Sunday, May 3, 2020

What was old, is new again. Again.

Back in 2008 when I broke ground on what is now my 14 acre uncertified organic farm, eating local was a fairly new, old concept. It was how many or most of our grandparents ate, every day.

Yet for many recent decades, society, in America at least, had moved towards fast food, convenience in the kitchen by way of boxes and packages popped out of freezers and into microwaves and eating in shifts instead of on much of a routine together as a family, or even as individuals. I was guilty, too. Until about 25 years ago I wasn't often at a fast food place, but I wasn't immune from the occasional quick fix of the hunger pangs.

The introduction of CSA's in the 80's, and later the exploding number of farmer's markets in so many neighborhoods, slowly brought some people back to the basics.

It also helped that films like Food, Inc. and the DFW premier here of the film FRESH! for our 2nd Barn Aid exposed some of the dirty little secrets of big ag causing some people to ask questions. But we're talking about a finite number, and I mean teeny tiny percentage, of the population. Like, 1%. Maybe.

Now that is a lot of people, no doubt, looking for local farmers from whom to procure their food. And there were never going to be too many small farms that we could eliminate our entire alternative food production system overnight. But then entered on the scene, meal preparation kit start ups, food distribution start ups (these used to be called co-ops in the 60's but now they delivered to your front door, usuallly from big ag), and the concept of small, local farming got all wishy washy and diluted yet again.

For over 10 years many small growers, and I mean, really small not mid-size guys with combines and crews of seasonal workers, started to see the market that they had groomed, fade away.

CSA's of 100, 200 members were reduced to 75, 50, 20 - seemingly in a season. The concept of "sharing the risk" that farmers had bore on their own shoulders since the beginning of time was once again fading, too.

But many of us battled on. Doing what we loved and making ends meet with a loyal and dedicated core group of members that allowed us to at least break even, adding "agritourism" or side jobs - or both. Some had spouses with "day jobs" and some, unfortunately, left farming.

I've seen many farmers and start ups come and go in the past decade. It's been tense, yet I still can not see myself walking away from it all. I am fortunate to have one of those loyal and dedicated core groups of members that have made sure this little farm survives.

Enter a world wide pandemic; Covid-19. 

Suddenly there are no after school and weekend commitments to run all of the children to.

No 3-day a week business trips. 

No late night office meetings and deadlines.

No sitting in traffic whilst inhaling breakfast, lunch and/or dinner out of a paper bag and foam box.

No endless list of social gatherings, snacking and drinking our way through what should have been a proper meal.

Someone slammed on the brakes of nearly everything we were rushing around to do - simultaneously.


Now, I know there is, and can feel for, the worry and stress not having a steady income has brought to many. I've been there myself - many times.

Even losing my very first self financed, shiny red, brand new pick up truck to unemployment and lack of financial stability.

Nearly losing my home, twice.

Being unsure where my next batch of bills' payments would come from.

So, I totally empathize with those who are experiencing this now, and I truly hope you have people in your life you can reach out to for help. I know it can be as scary as hell.

I do hope for everyone's sake, too, that our leaders get it figured out how to help people become financially whole again in the face of a situation no one could foresee or really plan for.  I'm not here to get into the whole conversation of needing to work so many jobs just to make ends meet that it was impossible for many to actually also have a 3-month "emergency fund", that even so many "successful" businesses and people didn't seem to have.

But in the interim, while we're on "pause" in a way, and, hopefully, on the bright side, it has given millions of people around the world something most or many at least, lacked for far too long.


A silver lining?

Time to sleep 8 hours - out of 24, not over 3 or 4 nights.

And, maybe even a chance to grab that catnap they'd only dreamed of during another senseless, boring meeting after lunch.

Or time to read an actual newspaper with a cup of coffee in the morning.

Time to re-learn math along with their kids as everyone started a version of "home-school". 

Time to actually plan what meals they liked, or knew how to prepare - and could find ingredients for making.

(Never have I had such a hard time finding a jar of yeast! I've got some now, though, so no worries.)

Time to prepare those meals and sit down with loved ones and eat them - together.

And then have time to go for a walk after eating - wow, what a concept!!
(I do hope you are doing this.)

And it's also given some people time to think about where their food actually comes from, again, and how many steps it must go through to get to their freezer.

And they're re-visiting the produce aisles, whole grains and beans bins and - they're coming back to the farms! I've never seen dry beans sold out till this.

We're seeing so much waste though.
Factory-scale dairy and produce plants that normally package for schools and other industrial uses - are not equipped to simply retrofit their operations to put it into retail/consumer packaging. So it's being dumped because it can't just be stored until the places that package retail sizes can process it all. 

And don't even get me started on livestock. Those farmers and ranchers hearts are aching for many reasons when the flocks and herds they've raised from the start can not become what they were destined to become, a meal for a hungry family, school kids or a chef's creation. Heartbreaking even for someone who doesn't drink commercial milk or buy much produce or meat from a store; knowing millions may be doing without a proper meal right now.

Not to mention that the people who process our big ag food work in such cramped quarters there's really no easy way to keep them from getting each other sick. And as we've seen, falling ill with this virus is a lot different than catching a mild cold and soldiering on. (Not that we should need to do that, either!) It's really  hard to work your job from a ventilator.

There are also shipping logistics and contractual red tape to get through. It's all so "modern"; it's a dinosaur!

What happened to picking up a bunch of whatever out of the back yard garden, walking it into the kitchen and preparing it? Well, my friends, what was old, is new again. Again.

Local food is making a comeback! 

Many farmers are seeing an uptick in CSA memberships, farmer's markets are seeing lines of people each weekend looking for eggs, and produce, etc. I'm welcoming in a few new members during a rare summer sign up myself - welcome! (Sorry, we're full now.)

And several seed companies have had to either shut down non-commercial sales to make sure our farmers get seed they need to grow for the season or have run out of many things due to a crazy high demand by the general public to grow food at home - again.

I love that so many people are calling to ask me questions about home gardening. And I've even sold a handful of the extra seedlings to people who are gardening for their first time. It's inspiring to see people making the best of our global situation!

Can I ask just one favor, though?

Please - don't forget about it all once it's "over" and you can run out and grab and go again.

Please find a way to work more home made meals into your new routine, whatever it becomes. We have a lot of fine indie restaurants and so many service industry workers that will need our support, too once it's safer to go out again. But let's not get stuck in that rat race all over. Can we rethink a few things?

Your farmers have been here for you in this time of uncertainty. Please don't forget about them when things go back to "normal". Each time you do, we lose a few more and it makes it less desirable for new farmers to get into the game. They need to be able to make a fair living wage, too. "Rich in other ways", doesn't pay the bills.

And some day, if we don't learn from this, we may have to rely on methods of food growing thousands of miles away and distribution systems that are even more uncertain than we've recently endured. 

Support local - first. Then, fill in with your supermarket for those comfort food faves.

Stay well, stay safe and please, for the time being when at all possible, stay home until we've seen at least a two week drop in people coming down with this virus. Get tested if you can, for peace of mind if nothing else, and let's hope the doctors come up with a myriad of cures that keep others from coming down with this, or from us losing another person before their natural time to go.

Thank you to all who have and do support your small, local farmers. We couldn't do it without you!

Eat your food - Naturally!

Monday, April 6, 2020

Safety First - Always!

As someone who has regularly handled the food that others will eat for the past 13+ years, I didn't have to give it a lot of extra thought about certain precautions that I'd need to take here at the farm with the arrival of COVID-19. I probably wash my hands as much as a surgeon. And while I don't get sick very often, I've been known to call off a market or CSA distro if I am. I always want to promote a picture of health and wellness. It's only natural to me.

My main concern was making sure that customers and any farm visitors were taking precautions being around each other and the food that others might take home.

So, here at Eden's, during our CSA pick ups and during markets, you'll see some minor changes, or see some things perhaps you never took note of before, but were always here with your health and safety in mind. And if you see something you feel is not sanitary enough, please pull me aside and let's talk.

Market customers, for instance, will see much of our produce already bagged up or bundled and put into a container this year. You will see more use of individual paper sacks to display things like squash, cucumbers and melons, instead of just seeing a bushel-basket full of items from which to pick through.

There's always been a sink with soap and water – or a “wash station”, both inside the shop and outside where we hold markets.

Visitors will be asked to stop to use one or the other if they're going to be shopping and handling common area items like gates or doors. Our market is usually set up outside, so there are minimal common things to touch.

Additionally, there will be hand sanitizer available on the market tables should someone forget and need to scratch an itchy nose. The restroom will be attended to more frequently and users will be asked to be tidy after themselves, as one always should be.

Should there be multiple people showing up to shop all at once, we'll be limiting the number of people that can be shopping to one family at a time to give everyone enough space to feel safe. There's plenty of room to wander and admire or feed the chickens or take in other sights of the farm while you wait. We have plenty of shade and are not located on a hot, blacktop parking lot, so you should be comfortable.

Regular market and garden shop hours are still in effect unless otherwise changed by local officials;

1st, 3rd and 5th Saturday mornings from 9am – Noon.
4710 Pioneer Road, Balch Springs 75180

Our CSA members will, in some cases, have a share pre-packed and delivered. We're offering this service to our “at-risk”, elderly or otherwise potentially vulnerable members at no charge.
For a low cost, at home drops may be available to other members, depending on location and schedule. Market-style pick ups now include gloves for everyone who doesn't have a pair of their own. We all want to keep each other as safe and healthy as possible.

 All in all, out on the farm is probably one of the safest places to be, according to pretty much everything I've read. Outside in the fresh air, with plenty of space to be safely distanced from others, and the casual, uncrowded atmosphere of Eden's market, is a natural antagonist to a virus that can jump from person to person in a crowded store.

And perhaps more important than anything else, please be sure to feed yourself and your loved ones the healthiest, freshest and cleanest, Real Food, Grown with Integrity that you can find. 

We're right up the road, down on the farm. I hope you'll come see us, soon. Thank you, and stay well! 

Farmer Marie.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Long and Winding Road....

So, 14 years ago I cut the to Eden's Organic Garden Center in Northeast Dallas. It was short-lived up there after my "roommate", a former professor and landscape company owner, decided to move his biz north and I could never have afforded the rent on my own. But he had generously afforded me the opportunity to start my garden center, something I'd been wanting to do for a few years. I'll never really be able to repay that. I was the first retailer in DFW to carry High Mowing Organic Seeds, and I had a full selection of organic gardening needs. It taught me a zillion lessons!

So I moved everything down here to Balch Springs, which was where I intended to have a garden center business originally anyway, setting up pallet tables on "cinder blocks" for the plants and converting the vacant guest house into my "garden shop", a much scaled down version of the original store with the same mission; to help people have safe yards - growing without the dangers of most commonly used synthetic garden applications. I even had a url called "safe-yards" dot com at one time.

Well, Home Depot (and Walmart which was already open I believe), had a different destiny for me in mind. 
A small retailer like me couldn't afford to buy at wholesale cost what the big box stores were selling essentially the same things for at retail. Flowers are flowers to most people, and even perennials were being carried by them both. The locals weren't going for it and "organic" hadn't really caught on yet. Being a lower income area, especially back then, I knew I'd have to bring people in from other areas if I was going to survive. 
To make my shop more unique, alongside the garden center, I decided to host a once a month farmers market, and offer a co op - allowing people to pre-order and pick up their food items, from local ranchers and farmers I knew through TOFGA. I didn't want it to resemble the 2007 version of the downtown market - at all - and I wanted it to be farmer friendly, too. (If you recall, the old DFM was sheds of idling cars and rows of out of state/country produce - almost all of it conventional)

With a little free press, it was a big smash hit. So much so, that another little market popped up in East Dallas. Initially we alternated Saturdays and shared customers and vendors, but a few years later, with a wealthy founder and paid staff, it became the "go-to" market and expanded to every week, then two locations. Great for the carbon footprint of things, but not so great for my little underfunded twice a month market. 
Such is life. I was an incubator for many a successful small producer, lots of home gardeners and even a few farmers. I still get thank you and progress reports from past customers, bread from D's Sourdough, and have a dear friend in the founder of the Texas Honeybee Guild, and I learned, or am still learning, to be a commercial farmer! So it's been mostly good I'd say.

And, I'm still here, albeit a somewhat different version of the original, 14 years later, in my community of east Balch Springs, (which is now a food desert, thanks to 8 dollar stores and a failed supermarket), trying my darnedest to stay afloat.
Lots of new players on the food scene these days yet most of the growers and customers still flock to either downtown or East Dallas. Much of Balch Springs hasn't caught on yet to the freshness factor of eating straight from the farm and we lost our local newspaper several years ago that used to carry my gardening column so as new people move in, they've not heard of me. 

I'm doing things a little different this year. I'm going to focus on a pop up farm stand here at the farm for my neighbors, and yes, anyone else who makes the drive, as well as continue to grow lots of awesome produce for my Community Supported Agriculture members. They have been the backbone of how I've managed to stay afloat all of these years since 2008. (and yes, we're accepting members for summer considering the unusual situation we're all in this year.)
I've had a market stand built to put out front whenever I have surplus and hopefully, it'll introduce my neighbors to eating locally and to the fact that there's a farm right down the road from them. 
Hoping to have our first pop up market stand soon. Keep in touch via email. 
I look forward to seeing many new faces, and hopefully, a few familiar ones, too. 

Stay well my friends.

Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Farmer Marie