Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #11, 5/22/14

What’s been going on!

The end of an era and a sad day.  A quiet collapse of part of our local food system rippled through the area last week.  Chaudhry’s Halal Meats in Siler City, who has run the only local independent poultry processing plant since 2008, announced he was throwing in the towel and closing.  He will keep his profitable red meat plant open but despite building a state of the art poultry plant there were not enough birds going through it to keep it open.  This will probably be the last time we will see an independent poultry processing plant operating in the Piedmont of North Carolina.

What happened?  You may remember that when we first began raising turkeys in 2003 there was a small poultry processing plant between Pittsboro and Siler City who had been in business for a few years, struggling to make a go of it.  In the fall of 2005 they announced they were going to close just as the Thanksgiving season was approaching.  We quickly formed a group to take over the plant to at least run it through the end of the year.  In the end we formed a cooperative, Growers Choice, and we fought a losing battle for nearly two years to keep the plant running and get enough birds on the ground to make it profitable.  Between the condition of the plant, the USDA, and not enough birds we closed down operations as Chaudhry announced he was going to build a new plant.

We thought “great you run the plant and Growers Choice will work on increasing the number of local birds being raised”.  In the long run two things happened.  Farmers are independent sorts and really don’t work together well, we could not get them to cooperate to even buy feed in bulk, which would dramatically reduce their production costs.  The other change was loosening of the self-processing rules that allowed people to process more birds on their own farms without USDA inspection; most of the new growers of chickens now process their own.  Only those growers who raised a lot of chickens or turkeys would take them to Chaudhry’s, it was not enough.  I will say that Abdul Chaudhry and his folks did a good job and he kept the plant open longer than was economically feasible made only possible by having his other plant next door to absorb some of the costs and employees.

What will happen next?  The next closest plant is now in 3 hours away in Marion, no one I know will drive their birds that far; so for many, including us, it is the end of their pastured poultry operations, especially turkeys.  Some may begin self-processing their own chickens because they are relatively faster and easier to do than other birds but will do them in smaller numbers than they did before.  All of the turkey producers I have talked to have indicated that they will not be raising turkeys.  Few people self-process more than a few turkeys because they are heavy and much more work than chickens.  So savor that rare local pasture raised chicken you see at the Farmers’ Market and be prepared to go back to a Butterball turkey or have one shipped in from someplace else.  For us it is certainly the end of a long experiment but we will not be raising turkeys this year and probably never again.

Picture of the Week

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We finally got the last of the Big Tops covered on Monday, now the top of the hill looks more normal

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #37, 11/22/13 Thanksgiving!

What’s been going on!

The family travels went well, lots of driving but mission accomplished.  While we have seen each other at family gatherings over the years it had been 42 years since I had stepped foot onto my aunt and uncles (and now my cousin’s) farm in northern Mississippi.  Amazingly it looked pretty much like I remembered it except the buildings and distances were much bigger back then.

We raced back home and the week has been a busy one since.  Turkey harvest day went smoothly and the birds ended up being much larger than normal this year.  Last year we had almost no birds above 15 pounds which had never happened before.  This season we have very few below 15 pounds, lots of leftovers!  We are now focused on our favorite eating week of the year.

The weather forecast for both the Saturday and Tuesday markets looks less than desirable, cool and rainy.  In between we will have a hard freeze on Sunday/Monday.  To that end we are harvesting as many of the outdoor crops as we can today while it is warm and will wait until Monday to pick the indoor crops that will go to the Tuesday Thanksgiving market.

The special Tuesday pre-Thanksgiving market (3:00-6:00) is always a bustling and produce beautiful afternoon.  We will probably not be in our usual space as all the vendors are parked in the order that they arrive.  Look for our big white truck and there will be signs to point folks to which shelter we are in.  Dress warmly and with rain gear.

Pictures of the Week

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Our Norman Rockwell turkeys

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Celery and Baby Chard

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #32, 10/3/13

What’s been going on!

Made it to October and one last shot of summer like weather, had to happen.  Slow progress on the fall soil preparations because we now need some rain to help make the soil easier to work.  Still most of the mineral amendments have been spread and the first pass over the fields with the disk to cut in the crop residues is done.  Rain forecast for Sunday, Monday and into Tuesday should do the trick.

The Carrboro Farmers’ Market Fall Harvest Potluck last Thursday was again a great event with lots of delicious dishes from the chefs and restaurants that shop at the market.  Perfect weather and of course a perfect location.  We have so many chefs and community volunteers who support the market and make these kinds of events possible, we can never thank them enough.

Heads up, we have one more Southern Season cooking class coming up the evening of Wednesday October 16th.  Again with our friend Craig LeHoullier of heirloom tomato fame but this time all about chiles as he grows those too.  We may even bring the roaster and set it up on the balcony next to the cooking school class room.  The menu looks really good and there are still seats available.

Picture of the Week

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Turkeys grazing away next to freshly disked field

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #30, 9/18/13 Turkey Reservations

What’s been going on!

I have the chisels and stone tablet out preparing to permanently record for posterity “2013, the most amazing and pleasant late summer weather ever”.  The radiant fall days are the reason to live in central North Carolina but they usually don’t happen like this until October.  Now the first day of fall is Sunday but still…

As promised last week, today marks the start of Turkey reservations.  We always wait until after Labor Day when we have a better idea of how many birds will actually be available.  By the time they get this old they are usually pretty hardy but even now we can lose some to one thing or another. There will only be about 50 birds available this fall and they are all the larger Broad Breasted Bronzes.  All the information about what kind we have, how much they will be and the order form is now on the Website for easier access.

Look for the order form either at the top of the page or near the bottom under “How do I reserve one of the special birds?”  You can easily download the Word document there.  We will also have the order forms at Market on Saturdays. I can also tell you that with the “Frequent Flyer” reservations, nearly a quarter of them are already spoken for.  I will continue to update how many are available on the website.  Don’t wait too long.

Tomorrow I am participating in an interesting panel discussion in Raleigh called The Food Dialogues.  This is the third such event I have been asked to be a part of in the last month.  All three have been organized by big commodity Ag groups as listening or information sessions and I am usually the token sustainable/organic farmer in the group.  Ostensibly they just want to have an open discussion about how our food is produced for the enlightenment of the public at large.  My gut feeling is that Big Ag is trying to improve their image, especially in relation to GMO’s and pesticide use.  You can actually watch it live on the web if you want or I will let you know how it went next week.

Picture of the Week

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True signs of fall, long morning shadows and the Big Tops uncovered for the winter

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #29, 9/11/13

What’s been going on!

It was a proud day Monday when the kids graduated from high school (tears and sniffles, etc.), I mean the turkeys moved from the brooder to the field.  Fully six weeks old, not sure how old that is in human years but more than ready to need more room to roam.  A different first move this year because we are raising them much later in the season than we have for the past 10 years.  Usually their first move is down below the hydrangeas and viburnums so they have more shade and shrub protection from potential flying predators.

Over the following 10 weeks they move up hill through the blueberries and various fields of either old cut flowers or summer cover crops, changing fields every two weeks or so.  This year we only have a few weeks left until we start tearing up all the fields, that are now finished for the year, in preparation for winter cover crops, so there is no time to rotate the birds in the usual pattern if we want them drop some poop on at least some fields.  So this year they are starting at the top of the hill instead.

The good thing about the first stop on the turkey tour is it was a shorter walk for the birds from the brooder to the field, yes they walk, slowly, very slowly (here is a picture from last years walk).  Fewer distractions along this grassy walk and after not too long we had them in a lush green summer cover crop of sudangrass with lots of shade and bugs to eat.  A successful start for some happy birds.  Look for the turkey reservation form and information next week.

Only two weeks left to get your tickets for the Carrboro Farmers’ Market Chefs’ Harvest Potluck, Thursday September 26th.  If you attended last year you know how great an event it was, if you didn’t then don’t miss out on this one.  Many great dishes from over 20 local chefs and beer from Six String Brewery and wine from Benjamin Vineyards.  It is a beautiful event under the market pavilions that raises money for improvements to the Market facility.  See you there!

Picture of the Week

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Beautiful day, cover crop and happy birds

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #27, 8/29/13

What’s been going on!

Two popular questions we get at market this time of year.  Particularly with this summer’s much cooler than normal temperatures people are wondering what the winter will be like.  I used to think that if we had a cool winter we would have a cooler summer and vice versa summer into winter because the mass of the earth wasn’t as warm as it would otherwise be.  Now I realize that it really is all about the Jet Stream and how far north or south it tends to be and how amplified the waves in it are.  It is all about El Nino and the other steering factors.

If you go to the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center you can see their best estimates of what the winter will be like.  Right now it looks like a normal fall both in temperature and rainfall, that would be refreshing, but as we move into winter it will be a bit drier than normal and as we move into late winter/early spring becoming warmer than normal but with average rainfall, much like the last few winters.  This is the forecast map for the November/December/January period.  So according to them nothing too cold.

The other question is of course pepper related.  The pepper roaster was really invented in the southwest to roast green chile, the national vegetable of New Mexico.  The question we get many times a day is “Are these Hatch Chiles?”  The answer is no in two ways.  First Hatch is not a variety of the New Mexican pod type, also more commonly known as Anaheims, it is a small town in southern New Mexico in the heart of the chile growing region.  Of course the second no answer is because we have to grow everything we sell at the Carrboro market they certainly can’t be chiles grown in Hatch New Mexico.

That all being said, we have and do grow New Mexican bred varieties of green chile.  Many of the varieties grown in Hatch have been bred just down the road at New Mexico State Univ.  Over the years we have trialed and sold 8-10 NMSU varieties, most recently NuMex Joe Parker.  What we can’t reproduce here is the conditions of southern New Mexico, hot arid days with cool nights in the alluvial soils of the Rio Grande valley.  Those conditions lead to a more consistent pepper in flavor, heat and in meatiness.  Think of Hatch chiles as Vidalia onions, there is no Vidalia variety, just a soil and climate that leads to really sweet onions.  We think that the best peppers we produce, including green chile, are harvested in the next six weeks as we come closest to the warm, dry and cool night conditions of the southwest.

Picture of the Week

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The perennial question is how are the turkeys?  4 weeks old

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #25, 8/1/13

What’s been going on!

5:38 this morning the phone rings, jolting us out of the last stages of sleep.  I say “just pick it up and then hang up” as Betsy reaches for the phone “No wait!  It might be the Post Office calling to tell us the turkeys are here!”.  Indeed the case and we are off and running, Betsy driving to Graham to pick up the box filled with little chirpers and me across the field to finish up the brooder preparations.  By 7:00 they are all installed, eating, drinking and running around.

You may remember this newsletter from June when I was debating if we would raise turkeys this year and the specific hurdles to doing so.  Well those hurdles have mostly been cleared.  The feed plant problems have been solved, the availability of poults later than normal worked out and a processing date has been secured the week before Thanksgiving allowing us to have fresh birds and avoid the freezer plant issues.  One more time around the block.

A fun event coming up a week from today The Crop Hop at the Barn in Fearrington Village is a fundraiser for the Farm Sustainability Programs at the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI).  Live music, square dancing if you are so inclined, microbrews and some deserts all for just $10-20.  We will be there as I am on the Board of RAFI, one of the oldest and most important of all the sustainable agriculture organizations in the country.  They do great work in many areas of agriculture but this night we will be focusing on the work they do to help save family farms from going out of business.  Come on out for an enjoyable evening and support sustainable farms.

Once again we have made it through July and it is time for our annual August break so no newsletter for the next two weeks.  After market this Saturday, Betsy and I will be laying low for two weeks, taking short road trips, going out to eat and just taking it easy.  The exciting party (really) is we are going to focus on moving into the new workshop, building a work bench, putting up shelves, sorting and organizing all the tools and supplies that are strewn across five buildings; Betsy has been waiting for this for years!  Jennie and Liz will be working next week and expect to see them at market, maybe both Wednesday and Saturday.  They will both then have a week off and we will not be at Market at all on the 17th.  When we come back it will be full pepper season and roasting should begin on the 24th.

Picture of the Week

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This little turkey is saying “here we go again”

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #20, 6/19/13

What’s been going on!

Just amazing that the cool(ish) spring weather continues this late into June along with the rains.  We are trying hard to catch up on weeding, tying up tomatoes and other chores held up by both the wet conditions and blueberry season.  Blueberry season is over this week (we will cruise through the planting one more time tomorrow) so now we can concentrate on taking care of the summer crops.  The main red onion harvest is finally over too, hard to pull onions when it is too wet but the urgency to get them out before the weeds took them was pressing.  They will now cure for a week before we begin to bring them to market.

The past week is normally when the little turkey poults arrive in the mail but not this year.  There are multiple red flags that have caused us to hold off raising turkeys this season.  Feed is the number one cost in raising the birds despite the fact that they are pastured.  Feed prices remain at record high levels and on top of that, the feed plant that we have used that past few years had a fire earlier this year and is still shut down, making it difficult to get the feed we want, two strikes.  Last fall, the week we went to process the birds, we found out that the freezer plant that we had used for a decade would no longer allow us to store our turkeys there (they changed ownership) and we scrambled to find a substitute facility.  We did but were underwhelmed at the options and the service we ended up with, third strike.

But there may be a silver lining to the story.  There are two reasons we have processed our birds well before Thanksgiving- one is just the shear madness at the processing plant just before the holiday and the other is the Broad Breasted Bronze poults that we prefer were generally not available later than mid June making it necessary to process them in early October otherwise we would end up with 30 pound birds.  We have now found a hatchery that can provide the little birds up into August.  This would allow us to both avoid the freezer plant issue, with fresh birds, and we also may be able wait out the feed plant closing.  We will let you know the outcome.

Picture of the Week

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Beautiful Campanula and Dianthus after the rain

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #25, 9/26/12

What’s been going on!

Oops, missed a newsletter last week, way too much going on including an overnight trip to the beach to spend some time with family that happened on newsletter day.  It was too wet to stay home anyway after the awesome four inches of rain at the beginning of last week; we haven’t had a rain here on the farm like that for years.

Dry enough now to get going on fall soil preparations for the 2013 growing season.  Everything that can be has been mowed (only three fields left- peppers, fall vegetables and over wintered flowers), yesterday I spread the phosphorus and potassium rock powders that the crops will need for the next year.  Today I will begin turning soil, should be perfect after last week’s rains.  Disk, subsoil with a field cultivator, maybe disk some fields again.  Once nice and loose and with all of the crop residues incorporated I will hill up the beds for next spring’s early planted crops.  Finally the cover crop seeds will be spun out over the waiting rough but soft soil to be brought up by the next rains and to be the protective blanket for the winter.  Lots of time on the tractor.

We are in mid Big Top hoop moving, from one field to another, to be finished today.  This year of course is the additional complication of sorting hoops that are OK, from those that we can re-bend, from those that will go to the steel salvage lot.  Good news is that we did a test re-bend yesterday and it looks like we will be able to save quite a few, if we are careful.

On top of all of the above, Monday is the one bad day in the turkey’s lives, we take them to processing.  A before dark start to catch them while they are sleepy and then most of the day spent down at the processing plant.  It is a long, tiring and somber day but an important one.  There are still birds available if you haven’t gotten your reservation in yet, all the information can be found here.

Pictures of the Week

Half of the hoops moved, tomatoes will be in this field next year

The sorting piles- maybe re-bend, off to salvage, top rails and parts

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Peregrine Farm News, Vol. 9 #24, 9/13/12

What’s been going on!

Glorious weather!  This is why we suffer the summers to revel in these kinds of days.  Of course now we work non-stop because we can and it is so enjoyable.  This is the beginning of the big project season when we have the time, energy and it is time to do some of these things too.  The general end of summer clean up and organization of the farm for winter is underway but we have even more shuffling to do as we have had to move years of gathered materials like cedar posts and old pallets to make way for the winters big project, building a new workshop and living space.

The only infrastructure item that we have never had is real workshop space.  We have had the open air tractor shed with an outdoor workbench from the beginning but I am getting tired of working on things in the gravel driveway.  We have also accumulated quite a number of wood working tools over the years and they are tucked away here and there in various buildings which doesn’t lend its self to actually using them in a timely manner when one needs to.  So this winter we are building a 24’X28’ space with an apartment upstairs for current staff or to rent in the future.  Hopefully we will be pouring concrete within the month.

The other looming project, now that all crops are out of the Big Tops, is to finish the dismantling of the bent metal parts and actually get a count on how many we will have to replace.  We also have the annual move of hoops from one field to another so quite a bit of time has been spent this week in handling greenhouse parts, either dragging them out of the field for salvage or taking them apart and carrying them to next year’s position.

With fall soil preparations and cover crop planting on the schedule in the next few weeks, more fall crop planting and the continuing harvest there are a lot of balls in the air each with its own set of details.  Maybe that hiding out in the air conditioning all summer wasn’t so bad after all.

Picture of the Week

A beautiful morning, turkeys feeding and empty Big Tops awaiting dismantling

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