Typical spring week warm, pleasant and sunny the first half and then gray the second half. Still lots to do though, both on and off the farm. Betsy and I are still trying to get out from under some of these “extra curricular” activities that we become engaged in, slowly but surely! We do sit on a number of Boards of organizations that do work that we feel is important to the small farm community. Betsy is the Treasurer and seems like general counsel for the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers (ASCFG), “the” national body for growers of cut flowers other than roses and carnations. I am in the third year on the board of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG), this is a great umbrella organization that does important work all across the South with family farms. I encourage you to check out their website for all of the different areas that they work in www.ssawg.org .
How did I get onto this jag? Oh yeah Monday nights long Farmers’ Market board meeting. Most folks don’t realize that the Carrboro Farmers’ Market has the organized structure behind it that it does, they think that it “just happens”, you know organized chaos. That is actually what we want people to think. In reality the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Farmers’ Markets, Inc. is farmer run and controlled group. It is directed by a seven member board elected by and from the vendor members. We also currently have three paid staff that take care of the day to day market operations. Betsy and I have been involved with the Board for sixteen years now in some capacity or another. Why? Because it is so important to our life and business. The market accounts for 85% of our business and we also believe that it is one of the finest examples of how a local sustainable food system can work. See you just thought you were buying fresh vegetables and flowers!
On the farm planting continues as we finish up the spring crops and start the warm season ones. Dianthus (Sweet William), the first Sunflowers and a few other flowers went in and just about the last of the lettuce for the season. Just before the rains came! Good thing too because otherwise the end of the week would have been spent setting up irrigation. Now it’s time to start cultivating/weeding, we got through the lettuces and a number of flowers before the rain. Trellising peas and fertilizing the flowering shrubs like hydrangeas and viburnums. Work in the greenhouse moving up the tomato transplants into bigger containers, 720 plants of ten varieties that will go into the field in three weeks. More seeding in there too, the plants have to keep rolling out so we can stay on schedule. In between a little construction work on the Packing shed, teaching a couple of classes at the Community college and…
Picture of the week
Look at all of those anemones!
The endless lettuce season rolls on. At least it feels endless these days as I go out to cut four mornings a week. The staff arrives each morning and I brief them on the days jobs and end with “of course I will be cutting lettuce if you need me”. Mondays and Thursdays I cut for delivery to Weaver Street Market, Wednesdays and Fridays I cut for the markets and the restaurants. Usually two, sometimes three, hours each morning. We are now into the fourth week with one big week left to go. Lettuce is one crop that I do all the harvesting of. It is such and ephemeral plant that it takes sometime to develop an eye for which head is large enough and tender enough to cut. In a few days the heads that I pass over will be big enough to then take, in a few more days they will be too far gone, getting tough and bitter. The hotter it gets the faster this progression occurs. The weather of the past few weeks has been about as ideal as we get in North Carolina as far as lettuce is concerned so the pressure has been off a bit. It is easy for me to train the staff on what is the right size of turnip to pick and how big a bunch is but the lettuce thing is more like “is this flower at the right stage to harvest?”, it is subjective (hence the reason why Betsy cuts almost every flower stem on the farm). Twenty four heads to a case, six cases and hour if I have to search around, ten cases and hour if the planting is really uniform, that is one head every fifteen seconds! I am counting the seconds until the season is done.
Big event at the Market this Saturday. The Market is having a fundraiser for our sister market in New Orleans and all of the farmers and fishers who where devastated by hurricane Katrina last fall. Like the Carrboro Market which was open two days after hurricane Fran crippled this area in 1996, the Crescent City Market was up and running only weeks after the water receded in New Orleans. Markets are an important social component for towns and cities as well as sources of food. Muffulettas and Gumbo prepared by a dozen Triangle chefs will be available to go for $10/serving, for more details go to the Carrboro Market website . All proceeds will go to the Crescent City Markets and their efforts to bring their vendors back into production. Come on out for the good food!
It has been the normal orchestrated chaos this week with more planting of summer crops, more zinnias, sunflowers, celosia, cucumbers and another planting of Cherokee Purple tomatoes. Weeding, trellising of flowers and vegetables, mowing, harvesting and on and on. The turkeys got so wild last week that we had to trim the wing feathers on all of them. After chasing the little miscreants all over the farm, including one that spent the night out because we couldn’t catch him at all, we decided we had to make sure none of them could fly until they learned better behavior, maybe this is where the term “grounded” came from that our parents threatened us with as kids. Well this was no idle threat for these birds! They go out to the field permanently tomorrow.
Picture of the Week
Sugar Snap Peas already loaded up with many more blooms on the top of the plants
What does local mean? We are having this discussion within the Farmers’ Market right now because what seems fairly simple on the surface is not always so in todays agriculture. The Carrboro Farmers’ Market has the tightest restrictions on this concept of any market we know of in the country. We believe that our strict adherence to the rule that all products must be produced and sold by the original producer and that producer must live and produce them within 50 miles of Carrboro is the key to the great success of the market. In the early days when that meant a farmer planted and tended tomatoes on their farm, within 50 miles, and then brought them, him or herself, to town on Saturday. No middle men, just the farmer on their farm, then you the customer. What makes it complicated is when further processing enters the picture, especially when it is something that takes resources greater than an individual farmer can reasonably manage. Ever since our farmers have begun to produce and sell meat at market these once simple questions have become more complicated. They raise that animal from just a few weeks old (or from birth) some times for years on their pastures. In a perfect world they would then drive it only a few miles to a plant that can process it into not only various cuts but also other products that require further curing or cooking like bacon or sausages. The problem is two fold, one there are only a few processing plants within the 50 mile radius of Carrboro and generally they don’t do any further processing. Two, for the farmer to really make a profit from their animals they have to sell the whole thing, not just the pork chops, that means they really need to further process the rest of the animal.
The current debate is if that further processing isn’t also done within 50 miles then the product shouldn’t be sold at the market. You know 50 is 50 is 50, doesn’t matter what the situation is. One point of view is that those are the rules and the farmer can sell the products that don’t qualify somewhere else. The other point of view is that these are products that are produced within 50 miles of the market by the seller and should be allowed to be sold even if they went off for processing and then came back (we are not talking about sending them to Italy or California, just eastern NC or South Carolina). I guess the question really should be is what does “to produce” mean? Is it that every last step in the process must be done by the farmer or the great majority of it? The difference in the market could mean fewer kinds of products and fewer farmers. It could also result in fewer customers for the rest of the farmers still at market, as some customers would maybe go somewhere else to buy their food, someplace that had a larger choice. To me it is a matter of sustainability, as a member organization we need to make sure that our members are able to operate viable farm businesses as long as it is within our goals and mission. We also need to view the market as a whole and make sure that it is viable too, if we narrow our product line so much as to lose farmers and customers then that is not sustainable either. It is always something new and changing, I would be interested in know what your view of this is as well.
Picture of the Week
A hungry and thirsty turtle helping himself to a Charentais melon