Farm Notes

On value + country living

I just walked back into the house after calling the Staley Fire Department to let them know Wes Hicks’ brown lab is running down Highway 64 towards the Chatham County Line. The only reason I know it’s Wes’ pup is because he’s wandered over to our farm before, and I called the number on his tag. It felt oddly good calling the fire department, where Wes’ cousin Ben is the chief, to let them know the pup is making a bee line towards Siler City, the opposite direction from his home. The knowing felt good. “Hi, um, I’m pretty sure Wes Hicks’ lab is running along highway 64 towards the Chatham line. I’m calling you all as it’s a small town and we all kinda know each other so I hope you can give Wes a call… or come out and catch the pup. The cars are slowing down and being mindful of him. He’s too far from me to grab and get the number on the tag to call myself.” I came back inside our house and grabbed Neyland’s face praying, “don’t you ever trot along the highway!” She licked my face and then kept on eating the grits I put in her bowl.

While we were out walking, just before the country evening drama, we sat a spell to sip wine and munch on grass next to the Tulsi in the garden.

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As the herb’s sweet presence wafted over my being I had a rush of chaotic thoughts: “The volunteer zinnias Les loves are setting out new blooms. It looks happier after we weeded around it. Thank God for this $6.99 Torrontés from the coop. It’s damn good. I’m so grateful to drink out of beautiful vessels made by hands I know — ones that inspire me. I need to hurry up and finish Steve Martin’s Object of Beauty, and fiiiiiinally read Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein (a book I’ve been toting around with me since 2015– thank you Soph!– and have yet to sit down and read). The sun feels good on my skin. I’m sweating – everywhere. It’s early August. Time has flown by. It’s almost fall, I guess. I hope Les is enjoying his drawing session in town. I need to vacuum. I need to write. I want to write. Neyland, let’s harvest some herbs. Shit, the okra is getting long.”

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Long yet tender

My stream of consciousness floated us over to the okra, and then Thai basil, and then Genovese basil, and then Brad’s Atomic Grape tomatoes, sage, and carrots for harvesting.

Then we fed the chickens, took out the compost, washed the bucket, and then called the fire department in futile hopes of getting highway pup home. He likely knows his way back better than any two legged being.

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In munching on these evening musings, I acknowledge the deep value that’s been added to my life since moving out to the country. The independence to grow the food I want, with Mother Nature’s grace. The familiarity with neighbors and their narratives – “most of the Hicks still live on Hicks Farm Road.” I’ve met 3 of them. They’re mostly nice, except for the part of the road where the potholes abound. The ability to move intimately with the seasons – from redbud blossom to mimosa bloom, from dogwood flower to maypop vine. I ponder now whether to add carrots and okra to my ramen tonight, or eat left over grits seasoned with arroz con pollo peppers plus some sliced up tomatoes, without worry of reservations, parking, lines, or noise. I can hear the birds chirping now.  I see the sun setting by way of the orange glow of the black walnut leaves from the window panes in front of which I sit.

Georgia Lee Hussey understands “money, as all of our resources.” I look around, and value is everywhere.

Time to make some ramen.

— E

 

 

Layered messages

It’s funny and endearing and also totally not funny and lame how life can share with you a message in various ways.

For example, you may be learning a new language in preparation for an upcoming trip or move, and you may also have plans that same week to visit a friend and have to learn the route to their place via spoken directions or a piece of paper because you’ve never been there before, AND in addition to all that everything you crave to eat that week is nothing you know how to cook – so there you are learning new cooking techniques from foreign internet sources or cookbooks to sate your desires. The overarching theme in this example is language, communication, literacy – all at once, manifested in different forms. Funny, but also not funny, especially if you’re on the verge of what some call “hangry”… a feeling that I don’t feel to be acquainted with (though, my loved ones may disagree).

This past weekend, Les and I were clearing up the upper pasture, which has been my main production field for the past two seasons. It’s about an acre in field space, and I’ve had 46 one hundred foot beds mostly in production there – some were lost to weeds, but most produced gorgeous yummy produce and pretty flowers that have fed our bodies, eyes, and souls.

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Gifts from the field

The “clearing up” process entailed rolling up hundreds of feet of drip tape lines, pulling up old flower netting with all kinds of weeds grown in and out of the petroleum product, and picking up the pieces of an environmental disaster. Yes, you just read that – an environmental disaster.

My first season of Heartstrong Farm was started with $5,000 of savings and a $5,000 Kiva crowd funded loan. Needless to say (for those acquainted with the start up costs of any scale of farm operation), money was tight so purchasing a tractor was not an option without going into significant debt. So, I did as I learned from market farming gurus Eliot Coleman, Jean Martin Fortier, and others, and utilized “occultation” to get my beds ready for planting.

Occulation is a snazzy word for baking the top layer of soil using the sun’s heat with the aid of a sheet of silage tarp or heavy duty plastic.

So, for my first season, I purchased two 100 x 40 foot sheets of black Husky 6 mil tarps and baked the soil in order to clear the weeds to grow beautiful yummy produce – which I did and for which I am thankful.

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Occultation in the Upper Pasture; mid-ground is what beds look like after occultation – weed free!

However, shortly after the acquisition of those plastic tarps, things began to deteriorate – on land and in my personal life – for the better, but that didn’t make the process any less painful.

The marriage that had followed me onto the farm property dissolved more rapidly than the sun deteriorated the 6 millimeter thick sheets of plastic – though both were left in pieces on the farm, both of which I have just about cleaned up with the grace and love of my Love and our community.

While Les and I were enjoying the sunshine this past weekend and the peace and comfort of each other’s company, I was on my knees cleaning up the hundreds of pieces of deteriorated plastic that was too thin for the original application in the first place. I was cleaning up the last bits of my first season of farming, my own little environmental and emotional disaster, tediously picking the pieces out of thorny brambles, shoving it into garbage bags, and stacking it up for removal.

While I was piling up the plastic to be shoved into bags, Les asked me “whatcha doing over there?” while efficiently and swiftly rolling up old drip tape. “Healing,” I responded. Healing the land, and myself. A dual message that was poignant and also a pain in the ass – see picture below.

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Cleaning up my environmental disaster

 

Now, preparing for season three and a much smaller more focused farm operation in tandem with Les’ creative endeavors, I now find myself in a place in life where my heart is content, my gratitude is abounding, and my partner and I go forth each day with love, presence, kindness and respect.

I wake up to days filled with delicious healing home cooked food, colorful layered works of inspiring art all around, deep love, and authentic community. I also walk out to fields with plastic tarps that are the right thickness (at least 8 mil, for all you curious ones!) to withstand Mother Nature’s effects – for the interim, anyway, as we’re moving to broadforking and straw/compost mulching going forward.

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Les and I going over his original pen and black walnut ink illustrations of the farm for our 2018 RAFI Agricultural Reinvestment Grant; the bottom left is an illustration of the Upper Pasture – seedlings in weed-free soil, drip tape, plastic tarping, bean seedlings, and marigolds dancing tall into the sunshine. Art heals, love grows.

So in cleaning up my little environmental disaster, life shared with me the message that this was the last of the disaster – in the field, in the home, in my heart. Now, life said to me, go forward, freely and renewed.

It’s funny and endearing and also totally not funny and lame how life can share with you a message in various ways. 6 millimeter plastic tarping – never again!


 

“An art that heals and protects its subject is a geography of scars.” – Damage, Wendell Berry

 

A raw rebirth

Hello, out there. It’s been a while. It’s been a while since I’ve sat down to ponder my thoughts through the movement of my fingers over keys in a manner that cultivates my mind rather than renders it seated.

Seated – in the bathroom, on the toilet, scrolling through my Instagram feed is when the news became apparent. My very favorite poet, Mary Oliver, passed today. I have not yet read a news article, I have not yet checked the news today for I have been working at my off-farm remote farm law job (which I love very much), so I do not yet know the details. I have not yet made time for the details.

All I know regarding the matter is that I read the news after scrolling mindlessly through posts without reading, and once I began to actually read I realized that I have gotten away from reading, writing, and myself, in part – the part of me that loves, requires, and desires to read and write, as I grow.

For those of you who follow the farm blog, hello again, it’s nice to be back here with you.

For those of you who don’t but might follow along someday and might be reading these words then: hello, welcome. This is a space of sharing and healing for me (relocated from my previous blog Our Hungry Food), as I write to share my muses, ponderings, and wanderings of life here on the farm.

When the New Year began, my partner Les and I made the seemingly courageous decision to break up with Facebook. I say courageous because we both are small business owners, he an artist and me a farmer, and breaking away from the main free resource that connects us with the wider world and drives traffic and support to our life’s work is a pretty stinking huge deal – or at least, that’s what social media culture has conditioned us to believe.

Social media. The way we keep in touch with family and friends. The way we share our thoughts on everything from our basic human rights to our favorite travels (with photos and sometimes videos, too). It’s the way we show off. The way we dump off steam. The way we network. The way we get our news. The way we obsess over each other as we obsess over ourselves in some way furthering our awareness but lessening our view.

What’s there to like?

I had decided I was tired of it. I didn’t make a big announcement on my page before deleting my Facebook account, I just did it. But I kept my Instagram. I enjoy the photos, farm accounts, and friends who seem to share more thoughtfully there. However, the discrepancy in my approach to cultivating a healthier relationship with social media became apparent – I was there but not there. I saw the photo of a hand printed card by a local artist that I love with Mary Oliver’s most famous quoted line:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

But I did not read the caption that shared the 13 words sharing the sad news.

How funny. Mary speaks to me now after having not read into and through this jarring experience of peeing while reading and realizing then crying. What exactly is it that I will do with this one wild and precious life?

Well, my intention is to pay more attention – to be more present. To do what I love, which is to grow, read, write, and teach.

As Mary writes, “You do not have to crawl on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” 

To which I hear, I only have to let myself love what I love…

Mary Oliver, I love your writing. Heartstrong Farm, I love your land and community. Les Caison, I love your creative spirit and heart. Family, I love you near and far. Teaching and advocacy, I love you especially hard. Reading and writing, my other loves, here we are.

In 2017, After the first couple of months living on the farm, I tragically lost our cat Archie to the pace of Highway 64. I loved that cat. He walked up to my aunt and uncle’s home on the Chesapeake Bay, innocently yet purposefully one Easter morning almost 9 years ago now. He was all fur and snuggles, with a good hunting habit and a penchant for warm bellies.

After finding Archie along the highway and cradling him back to and into the land, I read over him

A Pretty Song:

From the complications of loving you
I think there is no end or return.
No answer, no coming out of it.

Which is the only way to love, isn’t it?
This isn’t a playground, this is
earth, our heaven, for a while.

Therefore I have given precedence
to all my sudden, sullen, dark moods
that hold you in the center of my world.

And I say to my body: grow thinner still.
And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song,
And I say to my heart: rave on.

This song seems especially apropos now, as I ponder the absence of someone I have never met who has shaped so much of who I know myself to be today.

Life is a complicated love, but thankfully to love it there is no one way.

Thank you Mary Oliver, for inspiring so many of us through dark and light – and speaking comfort and inspiration into your fresh absence. From your passing, a love of mine is reborn – and how lovely for it to be one of words.

– E

 

 

Growing goodness

Happy Spring, dear friends! I cannot express to you all just how excited I am to share those words with you – “happy Spring!” I believe some sentiments cannot be contained by the written word, nor should they. The feeling of seeing red buds illuminated by golden sun rays under blue sky, as a cool breeze blows on warmed skin – all I can do in the midst of this goodness is smile and give thanks. Gratitude, that seems word enough for this.

I’m sure many of you can relate to the joy of having past what was hopefully the last frost on Saturday night, given the crazy snow, ice, freezing rain, and wintery mixes we’ve been gifted this winter.

Now, the birds are all out singing their songs, tomatoes and peppers are being potted up and some already out to field to join early greens and roots. Now, the dogwood is finally in bloom, and farmers are on their toes keeping up with planting, seeding, weeding, and the repetition of it all until the moment we’ve been waiting for – the harvest.

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Baby arugula

Though we still have a few weeks before the first harvest is ready here on the farm, we have already begun to reap the reward of thoughtful planning, conscious outreach, and inspired visioning over the long winter.

This winter, Heartstrong Farm’s Core Group of voluntary advisory members came together to envision the future and growth of our farm as a CSA farm. We met over potluck suppers, and lent skills of marketing, business planning, creative problem solving, farm management, and inspired thoughts, words, and deeds, which has led to our CSA membership doubling from last year for the 2018 season! We are blessed and excited to be growing for 25 households (so far!) this season, with exciting off-farm pick up locations at Fair Game Beverage Co. in Pittsboro and Four Saints Brewing Co. in Asheboro. We also look forward to attending the Chatham Mills Farmers Market again this year with bright and colorful blooms beginning next month!

In addition to growing our farm family, we are so incredibly thankful to be a grant recipient from this year’s Agricultural Reinvestment Fund from the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI)!

RAFI awarded Heartstrong Farm a grant that will allow us to improve our infrastructural systems on the farm, specifically updating and outfitting our greenhouse and pack area for greater efficiency and increased production to support our growing CSA program, in addition to building tables and shelves to turn an 1800s cabin into a farmstand here on the historic Marley House property along Highway 64.

Last and certainly not least, the RAFI grant in conjunction with grant support from the NC Arts Council and Asheboro’s Randolph Arts Guild has allowed a creative project to come to fruition that I’ve been chomping at the bit to share for some time – and now finally can!

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Season’s smiles!

As a CSA farm, and a farmer who’s work and mission is driven by community, I will never tire of learning about my community nor reinforcing the importance of community. As such, I believe in an expansive view of community supported agriculture, one that includes communion with the natural landscape, our neighbors, and other collectives cultivating beauty and goodness in one’s locale.

In Randolph County, my locale, one such community is that of the arts. As a newbie to the area, most every place I explored and visited was tied to the artist community here in some way. Seagrove’s world class pottery can be found on many store shelves, beautiful fiber studios are sprinkled across alpaca and sheep farms, the Randolph Arts Guild offers an impressive array of courses and community resources to meet most any creative whim, and locally crafted beverages are poured into gorgeous hand-thrown forms at Four Saints Brewing Co. in the county seat where local officials commune with artists, doctors with farmers, teachers with business owners, chefs with students, and furry paws with smiling children. It was here that I sat down at a picnic table for my weekly CSA drop off where I met a celebrated regional North Carolina artist, Les Caison III, as he was creating art pieces for his Art Wall exhibition, “Helping Hands Give You Wings”, at the brewery. At that table we connected over our passions – his for community art, and mine for community agriculture.

So, we had the thought – how beautiful if we could intersect the two? The arts supporting agriculture, and agriculture supporting the arts.

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Illustration and photo by Les III

Well, beauty grows where goodness is planted – and we sure are cultivating a lot of both around here! Over the course of this growing season, Les III will be creating one of a kind illustrations of Heartstrong Farm using black walnut ink handmade right here in North Carolina. Our aim is to share our story: a new North Carolina farm on a historic North Carolina farmland property depicted by a North Carolina born-and-raised-and-educated artist in celebration of agriculture and the arts in North Carolina. All of this, underscoring the deep and beautiful interconnections of community and the possibilities of shared support and growth.

How’s that for local goodness?

I think it’s mighty it fine, and am so looking forward to sharing in all that lays ahead with you!

Gratefully,

Farmer Eva

 

 

 

 

 

Beckoning Spring

Dear friends,

These warm spells have notes of Spring dancing through the grass and singing through the trees, early as it may be. Daffodils have blossomed and the buds are adorning tree branches and making their way up through the soil. The Heartstrong farmers have been busy planning this season’s bounty, building our greenhouse, preparing fields, and reaching out to our community. We cannot wait to meet you all this season – our first growing season – and share in our new journey with you. We are still seeking folks to join us in this new stage of our lives through our CSA. We have shares available for this year’s harvest, and we cannot wait to share in its goodness with you. All are welcome here.

With gratitude,

E