As hard as it is to believe, this season is our 20th at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market! This week twenty Junes ago, June 7th 1986, we made our first feeble attempt at selling our vegetables, flowers, and berries at market. We started the farm as a pick-your-own blackberry and raspberry farm planting the first crops in 1982. Because they were perennials we didn’t open for business until 1984 and quickly realized that the pick-your-own business wasn’t going to pay the bills. We began to look to additional markets for our berries. In the winter of 1985 my brother Jon moved here to join us in the farming venture and we turned over the last piece of ground we had that wasn’t in berries. Jon is a natural grower and he and Betsy had the little quarter acre patch overflowing with vegetables. Our neighbor George Graves (some of you may remember him as a vendor at the market) kept saying “you really need to bring your berries down to the Carrboro Market” every time we went to check the market out it was pitiful. No customers and none of the vendors had anything to sell. Turns out that 9:00 was too late to get there, it was all over but the cleanup by then.
Our first day it took two trucks to get everything to market, not that we had that much to sell, just that we were that disorganized! One truck for the little bit of produce we had and one for all the display materials- saw horses to hold up the door we used as a table, five gallon buckets filled with concrete and poles to hold up a tarp, etc. We had zucchinis the size of gun ships, summer squash, a few flowers and not much else. We made $17. It didn’t look like the market was going to pay the bills either but we were excited! The customers were great, interested and encouraging. The other vendors were helpful, we were so inept we certainly couldn’t be competition! Jon left the next winter and the blackberries are long gone but we have now made the market the center of our business. As exhausting as it can be we still are excited about going to market and seeing all of the customers who are still interested, encouraging and great!
The turkeys finally made it out to the field in a wild move. Last Thursday as the berry picking finished up I decided to use all of those hands to help move them from the brooder to their first stop in the fields. It had been raining and we waited until it stopped, we thought. As we were chasing them around it started to rain again and by the time we had finished it was a down pour. The poor birds were shell shocked both by being caught and handled but were soaking wet too. We rushed their portable shelter over and got them all loaded with fresh food and water. In an hour they were all dry and happy and so I let them out to run in the hydrangeas and viburnums. They are now trained professionals, ranging the area for bugs and grasses by day and each evening as I go to put them up they are already loaded into the shelter, on the roosts, ready for a nights sleep.
Picture of the Week
Amazing Hydrangeas and brilliant? Turkeys
Yesterday was one of the those interesting days, which occur from time to time, that are a condensed version of our life in one shot. Up early when it is just barely light to go for a walk because there is a lot to do. Back for just enough time to have a cup of coffee and check some emails. This was turkey moving day so I headed out to do that but first started the irrigation in the little tunnels to keep all the Thanksgiving vegetables happy and to take soil samples in the field the birds are about to go into. Put the fences up around the new area and open the fence that was keeping them in the current field as they watched me intently get the new field ready. I think they really do know when it’s time to move. Immediately they move into the lush green cover crop, heads down, making what we call the “happy turkey sound”. Drag their shelters, feeders and waters into the new field and it is done. Jump on the tractor to mow down the rest of the six foot tall sudangrass cover crop in the field they had been in so that I can be ready take soil samples there prior to preparing the soil for the winter. While on the tractor I mow the grass field the turkeys will be in next so the tender regrowth will be just the right height when they move in there in a week or so. It is 11:00, enough time to shower and change clothes and drive to Pittsboro several meetings.
Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) is one of the hardworking non profits that we work with in multiple capacities, their headquarters is in Pittsboro. First I met to discuss a new crop insurance program for diversified farmers to see if it would work for us. We have never had crop insurance because one: it hasn’t been available and two: we are so diversified that if some crop fails some other crop or crops always makes up for it. We decide we are not a good test case but come up with some other farmers who might be. The bulk of the afternoon is spent meeting with a group of representatives of organizations who fund non profits like RAFI. They are learning about sustainable agriculture and where they could fund projects, they are particularly interested in what is happening with our Growers’ Choice poultry cooperative. I speak, our former plant manager talks about his experience and one of the Latino employees talks (with an interpreter) about the difference between working for us and the large chicken plants (he liked us better). They are then all loaded on a bus and drive up for a quick tour of our farm, to see more examples of sustainable farming. It is 4:00 by the time they leave, just enough time to feed and water the turkeys and head into town with Betsy. We stop at the hardware store for a few supplies and then she goes to Italian class while I walk down the street to have dinner with a class of UNC students studying food. We talk about farming (why are colored peppers so expensive), and politics (why we are going to Italy for the Slow Food conference), chefs, travel, local food, farming…. this same class will be coming to the farm in a few weeks. I have to leave early (8:00) to meet Betsy and go to a Farmers’ Market Board meeting. We are no longer on the board but try to go to as many meetings as we can to keep up and help answer questions that may come up. 10:30 we get home, what a day.
Picture of the Week
The guys strutting for the girls who are paying no attention, typical.
Made it to September, on paper anyway, sure doesn’t feel like it out in the field. August turned out to be one for the record books- the hottest month ever recorded at RDU airport by almost 2 degrees, that is huge as far as weather averages go! 30 days over 90 degrees another record and the second driest August ever. Now can we break the record for the number of days over 90 degrees in one year? It stands at 72, I know we are close. I pulled more water out of the upper pond yesterday and that leaves just one more round until that water hole is dry. With this kind of heat that is about two weeks worth of water left. If it cools off it will be just enough to get us to the end of our season, a little over three weeks away. Almost everyday I am cutting off the irrigation lines to more beds of crops that are just about finished for the season. Betsy is down to about ten beds of flowers now and I have mowed down the rest. On the vegetable side we are soon to be down to eight beds of tomatoes, twenty beds of peppers and and some odds and ends. It is just at half an acre of crops that need water every day when the temperatures are in the 90’s, but that is still just under 3000 gallons a day! Boy am I glad that I am not trying to plant fall crops, except that we do need to get some flowers in the ground for next spring and, of course, we need to get the winter cover crops planted in the next month, not unless some good rains come though.
I want to thank everyone for the feedback on last weeks newsletter about what defines local food. It was as I expected and I am fairly sure that it will be how the Farmers’ Market comes out on the subject in the end. I used the meat example because, for the farmers, it is the most complicated as far as logistics and regulations. I always want to try and solve the most complicated situation first, if possible, because then the simple ones are an easy fit into the new solution. Of course with the increased demand for local products, like meat, it leads processors and suppliers to eventually fill the need, but it takes time and money (and people of vision). Until then I feel the Farmers’ Market should make it possible for it’s members to operate viable businesses without compromising it’s long established goals and rules. As a market we have always been careful about setting precedents because once the horse is out of the barn it is almost impossible to get it back in.
Picture of the Week
Summer Crisp lettuce a miracle of shade cloth and daily irrigation