The farm will be closed until further notice due to damages from Hurricane Florence. While my house and the farm's infrastructure are fine, all crops for the fall and winter have been lost. I'm working to get things up and running again as soon as possible, and hope to see harvests rolling in again by early spring of next year.
I started growing a few flowers last year, which has elicited reactions ranging from confusion to rage. I started growing them because they make me happy. When asked, if I give this as an explanation, I get blank stares. Every time. Okay, for better or worse we do live in a culture that values profit and productivity over squishy concepts like happiness. I continue to hear quite a bit of pushback over the flowers, so here's your explanation in profit-and-productivity language.
I have spent many hours over the past two winters analyzing the cost that goes into producing every vegetable that I grow. The cost of seed and plants, soil inputs, what I call field rent (the amount of space a crop takes up + the amount of time that crop is in the ground), the cost and maintenance of machinery and infrastructure. The cost of my labor. I also need to consider the inevitable crop losses. I don't get federal subsidies for growing produce. I don't qualify for crop insurance if it all goes south. I don't get paid for unsold produce on slow weeks when no one's interested in buying. I don't get paid leave or sick days. I personally assume 100% of the risk. These factors need to be considered in the cost of my produce as well.
There is a razor-thin profit margin on most vegetables. A small number are fairly profitable. Most barely pay for themselves. Some I lose money on, even in the best of seasons. All of them need to be grown to create a market draw that keeps you coming back to buy every week. Overall, I am not charging you what it actually costs me to grow a fair amount of your food.
Money is a touchy thing to talk about with the people who buy from me. All say they want to see a farmer earn a decent living, but most will balk at the idea of costlier food. And I don't want good food to be so expensive that only an elite few can afford it. So let's go back to those flowers. When I run the numbers on the flowers, a financial advisor might consider me insane for not throwing the vegetable side of things out the window, and just growing flowers. Flowers pay the bills. Flowers are absorbing the actual cost of your food.
That flowers make me happy, and make me happy to share them with you - I'd like that to be enough. If you think that''s silly, so be it. It's food for my soul, and for many others. If you don't want them, that's fine, no one's forcing you to buy them. Do keep in mind that those flowers are subsidizing the real cost of your food. And perhaps thank that flower-buyer next to you at the market for helping to pay for your produce.
Did you get outside for a bit this morning? The sauna has dissipated, at least for a little while. It actually felt cool for the first time in an eon this morning. There was a delicious breeze, the sky was bluer than blue, it was in the 60s and it was not at all humid. After months of working in hot soggy "air you can wear," it felt like everything heaven ever promised.
This week is one of those rare serendipitous weeks that are hard to come by in August. It's a fair bit cooler. The steam machine has backed way off. No rain for a few weeks now, which means I have all the fall and winter crop plots - almost an acre - nicely worked up and weed-free. It will continue to be dry; I like that for planting the cool-season crops. I'd rather gently irrigate where I need it than see bruising thunderstorms pound the seedlings to a pulp and wash out all the little tiny shallowly planted root and greens seeds.
The hot steamy weather has made it tough to get anything started in the ground so far; anything I've planted has wilted as soon as it germinates, despite my best efforts. It's just been too hot; the soil will burn bare feet, which means the soil far too hot to support little seedlings of just about any kind. Nor have I been able to move most of a few thousand veggie starts out of the shade, let alone into the field.
A break in the weather means this week is THAT week. I'm betting I won't get another near-perfect chance. It all has to happen now, or we won't have much to eat for the next six months. Timing is everything in farming, especially when trying to grow through the back half of the year. There will be no deliveries, pick-ups, or markets this week. All attention is going towards getting the cool-season crops planted, transplanted, happy and hale in the ground.
Thanks as always for your business, and for your patient understanding. We'll see you all again the week of August 29th.
I made a substantial addition to our laying flock in May to try and meet the increased demand from you for eggs. The little girls are about three months old now, and recently moved from their enclosed brooder house to the 'Big Girls' yard where they are learning the finer points of scratching, running, foraging, and cackling from their older sisters. The move involved more than a little running, swearing, sweating, and lunging - catching young flighty chickens is not one of my favorite activities - a new Olympic sport, maybe? Everyone is settled in together nicely now, though we do have about another three months before the new girls start producing eggs.
I take a break every year for a week or two towards the end of the summer, and we're coming up on that time. From about April through early August, this is a six and a half day per week sun-up to sun-down job, and farmers need vacations too! The crop mix is in transition, I need a little extra time to make sure the fall and winter plantings get completed, and maybe most importantly I need a little extra time to just lay flat on the floor, do nothing, and breathe after a long summer. Just a heads up; that break is coming up soon.
The Sungolds are rapidly dwindling, just a very few pints available this week. We should have another round of cantaloupes and Sensation melons in a little while from a later planting; none this week. No sweet Italian peppers this week unless you want them green - the plants are loaded down with green fruit, but I am still waiting on them to ripen to red. Peppers have a tendency to come and go in short flushes over the course of their season; there will be plenty more in a bit. Down to the last of the stored gold potatoes and sweet onions; I expect to be sold out by the end of the week. Still oodles of okra, which unlike the rest of us, thrives on high heat and humidity. Thanks as always for your business, stay cool, and have a great week!
One of the more rewarding parts of my job are the little things you all share with me, whether it's a family recipe, a story, a photo, or best of all, seeing the children I've helped feed over the years suddenly shoot up from toddlers in strollers to outstretching their parents. A wonderful soul shared the photo up above with me last weekend. It sums up everything I've been trying to say here for the last ten years. I can get fairly long-winded in this space at times. I have absolutely nothing to add to that beautiful note.
Our tomatoes are done for the summer, except for the Sungold cherry tomatoes. I know, tomato season always seems too short. The reality of it is that we live in a hot, wet, humid climate. Hot, wet, and humid are the perfect conditions for plant disease spores to breed. I do my best to make sure we start with the healthiest possible plants, and give the soil everything a plant could possibly want. Short of moving to a drier climate, or using a lot of nasty fungicides (I don't want to eat that either), we usually get a 6-8 week harvest period. We got seven weeks of tomatoes this year; right on average, and I think it was a pretty good haul for what was an incredibly wet July.
A few watermelons this week; mostly 'Orangeglo' watermelons and a few reds. Still lots of cantaloupes and 'Sensation' melons. Drowning in eggplant and okra! August's offerings can get a little light as most of our attention is turning towards getting fall and winter crops established - always a bit of a trick in the murky heat of late summer - so we all have good things to eat for the back half of the year.
Last but not least, would you like to take a survey? The Midtown Farmers Market really wants to hear from you! Complete their quick and painless one-page survey, and they'll put you in a drawing to win $50 in market bucks plus a $150 North Hills Mall gift card! Sweet!! Click on this link and make your voice heard! Thanks as always for your business, and have a great week!
The peppers are starting to come in with the heat of summer. We often lose up to 50% of our peppers due to sunscald - there's just never enough foliage on the plants to prevent the fruits from getting burn spots. It's the kind of heat only mad dogs and Englishmen venture out in lately, and nobody should be out there without a little protection from the mid-day sun. So we made our peppers some hats last week out of shade cloth and piping. Will it work? We'll see, but it never hurts to try.
Our cucumber vines withered up into little dry crisps this weekend, and the beans may well go on hiatus for a bit. Most warm-weather crops are fruiting crops, which means they produce a blossom, which needs to be pollinated, then set fruit. That whole process gets aborted when temperatures rise too high, and especially when it never cools off at night (fun fact: did you know plants do most of their growing at night?) We are definitely careening into the late summer crops: peppers, eggplant, melons, and okra, which can continue to set new blooms and fruits even when it's steamier than a sauna out there. Still plenty of tomatoes, especially the tangy orange 'Kelloggs Breakfast,' juicy red 'Big Beefs,' and sweet pink "Mariannas Peace', but we aren't seeing any new green fruit set. This could be the last week to get tomatoes in bulk quantities if you're looking to squirrel some away for the winter, or just stuff your face with tomatoes (and that's OK).
Lots of new crops this week, many of which may be new to you, so a little explanation would probably be a good idea:
I think that's the run-down on the 'weird' crops for now. We still have plenty of regular ol' tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes if that's your preference, but I do like to mix things up when I can get away with it!
One last note - did I mention it's a little toasty out there? We need to pick as early in the day as possible to make sure your veggies get in out of the hot field to maintain good quality. I'll admit we also like to preserve our own hides and get inside before the hottest part of the day as well. For those of you who prefer to place pre-orders, you can help us out by getting your orders in a little earlier than usual, so we know what we need to have on hand for you. We do love early birds!
Thanks as always for your business, and have a great week!
A big thank you to all who came out for the Tomato Tribute last Saturday at the Midtown Farmers Market. Before dawn on Saturday morning we stacked the truck as high as we dared with crate after crate of tomatoes, drove into Raleigh ever so carefully, and you cleaned us out of nearly every tomato we brought to town. That never happens! We rejoiced in packing up and driving home a nearly empty truck on Saturday afternoon (then took a nap). We still have a lot of tomatoes; I picked another truckload of tomatoes this morning, but we are starting to see them slip past their peak point. What looks like a lot of green fruit left on the vines can ripen in a heartbeat through these dog days of summer. Remember to eat your fill before they're gone!
We're still getting socked with heavy rains nearly every night, and praying for a stretch of dry weather so we can get our fields cleaned up and turned over for planting to fall and winter crops in August. I usually like to try and grow a quick cover crop in between the spring and fall crops; that window is closed and gone. Now we are just hoping to be able to get it all in decent shape by the first of August or so - yikes - just two weeks away! It doesn't take long for the ground to dry out enough to work it over when it's in the 90s every day, but we desperately need more than one or two days between torrential thunderstorms. Not that I get to decide what the weather will bring, but given a choice between a dry summer or a wet one, I would choose a dry one every time.
Quite a few of you were asking about melons and sweet peppers last week - they'll be here soon! I try to time these to ripen in August (or at least post-peak tomato season), because no one here wants to haul 500+ pounds of tomatoes out of the field one box at a time then lug another truckload or two of heavy watermelons in when the heat index has topped 100 by noon. One heavy crop at a time, I say! Both crops are shaping up nicely (though both could use less rain) and with a little luck should start appearing in a few weeks.
Thanks as always for your business, and have a great week!
I saw this article in the Washington Post two weeks ago, and it suddenly hit home. That's why. We've seen a dramatic downturn in our sales at both our farmers markets this year, but I've been struggling to figure out why. I've heard the same from farmers all across our area. Our crops are the same, we haven't had any major losses, we've been chugging along just the same as the past decade, but suddenly...you all just aren't into it? What's going on?
I asked for your thoughts last week. I got a lot of feedback - thank you! - from mostly those of you who already grocery shop with us on a weekly basis. I would have loved to hear from some of our more casual, infrequent shoppers. I'm still all ears if you'd care to put your two cents in.
There is never one simple answer to a complex problem, but I think it boils down to largely one thing: there are simply too many farmers markets in our wider community. The number of markets have doubled in the past ten years, and someone is still forever trying to create new ones in every untouched corner. Everyone wants a market they can get to within walking distance or a few minutes' drive from their home. That's just not feasible.
There are not enough farmers to supply all these small local markets. There are not enough patrons to supply all these small local markets. The market customer shows up, expecting a dazzling array of produce, meats, bread, cheese, and more. The farmer, who spent months in advance growing and preparing those items, the farmer who labored an 18-hour day the day before and stayed up til midnight making sure all was in order, the farmer who drove a long distance into town to get to the market, began to set up at 6am, and paid for the privilege of selling for four short hours, must have more than a handful of market patrons come buy their product in order to make all of that worthwhile.
The one comment I heard from those of you who responded was "we want to see more produce, more food vendors." I have repeatedly seen markets try to grow by adding additional farms and food vendors, only to watch most of them vanish within a few weeks or months because they are not pulling in the profits they need. This is a tough business. I desperately want to see the number of markets in Wake County downsized. And please, for the love of carrots, stop opening new ones. Tighten it up and run them well, and the customer will be happy, and the farmer will survive.
The article in the paper suggested that the boom days of farmers markets are over, and farmers need to diversify in order to stay in business. We always have. It is never a wise thing to put all your eggs in one basket, literally or proverbially. A small farm will lose money hand over fist wholesaling to grocery stores. The restaurant trade infuriates me - chefs want my best quality produce for the least amount of money, will never order consistently, and need the product delivered on a whim and a moment's notice to boot. I understand why, I've worked in restaurants before, but I can't do that. I love our CSA members, but we are forever shaving many tiny profits off the top with those discounts.
Farmers markets - strong, vibrant ones - remain our most profitable venue. And even then we aren't exactly making a killing selling lettuce and tomatoes. I don't do this for the money. I do need to make a living. It's still a business, and I need to turn a profit to remain viable.
I will leave you with my favorite response that I received last week (edited for brevity):
I LOVE the North Hills market. I am incredibly grateful to know the people who raise the plants and animals I eat. I cook almost all of our meals, and the freshness and quality can't be beat, but that's not why I do it (although it helps!). I do it because it feeds my soul as well as my body. It gives me joy to support my local community and people who grow food. It kills me how little respect farmers get in our culture at large when they (you) are quite literally responsible for keeping our bodies alive. And how people nickle and dime when it comes to food. It's going in your body. It's nourishing you and keeping you alive. Can people seriously not value that? I honestly don't think food costs enough. And I will always go to the market to buy food, not because it's a lifestyle choice or to socialize.
I think you and our community of farmers at the NH market are so wonderful, and I hope SO MUCH that the trend you're seeing from the article doesn't impact you in a negative way.
And very sincerely, thank you.
And thank you. We hope to keep seeing you out there.
It's the Iron Chef Brunch Challenge at the Midtown Farmers Market this Saturday...and the Raleigh Downtown Farmers Market starts next Wednesday on May 4th. Market season is heading into full swing! The farm enjoyed a good dousing of much-needed rain last Friday, and our spring crops are really starting to pop. Tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans, and more are in the ground and growing strong for early summer harvests. Our to-do lists get longer every week, but it's a gorgeous time of year to be outside all day every day, and we thoroughly enjoy the work.
If you are interested in signing up for our CSA program, we are now accepting new memberships for pick-up at all of our locations. We offer pick-up year-round at the Midtown Farmers Market, Harmony Farms on Millbrook Rd (North Raleigh), and at our farm. Pick-up is also available at the Raleigh Downtown Farmers Market May through early August. Our CSA is a little different than most - you get to choose your own box! You pick your own items each week, and save a little money by paying in advance for your super-fresh organic local produce. Check out the details here. If you'd like to sign up, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you the current membership form.
Gardeners, it's high time to plant! We still have a slew of garden plants available again this week, though we are starting to get cleaned out on a few items. Just a couple of bell peppers left, a few roma tomatoes, and down to a handful of our wildly popular Kellog's Breakfast tomatoes. Reserve yours while they're still available! Bring a box, load up on plants this weekend at the market, and spend a happy sunny Saturday afternoon in your garden! If you're up for a drive, you are welcome to head on out to the farm and pick your own plants from the greenhouse (*please let us know if you're coming, so I can ensure someone will be here to meet you*). We can only fit so many plants on the truck to take to the market, so if there is something you have your heart set on, feel free to send me your shopping list and we'll make sure it gets packed up for you. Thanks as always for your business, and have a great week
The Midtown Raleigh Farmers Market at North Hills is back in full swing again this Saturday! We'll all be there, from 8am to 12 noon. Our spring crops are a bit behind in production this year, as we had 7 inches of rain in February and couldn't get into the fields to plant until March (even then it was a fairly mucky affair). The variety will change and increase very soon. We still have plenty of overwintered kale and chard, and a mountain of winter carrots and beets that all need to go this week. As in now. Apparently I got a little root-happy when doing my winter planting last September, and the last of our winter roots are currently sitting in the very same spot I need to set out the first cucumbers, squash, and beans of the summer. A little help, please, so I can get those in the ground in a timely manner!
Just a bit of asparagus is starting to come up in fits and starts. We are limiting asparagus orders to one pound per customer this week, and we will give preference to our CSA customers. A bit more should be available as the weather settles and stops flip-flopping back and forth between 20's and 80's.
Sunday morning we saw what looks like the last freeze of the season - hooray! It's a little later than we usually see on our farm, so we'll be scurrying this week to get both the final successions of cool-season crops in the ground, while also starting to plug the tomatoes and other summer crops in their places.
Yes, it's time to plant! We have a slew of garden plants available starting this week. 17 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, 3 different varieties of cucumbers, 4 varieties of summer squash, 12 varieties of sweet and hot peppers, and even 3 different kinds of eggplants. These are all organically grown, and I bet you won't find that kind of variety in any garden center! Bring a box, load up on plants this weekend at the market, and spend a happy sunny Saturday afternoon in your garden! We also have plenty of varieties that will grow well in containers; look for the asterisk * on the list for plants well suited for smaller spaces. If you're up for a drive, you are welcome to head on out to the farm and pick your own plants from the greenhouse (*please let us know if you're coming, so I can ensure someone will be here to meet you*). Thanks as always for your business, and have a great week!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.