Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #5, 3/1/19

What’s been going on!

Late newsletter this week as I slipped away for my last hiking trip of the winter.  Yesterday I arrived back just in time to help Jason and Shiloh and their crew from Tumbling Shoals Farm load half of the Big Top parts into a giant 30 foot long box truck so they can transport them back to their farm near Wilkesboro.

This morning they were back at 9:00 to get the second half and a good thing just before this next cold rain moved in.  The amount of steel required to cover a half an acre of ground is prodigious.  We had enough legs (225) to cover three quarters of an acre and along with all the associated braces and hoops (120) not to mention all the huge plastic sheets too.  So that is first and the biggest of the equipment and infrastructure we are going to sell as we downsize into Peregrine Farm 7.0 and it is a relief to have it gone to a good home.

So we made it to March and of course we have at least one more big cold snap coming this week with several nights in the low 20’s, in like a lion.  At least it will be dry which we need so we can get ready to slide the tunnels in preparation for planting the super early tomatoes and cucumbers.  The pace begins to quicken now.

Picture of the Week


Some tough farm girls on a cold morning

What’s going to be at the Market?  Continue reading

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #4, 2/21/19 The Big Reveal

Peregrine Farm 7.0, or as we joke, back under really old management.

My father, who was a keen observer of life, always said that you had to reinvent yourself every so often.  By our loose thinking we have done so with Peregrine Farm about every 6 years or so. From all Pick-Your-Own berries to vegetables and cut flowers sold at Wholesale and Farmers’ Market.  From only Betsy on the farm full time to both of us with employees.  Reducing the emphasis on wholesale to really focusing on the Farmers’ Market.  Turkeys and the Big Tops.  Bringing Jennie on as a business partner.  All big changes in both direction and to “the brand”.  7.0 is the next re-jiggering, as my father would have also said, is probably the most dramatic since getting out of the Pick-Your-Own business.

If you read previous farm transition pieces closely you know that our original plan, before Jennie, was to eventually downsize to where just the two of us could do the work, go to Farmers’ Market only part of the year and become old characters at market (we may have already attained the last part) and that is what we are doing.  There are points of no return with this plan and we are fine with that.  The two big ones are getting so small that there is not enough work to actually hire help and giving up one of our two spaces at the market because we will not have enough product to fill two spaces and won’t be there enough weeks to qualify to have two spaces (27 weeks).

When Jennie made her decision last June we began to draw up the new plan.  It had to revolve around farming in the cooler months as both of us have gotten to where we don’t tolerate the heat well anymore and we wanted a large chunk of time off for travel and to enjoy life while we are still in good shape.  We have to attend market at least 17 weeks a year to hold one reserved space which is the key to us being successful.  While the “cooler months” do include fall and winter the difficulties of producing enough, consistently, in those seasons are too many.  We would focus on late winter, spring- when the growing conditions are the best and the very early bit of summer.

We also knew that we couldn’t grow every crop that we had in the past, so as pragmatic business people we did a deep dive into our data to determine which ones really paid the bills and how much of it we really needed to produce to meet market demand.  This also meant giving up crops that either didn’t carry their weight, didn’t grow easily on this piece of land or we just didn’t like growing.  The years of experimentation were over, we were going to only grow the tried and true.

In the downsizing we would limit ourselves to only a half an acre, a big change from the 2 to 2.5 acres we had been producing for the last decade or more with four to five people.  This is one quarter acre outdoors and one quarter acre under the cover of the little sliding tunnels.  We are moving from being small farmers to large gardeners.

So what does all this look like?  Our market season will start in January and run about 20 weeks until the 4th of July, Independence Day.  Our growing season of course starts earlier with a few things going in the ground in October and November but the greenhouse and planting really starts in earnest in December.  As you can see now at market it starts with Anemones soon to be followed by Ranunculus and other spring flowers.  Cool season vegetables will focus on lettuces with other greens and salad turnips and radishes.  Warm season vegetables will be limited to the very early cucumbers, basil and tomatoes.

Most significantly the days of big tomatoes and peppers are over.  The Big Tops (Haygrove field scale tunnels) that have allowed us to consistently grow large amounts of tomatoes have been taken down and sold, they are just too big for us to manage without employees and would mean too much tomato work in the heat of the summer.  We are going from 1300 plants down to 260 that will give us tomatoes in June.

The single biggest change will be no more peppers for market and no more pepper roasting.  We are thinking about coming for a few weeks in September just to roast peppers for people who purchase them from other vendors at market.  This is the one crop we really hate to stop producing for market but it is the most time consuming crop and during the hottest months, as they are in the ground from May until November.

So there it is, Plan B.  One of the reasons that Betsy and I became farmers in the first place was to be able control as much of our own destiny as possible by working for ourselves, producing our own food and building our surrounds and this is just a continuation of that determination.  We know that you will embrace this next evolution of Peregrine Farm too!

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Holy cow! The sun came out.  This is now the scope of Peregrine Farm

What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #3, 2/14/19

What’s been going on!

We want to thank everyone who sent kind words and support for the Barker family!

We have more news to share and we have been waiting until the time was right to do so.  We have talked about this with some folks over the last few months and we are sad to say that Jennie will not be staying on with Peregrine Farm.  This was a very hard decision for her and we completely understood her position and supported her while feeling very sorry that she was leaving.

After eight years with us she came to realize that in the long run, without a business partner, she would not be able to run this operation by herself.  We concurred that it is nearly impossible to farm alone and while Betsy and I are currently still around we would increasingly not be here and eventually completely.  A secondary factor was that being alone out here in the country is difficult too.

What the three of us were trying to do in transitioning the farm to a non-family member was very difficult and a very high bar to achieve.  Only half of family owned businesses make it to the second generation and only half of those to the third and most of those are not farms.  I think about this several times a week when I drive by a local farm that has a sign out front that says “Since 1774”, that’s right, two years before the Declaration of Independence!  Who knows what infinitesimal part of a percentage point that farm is amongst all farms who succeed in passing the farm on.

We are proud of what we did accomplish and of the work we did to build a situation and relationship with Jennie.  Our legal and working model was excellent and Jennie did an incredible job of taking over the reins and running the farm.  But if you are not happy in your situation then a change needs to happen.  Betsy and I have been fortunate to have each other to work alongside all these years and have loved this place and the farming life but as I frequently say “there are reasons that farmers are only one percent of the population”.

The three of us knew from the beginning that something could happen that would make our plan not work out and so we have always had Plan B which we alluded to in our series of pieces on farm transition.  First we will say that we are not going to look for another person or persons to pass Peregrine Farm, the business, on to; it is simply too late in our lives and takes too much energy to build the relationship needed.  We have always said that Jennie was the only time we were going to attempt this and are a bit sad that the farm business will not survive us but the land will.

There are big changes afoot with Plan B and we are excited about them.  Next week I will layout the whole picture of what we are calling Peregrine Farm 7.0.  In the meantime if you run into Jennie in town (fortunately she is staying in the area) give her a warm greeting and thank her for growing such great produce for you!

Picture of the Week


First light of day on a tunnel of Little Gem

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #2, 2/7/19

What’s been going on! 

It is with extremely heavy hearts that we have to share the loss of one of our closest friends and the sweet side of the Triangle and North Carolina’s greatest food couple.  Karen Barker passed away this past weekend after complications from a year and a half battle with cancer.

We first met Karen in 1984 when she and Ben had just started in the kitchen at the old La Residence in Chapel Hill, she bought some of the very first raspberries and blackberries we produced.  We followed them out to The Fearrington House supplying them with berries for her increasingly incredible deserts and when they started the Magnolia Grill in Durham in 1986 we were there with berries, flowers and vegetables.

Our relationship grew over the three plus decades into a rare one-of-a-kind with both our professional sides which we wrote about in 2012 when they closed the Magnolia Grill and in the last dozen years with our personal travels together to explore some of the great food places in the world.  It was Karen’s crazy, relentless reading and research that took the four of us to amazing off the beaten path food experiences as good as or better than the famous Michelin starred places.  We now know how special our last trip together in October was.

Of course it was more than food.  There were long, usually late at night, conversations about all subjects from running intense hands-on businesses to the Me Too movement.  Karen always had deep insight and thoughtful commentary that we will miss dearly.

Yes she was awarded the Best Pastry Chef in the United States but the sweetest part of Karen was always her calmness, sly smile and sideways glance that sent a message that only you knew what that meant.  We will miss her terribly as colleagues and friends and are heartbroken for Ben, Gabe and the family.

Picture of the Week

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 Enjoying each other’s company in Spello, Italy

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #1, 1/3/19

What’s been going on! 

Happy 2019!  Here we go into our 38th growing season, our 34th at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market and the 16th year of writing a newsletter; still almost impossible to comprehend that it has been that many years.  One way that we can gauge it is by the numbers of customers that we have who are the sons and daughters of folks who have shopped with us for a long time.

We were reminded of this last week as we were out visiting our dear friends Ben and Sarah.  Ben began coming to the Farmers’ Market with his grandmother probably back in the late 80’s and maybe sometimes with his mother who still shops every week with us.  You may remember Sarah as the Farmers’ Market manager from 2008-2012.  They now have a beautiful daughter who will be the 4th generation of Ben’s family who we will help feed and nourish!

We went to see them last week partly to help Ben get our old tractor started.  Two years ago our original tractor, that we bought in 1982, suffered what seemed to be a non-repairable hydraulic leek, or at least very hard to get parts for as three mechanics turned us away.  We bought a new tractor instead and planned to sell the old one for parts.  Ben and Sarah had bought a piece of land and needed a tractor for mowing and other jobs.  Ben is a good mechanic and felt sure that he could fix it so we gave our old standby to a good home.  Well it was a difficult task to find the parts but he did and finally after two years he has a solid working tractor.  Maybe it was that food of ours he was fed all those years?

Picture of the Week

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4th generation Peregrine Farm eater on a play date, testing out the newly refurbished tractor

What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading