Peregrine Farm News Vol. 15 #8, 4/11/18

What’s been going on!

First day of the Wednesday market for the 2018 season is today, 3:00-6:00, it looks to be a beautiful afternoon.  The mid-week market run by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Farmers’ Markets, Inc. (that is our official name) has been at the Town Commons since 1997.  There has always been a mid-week market but it has moved both locations and days over the years and until 1997, was the Chapel Hill part of the equation.

The first location was at East Gate shopping center and was held on Thursdays from 1982-1986 and was a good market but the Food Lion grocery store began to object so it was moved to behind Mariakakis restaurant for two years until a better location could be found.  With the development of East Chapel Hill High School and the Cedar Falls Park across the street it was moved to the park in 1989 where at first it was on Thursdays but eventually moved to Tuesdays.  The mid-week market never really recovered from all the moves and when the Saturday market moved to its beautiful permanent location in 1996 we asked the Town of Carrboro if we could have a mid-week market there too.

We waited a year so we could settle the Saturday market into the new Town Commons properly before we brought the mid-week market over and became an all Carrboro channel.  The market organization did briefly operate the Southern Village market on Thursdays from 2004-2009, marking the return to a Chapel Hill location but it proved  not be a strong market so we once again consolidated our efforts back at the Town Commons.  Now 22 years later the Wednesday market continues to be a solid, if modest market day, with a great selection of vendors and products.  See you there!

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Some bodacious, tender and sweet spinach heading to market

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 15 #6, 3/30/18

What’s been going on!

Forty springs means a lot of produce and flowers have passed through the Carrboro Farmers’ Market.  Yes this year is the Market’s 40th season!  It is sometimes hard to imagine that a group of farmers could consistently organize themselves and set up every Saturday for that many years and do it so well.  Now Peregrine Farm hasn’t been there from the beginning, we are only in our 33rd year, but we can completely appreciate the effort that has gone into starting and building the institution that the Carrboro Market is.

For those who don’t remember, our first 17 years were in the parking lot on Roberson St. behind the Armadillo Grill.  That location was just leased from Carr Mill and when they decided they might sell it we worked closely with the Town to find a new permanent home for what had become an essential element in the fabric of the Town of Carrboro.  We knew that we needed to stay near Downtown but a location could be hard to find.  Fortunately the old ball field next to Town Hall (which used to be the elementary school) was available to become a town park.  It took nearly eight years from the first discussions, through design meetings, to fund raising efforts and finally construction before we moved to the Town Commons in 1996.

I was President of the market Board leading up to and during the move and we were ecstatic with our new permanent home.  It was a tight fit as we had grown to an 80 space market but working with the Town it all worked out.  23 years later I am once again President of the board as we prepare to move back into the newly renovated market space after 5 long winter months.  The improvements are vast.  One of the biggest goals was to improve the drainage and grass so that it does not become a muddy moonscape after rains.  They have buried huge drain pipes and graded in such a way to catch all the water.  The grassed areas under where vendor’s trucks and displays will be have been reinforced with a special grid to hopefully prevent wear and tear.  New water permeable walkways, a bathroom building, new playground and market storage building, new lighting and electrical hookups for the vendors that need power.   Refurbished shelters and gazebo to make it all more usable for special events both for the Market and other Town events.  It will be awesome!

Technically the construction is done this week but we cannot move onto the new grass until April 14th so that it has adequate time to become solidly rooted and can take truck traffic.  Until then the good news is that the new parking lots will be open as well as the bathroom building.  We will be able to park some vendors in the south side parking lot and near the playground but will probably still have a few folks in the main parking lot next to Town Hall.

Just as our amazing customers and market supporters followed us from Roberson Street to the Town Commons 23 years ago, we have been equally proud and appreciative of how they have been flexible and unfazed during this renovation chaos!  It is only a short time now and just in time for the blooming of the spring market.  Join us next week April 7th for the official ribbon cutting ceremony at 9:00 a.m.

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The ground breaking for building the Town Commons in 1995, Alex on the left was 15 😉

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #36, 11/9/17

What’s been going on!

Raw, raw couple of days.  There are experiences in life that etch themselves so deeply into your being that they surface whenever the conditions or situation are similar.  Like knowing that something hot will burn you or that a barking dog with teeth bared can raise the hair on the back of your neck.  Usually these are survival lessons we have learned.

This kind of weather is exactly one of those for Betsy and me.  Our first year farming, in 1982, had been one of excitement and struggle as we planted and tended our first crops while trying to build infrastructure on this blank piece of land.  I was on the farm full time and Betsy was working in the kitchen at the Fearrington House.  In late March we moved into a tent next to the only building on the farm, a 20X20 tin roofed equipment shed that I had built the fall before to house the tractor and tools.  It allowed us to save money on rent and to be here to work as much as we could and not have to commute.

Spring moved into summer and we had to get a real house built but progress was painfully slow between trying to save the crops from biblical weeds, not having two dimes to rub together and building it mostly by myself.  By the end of October we finally had it dried in with just black board on the outside and the plumbing and electric roughed in but there was no insulation or sheetrock.

The first weekend of November we were staring down days of cold rainy weather that herald the end of beautiful fall and the beginning of winter.  After 7 months in the tent we did not relish being cold and damp so we rigged up the woodstove in the new house and moved in, not optimal but at least we were warm and dry!  By Christmas we had it insulated and the sheetrock up but it would be another six months before we would have running water and more electricity than what an extension cord from the temporary power pole could deliver to four plugs.

It was those days and many more like them that made us tougher and resilient enough to succeed in this business but as we sit here with the 40 degree drizzle outside and a fire in the woodstove it all comes rushing back like it was yesterday.

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 Our blackboard house in the spring of 1983

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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. 12 #28, 10/1/15

What’s been going on!

Storm preparation mode.  Haven’t had a stretch like this since 2008, at least that we can remember.  That late summer, early fall we were coming off of a dry period just like this year when several tropical storms hit us in about a week and we had over 13 inches of rain over a two week period.  During the September 6th Saturday market, tropical storm Hannah arrived with high winds and 4 inches of rain.  It shouldn’t be that bad this Saturday but it does look to be wet.

Our first concern this weekend is the potential of the Haw River flooding our bottom field where the peppers are this year and part of the fall vegetables.  With 4 inches of rain this past week the river is already up some and if we get hit with the high end of the 5-9 inches forecast it could be a problem.  Fortunately we will be able know it is coming and will at least be able to pick a bunch of peppers and pull the irrigation pump if it gets that high.

Our second concern is obviously the track of hurricane Joaquin, which yesterday looked like it was potentially on a Fran track but today looks to be trending further out to sea.  As the last dryish day to get things done, we went ahead this morning and uncovered the last of the Big Tops and battened down other things in case the wind does really get up, better safe than sorry.

Tomorrow looks to be a really wet day but we are hoping some of the forecasts are correct about less rain on Saturday.  Of course you all will come on to market because it is the market’s Pepper Festival with lots of good things to eat.  Like last week, we will bring the roaster to market but we will just have to see how windy it is.

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This is what the well-dressed market shopper looked like in the middle of a tropical storm in 2008

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 12 #20, 7/22/15

What’s been going on!

We had another interesting first time experience recently when I recorded an hour and a half podcast for Chris Blanchard’s Farmer to Farmer Podcast series.  Chris was a farmer and now is consulting with organic farmers and has started doing these interviews with mostly organic vegetable farmers from all across the country.  If you have great stamina you can listen to the whole thing which is wide ranging but the following is a breakdown of the major subjects if you want to skip around.

Starts with an intro; minute 5- where we market and how we got started; min. 10- how we financed the whole thing; min. 20- record keeping and crop planning; min. 30- high tunnels and tomatoes; min. 45 our transition plans with Jennie and retirement; min. 65 efficiency, labor, equipment and farm design.  We recorded it over the phone so the sound is a bit funny as I sound out of breath.

Friday we have another interview for a profile of Peregrine Farm to be in yet another book, this one about successful small farms under 5 acres in production.  This will be, I think, the seventh book we have been included in over the years, something we never imagined.

Planting of fall crops picks up over the next few weeks with many flats seeded at the greenhouse and celery, turnips and radishes all in the ground already.  In the next few weeks we will plant or seed leeks, carrots, beets and Romanesco broccoli.  We even harvested the first of the winter squash yesterday, I know it seems wrong when it is 90 degrees but that is how the timing works here in NC.

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Another steamy morning, summer cover crops with late flowers behind

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #30, 10/30/14

What’s been going on!

In my mind the first ugly, cold, wet weekend of the winter is always the first weekend in November.  Usually because it actually happens that way but it was imprinted on us 32 years ago this week when we finally moved into our “house”.  We had been living in a tent for seven months while we tended the first crops and began building a house.  The house was far from done, more like a big wooden tent but it did have a roof and walls and a woodstove.  The forecast for that weekend was the same as this coming Saturday, 40’s and rain, the thought of gritting it out under the tractor shed was not appealing so we moved in.  There was no insulation so we had to almost sit on the woodstove to stay warm but it was dry and a lot warmer than the tent would have been.

The first killing frost usually comes along just after that cold weekend too.  People always talk about the first frost when it gets below 32 degrees or frost actually forms on some surfaces and maybe damages some tender plants.  Statistically for the farm it is around October 21st but that is really of no concern to us.  Our defining line is 28 degrees that is when peppers and other warm season crops will actually die.  This weekend’s forecast has been warmed up some from 29 to 31 degrees on Sunday night but for us that is close enough to go ahead and clean off the pepper plants and call it a season.  Yesterday Jennie and I got about three quarters done, today we will finish.  One of the beauties of peppers is they hold very well in the walk-in cooler so we will be able to have them for several more weeks but Saturday will be the last day of pepper roasting.

No newsletter for the next several weeks as I will be out of town, in Jamaica.  Not a vacation, even though I am sure there will be some recreation involved.  I am headed down for a farmer to farmer exchange with a group of organic growers in the far southeastern tip of the island.  I will be staying at The Source Farm who is the lead in country to work with this group of over 40 farmers trying to diversify and improve their markets in Kingston.  Lots of stories to share when I get back but until then Betsy and Jennie will be at the Saturday markets while I am away.

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A beautiful fall morning and a very tired field of peppers

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #4, 3/14/14

What’s been going on!

An interesting milestone this week as we realized that the last of our “Advisory committee”, Max Perry, passed away on Monday.  We live on Perry Rd. and the Perry clan owns large swaths of land up and down the road including the 400 or so acres on our south side.  Max was the patriarch of the family and the last of his generation, he was 77.

When we first moved here in 1982 we were like most of today’s new farmers in that we were not from a farming background and had to learn almost everything from scratch.  Today’s new farmers have vast and incredible resources from which to draw knowledge and information that we could only have dreamed about back then.  Sure we had degrees in agriculture and lifetimes of family gardening but never farmed for a living.  So we did what the Ethnologists would describe as gathering “indigenous knowledge”, we consulted the good old boys in the neighborhood or more accurately they freely volunteered their opinions.

Of course when we moved into a tent, next to our tractor shed with the 1949 tractor, they first thought we were crazy and doomed to failure (so did our parents).  Over time they would stop by and introduce themselves and to see just exactly what we were up to.  Most wrote us off but a group of them kept an eye on our progress and we were great fodder for discussion as we were some of the few folks in the neighborhood who were not from the “families”.  Max was one of them; he was an avid hunter and observer of the local flora and fauna.  He loved it when we started raising turkeys because he was very protective of the recovering turkey population that mostly lived on his land.  He was also the unofficial community watch as he worked third shift and would drive up and down the road late at night when he couldn’t sleep.

All of our advisory committee had similar backgrounds, they had grown up here farming but in the end had gotten “public work” in either construction or at the university.  Their family farms stopped with their parent’s generation and they were now just the stewards of the land which either stayed in pasture or trees, some they rented out to other farmers.  Their experience was that you couldn’t make a living farming but were interested in keeping farming alive in the neighborhood and to see what this new farming was all about.

Lenny Perry, Max’s uncle, would stop by regularly in the early years especially when we were clearing new land and commiserate with Betsy who was working alone with a chainsaw as I was in town trying to make some money to keep our dream alive.  “How’s that new ground coming” he would ask and give some advice on what to do next.  He had even farmed our land back in the 30’s and 40’s, raising wheat and other grains.  After a few years he was overheard at the corner store, where the old boys would gather, telling them that “she can drive a tractor as good as a man”.

Our other immediate neighbors, Herbert and Peggy Lou Thomas, owned all the land between us and the Haw River on our east and north sides. They actually lived down the road a few miles but raised a big garden in the bottom field across the creek from ours.  As we would be down in our field working they would be over there just talking away to each other while harvesting corn or tending tomatoes.  Let’s just say that Peggy Lou had a voice that could carry.  We would always find a basket of corn on the steps or Herbert would always check in to see if he had beaten me in having the first ripe tomato (he always did).  When we started using cover crops to improve our soil, he would advise me on when they were ready to turn under.

George Graves (who was married to a Perry) was particularly influential in our development.  He was one of the early members of the Carrboro Farmers’ Market and grew huge amounts of maters, taters and beans among other crops.  He told us what varieties of spinach and other crops to grow that were best for our area, when to plant them, where to get seed.  He and Betsy would drive together to the local farm supply to get onion sets and parts for things.  When he would stop by and see us doing something crazy he would just shake his head and say “sheeeeit” and steer us in the right direction.  Without George it would have been many more years before we started selling at the market, he frequently encouraged us to “get down there and sell those berries” until we finally did.

Faye and Ervin Perry rounded out the committee.  Ervin was George’s brother-in-law and he and Faye farmed across the road from George and sold at market too.  They came to market farming late in life but with ingenuity and of course the local knowledge.  We would watch them in their 60’s and 70’s slowly and patiently tend and harvest their two acres of crops and never break a sweat.  Ervin could somehow do it all off of a riding lawn mower.  Their “grocery house” was the picture of an efficient small packing shed and cool room that many small growers even today would want to have.  We would occasionally go out to dinner with them after market and just soak up their stories.

They are all gone now, we are on our own to screw up, make all the mistakes and figure out the answers.  I guess we are now the indigenous knowledge, not sure we can ever be the characters they were, damn few like them.

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Thousands of onions on a sunny day

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #14, 5/8/13

What’s been going on!

So I was talking to a dairy farmer the other day and he was asking if we have had too much rain because he couldn’t get a number of chores done until it dried out some.  I said not too much yet but we sure could use some sun.  It has been a long time since we have had a really wet spring, the kind where you have water standing in the fields and you wait for weeks to get anything done.

Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s we had a number of years when it rained like hell, particularly in early spring, and we many times wondered if we were ever going to get anything planted or weeded.  This is when we developed our system of raising our beds up the fall before so they would drain and warm up fast come spring and heavy rains.  We even had a number of floods in our creek bottom field that finally made us stop using those fields (even though it is the best soil on the farm) in the regular rotation because we couldn’t afford to lose crops, then after Hurricane Fran in 1996 the tap turned off.

We can’t remember a flood in the bottom since Fran and have slowly begun using that field on a more regular basis but still not for our major crops: lettuce, peppers and tomatoes.  They are way up on the hill, safe from high water but certainly not immune to multiple other kinds of plagues that could hit them.  As I always point out to new farmers, bad things will happen but you can learn a lot from those situations.

One of our graduates, who is now farming a beautiful farm on the banks of the Cane river north of Asheville, had a huge flood this week which carried off not only much of what he had planted for this spring but a lot of his topsoil as well, replacing it with river rocks.  He will lose the use of that area for some time to come but is planning on picking up all the rocks he can to start the process.  The reason that creek bottom fields have rich soil is the same reason they flood, sometimes there is too much water and the stream deposits it there.  So the answer to the dairy farmer is no we haven’t hand too much rain here but lots of other folks have, wish we could go help pick rocks.  Come on sun!

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A June flood in 1993 which took our whole tomato crop

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #31, 12/12/12

What’s been going on!

It is all about getting the workshop/apartment dried in before Christmas now.  I do these big construction projects so infrequently (every 5 or 6 years) that I have to re-learn all kinds of techniques and skills that I just don’t use every day.  Takes me what seems like an extraordinary amount of time to think through some steps that everyday carpenters just do automatically.

One of the great skills that I acquired early on and that every farmer has to have is carpentry.  Out of economic necessity it is the only way that we could have built the infrastructure that is needed on a farm, we could have never afforded to hire people to do all the work here.  Other farmer friends of ours always joke that farmers farm in the summer so they can be carpenters in the winter; sometimes I think they are correct.  We still have the same money constraints but, as a control freak, I also just have to be able to do it the way I want.

The unexpected rain this past week and too many meetings that I couldn’t skip has slowed us up by a few days but I have the bit in my mouth now and we are steaming forward.  All the framing is now done and the roofing tin arrives today.  With any luck the roof will be on tomorrow, windows and doors installed Friday and we can start siding this weekend.  I told Jennie that we had to have it done before she left for Christmas break next Tuesday.  Not sure that is possible but we will make a run at it.

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The bones waiting for tin.  The first thing I built on the farm on the right, the fifth on the left

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