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!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Walking on the Wild Side

On the suggestion of a friend, I watched a wonderful film on Netflix called Dare to be Wild. Captivated isn’t an understatement for how the film made me feel. 

I grew up in my grandmother’s 2 flat, with a backyard that was entirely concreted in. Fence to fence, save a 3’ wide strip about 20’ long where my mother put a vegetable garden. My grandmother kept hybrid roses along the gravel alley side of the house, and our neighbor’s side yard, which was only the width of a 2’ sidewalk from our house, was planted in Lily of the Valley. It was a delight to my senses each spring when they began to bloom. Up in my bedroom which faced the side yard full of these heaven-scented flowers, I could catch their scent if the wind blew just right. 

My saving grace from the concrete jungle that our town was becoming; camp! 

Many times a year, I got to escape to camp, thanks to Girl Scouts and two enthusiastic parents who co-led our troop with the parents of my best friend all through grade school. 

I loved wandering the woods of St. Charles, IL, in all of the seasons, at that camp. Camp Wildrose it was called. In the very cold weather, we’d hunker down in one of the big cabin-like buildings with a huge fireplace on air mattresses covering the huge open floor space. In the warmer weather, we’d camp out in platform tents on cots covered in mosquito netting – sides rolled up so the breeze would keep the damp, cold air from settling inside overnight. A phenomenon I awed at. But it allowed one to witness the sunrise as it sparkled through the trees' canopy every morning we were there. 

“People travel the world over to visit untouched places of natural beauty yet modern gardens pay little heed to the simplicity and beauty of these environments.  ….those special places we must preserve and protect, each in his own way before they are lost forever.
Mary Reynolds on her application to the Chelsea Flower Show in 2002.

 At least once a year, I got to attend a 2 week camp up in Wisconsin. Home of the giant mosquito. But a little oil of citronella (yes, even back then we used essential oils to combat the pests), and I could hike for hours. I never tired of the woods and the prairies and cried whenever it was time to leave for the city. 

Perhaps this imprint on me as such a young girl is what brought me back to where I am today. In love with the land I am lucky enough to have stumbled upon and purchased over a decade ago. While I bought it for very different reasons than I now use it for today, it didn’t take long for the magic of the place to begin placing its hold on me. 

While watching Dare to be Wild, I couldn’t hide my emotions as Mary, the main character upon whom this docudrama is based, revealed her reason for wanting to submit her wilds-cape garden design into the prestigious competition in England. I knew just how she must have felt about preserving places and protecting them from destruction, and restoring those that had been destroyed. 

Permaculture is much the same philosophy. Working with Nature, what is native, what is low maintenance, and what fills us with a special feeling of being connected.

At one time I used to install small commercial landscape flower beds. Talk about boring. Seasonal color change out is a money maker, for sure, but that’s about it. 

Nature doesn’t grow in a monoculture, she is a watercolor artist with a full pallet with which to paint. The photograph on my cell phone’s screen saver is proof positive of that. Yellow, brown, pink, and all shades within, green, of course, and splashes of white and more, create such a beautiful scene a landscape designer could likely not recreate. 

But I try. Each spring I push the first cutting of the front “lawn” back a little further to encourage more of the wildflowers to go to seed. One of these days, I just may not have to mow all summer. That’s my hope anyway. 

And re-planting trees where surely they once lived is something I do a little of each year. I plant native trees and fruit-trees for our edible forest, too. And I rarely cut down the saplings that pop up around the place. Trees don’t live forever, and something has to be growing to take the place of the majestic Post Oaks, native pear and juniper trees, and even the sprawling mesquite, when their final days come. More oaks are taking root this year than ever before – and I wonder if the squirrels got lazy, or if the trees know something I do not. 

At any rate, this film left me even more inspired to do my best to restore what has been lost and preserve what remains.  Even though I am not a garden designer in the caliber of Mary Reynolds, I only wish I could draw what is in my head, I have a painting or two in the house that remind me of times gone by to follow as examples.  A big part of my heart is to share with others the love for wild places before they are all cemented or black topped over.
We can’t necessarily change the whole world ourselves, but we can make changes in our own back yard. 
It would seem Mary and I have more than a love for wild spaces in common....

“I’ve come to think that the only solution to sustainable gardening and landscaping is for everyone to grow their own food, especially in urban areas,” she says. “It’s the most reasonable and healthy way of working with land.”

To cultivate a garden that can feed a family of four, Reynolds explains, takes about 10 years of work.

“That’s a daunting number of years, but to repair the damage between people and the earth, we need to interact with soil on an individual basis. That means going back to growing food sustainably and creating a sustainable flow of natural energy,” she says. “If we are to take back the land from industrial farming and agribusiness, that’s what we need to do.” Read more of the interview here….


Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Combating Things Untried

As a first gen farmer w/o anyone nearby to turn to, I have found that I sometimes hesitate to try new things around here because my nature is to err on the side of caution, or I spend so much time on the ol' learning curve, it feels faster to just keep on, keeping on.

I have some great mentors, but I hate to bug them every time I have a question, and I know you can look up just about anything on line - and I do my share of that as well.

As ladies, I think we sometimes may not tackle things we've not experience with, or things we haven't seen done, by other women.At least, that's what I've been told by some women.

I dove in this year to use some weed barrier on long term crops. Something I've not done in the past. I hesitated to use plastic or any kind of synthetic mulch, for biological reasons. I thought maybe I'd kill all of the soil microbes I've so painstakingly cultivated.

But even Certified Organic growers use plastic mulch. It needs to be removed after the season, and I add some native microbes back into the soil as I water using compost tea that is made in part from my soil in undisturbed parts of my farm, anyway, so I think my fears are unfounded.

Then there's the fact that I don't have a mulch layer. Well, I tackled that one, too. (I do have a more complete video of laying out regular mulch, (this first one is paper mulch).)

I'm talking about crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, onions, garlic, and leeks, for instance. These plants don't make a lot of shade and the weeds can still thrive underneath them. Especially if you fight Bermuda grass like I do here at Eden's. If you've followed me long, you know this is a horse pasture turned farm. There's still a LOT of pasture surrounding the 2 acre fenced in garden area, so it will never go away.

So to do my part to help someone coming up behind me, and because everyone keeps saying we need more lady farmers posting things on line, I'm posting a few short videos of things I'm doing, some as I learn how to do them.

I hope you find them helpful - or, at the very least, entertaining for some of you veterans - who will probably blow up the comment field with "why don't you do it "THIS" way instead?" comments.

And that's fine, too, b/c hey, we all need to learn new things all of the time and I've not been at this since I was knee high to a grasshopper like some of you folks. And, I'm just not an engineer-minded kinda gal.

So offer those tips! Just be nice.

I learn from watching and doing, and notes help, too. Maybe I'm a little slow? It doesn't matter. I figure most things out - eventually! I even figured out how to tighten what was loose on my bucket controller the other day when it wasn't acting right. If farming on my own has done one thing for me, and it's done several, trust me, it's made me more daring and brave - and forced me out of the comfort zone many a time to try new things.

So here's the latest of several how to videos I've uploaded. This one demonstrates how to burn holes into the weed barrier using a torch - without burning the place down! I found (the hard way) that just cutting holes doesn't work well because the wind will tend to blow up under the plastic and when it comes down, it can, and often does, comes down on top of your little transplant. :(

I've burnt holes using a small plumbers torch - kept going out. So, I stepped up my game, got a big girl torch and I've not looked back since. Safety first - I have done it out in the field, but I am much less nervous doing this in the driveway - closer to a source of running water. And I'd not ever use it out in the field if it was very dry. Not without a fire extinguisher or a hose with running water nearby.

But I have used artificial mulch on my onion crop already, and even though I lost some due to the hole cutting, instead of burning, they are so much happier this year - and so is my BACK! It's worth the investment, a very small one, and if you're careful, you can do this, too. 

You may have seen some of the other videos on my You Tube channel already - or if not, now's your chance!

I'm not an expert, nor do I play one on TV. I'm just scratching out a living playin in the dirt and enjoying it more than anything I've done for a living in the past.


Farmer Marie
Eden's Organic Garden Center/Eden's Garden CSA Farm

214-348-EDEN (3336)
Home of Eden's Market Day
Real Food, Grown with Integrity
1st & 3rd Saturdays 9-noon
Director, Region 4

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life, which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
--Henry David Thoreau