Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #23, 7/20/17

What’s been going on!

Into the furnace we go, had to happen sooner or later this summer and most appropriate the third week of July which is statistically the hottest of the year.  We are starting at 7:00 these mornings to beat a bit of heat and are out of the field by noon everyday.  You all stay cool.

I gave a fun talk yesterday to a group of Triangle Farmers’ Markets market managers some of whom are struggling with how to make their markets more sustainable and they were interested in how we manage to do it at Carrboro.  Most new and small markets have very part time managers (like 10 hours a week) who have a hard time in building a market and market community.

For some reason I have become the unofficial historian of the Carrboro Market and did a deep dive into the chronology of how the market developed and critical points along the way.  Now I will admit that Carrboro has had the benefit of 39 seasons to organically develop policies and solutions to problems that are common to most markets and that our success is in no small part due to the amazing customer base we have.

I do point to two original concepts that help make Carrboro more resilient and innovative.  First when the Town gave governance of the market to the farmers instead of a group of towns folks it instilled a sense of ownership and responsibility that most vendors at markets do not have.  Farmer run and farmer controlled, making decisions that make sense for the members not the economic development folks.

The second I have talked about many times before.  Carrboro is the only market that requires the owner of the business to be there selling, this further deepens that ownership and pride of the market.  When you just have an employee selling for you they don’t observe things that go on at market the same way, they don’t interact with the managers or the other vendors the same way, they don’t serve on committees or the board to help improve how the market operates.  We have 80 plus small entrepreneurs all contributing ideas and solutions that make the market cooperative better that in turn benefits their individual businesses.

The result has been a thriving market place for the farmers, a gathering place for the Town of Carrboro and an important part of the economic engine for downtown Carrboro.  We know we are fortunate to have such a market and never take it for granted.

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Our first year at the old market, 32 years was a long time ago!

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #22, 7/12/17

What’s been going on!

Tomato week #2, at least there is something refreshing as the true brunt of summer heat and humidity weigh down on us.  Tonight is our wine dinner with Glasshalfull in Carrboro.  A summer infused menu starting with tomatoes and ending with basil ice cream.  Come join us in the AC, tickets still available.

Starting Friday and going thru Monday is ACME’s 16th annual Tomato Festival where the entire menu is taken over by and bathed with tomatoes.  Kevin and company estimate they will go through 700 pounds of tomatoes.  While not all of them are from us, whew!, we did deliver the first 60 pounds yesterday and will probably take them another 100 pound plus this week.  The final event is their Tomato Festival Wine dinner on Monday night.

If you can’t make any of those our tomatoes are heavy on the menus at Pizzeria Mercato who just re-opened after their summer break, Elaine’s On Franklin and Pazzo in Southern Village.  Maybe a bit less prominent but in the mix at Oakleaf in Pittsboro, just back from their summer break too and the Eddy Pub in Saxapahaw.  Of course you can just come to market today or Saturday and take tomatoes home to hide out in your own AC and quietly enjoy them there.  Stay cool!

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Limelight Hydrangeas reaching for the sky

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #21, 7/6/17

What’s been going on!

The peak of tomato season and Tomato Day at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market is Saturday!  Lots of tomatoes to sample, a raffle, music and more.  Don’t miss it!  In honor of the week I bring you an updated version of a tomato related newsletter from a decade ago.

This is the great reward after months of careful tending.  It is always fun to introduce the new staff to the different varieties and their nuances of flavor and ripening habits.  Every Monday and Thursday we spend the mornings picking the 2000 feet of row.  Everyone becomes a specialist in certain varieties.

Kyle is in charge of reds, learning to not pick them too green as they take forever to get fully ripe and can hang on the plants longer than all the others.  Only unblemished Italian sauce tomatoes are put in the box, no “freaks” with them.  The German Johnsons are much more tender so he has to change gears when he gets to them.

Laura is the Heirloom queen this season with hundreds of feet of row to pick and sort, some of them have the most difficult stems to remove without damaging the fruit and sometimes one must resort to using needle nosed pliers to pull them off.  Starting with the monster Striped Germans, so large that it takes two hands to pick them, carefully extracting them from between the vines and the trellis wires trying to not scar them.  The tender skinned yellow Azoychkas and next the Kellogg’s Breakfast.  Moving to the green-when-ripes, interpreting if it still green or if it has just enough golden cast to it to be picked.  Jennie usually takes on the tiny Sungold cherries. Blush, Black Cherries and more while making sure the picking and sorting is going well.

Bucket after bucket is brought to the back of the truck where each fruit is inspected and wiped with a cloth, sorted into three boxes by color and quality or set aside in the “have to eat today pile”.  The knife comes out as we get the first of the new varieties and slices are sampled between cleaning tomatoes.  Surprise at a high acid yellow tomato, amazement at the beauty of the interior of the bi-colored ones with red swirls through the fruity flavored yellow flesh, the reassuring solid full flavor of a Cherokee Purple, popping Sun Golds as one walks by the row that has them.

Finally finished we slowly drive the load down to the packing shed and the air conditioning to keep them from ripening too fast.  Stacks of boxes by variety and ripeness are built, long rows that run around the room.  Finally bags are filled with the “have to eat today” fruit and the staff heads home, stained a sticky green from rubbing up against the tomato foliage, talking about tomato sandwiches, salsa and gazpacho for lunch and dinner.  Life is good.

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A packing shed bursting with tomatoes

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #20, 6/30/17

What’s been going on!

Busy week trying to take advantage of the amazingly cool weather, 54 degrees here on Wednesday morning!  It is the mid-summer reset with all of the spring crops mowed and turned under and summer cover crops being seeded today before the next possible rains.  New this year we will be trying out a seed drill to exactly place the seeds at the right depth and in good contact with the soil for best germination.

We used to be able to just spin the seeds out and lightly, but erratically, cover the bigger seeds and hope that a good rain would do the rest and cover them a bit more.  Increasingly we have had poor stands, especially of summer cover crops because we would not get our usual thunderstorms, instead they would not get a good start with sometimes thin plant densities which allows the weeds to get a foothold underneath them.

We have known that if we could just use a precision drill to seed them it should be much better and more consistent, problem is a good seed drill is $7000 or more.  This spring we joined a new Farmer Tool Sharing group that was still buying tools with a grant they received.  We suggested that they get a small quality seed drill and they did!  So today is the first test run for us and hopefully it will be the ticket!

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Fancy new seed drill ready to go

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #19, 6/22/17

What’s been going on!

The second day of summer with a high in the low 80’s just doesn’t seem right but as Betsy is always fond of pointing out, the days now begin to get shorter and frost is not too far away!  Of course this sentiment carries more enjoyment after we have had weeks of increasingly hot weather.

So while we did not get the crazy storms here at the farm that the rest of the area received over the weekend and on Tuesday but all that water did run down the river to us.  Once again the creek backed up onto our bottom field and over the winter squash patch, immature spaghetti squash bobbing on the water, tethered by their vines.  The crest this time was just slightly higher than the April event at 23.8 feet.

The amazing thing, at least this morning 24 hours after the water receded, is the plants look vibrant and green and healthy.  You never can tell and full sun and some heat may show us some different signs but for now looks like there might be winter squash for this winter.

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #18, 6/15/17

What’s been going on!

This is the next in a series about our farm transition process.

Why Jennie, why now?

By our mid 50’s the summers were wearing on us more and the aches and pains of 30 years of farming didn’t go away as fast as they used to.  Part of our success has been in the amazing group of young folks who have come to us wanting to learn to be farmers and then would move on but that means finding new faces every year or two and a continuous training program that takes a lot of time and energy.  Jennie came to us as one of those people.

In 2012, midway through her second year with us, we were talking about what her future plans were and she said she thought she might move on to another farm where she would be a co-manager.  Very nearly the same time our friends and longtime professional colleagues, Ben and Karen Barker, had closed their successful restaurant and headed into retirement.  They closed the restaurant for many reasons but one that struck me was they were not sure how much more energy they had to train new chefs.  I didn’t realize it but I was actually in the same place.

When Jennie said she might move on I said “but what if we don’t want to lose Jennie?”  She replied “well I can’t work for wages for ever.”  Fair enough so I countered with “well let’s talk then”.  We didn’t know Jennie well but she was smart, organized, calm and stable beyond her then 26 years.  She is a hard worker but had barely four years of farming experience yet really wanted to farm.  Unlike many of the people who had worked for us and then went on to start their own places, she had no clear way to get started- no family land, no capital resources just a strong inner desire.  It sounded a lot like us 30 years ago.

In June of that year we set the record for the number of 100 degree days in a row and then in July we had The Big Storm.  While we took those extreme events in stride it made us think even harder about how we would continue to manage such hurdles in the years to come.

The three of us started meeting every week to see what we could figure out and began to come up with a plan that would enable Jennie to farm and help us bridge the time span until 65 and then further into the future.  More yet to come…

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The great dividing line between peppers on fabric and those in the no-till

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #17, 6/9/17

What’s been going on!

The June that never came or where is summer?  The short answer is that it comes back tomorrow but with a low of 53 degrees this morning it is hard to imagine.  What a glorious few days especially yesterday, we will be dreaming of such a day in a few months.

Despite the unusual weather the change of seasons is upon us, the crops always know.  The coolness of the last few weeks has allowed the greens to last longer in peak condition than normal but even they are running out of gas, so this week is probably the last of a number of things like beets and fennel.  Soon the mower will take it all out and the summer cover crops will be seeded.

Flowers too, finished are the campanula, snapdragons and poppies but here come the sunflowers, zinnias and gloriosa daisies.  And there are tomatoes!  Those of you who got to market very early last Saturday and this past Wednesday were fortunate enough to get some of the very first tomatoes of the season.  We didn’t have it in the newsletter as the ripening has been slower with the cool weather and we couldn’t gage how many we would have.  We now have enough to actually make it public.  Rest assured we have been quality testing for more than a week, nearly daily tomato sandwiches and last night the first tomato and basil risotto for the season!

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Zinnias reach for the blue sky on an amazingly beautiful June day

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #16, 6/1/17

What’s been going on!

We made it to June and the Farm to Fork weekend is upon us and it will be fun and delicious and lots of work especially for Betsy who has been busing with the planning committee and in pulling together flowers and flower donations so she can make the many arrangements that will grace all three events spread over three days.

The Farm to Fork weekend is the primary fundraiser for beginning farmer training programs at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and the W.C. Breeze Family Farm Agricultural Extension & Research Center.  This is our 10th year of the Picnic and we have managed to raise a lot of money to help new farmers get on the ground.

The first two events are already sold out but there are still tickets available for Sunday’s Picnic at Fearrington Village.  For Friday’s event at the Bridge Club in Raleigh we are paired with our friend Scott Howell of Nana’s Restaurant where he is making a golden beet borscht for one of the five courses.

Sunday we are really proud to be working with another long time friend, Gabe Barker and Pizzeria Mercato where he is putting together a calamari and chickpea salad with our spring vegetables. It might even include some of our first ever purple artichokes!  Hopefully we will see you on Sunday as we will all be there helping to serve food and talk sustainable food and farming.

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Artichokes and agrostemma on a beautiful day

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #15, 5/26/17

What’s been going on!

Rain, rain, rain.  We are somewhere north of 4 inches this week and things are just soaked but no flooding.  We did push really hard on Monday, seeing the potential for too much water, and got all the peppers in the ground!

It is always a big job but with four of us we were on a roll and the soil was not so wet from the half inch of rain the night before that we couldn’t easily plant.  Even the no-till section was friable enough to tuck them in.  At one point every time I stuck the trowel in the ground I turned up an earthworm, always a good sign!  In the end 2800 plants that are now well watered in and already greening up nicely.

For the most part we have been able to work at least every morning this week and pick berries.  The sad result of the really heavy rain on Wednesday night was that it knocked a huge number of blueberries off the bushes that we just couldn’t get picked earlier in the week.  I do think this is the last week of blueberries for this year, only two weeks.

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No-till peppers happy to be in the ground

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #14, 5/19/17

What’s been going on!

Always something new or at least a new twist.  Birds are a common problem in blueberry fields but our losses have always been relatively small and we lived with them flitting in and out of the bushes.  Last year when we had a very tiny crop as a result of the late April freeze the birds got them all.

This spring’s hard March freezes took maybe half of the blooms but the remaining fruit looked good and with the crazy generally warm conditions they began ripening early, just like all the vegetables some of which have been weeks early.  We could have begun picking last Friday which is a least 10 days early but decided to wait until Monday and then we realized the berries that were turning blue were disappearing, damn the birds are back!

The gold standard for bird protection is netting but we don’t have any, didn’t want to buy any much less have to cover and uncover 100 foot long, seven foot tall rows of bushes.  Big growers sometimes have to build structures over their whole fields to support netting so the mowing and picking can happen underneath.  Not going there.  There are plastic owls and hawks, propane cannons that explode every so often to scare flocks away, not going there either.

Ours are a mix of birds, mostly small birds alone or in tiny groups.  Last year it was cedar waxwings moving through.  We had to move fast so we went with the fun house/disco look.  We ordered, with overnight delivery, scare eye balloons to mimic predators to hang in the field and shiny mylar holographic tape to tie onto the bushes, hasn’t chased all the birds away but enough that we are picking.

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Blueberries, scary balloons, flashy tape can you hear the music?

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