Peregrine Farm News Vol.16 #24, 9/19/19 The Northern Rockies Loop

What’s been going on! 

What a tremendous trip the Great Northern Rockies Loop turned out to be! Beyond all the natural wonders of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming many of you know that Betsy and I went to college at Utah State in northern Utah and have a real place in our hearts for the landscapes of the Inter-mountain West.  It had been nearly 20 years since we were last there and this would be only the second time in 40 years since we graduated.

Flying in and out of Salt Lake City, I flew in a week earlier and with a friend spent six days backpacking in the Wind River Range with perfect weather, views and campsites like these.

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We returned to the SLC airport for him to fly home and for me to pick up Betsy and head north.  First stop was Arco, ID and Craters of the Moon Nat. Mon.  Amazing lava flows and ecology.  Climbing through lava tubes was amazing.

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On up through eastern Idaho marveling at the huge scale of the valleys and mountains and the irrigated agriculture.  A perfect evening in Hamilton, MT at the county fair and rodeo.

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First thing the next morning we hit the two Saturday farmer’s markets in Missoula which I have been watching for some years now.  The original Missoula market is 47 years old, older than Carrboro, and has struggled some in the last few years

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with competition from a newer and less restricted market only six blocks away.  We talked at length with the manager and vendors.  Both were good markets but there are lessons to be learned here about market management and rule making.

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Days 4 and 5 we moved on up to Glacier Nat. Park.  Unfortunately due to the timing of other parts of the trip we landed in the park on Labor Day weekend- It was packed!  Lake MacDonald and the historic lodge were still beautiful

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We escaped the crowds some by staying 14 miles away from pavement and the Canadian Border in an off-the-grid historic establishment.

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The 6th day we were up before light to make the scenic drive over the continental divide on the Going to the Sun road and to beat the crowds to the top.  Beautiful day hike and a real view of what the park is all about.

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We headed east to Great Falls stopping at the museum of the Plains Indian and later the Charles Russell museum to see his beautiful western art.  The next morning we spent hours at the incredibly well done Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center located on the stretch of the Missouri River where the five Great Falls forced them to portage 18 miles to get around them.

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On south paralleling the Missouri River through more wide valleys of massive farms growing wheat, oats and other grains and making mountains of hay, to Bozeman where we spent time at the museum of the Rockies with many exhibits but most notably one of the best dinosaur displays anywhere.

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The 8th day we avoided the easy two hour drive to Billings by going north and then east driving down the long and beautiful Musselshell River valley with more huge agricultural operations surrounded by mountains.

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BIG wheat harvest going on

The following morning was devoted to the Little Bighorn Nat. Mon. a place I had always wanted to see.  Located in the heart of the Crow Indian reservation it is a somber place where the tribes had their last great attempt to keep their lands and way of life

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Stretching over 4 miles of ridgeline, the over confident and overwhelmed Calvary did not realize they were up against 7000 Indians with 2000 warriors.  This is Custer’s Last Stand hill overlooking the Little Bighorn River and the site of the Indian encampment, the white markers are for the fallen soldiers.

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In 1991 they appropriately changed the name from Custer Battlefield to Little Bighorn NM and built a beautiful circular Vietnam Wall like monument down the slope from Last Stand hill to commemorate the Indians involved in the battle.

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It’s view out over the Crow reservation.

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Day 10 was a huge day starting with one of the most beautiful drives in the US along the Beartooth highway up 6000’ to nearly 11,000 feet and over the plateau

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To the NE corner of Yellowstone NP where we were treated to the huge Lamar Valley and lots of buffalo and some antelope.  On the lookout for moose, elk and bears we would only catch glimpses of elk and bear later on.

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Of course we braved the crowds and were able to see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

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The second to the last day the weather was turning on us after weeks of clear blue skies.  We took in many of the geothermal wonders of the park including Old Faithful

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and the historic Inn before heading south to the Grand Tetons.

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By the time we hit Jackson Hole the rain was falling so there were no views of the mountains, oh well, we have been there many times before and will just have to remember the view.

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The 12th day we drove familiar roads back to Salt Lake around Bear Lake and over the Bear Lake summit

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Down Logan canyon to spend some time driving around campus and town including finding most of the houses we lived in before making the last of 2500 miles to the airport.

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Great trip, I would recommend it to anyone, just time it a few weeks later to avoid the still large crowds in the National Parks just after Labor Day, fall in the west is a beautiful time to be there.

What’s going to be at Market?

We will be!  We are returning for one week only to roast peppers!  We will have a small selection of our own peppers and will be glad to roast peppers you buy from any of the other farmers at market.

We will have Red Bells and Red and Yellow Corno di Toro’s in sweet peppers.  Red and Green Poblanos and Anaheims and Serranos in hot peppers.  You never know what else we might drum up too.

Hope to see you all at the market!

Alex and Betsy

If you know folks who you think would be interested in news of the farm then please feel free to forward this to them and encourage them to sign up at the website.

Peregrine Farm News, Vol. 16 #14, 5/2/19

What’s been going on! 

We had the Advanced Organic Crop Production class from Central Carolina Community College’s Sustainable Ag Program out on Monday, this is the course that I designed and taught for many years until I passed it on this season, another one of those things that l am trying to be selective about how I want to spend my time with in the future.  It is one of the things that got me to thinking about how times have changed when it comes to educating new farmers and the public about small scale agriculture and sustainable farming.

Another was a call I had the other day with a very wealthy person who is starting a farm and wants to eventually make it an educational center.  He asked did we charge for farm tours and I said that we never had.  We have hosted hundreds of tours and thousands of people over the years from all corners of the US and the world and have never charged anyone.  Back in the early years the few sustainable farmers on the ground were helping to build the ship, we wanted to spread the word about sustainable agriculture and were happy to cooperate and share the knowledge we had to do so.

Beyond farm tours we would spend each winter, for decades, making the circuit of farm conferences going to at least four or five each season, learning and speaking, sometimes teaching three or four sessions at one conference.  Those non-profit organizations never had much money so we almost never got an honorarium, just free conference registration and sometimes rooms and travel money.  It was helping to build our business and to get the ship afloat, it was good for everyone.

We also served on (and still do) many boards and advisory committees to make sure the voice of the small farmer is included.  They range from local to national organizations all with a focus on sustainable agriculture.  Hours spent in meetings and on conference calls again all on our own time and dime but we did help to move the needle a little.

Things began to change in the early 2000’s with the new generation of farmers coming of age along with the internet.  When I produced the Organic Vegetable Production and Marketing in the South CD-ROM with the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group I realized I was putting everything I knew into one replicable place and wanted some kind of remuneration and copy write assurances for my intellectual property and I received some stiff opinions about this from the old guard, we just didn’t do it that way.

Now the new farmers charge for everything, online video courses, farm tours, big speaking fees if they have a book or solid online content.  I generally applaud them for being able to do that, we were just too early in the evolution of the movement and now much of it is passing us by.  That’s okay too, we did build a beautiful ship though!

Picture of the Week

 P1050049Our little farm in full production

What’s going to be at Market? Continue reading

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 15 #9, 4/18/18

What’s been going on!

Another sad passing and tick of the clock.  Sunday there was a huge gathering of the friends and community of Tony Kleese to celebrate his life and accomplishments.  Tony died way too young after a short battle with cancer but also after a life full of commitment to building a better agricultural system which you can read about here.

Tony was not quite as old as many of us old rats in the sustainable ag barn but quickly jumped in and became involved in so many areas.  We first met around 1989 when he was starting a farm east of Raleigh and we went to see it on a farm tour.  That farm did not succeed and he also farmed in the mountains for a while but he quickly learned that the best use of his energies was to organize and teach farmers.

We worked together on many projects over the years including the Board of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Assoc., teaching classes at and helping to form the Central Carolina Community College Sustainable Ag program, teaching workshops around the southeast together and he was the one who coaxed me into going to Jamaica to work with his Jamaica Sustainable Farm Enterprise project.  He even worked for us here on the farm for a short while in the early 90’s.

As many of us who, mostly inadvertently, helped lead the way to a more local and sustainable food system begin to age out or pass on it becomes ever more apparent just how fortunate we are in the southeast and particularly in North Carolina to have such a foundation of farmers, non-profits, researchers, organizers, markets and eaters who began to come together in the 80’s and work towards change.  Tony was certainly in that vanguard and will be sorely missed but his energy and spirt will live on.

Picture of the Week

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Classic Tony (in the middle) working with Jamaican farmers

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #2, 1/27/17

What’s been going on!

A quick note to let you know that Betsy and I survived the March on Washington and will be at market tomorrow.

The crowds were staggering and we were exhausted when it was all over and we finally got home at 2:30 a.m. but glad we went.  Below are pictures you didn’t see of the masses.

Pictures of the Week

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On the Metro

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Headed towards the light and the huge crowds

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

Snow Days

The biggest snow since 2004.  Hard to measure accurately as it came in various forms.  When we got up at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday morning there was around 4 inches of a nice powder, about then is when it became more sleet like and denser.  Maybe another inch of this stuff fell but it weighted down the lighter snow underneath.  What we ended up with was 5-6 inches of heavy crusty snow.

We were up that early to go out and sweep the snow off of the unheated tunnels so they wouldn’t collapse.  It is one of the drawbacks of having structures to grow crops in the off-season, they are vulnerable to big weather.

Fortunately the Big Tops are uncovered for the winter so we don’t have to worry about them but the six sliding tunnels we do have to watch.  Since we built our first tunnel in 1997, only three other storms have forced us to go out in the middle of the night to clean them off.  The worst, of course, was the record 20+ inch snow of 2000, when we stayed up all night, going out every 2 hours to sweep. By the end of the night we were almost hallucinating from exhaustion.

Usually 6 inches of snow doesn’t make us nervous but with the potential weight of this stuff we had to be cautious, good thing we were. We saved the tunnels with one good cleaning but our old pick-your-own stand collapsed under the load, onto the big pickup and the car.  Looks worse than it is, just a few dents in the vehicles but we will have to rebuild the roof before the Farm Tour.  I have taken some ribbing about the quality of my construction on this shelter but it has weathered almost 30 years of storms including Fran’s 80+ mph winds and two 20 inch snow falls.  Just wish we hadn’t parked the vehicles under it this time!

So it has been four days now of being snow bound and this is what we have designed our home and farm for.  We just make sure there is plenty of firewood and food and then just enjoy it from the comfort of the house.  Once the tunnels are safe we have no other worry’s, even if the power goes out.  We do wander out and around the place just to view and usually I dust the cross-country skis off and tour the neighborhood, but not this storm.

Look how deep the snow is between the tunnels from cleaning them off

Each day I have walked the 3 miles round trip up to get the newspaper, it is the closest we can get the N&O delivered.  The road is still a sheet of ice and few cars have been up and down it.   There have been plenty of folks out pulling sliding devices including this pure country version with a riding lawn mower pulling two plastic sleds.  

I also had to chuckle to myself as I walked by this house.  Two weeks ago they were out mowing the lawn!  Not that there was anything to mow but maybe it was wishful thinking.

This kind of event doesn’t happen very often here.  This is only the eighth time since we have lived here on the farm that we have had this much snow or more, so we look forward to these snow days.  As long as the tunnels are OK.

Groundhog Day

Of all the holidays, real or not, observed or not, given-a-day-off-with-pay or not; there are only two that we view as agricultural based celebrations.  Thanksgiving of course is the grand, end of the harvest season celebration.  Hopefully we have had a good growing season and the larder is full of food to carry us through the winter.  The animals are fat with summer and fall feeding either on pastures or in the woods and are ready for winter too.

Groundhog Day is the celebration of the awakening of spring.  No it’s not true spring but it is halfway through winter.  Originating among many cultures around the world, they all started getting antsy halfway through the long cold dark period and began to look for signs of when it would end.  They looked for natural signs that the earth was warming up and hibernating animals were chosen as the best predictors.  Depending where they were it was bears or badgers, in the New World it was groundhogs.

For us it does coincide with when we begin to plant the first crops out into the field.  In most winters we put out the first lettuces, fava beans and onions the first weeks of February.  Soon to follow are peas, radishes and turnips but it is not until early and mid March until it is really warm enough for serious planting.  Groundhog Day does mark the tentative beginning of spring/end of winter but you better hedge your bets.

The prognosticators are mixed in their forecasts this day.  Punxsutawney Phil says six more weeks of winter.  Sir Walter Wally (I’m sorry I’d be embarrassed to come out and look for my shadow too with that name) says it’s an early spring.  Dunkirk Dave from Dunkirk, NY did see his shadow but the forecast for six more weeks of winter was invalidated due to artificial lighting.

The National Weather Service gives both the 30 day and the 90 day forecast as below normal temperatures and above normal precipitation.  This says six more weeks of winter to me.  They also say the groundhogs are only right 39% of the time.

We don’t even begin to see groundhogs around here until April or later so as forecasters of the weather for this farm they aren’t very useful.  Looking out the window at the light rain coming down on top of the 3 inches of snow and ice left from the weekend it looks like spring is still some ways off.

So my recommendation this Groundhog Day is to celebrate making it most of the way through this cold winter with the knowledge that spring is truly on its way.  Because we have an ongoing battle with non-weather predicting groundhogs we usually mark the day in North Carolina fashion with some sort of smoked pork dish!