Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Real Life Reality Doesn't Have a Script

(This is the fuller version of a post from the farm's FB post, which also contained 2 additional tales by other farmers.) 

Sometimes reality is shocking to those who don't live and breathe it every day. Farms are hurting and many of them look like train wrecks. Not Better Homes and Gardens centerfolds.

I JUST THIS WEEK got cucumbers in the ground. Along with that, the 2nd planting of watermelon and cantaloupe went in yesterday, and some were seeds to make up for the transplants that expired in their pots waiting for it to be dry enough out to plant them in the ground.

I have half the tomatoes in the ground I usually do this time of the summer - but I'm still seeding with hopes some of the new varieties I'm trying will take the Dallas heat. 

As I pulled out winter crops in the high tunnel, because the ones in the field drowned, I put in peppers and tomatoes, beans and squash. The bees didn't find many of the squash blossoms in there - but, ironically, the squash vine borer and the cucumber beetles and squash bugs - did. So much for an early start. Squash transplants will go outside tomorrow in the last row I was able to get prepared - before it rained all day today.

Prior to this week's mowing (I've been spending at least one day a week, every week, mowing, for the past month and half) and disk/bedding, this place looked like a giant, overgrown, mudhole. 

It's slowly starting to take shape again. I outwardly heaved a sigh of relief last night - at 7pm - as I purveyed the work I'd started - at 7am - and saw it finally showing progress.

It was embarrassing to let my members wander out through the pasture last weekend, but they "get it" because I keep them abreast of what is going on here. Weekly. Pictures. A newsletter. An open invite to come see and work - mire in the mud with me.

And some of them do come. They see the evolution and then the ebb and flow of things when Nature goofs off and doesn't do her part.

Customers who don't get it, complain;
There's not enough choice in produce, I found a bug/hole/it's too small
The 3 different times/places to pick up aren't convenient enough for me.
I can spend $6 for a cup of coffee but a dozen eggs?
Well MY garden has xyz growing in it....

Planting a garden plot is NOT the same as growing food for 20, 30, 50 families, plus a market or two or three, etc. It's not the same as getting something from the warehouse and putting it on a shelf. Or ordering it on line from a clearing house and putting it in a box and shipping it out. Organic chicken feed is twice the price of the conventional stuff in a feed store - you are what you eat, eats, and we care about that.

You can not magically put in raise beds where you once planted 300' rows by tractor, when you farm alone. It's pretty much physically impossible for one person, without some equipment, to farm on that scale. Harvesting alone will nearly kill you.

And as much organic matter as you put in, one or two heavy downpours essentially makes it all obsolete when your ground is mostly sand and it filters it to the top and floats off. So you have to prep your land - all over again.

That's why I got the high tunnel. It saved our winter harvest. I listened to my mentor, Farmer Bev. She told me it'd help and it has. She's had her challenges with them this year - mice, grasshoppers. They're not a silver bullet for sure.

Thankfully, I found a huge snake skin in mine - and she/he seems to be doing a decent job, for the moment, on what was almost a mouse invasion in there. The local birds found a way in (and thankfully out) and seem to have gotten the grasshoppers under control - for now. That was after the I kicked out neighbor's chickens that got in there and ate down our spring seedlings to wash down some grasshoppers.

I got lucky. Not all farmers get lucky. Some of them lose it all - or their lives trying to save it all. And it shouldn't be that way. These people grow our food. We'd all die without them. If the auto makers go away, we can still walk. Or ride a bike.

No Farms. No Food. Get it?

We need to find ways to support our small, struggling farms, without breaking our own banks, so they can get through tough times. They aren't all good at asking for help, or for telling you how bad it really is, until it's REALLY bad. "There's always next season" is the farmer's mantra. 

Till several years of bad seasons string together and nearly wipe them out. 

Drought, followed by a dip in the economy, the insurgence of 3rd party Venture Capital backed mail order "farm to house" companies, flagrant lying "farmers" buying wholesale and selling it as if they grew it, floods, grasshoppers, health issues, livestock dying - and sometimes, ALL of this stacked up on top of each other over the course of 4 or 5 years - and there's nothing left. 

If you can afford a CSA but can't use it - find a farm that offers them, and gift it to someone. It makes a cool "I care about you" present for in-laws, relatives, parents, etc. 

Cold Springs Farm CSA is west of 35 and needs full share members for the summer season. Which will be starting late, b/c - RAIN. But Bev grows awesome corn, melons, tomatoes, cucumbers and more. 

Eden's is east of 75. I'm sorry, we don't service outside of downtown or Lakewood. I'm one person. Bev is one person. We don't have a fleet of drivers or even another part time employee. It's one woman operations. Two Lady Farmers, remember? Till the Dallas farmer's market went back to wholesale selling and treating their farmers like dirt. Now we each are back to CSA and a local market. But we need you to buy. Highway 19 produce and berries lost a ton of crops this spring to flooding. They're out east of me. They need your help, too. 

If a farmer has value added products - buy them. They also make great gifts if you don't happen to like pickled okra, dilly beans or whatever they had time to make. Yeah, $9 is a lot for a jar of vinegar and veggies - but it was made with care, attention to detail, by hand, in your farmer or artisan's kitchen - with you in mind. That's pretty priceless.

Many farmers farm as their sole way of earning income. They really love what they do, but if there's not enough of a market to buy what they grow, they can't stay in business. and then what? 

You are forced to then buy food grown from a big, faceless farm. And you'll complain. So why not complain about the small farm's prices and being out of the way to get to; than the big one's facelessness and all that comes with it?

This is not a local DFW issue. It's happening all over the country. More farmers are committing suicide now than ever before. Farming used to be sustainable. It CAN be. But we have to have a market for it. YOU are our market. 

No one expects anyone to spend all of their grocery money with one place. Find something you can afford or that you know you can't find at the supermarket, and commit to getting it from your favorite local farmer, dairy(wo)man, rancher, fisher(wo)man, artisan, etc. 

We'll all be glad you did.

Eat Your Food - Naturally!


PS - my hat is off to all small business owners everywhere. Owning and running one is hard work. Endless hours spent thinking, planning, doing - only to have an employee or you make a mistake that costs money and time lost, or Nature - in the case of farming - wipe out an entire planting, which can't be replaced for weeks, because, farming is not magic.

Keep doing what you do because it's worth it to someone. Hopefully it's worth it to YOU. If it's not - it may be time to do something different. Life is short and hard work is one thing, but please, don't risk your health or life for it. And whatever you do, don't end your life over it. Too many people value you beyond what your business is. Taken from the original post off FB that started this blog entry - if you are a farmer reading this and you feel helpless, hopeless and lost... there is help, and there is support.

Monday, November 5, 2018

C is for Community

CSA members sharing a meal at the farm

It seems this concept feels very much different now, than it did from long out of the past. Perhaps because we are living in a different kind of society than when we grew up. At least, I think I can say that for those of us from the Baby Boomer and Gen X generations. We didn't grow up with 6' wood fences, they were chain link - if we had them at all. We all walked to school together, our parents had dinner parties and everyone on your block and in your homeroom class or grade was your community. Now, with charter schools and driving kids there instead of flocking there in packs down the sidewalk, living at a breakneck speed to get to as many out of the home activities as humanly possible, as opposed to playing hide and seek catching lightening bugs till mom called, and we're entering and leaving through the garage so, many people don't even know their neighbors, much less consider them part of their community. Many of our neighborhoods feel fractured, unconnected.

Eden's Organic Community Garden Ground Breaking Crew
Maybe that's why the philosophy of CSA farming appealed to me so much when I first discovered it in 2007. I had read the book, virtually a how-to handbook on CSA, called Sharing the Harvest, (if you happen to buy it, please sign on through Amazon smile and choose TOFGA to support TX farmers.)

Not only did this book help me gain much respect and admiration for farmers, none of whom I really knew personally at that time, but its concept of this CSA format of farming, reminded me of something else on which I couldn't quite put my finger. Not until I decided to break ground; first on the community garden in my front yard and then to start an actual commercial farm, growing for my community.

Ground, er, manure, breaking crew for Eden's Garden CSA Farm
After all of these years of growing for many of the same families, I think I get it now. It was the growing familiar with the people I fed; the forming of a community within what I was doing that fed the human need for connection. Even introvert farmer types need people around sometimes

When I worked part time in my hometown of Franklin Park up in IL, at the local camera store with a small crew of 3 employees, just about anyone who took photos back then, brought their film there for developing. We got to see kids' parties, Halloween, vacations and everything in-between. Many came in at the holidays to get their kids a new camera and pass on the tradition.We had waited in the same line for lunch at the local hot dog stand, bought our groceries at the same family owned grocery store, and banked at the same local state bank. It was small town living of the 80's. Our small town was a big community where everyone knew each other somehow.

Working corporate, where I went after graduation, you sort of lose that environment. Other than the community that might form within a department. But with all of the shuffling of personnel, it seemed hard to really get the same sense of community we'd had with a small staff and loyal group of customers at a small retail store, much less my old neighborhood. Plus, there were often feelings of competition among employees in the big corporate offices where I worked. It rarely felt genuine.

The Original Eden's Organic Garden Center
So when I decided to break out and start my garden shop down here in Dallas, I was eager to re-create that feeling of knowing your customers and making them feel at home. Even if I am terrible with remembering names, I wanted to remember the people and what they liked to grow and help them garden safely.

When the garden center didn't make the move well to where I now make it my adult "hometown",  south of downtown Dallas in Balch Springs, I started a local market of organic local farmers and ranchers in order to hopefully create a sense of community around something I thought surely people everywhere would have a common value for – food.

First Market Day at the Relocated Garden Center
Homegrown, food raised locally, using sustainable and safe methods by someone they could meet, get to know and trust. I thought I'd create a community of like-minded people who wanted to have peace of mind about their food and get to see who raised it.
Early years work share members help plant crops

Little did I know there were way more eaters than organic farmers. So, I rolled up my sleeves to grow some, hoping maybe some would even help plant or harvest that food. They did!

Making REAL Food Accessible for all

And as a result of that support, a small, urban farm is around for the whole community to share from and from which kids and adults alike, can learn things they don't generally teach in school. Since 2008 - we've come a long way, baby!

That's what CSA means to me, and hopefully to all of my members.

We're not a “subscription” to a farm box program. Some folks belong to huge CSA's, like the ones out in CA, where they never even see the farmer, or the staff of farm workers, much less go to the farm to connect with the land. It's a CSA in that they are directly paying the farm, as opposed to a 3rd party middleman, and often it's a farmer's choice "share", meaning they're getting a variety based on the harvest. But from what I understand, more than ever these days, in many CSA programs, there's usually no risk shared in this transaction. And shared risk is one of the key elements of the CSA concept! It's what helps keep small farmers from going under.

Many customers are paying week to week, as they get their produce. So if there's an early freeze, drought, fire, flood and there's not any share to pick up, or not the selection of what they want to order, there's not a payment to the farm. And the farmer, in the throes of a disaster, is left to punt alone.

Other farmers will go into debt buying produce from other sources to fulfill their customers' baskets in lean times out of fear they'll lose their "subscribers" if they don't get what they feel should be coming. As if there's a truck re-stocking the flooded rows of the farmer's fields.

That's not much of a relationship. It's missing the C - community. They don't really have their farmer's back if they are going to bail on her during tough times.

Gratefully I feel, and have felt for many years, that my members - have my back. And that's a great feeling.

And CSA's are way more than some door to door service that drops off a box of chopped up veggies and plastic pouches of dried herbs that were obtained from who knows where. Often funded by venture capital, once the infusion of cash dries up, commonly so do these businesses that have a hard time operating on the razor thin profit that goes along with selling produce. Even produce prepared to that extent. There's hardly enough profit for the small farmer to make a good living selling produce, much less to include a middle man who's paying a chef to cut and assemble your meal!

Yet many a farmer has lost a lot of customers to the convenience factor. And some of those farms end up going into debt trying to compete with door to door delivery models, folding up or taking on extra off-farm jobs to support their addiction of farming. It's a hard thing to give up if it's in your blood.

Work share and volunteers often help plant and harvest

CSA Members Picking up Shares at the Farm
This little guy just turned NINE!
My members pledge to support their farmer with an annual subscription. We have a variety of payment options, but they're always made in advance of the season to come, giving the farm its seed money and keeping the bills paid. No one gets a cash refund if an ice storm takes out our winter crops or a drought means the watermelons are small and pithy that summer. But chances are, I was begging people to take more of something else that enjoyed a bumper crop season. Rarely is there nothing to harvest unless fields are under water or frozen. The farmer of a CSA farm works hard to bring in a harvest for her members as many weeks as the weather allows in a given area. Many farms have a set amount of weeks per season. Some farm year round, like I do.

CSA members at Eden's receive a share of in-season vegetables, fruits and herbs that I've hand selected for them just days before they come to get them. (some pick up at the farm, some at various in-town locations).  I try to familiarize myself with what many of them like or don't like, or are allergic to, and I do my best to grow accordingly. And I offer "pick your own" on "off" weeks to our members.

I've watched member couples wed, (here on the farm), kids born and grow up and some even get big enough to leave home and come back to the farm to reconnect.

It's been 10 years now since I broke ground, and a lot happens in a family in that amount of time! And likewise, many of my members have seen me and this farm from the ground up, too.
CSA Member Joan Firra - a founding farm member, picks up at the farm faithfully
Most have been members for 8 years or more. That's a loyal bunch of folks!

Members picking up "market style" at a remote site in town
Much is written about those door to door delivery services and I see big farms crossing over into other regions, projecting the same small, local farm connection as the actual local small farmers living in the areas they serve. But it seems to me that's just not the same thing at all - for either party.

I know that this farmer loves being able to shake the hand of the family who eats what she grows. And as much, I like getting to shake the hand of the rancher who raises the cattle for the beef I eat and the milk I drink. And I even have the privilege of knowing who catches my fish!

My members know they can trust the woman who grows produce for them because they've come to know me as a person, not just a concept or a picture in a blog they read.

I am grateful for the people who find it important to know where they get their produce, and then trust me to be that person.

Preparing one of the fields for planting
I never imagined making a living as a small farmer. Even though I made my way from corporate and office work to horticulture, this is a world away from even that.

My job is more than just growing vegetables, though. I try to educate people I meet about how important it is for them to get at least some of their diet from nutrient dense foods grown in season from their local area sustainable farmer.  It's not only good for their health, the environment, and the farmer, but it's good for their local economy as well. I know many of my local hardware store employees by sight, and they recognize me coming, too. We return those dollars back into our communities. And if we get busy and successful enough, we can hire local help.

Along the way my CSA members and market customers learn about new foods, and new things about familiar ones, and I always try to be as transparent with them about the process as I can. Maybe too transparent sometimes. But telling the chickens of the woes of the day, or yelling at the invisible cotton tail rabbit that decimated an entire row of cauliflower and collards transplants, doesn't have the same effect as sharing it all with someone who can say something besides “cluck cluck” in response. I need to tell my community! And then we talk about recipes for Hasenpfeffer! LOL 
(*no cottontails have been harmed by humans on this farm. We leave it up to the natural cycle of Nature.)

So if you're looking for a connection to where your food comes from; being able to shake the hand that feeds you and hear all of the details about how it got from seed to your kitchen, I hope you'll consider joining our little CSA farm.

We have openings for our upcoming 2019 farm year - spring, summer, fall and winter seasons. If you reserve a share now with $100 monthly payments, Nov., Dec. and Jan., you'll be all set for the spring distributions when they begin. Continue those monthly installments of $100 through April, and you're on board for summer shares of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, etc. Keep it coming through July, and you'll receive fall shares, and the October installment pays you through for winter crops. A full year with a farm is a great way to appreciate your region's foods like never before. And the flavor of freshly picked veggies and fruits, is unsurpassed by anything you find at the big box supermarket - organic or not. Mass production is not intended for flavor - it's intended for mass distribution. 

Right now we're harvesting fall crops, and planting winter crops. It's a never-ending cycle in North Texas. At least it is on this farm. I don't have the luxury of taking the summer or winter off. The animals have to eat, and the garden grows, or the bills don't get paid. Some day I'll afford a paid staff. I hope!

If you are really interested in learning how it all works, or you have some helpful special skills, or are maybe a little down on cash; please ask me about work-shares. Folks without any gardening background have come to love gardening today, and those who came with an interest, have gone on to homestead and even market farm themselves.

We have a sliding scale option for Lone Star SNAP customers, too; because I think all of us deserve to eat as well as possible. Eating healthy is the key to being healthy – and that should not be out of reach for anyone who is willing to strive for it.

Most of DFW is full of fast food and processed food. Most of this town is full of fast food and processed food.

Think of Eden's as an oasis of REAL FOOD, GROWN with INTEGRITY!

Come - out to the oasis! Come out to Eden's Garden CSA Farm.

We're just up the road, down on the farm.

15 mins southeast of downtown Dallas, Lakewood, and next door to Mesquite, Seagoville, and Pleasant Grove. Join our CSA or shop during Market Day, each 1st, 3rd or 5th Saturday morning.

Balch Springs -  It's All Here!

 Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Farmer Marie

Friday, August 31, 2018

Graybeard the Great!

Feared by humans, revered by the other roos all over the farmyard. Even the cats make a wide swath to avoid his path, and you, too, would be wise to do the same - to spare yourself a pummeling like no other, from those incredibly strong chicken legs.

Excuse me, where did this chicken come from?

A stray little pullet chicken to the little barn, over 4 years ago, mistaken for a hen in his younger days, became our most fierce and protective rooster at the farm. More fierce than I've ever seen. Ever. And I've mothered dozens of roos here! 

He quickly showed dominance, as what I thought was a lead hen - standing guard as other hens laid eggs in the horse troughs. It was around then I began to notice, my, my, how large your feet are becoming, for a hen...... 

It wasn't long after that then, that the rest of Graybeard's features began to form. And he became one of the most strikingly beautiful of the otherwise ordinary Barred Rock breed. And that crow! Oh you never heard such a loud rooster. He was housed over 200 ft from the main house, yet his crow was heard inside during the early morning hours as he awoke the residents of his coop.

Tragically, Graybeard, by way of one of his exceptionally long talons, became tangled in some nylon fencing during the heat of the afternoon. No doubt, chasing after something like he did. He struggled hard to free himself, as was apparent by the mark on his little (well, not so little, really) "ankle".

Seeing him only a few hours earlier at the barn, careful to avoid his ambush, I now reached him at feeding time near his coop and he was tired, hot, and dehydrated. 
Untangling him, I hurried over to a cool water bath and stroked his bright red comb with water and slowly immersed his trunk in the water trying to cool him down. Never before would he let me handle him like this. 
Always so angry was Graybeard. Quick to peck, often breaking the skin, upside down by his giant feet was the best, and safest for me, position in which to hold him while checking the coop for eggs.
Not so yesterday afternoon. He let me nurse him. Helplessness in his eyes.

As I gently tried to reassure him, I continued to cool his body down slowly, putting water up into his under-wing area, where they normally let the breeze in. I angled his head so water could trickle into his beak so he could drink.  He made attempts to do so. but he was very tired and weak. I feared the worst as I gently tucked him into his coop with his ladies for the night.

Sadly, Graybeard met his match with the late August, Texas summer heat, some time late over night on August 30th, 2018, four years to the month in which he became a member of this farm.
It wasn't a very long life. But he lived it fully and fiercely! 
I shall miss my sparring partner. (Although, feeding and cleaning the coop will certainly be much less of a challenge now that I don't have to keep a stick handy to swat him away. And we shall have another roll of electric poultry netting to use elsewhere, now the children visitors don't need to be protected from him.) 

He was renowned the farm over - and over into the neighbors' yards, for his the loudest crow of all. Oh how I shall miss that crazy loud, raspy crow. 
He'd see you coming, or me, and give out a crow - which would alert Smoke, our ewe, who would then follow with a bleat of her own - and then, finally
Oh, is someone here?
then, the dogs would rub their sleepy eyes and come out from their nap to see who or what was getting so much attention. 

Rest in peace Graybeard. You shall be missed. 
Graybeard the Great    8/2014-8/2018
Replaced, but missed.
(A young roo is in the wings and shall learn the ropes from his dad, Foghorn "Foggy" Leghorn. Spared now from the neighbor's stew pot due to overpopulation.) 
 And that, my friends, is just another day, down on the urban farm, up the street, under the old oak trees. 

 Eat Your Food - Naturally!