purple, orange, yellow, white, small, medium, and huge. Our seed saving savior and sweet potato enthusiast started us off with our first diversified sweet potato crop last year and guided us through our own propagation this spring. Some of these heirlooms are hundreds of years old, some are new hybrids from NC State. All of which are non-GMO.
  • Sit and Sell.  After we cure our sweet potatoes in October, they are stable for storage in a cool dry place, like Mama Carson’s basement. We go in each Saturday morning, pick a variety and go off to market. They don’t taste old or lose texture, sweet potatoes are marathon keepers if they like where they are.
  • They are the starch free potato. Well, this isn’t really the most important aspect of sweet potatoes, seeing as how we need our carbs around here and neither of us is watching our figure. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that sweet potatoes are not potatoes at all. They are a bonafide super food root vegetable, just like a beet or turnip, and nutritionally complete. The sugars are appropriate for diabetics.
  • More versatile than shrimp. Here are a few recipes we came to rely on last winter and we’re sure to find more this time around:  sweet potato biscuits, sweet potato pancakes, sweet potato casserole, sweet potato hash browns, sweet potato pecan bread, sweet potato fries, sweet potato and kale quesadillas, sweet potato salad, rosemary roasted sweet potatoes with goat cheese, spinach quiche with sweet potato “crust”, sweet potato oatmeal cookies, baked sweet potato (no brown sugar necessary!) sweet potato pie, chocolate sweet potato pie and I shut my mouth. We never tired of them.
Our dear former intern, Erika Kuhn came down to dig some sweet potatoes this month and brought with her these (real old timey film!) photos she took on the farm this summer. Here’s a look back at the beginnings of peak season told through these beautiful photos. Thanks Erika! 






September 5, 2011

Please Pass the Lard

July’s blog was getting a little depressing, we’ll admit. Truth be told about August, it’s one of the most trying months of the season. It’s dry, hot, stressful, and big decision time. We’ll just leave it at that and talk about something more entertaining: FOOD.

Food is why we farm. Seems like an obvious statement but we spend so much time in the great outdoors dealing with dirt, bugs and plants, carving out some sad excuse for a cash flow system that we forget how vital our line of work is. That is, until this time of year when we are overloaded with market leftovers, bumper crops, final harvests and everything else we cherish. We alternate between feeling panicked and blessed as we work like bees to ensure that as little food as possible goes to waste. Waste is a poor word here for in the worst cases, food becomes compost or hog feed and therefore remains in the farm food cycle and out of the landfill. We hit some sort of stride this season though where we worked overtime to preserve what will realistically get us through the winter months while still feeling somewhat satisified with our market.

For the first time we went at canning full force. First were green beans, then tomatoes, red sauce, salsa, and now we’re on to pickled okra, a favorite to both hoard and sell at market. This year’s AWESOME basil crop has warranted biweekly pesto batches which are frozen for later.  It’s an odd feeling to spend days and evenings sweating in the kitchen during the hottest times of the year all with meals months away, in the coldest season, in mind. We’re harvesting and curing winter squashes which we grow in the summer and store for winter (that’s where the confusion of the name comes from). Thrashing, shelling, and winnowing the dry beans and grains is also an evening past time. On the weekends we’re skipping around to neighbors’ blueberry patches and bringing home gallons to wash and freeze. The resident mechanic/engineer/ultra man Thomas has repurposed an old Frigidaire this month into a monstrous utility sized dehydrator. We’ve dealt with tomatoes molding overnight to burning in hours as he tweaks the temperature, air flow, screen prototype and exhaust rate. This will go down as one of those projects that will pay for its self in the long run and show you just what your man is made of. Mine must have copper wiring for a circulatory system.   

Tomatoes waiting for Winter
Green Bean Glory

The Dehydronator

I am actively attempting the art of cooking and baking for the first time in my life this season. Obviously I have learned a few things before now, but they were mostly variations on spaghetti, pancakes, and zucchini bread and I have had a tendency to lean on roommates until now. Thank you for feeding me for so long; you know who you are. I seem to be actually interested in recent months in getting better and broadening my repertoire. Kitchen confidence is the main goal here and at 26 I think it’s time I had some.

 I feel like I’ve mastered frying eggs, finally, with the right combination of oil, heat and cast iron. Just in time, too as our first large flock of 30 just started laying. Last week I made a very successful batch of sausage gravy but I’m still working on biscuits. We use locally milled whole wheat flour and our own rendered lard, so if anyone has pointers on how to make a tall biscuit from that, please share. Mine have been short, dry and crumby at best even with baking powder.  With eggplant in season, I made my first batch of baba ganousch…yummy.  We’re working on new ways to cook okra – baking, stewing, and of course frying.

And then there is the cheese. Because we do not have a temperature controlled room in the house, we’re limited to chevre which requires only an even 24 hours at 78° to both set and drain. That’s conveniently the temperature this mobile home stays ALL THE TIME. Well, sometimes the kitchen gets hotter so we move it to another space. In order to relieve boredom, we’ve been experimenting with flavoring the chevre. Walnut and honey is my favorite so far with rosemary and garlic, hot red pepper, and pesto not far behind.

Thomas is a big fan of wild fermentation and is always tinkering with kimchi. Kefir is a new endeavor quite different with goats milk from the cows milk kefir we’ve had before.  We just got a mother to start some kombucha after trying some delightful vanilla ginger kombucha earlier this summer. Very exciting probiotic stuff we have brewing in the crocks.

Of no relation to this topic but worth celebrating: Thomas and I harvested our first successfully sweet and accurately ripe crop of sugar baby watermelons this month. And our expired bean patches from early summer kicked back into production as well. Hooray.

As I recently wrote a friend: my life is like Julie and Julia now, I’m learning to cook, gaining weight as a result and I have a blog. Basically the same thing. Now where’s the book deal and movie?

Current favorite cook books:

Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll
Good Meat by Deborah Krasner
Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables
The Complete Tassajara Cookbook by Edward Espe Brown
Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz

August 19, 2011

Our Plight, The Blight

May I please take this opportunity to vent? Thank you.
A conversation sprang up after market last Saturday. An older fellow that is friends with my Dad was visiting. I was in the process of making a tomato sandwich with one of our tomatoes and some delicious bread a friend had made for us while I waited on my next sandwich stuffing of eggplant and peppers to grill.  He commented on how good that tomato looked. I asked if he wanted to take some home with him. My dad laughed and said, “He’s got five-thousand bushels in his back yard.”  It turns out one of the biggest tomato growers in South Carolina (I won’t mention names, though perhaps I should) has a field full right next door to this fellow. He gets his tomatoes free, so he declined my offer. I did not take offense.
The conversation moved on to fertilization. “How do you fertilize your tomatoes?” I told him.  “Well what’s in that organic fertilizer?”  Well there’s greensand and wood ash for potassium, rock phosphate and bone meal for phosphorous, composted manures for nitrogen. “So what’s the difference in that stuff and me going and buying a bag of triple 17?”  I tell him that for one they are naturally derived and not processed or synthesized with chemicals or petroleum by-products. And then I explain how commercial synthetic fertilizers are water soluble and that when you get a big downpour half of what you put on your field likely washes away into streams, rivers and the ocean where it is disastrous to aquatic life. I mentioned algae blooms, poisoned well waters, and the “dead zones” in the Gulf where there is no life due to man-made pollutants and fertilizer run-off.  This all seemed foreign to him. “Well I’ve heard that it’s good to spread fertilizer in your pond?”  I had never heard of this and he couldn’t say for what reason anyone may want to do this.

And then it really got interesting. He lowers his voice as if the wrong person might be close and says, “Now don’t repeat this…”  … Which I never agreed to and given I’m not telling you names I don’t feel guilty repeating this. I feel it almost a duty. He goes on, “…That pond down below my house turned yellow like chicken broth this year. And then a couple weeks later all the fish I had stocked it with a few years ago were floating on the top. I went around and scooped them out and buried them so they wouldn’t stink. Then I called up [tomato farmer] and told him about it. He was real concerned and got on the phone and called up some water specialist and told him what he’d been using on his tomatoes and the guy said that it was all safe and shouldn’t have killed them fish.”  My dad asked if he was going to re-stock the fish. “I’ll wait till after tomato season is over, I reckon.”
Hmmm… Mighty peculiar. No one came out and tested the water. Was a call even made? There are a lot of questions there actually. If a call had been made surely the water specialist knew the hazards of copper sulfate run-off, the concoction that most all tomato producers use to control blight.  It is highly toxic to fish and other aquatic life.  And then there is the fertilizer run-off that we all know is bad in high doses. Not the first incident like this, no doubt.
A guy at market was talking to me about blight on tomatoes, which anyone who grows in the South has encountered. He said that the conventional growers he’d talked to said they spray copper sulfate every 4-5 days and always immediately right after a rain.  Do the consequences even register on their conscious or is it total ignorance?  Maybe they take my mom's approach. "Thomas, If it is legal it can't be bad for you, honey."  It is insane to me that this stuff is legal or at the very least not treated with the same restrictions as a controlled substance. There is even an OMRI (Organic Materials Research Institute) approved version of this stuff that has many of the same hazards. When the cautions on the bag take up more space than the directions, I tend to be wary and skeptical. WE DO NOT USE IT, even though technically we could and still call it organic!  
There are alternatives. We have actually had pretty good results spraying raw goats’ milk. As far as I can understand, the probiotics in the raw milk out-compete the blight fungus and/or boost the microbial activity in the soil, strengthening the plant’s resistance to the blight.  Worm tea will supposedly do the same, though there are attempts to make this practice illegal because of the potential threat of salmonella. We also use mychorizzal inoculants when planting. This is basically fungi that have a symbiotic relationship with the tomato plants. They bring nutrients to the roots and make them more available thus creating a stronger plant that is more disease resistant. These methods may not be as sure fire as copper sulfate but if it means the difference between poisoning streams and ponds should there be any question? 
We have pretty much come to terms with the blight. We rotate plantings so they don’t pick it up from last years’ crop and we use methods described above. Eventually the plants get blight anyway but it is after we’ve harvested a great crop so we let them take there natural decline until they are so bad they need to be removed from the field and composted. No fish were harmed in the process.
I hear people say things like, “Well it’s much more important to us that the food is local than it being organic. Sometimes you just have to spray to keep from losing a crop.”  Local is important to us too, obviously. Statements like that make me question whether people truly understand all the implications of using pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides.  The way I see it, if the option is there for a quick fix by spraying your problems with something toxic then it has a high potential to be over used and abused. On the other hand, if it is not an option you will be forced to find ecologically friendly alternatives that are more sustainable for the long term. Common sense tells me that if it kills insects and it kills vegetation, is a known carcinogen and the warnings on the pack regard skin and respiratory protection, then it can’t be good for you to ingest in any quantity. And frankly we have a lot of bugs and weeds that we like to have around. Pesticides and herbicides are mostly non-discriminatory and take them all out of the picture.
I don’t want to come off as “high and mighty.”  I understand the lure of using the quick fix. It is extremely frustrating to see all of your hard work go down with the bugs, or disease, to weed invasion, or the deer, among many others. And we don’t, by any means, have all the alternative methods down pat.  In fleeting bouts of upset I have desired to get drastic with a sprayer or a flame thrower. It takes a lot of reservation sometimes, but we manage to deal with it responsibly, for our own peace of mind and for yours.
We have good friends that grow conventionally and they are great people. I don't lay the bulk of the blame on the farmers. They are doing what they understand to be safe and effective.  In some cases the farmer should educate themselves better rather than taking that approach that if it's legal it must be ok.  In most cases the small scale farmer will spray when they see it as necessary to the crops survival (which is relatively subjective to the individual, I might add). There are a lot of exceptions but for the most part the very large farms are the ones that abuse and spray everything, whether it’s needed or not.
I see the biggest problem to be the companies that profit over their toxic products.  The way this stuff is marketed, I can understand how the unsuspicious farmer that needs a control desperately (as well as the consumer) can be convinced that this stuff isn’t really that bad. I have seen attempts to downplay pesticides on tv and in handouts many times. But when you really look closely at the sponsors and donators of the media you'll see conflicts of interest. 

And then there is always the argument for feeding the world.  But at what cost?  Killing the rest of it?  Personally I’m no where near convinced that the world cannot be fed organically, as they claim. Yes, it would take a lot of re-structuring and a lot more, smaller farms and people willing to work on farms, which could be the preface for an argument for boosting employment if I wanted to take that route. But I don’t. And it may take more people gardening in their spare time for themselves and with neighbors and families and doing more preserving and cooking on their own. A massive effort towards sustainability, for sure, but isn’t it about time?

I could go on, as you know, and get sidetracked on any number of tangents.  The bottom line is that I am morally opposed to broad spectrum herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides because they can be abused, they are non-discriminatory, and they are blatantly dangerous to life when they build up into large doses.  And there are alternatives that, yes,  may require a little more planning and ingenuity but will better us in the long run. So I believe it’s the only logical approach.  Please. Debate me if I’m wrong or with other perspectives.


July 16, 2011

These Days

To help you all understand how much love and pain goes into growing your food, we thought we'd share a typical Puzzle Peace Farm day:

After hitting the alarm snooze on the phone for the 4th time, roll out of bed at around 6:30 with guilt that we are 30 minutes behind for the day, putting our overall work deficit at around a month and a half.  Feed and water the pigs, goats, chickens. Milk the mamma’s.  Eat a quick breakfast, most often oatmeal with fresh milk, but hopefully eggs with a mix of fresh veg’s and goat cheese on this day. 

Arrive at the farm around 7:30, providing the truck hasn’t had another episode of the won’t cranks. Summertime daily harvest time!… cukes, zukes, squash, beans(every other day along with…), okra and tomatoes. Get them back to the wash room before it gets too hot. Wash them and put them away, hopefully finding enough room in the refrigerator.  If not, packing them away in a cooler with ice bottles while pining for that walk in cooler we wanted to have operational a month and a half ago.

It’s pushing ten o’clock now. No rain in the forecast? Better start watering. This brings on another bout of wishful thinking. If only we had money to buy that drip tape.  Instead we drag soaker hoses and rainbow waterers around that we managed to buy in ignorance way back when we had money, before we started farming. They get the same job done as drip tape but are much more time and labor intensive. This process repeats throughout the day.

Between watering we balance a steady stream of priorities with lists made from lists from previous days or weeks past. Often what seemed to be “do or die” yesterday but didn’t get done becomes less important today for some reason beyond my comprehension. Even more common is the side tracking. For example… While planting that cover crop in the pathways of the asparagus we realize that wiregrass (aka Bermuda Grass if you desire it’s presence) has crept in. This aggressive invader must be dealt with ASAP to prevent a complete and overwhelming takeover in a matter of days. An hour or so later the list becomes the priority again.

Other typical side tracks and items on the list:  weeding; pulling off rotten tomatoes while pruning; injecting BT (Bacillus Thurengensis, a natural bacteria that infects and kills many larval pests) into the base of infected squash to kill the vine borer that has all but killed a large majority of our plants (hopefully its not too late); moving goats, pigs and chickens to fresh ground; hoeing weeds; prepping and seeding beds; working on our equipment (tractors, small machines, and /or vehicles); trellising cucumbers and tomatoes; turning under cover crops; adding a super to the bees; working on infrastructure (plumbing, sheds, walk in cooler, animal shelters…); mulching, pathways and individual plants; and of course weed control, among others I have forgotten at the moment.

Lunch/break time is usually taken around 1:30 or 2, after everyone has become delirious from the heat. Usually a dip into the cool waters of the creek behind the house is enough to revive our spirits and appetites. Lately we’ve been eating fresh vegetable sandwiches for lunch.  There are so many options that it doesn’t get old; cucumbers, squashes, tomatoes, onions, kim-chee, pickles, radishes, greens, carrots, fresh goat cheese… all or parts put on fresh bread we’ve traded for at market or a local bakery. Oh, and mayonnaise… ‘tis a crime to forget the mayonnaise, salt and pepper.

After we’re nice and stuffed and hot (we refrain from turning on our A/C to conserve energy.  Proud to say we haven’t used it and don’t plan to use it this year. It helps that we have shade trees around us) it’s either a short siesta, house work, yard work, uptown for errands, or a combination of the sort. This is also an opportunity for recreation… blackberry picking, mushroom hunting, more swimming… I personally find it hard not to indulge in a midday nap for 30 minutes to an hour.   

At around 4 it’s back out to the field and on with the list. It is still miserably hot but gradually getting cooler and more bearable. By 6 o’clock I’m ready to work all night. I had rather work hard in the evening than early in the morning. With Lindy and the interns it’s just the opposite. So, unless we have sweet potatoes or some other transplants to go in the ground, they usually take off at around 8.  Not to say they are done. I usually continue working until it’s difficult to distinguish between cultivars and weeds, then it’s back home to dine on the fine meal lovingly prepared. Then we clean up our mess, make lists, relax for a few minutes, and prepare for bed. It’s now well after 10 and we’re all worn out. Can’t wait to wake up late tomorrow!

Please, come join us…


July 1, 2011

Under my feet, baby, the grass is growing.

The grass is greener these days and not just on our side of the fence. The black clouds swirl around us and we can literally see thunderstorms strike our neighbors as we hook up more sprinklers and know this one won’t touch us either. Well, that was the beginning of the June, towards the end we all got it good and we are all grateful. We would much rather deal with a little too much than far too little. And thank Glory, we only had hail once.
Our story of blessings in disguise:

The first of this month brought a 10 minute high wind and hail storm. It was a Thursday afternoon and Thomas was trying out a new market that evening in Boiling Springs. I stayed back with the interns, Matt and Erika and we frantically planted all the sweet potato slips we had cut as the clouds rolled in and the lightening and thunder crept closer. The storm arrived, the market yielded an understandably low attendance, and our field was laid out. Most of the leafy greens: kale, chard, pac choi, and turnips were beaten and shredded. The tomato plants were down from their trellises, and the squash plants were all pointing the same direction, on thier sides. Our gratitude was directed towards the market which did not yield much of an income but had unintentionally saved most of the week’s crops by requiring us to harvest a day earlier than usual and 6 hours before the storm hit.

Salvaged Hail Damaged Pac Choi

My dad asked me the other day, "So, I thought that farming was supposed to be less stress but it sounds like your job is just as stressful as anybody else’s". No and yes and yes, Lee. I replied that the stress is just as strong as everyone else’s but mine was based on a reality I believed in and was worth it because of my conviction. A little high on the horse, are we? Probably. I think what I meant was that I personally prefer to be concerned with producing food and anticipating (laughably) nature than answering to boss hog up in the office. But I honestly can’t say I blame or judge anyone who chooses or prefers the latter. The grass is greener over there when it tops a heat index of 110 and we absolutely cannot go hang out at the pool without sacrificing our meager income, so we work. Or when it’s Sunday and you just worked Monday – Saturday, and nope, no day off this week either. Or when you finally make it to dinner at 9:30 pm, pass out a little after 11 and are up again before 6. Or that we came home from market with produce and are broke again before the end of the week. No, this is not a pity party; I do not feel sorry for myself and I don’t want anyone else to feel sorry for us. I’m just through with handling misconceptions or juggling appearances.

We work hard and we are tired all the time and the growing season is rough. Our physical fatigue, dehydration, and heat stress give way to major contemplations about our way of life, absolute fits of rage and panic and complete mental and emotional meltdowns. But is anyone’s grass really any greener? Knowing that tomorrow might and most likely WILL bring any of the prescribed hardships does not change the fact that we will be up tomorrow by 6 as well, and it’s already after 11.

Now that you’re good and depressed, we’ll get to the fun stuff. So here’s our anecdotal pork story for the month:

Thomas went to RS Central Farm (go toppers!) last week to get our next round of pigs that will hopefully be ready by the holiday season. He brought home, honestly, three little pigs that were just weaned and so very cute. They are a mix of heritage breeds which means amazing flavor and great marblezation, and…borderline feral tendencies. We set up their electric fence paddock as usual and set the first one out. The little guy ran straight through the fence and took off for the woods. We all looked at each other and started running. Thomas, myself, Matt, and Erika started a cross country sprint/hike/walk/delirium that lasted 2 and a half hours. At one point we ended up with the piglet back in the paddock. We started back for the house, and turned just as he charged through the fence for a second escape. About an hour later I found myself hiking through all the back trails with a glass of water for Thomas, (he had yelled up and asked me to bring him one while he had his eye on the pig) only to end up in a Mobius strip of woodlands. I never did find Thomas in the woods but he came out later on his own. That night we went to sleep with Peter, as we came to name him, on the loose.

The following day we monitored Peter through the back window, watching as he came up to eat the bait/feed tray we set out for him by his friend’s pen (Loretta and Lucion have been gold star piglets so far). We moved his feed closer and closer throughout the day but ultimately Thomas snuck up on him while he slept. Peter was napping heavily and Thomas was treading lightly, taking almost 10 minutes to walk 25 feet. He paused, fearful that Peter would take off, then snatched him by the leg. Peter paused, apparently groggy, then proceeded the squeal like only pig farmers have heard. Thomas carried him into the pen and held him until he calmed down. It was here that he earned his last name – as Peter Peebody urinated all over Thomas.

Puzzle Peace out,