Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #8, 3/21/19 First Day of Spring

What’s been going on! 

Trellis week!  Over the years we have become semi-famous for our different systems to hold plants up for better utilization of space, more and cleaner fruit or long straight flower stems.  I have even done workshops at farming conferences on the subject.  For many horticultural crops it is a critical part of the production system but it also has labor and material costs that need to be scrutinized to be worth the effort.  Trellises need to be both fast to put up and fast to take down, including all the plant material that has grown up through the structure.

Some small tools are ubiquitous on all small farms- rakes and hoes, seed flats, hoses, 5 gallon buckets.  I used to say that 5 gallon buckets were the backbone of market gardens but for us it is the lowly metal T-post which is designed for livestock fencing but we have adopted for fast and sturdy plant support.  We have used them for blackberry and raspberry trellises, for tomatoes, peppers, peas, cucumbers, sunflowers, celosia and all manner of other cut flowers and yes we have even built deer fence with them.  We now have hundreds of them in 5, 6 and 8 foot lengths.

All of our trellises start with the driving of the posts into the soil about a foot deep and then various cross arms, wires, netting or fencing is hung off or attached to the posts.  In past years we would, annually, put in at least 600 posts and then pull them back out at the end of the season.  That was a lot of work but we would have 2-3 people working on it and it happened throughout the season.  Another sign of the more manageable Peregrine Farm is that we pounded essentially all of the posts for the year this week and it was less than 80 and there are only two more trellises to come with 16 additional posts.  Checking off those big tasks one by one.

Pictures of the Week

 P1040990One of the tomato tunnels ready to go

P1050001 Nearly 2 inches of rain last night and the creek is raging

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #7, 3/14/19

What’s been going on!

 Every spring we set a date that we are going to slide the little tunnels to their summer position and every spring we are at least a week late in doing it.  Such is the case this year yesterday was moving day, a week late. The date revolves around when the very early tomatoes are supposed to be planted into the tunnels.  We want to move the structures far enough in advance to allow the cold soil to warm up as much as it can before we practice what is already a tough love regimen on the tender tomato plants. They will have a hard enough time early with cold temperatures and life threatening freezes the least we can do is give them warm toes.

This year’s tomato plants have had a slow start with both having to reseed some of them due to mouse depredations and too many cloudy days that impeded normal growth so it is OK that we are not right on schedule.  They should go in the ground in a week or 10 days but will mean not quite as early a harvest as we had hoped.

The other side of the moving coin is we are also uncovering from their protection all of the earliest planted vegetables which must now face the cruel winds and weather of March.  So the middle of March generally seems to be about right for both parties.

Pictures of the Week

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Alex ready to pull a tunnel off tender lettuces and over prepared beds

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Ranunculus anyone?

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 16 #6, 3/6/19

What’s been going on! 

The usual spring dance- cold, warm, cover, uncover, one-two-three, one-two-three.  The first of two cold nights in a row past us and everything looks good, only 26 degrees even though they had forecast for colder.  We will see how it goes tonight, we always believe that the second night is the coldest no matter what they originally forecast.  They are calling for 24 tonight.

The other farmer dance step at this time of year is more free form because it varies in timing and intensity, more like improv- wet, dry, till, plant, wet and we are rocking that step this week too.  As soon as it warms up tomorrow we will till a few more beds that are finally dry enough and plant another round of lettuce, radishes, turnips and kale just before it rains again on Friday.

The thing that we are learning about the new compact Peregrine Farm is that none of these dances last very long.  There is just not that much stuff in the ground and we are slowly getting adjusted to that.  Not complaining mind you, just pleasantly surprised when a certain task is suddenly done because there are no longer acres of crops to take care of.  Maybe we will even have time for dance lessons.

Pictures of the Week

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 All of the crops are under their blankets

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 If you were an Anemone, this would be your world view

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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

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Some tough farm girls on a cold morning

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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

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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

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