5/17/07 Vol. 4 #9

Some weeks are all nose to the grindstone and then there are periods when we raise our heads up and let the outside world in.  This next week is one of those times.  Yesterday day we are hosted 21 agricultural extension agents from Florida.  Florida is a huge agricultural state but in the “old school”, large scale, let’s ship it around the world way.  This group is up here for four days to see, feel and touch our thriving local food system.  While all parts of the country are improving as to the numbers of small farms, farmers markets and the infrastructure that supports them, ours here in central North Carolina is really bustling.  Not that we don’t have holes in the system that need to be addressed like the poultry processing problem, easier supply of some inputs, and other things; we do have large numbers of viable farms, great markets and strong groups working on making it all happen.  This is the second group this spring to come to the area to see how we do it, you might remember the three van loads of agents and farmers from Louisiana that came for the Farm Tour.  So if you see a large group moving through market on Saturday you all will know who it is and be proud of all the work we all have done and are doing for local food here in North Carolina.

The second round of events starts next Tuesday when Carlo Petrini the founder of the Slow Food movement arrives in the area for two days of farm tours, dinners and speeches.  You all know of our involvement in Slow Food, having twice gone to Italy for the Terra Madre conference and subsequently working with the local chapter on various projects.  Touring the country to promote his new book Slow Food Nation ,  Carlo is coming to launch the lecture series for the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS).  CEFS is the largest research farm in the country doing work on sustainable and organic farming systems and it is here in North Carolina!  Betsy and I sit on the Friends of CEFS Board of Advisors and during a meeting last winter we suggested having Carlo Petrini come and speak, never thinking it would happen this quickly.  Carlo Petrini is one of the most influential people in Italy and in the world of artisanal food production and local food systems their is no larger figure.  Information about his visit can be viewed here .  There are three public events that we are involved in.  The first is a huge (sold out) picnic being held at Chapel Hill Creamery on Tuesday night where farmers and chefs have been paired to showcase local foods that are in season.   We are working with our friend Sara Foster of Foster’s Market in Durham.  Betsy is donating all the flowers for this event as well and for the second event on Wednesday evening in Raleigh.  A reception for members of Friends of CEFS with Carlo Petrini will be held just before his lecture at 7:00 p.m. which is free and open to the public, this will culminate his visit to the area.  Tuesday and Wednesday before these events Carlo and others from the national Slow Food office will be touring farms in the central NC, possibly including ours, just be assured that Betsy has been out on the mower!

Picture of the Week
Tender Baby Swiss Chard

5/24/07 Vol. 4 #10

Whew! Petrini week is over.  Three days that felt like a week, but it all went beautifully.  Monday was like a normal Friday for us as we harvested almost as many vegetables for the CEFS-Slow Food picnic as we would in getting ready for the Saturday market.  The staff worked a full day (Mondays are generally half days) to make sure we could get everything done because we had lunch guests coming the next day.  You may remember in last weeks newsletter that Carlo Petrini and his Slow Food compadres were going to tour some farms around the area, well we found out on Friday that not only was he going to come see us but also have lunch here on the farm!  Lunch here?  I wondered how the founder of a movement that “celebrates the pleasures of the table” would feel about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  We had a plan, call some one else to help!  It’s not that Betsy and I aren’t good cooks with plenty of great material to work with we just had a few more things going on like helping with all of the events including donating all the flowers for them, oh and we had a farm to run.  We have several good friends who are excellent cooks that we could call on but our first call was to Anne Everitt who you may remember used to be the manager of the Farmer’s Market as well as pastry chef at Elaine’s and Lantern restaurants.  Anne immediately swung into action designing a simple but refined menu using mostly Peregrine Farm ingredients along with other local and NC foods.  With the help of Amy Eller, formerly communications director for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Assoc., they took over our kitchen and chopped, sliced and washed there way to an extremely tasty meal.  The next day, when asked by a reporter what was the best meal he had eaten on his three week tour of the US, he said he thought it might have been the lunch here at Peregrine Farm!

By 1:00, when they arrived, the table was set up under our former pick your own stand in the shade of the huge tulip poplar trees with views of the farm.  We took a short walk around the farm and then retreated to the lunch, Italian style.  We had good discussions with all the Slow Food folks about this area and how lucky we are to have great markets, customers, non-profits and lots of small farmers.  More importantly we were able (Betsy in her hard earned Italian) to speak privately with Carlo about our Italian farm family and their struggle to keep there farm from being sold out from under them.  Their situation is a long and complicated story but since last fall we have been trying to enlist Mr. Petrini’s help.  He is a very influential figure in Italy especially the Piedmont region where our friends farm.  If we could get him to say a few words to the right folks in the regional government it could save their farm of five generations.  He said he had received our letter and had called the regional President but that it was messy situation.  He then promised to contact our friends when he returned to Italy to get the whole story.  At that point he pulled out his cell phone and dialed their number (which Betsy just happened to have in her pocket)…they did not answer.  We feel sure that he will contact them and help when he gets back to Italy!

The rest has been a whirlwind.  As soon as they left the farm we had to rush over to the picnic to get set up including all of the flowers that Betsy, with the great help of Jennifer Delaney, had arranged.  A very enjoyable event with great food and everyone really seemed to enjoy it.  It was hard to believe that there were almost 400 people in that field.  Mr. Petrini and friends seemed to have a really good time and were (I think) further amazed at our local food community.  Yesterday the drum beat continued.  Get ready for the Wednesday Farmers’ Market, which the staff was to be dispatched to while Betsy and I headed to Raleigh for the final two Petrini events.  We had to arrive to the reception early to set up the flowers there too.  The Friends of CEFS reception was well attended which then flowed next door to the final event, Carlo’s presentation about the meaning and value of preserving food traditions, defending biodiversity, and protecting food that is good, clean and fair.  Nearly 1000 people were in attendance, and even though he spoke with an interpreter, they all seemed to take away some important messages.  With it all over we limped home.  We didn’t mange to get any pictures but friends where taking lots so hopefully next week we can have a Carlo Petrini picture of the week.

Picture of the Week
An armload of radishes

5/14/08 Vol. 5 #9

I know it’s a bit of a late notice but if you didn’t already know we are hosting a Slow Food Triangle chapter potluck this Sunday afternoon here at the farm.  I have talked in the past about our involvement with Slow Food most notably our attendance at the world conference of farmers in Italy, Terra Madre.  They are also the group most visibly responsible for the resurrection/popularity of the heritage turkeys, like the Bourbon Reds that we raise.  Their emphasis is on food that is “good, clean and fair”.   Everyone is invited, you don’t have to be a member, just bring a dish that serves eight (preferably made with local ingredients), the beverage of your choice and something to sit on.  It looks to be a beautiful late spring day and the farm is at the peak of spring vegetable production.  For more information and to RSVP here is the link We hope to see you here.

The last of the big spring jobs begins today, pepper planting.  The heavy rains over the weekend has put us behind a few days but I managed to get the beds tilled last night, nothing like a raised bed on a slope to help things dry out fast!  I have already pushed the planting date back a week to better accommodate the flowering of the cover crop, partly to let them make more nitrogen to feed the peppers and it makes it easier to kill them so they don’t become a weed in the peppers later.  I also want to get the little transplants into the ground this week as they are at the perfect size and growing rapidly.  I believe in timing the transplants so that they are growing well and hit the ground running and continue growing fast.  If we hold them too long, say because it is too wet to plant, then they slow down their growth and can become stunted waiting in the small containers.  So I start to get nervous around this time of year if something holds us up, the peppers must go in!

Big day yesterday for the turkeys, their first foray outdoors.  You may remember two years ago when we first let them out and they went wild, flying all over the farm.  We had to chase them through the woods and all around.  I know that was probably caused by having to keep them in longer than I like because it was so wet and I didn’t want them out on wet ground at first.  So we were a bit apprehensive when we opened the door yesterday even though it was at the three week old stage I usually first expose them to the outdoors.  They were very timid, and just stood massed at the opening. blinking in the sun.  It took hours before a few were bold enough to make it down the ramp and another few hours before the scouts went another few feet into the field shelter.  Relieved that we didn’t have to chase turkeys we left them on their own to explore the new green world.

Picture of the Week
This has got to be a trick, why would he let us out?

5/21/08 Vol. 5 #10

Undoubtedly the event of the week was the Slow Food potluck here at the farm on Sunday.  I was a beautiful sunny late spring day with temperatures in the 70’s and a breeze.  Betsy and I had mowed the place up and we had set up tables in what we call “the stand” (formerly our Pick-Your-Own stand) which is under the shade of three huge tulip poplars and a willow oak.  Looking out over the fields and gardens and right up next to the lettuce field and the fava beans.  At 4:00 cars began to roll in and by 5:00 there was quite a large group assembled.  The skies were getting fearsome looking and I ran in to check the radar, lots of red and purple!  I ran back out, climbed on a chair and announced that everyone needed to grab their potluck dish and go down to our house.  Just as everyone made it inside it began to dump rain, with thunder and lightning.  Fortunately we had just put that living room addition onto the house this winter and have lots of kitchen counter and a dining table we can put lots of leaves in.  The kitchen counters and the table were covered by food dishes and the food line snaked around the room like a conga line.  In Slow Food parlance the local chapters are called conviviums as in convivial- “fond of feasting, drinking, and good company; social, jovial”  we were certainly that!  Great food made with local ingredients and I think that everyone was able to move around the house and visit with each other.  As the rain stopped and people made their way back to their cars and home they also took short self guided tours of the farm.  Not exactly as planned but fun still the same.  We didn’t get a count of how many folks came but I can tell you we had over a hundred forks and there were four left unused!  Someone said it should have been the picture of the week but I couldn’t get to my camera.

Not without some nervous pacing around, we managed to get all the peppers in the ground this past week, hallelujah!  Wednesday the guys got all the black landscape fabric laid over the nine raised beds that I reserve for all the hot peppers which I think need the extra warm soil to do well and the fussier sweet peppers than need better drained soil.  As I headed off to market they proceeded to plant all of those nine beds with 26 different varieties.  That task alone of making sure that each variety is placed in the right location so we can know what it is and make it more efficient come picking time.  I leave them a detailed map of what goes where.  That job done we are only half finished planting.  The rest of the plants, all of the red bells and most of the yellow and oranges are planted directly into killed cover crops.  A slower process and we were held up by wet soil from what is beginning to feel like rain every other day.  Finally yesterday it seemed like it was dry enough and we needed to get them in before the next rain.  With speed and precision the three of us went about it and all went well, another nine beds all tucked into the mulch.  In total nearly 2400 hundred plants and they all got rained in last night, perfect!

Picture of the Week
Dan and Cov poking the last peppers plants in the ground

7/23/08 Vol. 5 #19

A couple of really thick days, the last few, the kind that remind you what living in the south used to be like before air conditioning.  The “Raising Heritage Turkeys on Pasture” workshop went well despite the heat.  They were here all day on Monday in the heat but we managed to keep them in the shade for the most part.  Organized by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, whose headquarters are in Pittsboro, is an organization founded in 1977 that is the pioneer organization in the U.S. working to conserve historic breeds and genetic diversity in livestock.  The ALBC is the group that really has brought the heritage turkey back from the brink of extinction by working with breeders to increase the stock and others like Slow Food to glamorize and popularize the eating of these birds.  As all people working to save endangered food species, whether it’s animals or plants, say “you have to eat it to save it”.

If there is no economic reason to grow a bird or a tomato then they just become museum items that eventually disappear after the last crazy old guy who kept them passes on.  This kind of loss happens everyday somewhere in the world.  The Cherokee Purple tomato that we all love is an example.  One gardener in Tennessee had it in his garden when a tomato collector/nut found it and asked for some seeds and then grew them.  It was so good that he passed the seeds onto several small seed companies who presented it to the world, that was about 1992.  If the Tennessee gardener had died without passing it on we would never have it today.  If you are interested in other endangered foods Slow Food USA has the Ark of Taste, with a list of the foods they are trying to promote and save

Animals are even harder to save for many reasons that one can imagine; size, numbers, room to keep them, etc.  While we grow the Bourbon Red turkeys and are part of the food system that is needed to save them, we are not doing the heavy lifting required to really save the breed.  The breeders are the ones who keep these animals year round, feeding and caring for them, selecting for the best hens and toms to keep for breeding, and hopefully hatching out enough eggs to make it all worthwhile.  This is not like keeping a small vial of seeds to replant next year.  This takes lots of room, facilities and skill.  To keep enough genetic diversity in a flock, a breeder needs to have 200 hens!  So you can see the difficulty, it’s not like raising dogs where you can work with two or three animals and keep a breed going.  At this workshop we were fortunate to have the god father of heritage turkeys and the master breeder, Frank Reese, here to lead the discussion.  Frank has devoted his life to saving these turkeys.  If you have ever had a mail order heritage turkey, it was probably one of Franks as he raises more than anyone else by many many times.  This year he and his partners are raising 17,000 birds!

It has been our search for the best quality foods that we can raise in an sustainable system that brings us to things like Cherokee Purple tomatoes and Bourbon Red turkeys.  The work done by many people and groups like ALBC, Slow Food, the North American Fruit Explorers, chefs we work with and your experiences that makes it easier for us to find and learn to grow these things.  Our job is to interpret the information we get (some times very old), to our farming conditions and system.  Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t but that’s the nature of farming.

Picture of the Week
Turkeys headed out for the days work, eating cover crop and playing in the Zinnias

11/25/08 Vo. 5 #28

Hmmm… what happened to that pre and post Italy report?  Well the race down hill towards leaving for Italy, including getting the farm shut down and taking the turkeys to processing, sucked all the air out of the room.  Since we’ve been back, between catching up on all we missed and fighting the head cold that seems to be going around we now find ourselves on the morning of the special Tuesday before Thanksgiving market from 3:00-6:00 this afternoon, more on that later.

Like all big trips and conferences, Italy was exciting and exhausting, too short a stay and too long, too much to see and not enough.  We arrived in Milan a week before the Terra Madre conference was to begin.  This would give us time to recover and acclimate before we encountered both our Italian family and the nearly 8000 delegates at the conference, it is hard to say sometimes which takes more stamina.  Off we went in our rental car (Betsy driving and me navigating, which is quite humorous to our Italian friends) east up into the Alps and the Dolomites.  Past lake Como and then up a the long Valtellina valley whose specialties are pastas with buckwheat, a cheese called bitto, what seemed like a lot of apples and lovely red wines.  Just over the northern mountain is Switzerland.  The second day we drove over the Stelvio Pass the second highest in Europe at 9000′.

Once we cleared the pass we were in the Alto Adige or Sud Tirol as this area is really a part of Austria under the Italian flag.  All places have two names the Italian and the German and German is the dominant language.  For two nights we stayed at an apple farm up on the slopes of the Dolomites, over looking Bolzano, and were definitely the only non American tourists in the area.  The food here is Germanic with lots of sausages, kraut and dumplings, more beer than wine and a lot of apples.  We drove for parts of three days, maybe 150 kilometers, through non-stop apple orchards covering the entire valley floors.  The disappointing thing was they were all the standard commercial varieties we have here in the stores; Red and Golden Delicious, Fuji and Gala, no old European varieties!

On the fifth day after leaving home we finally arrived in Torino and at our dear Italian friends who housed us and went too far out of their ways to take care of us.  We had a few days to visit with them before the Slow Food events started and it was just right.  The combination of the Terra Madre conference with nearly 8000 delegates from 150 countries and Slow Foods’ specialty food show, The Salone del Gusto, next door with 180,000 attendees over five days is in many ways too much.  Your senses are overwhelmed by the sights of everyone in their native dress and the taste and smell of the foods that it sustains you for a while, then you realize the crush and madness of it all and you have to walk outside for a while to reorient your self.  We do always come away with the reaffirmation that the local food and small farm movement is doing some amazing things around the world and in the US, and maybe that is enough of a reason to throw yourself into such a maelstrom.

The highlight, for us, was on the last day of the conference when our Italian friends hosted most of our Triangle delegation at their farm for a cookout and farm tour.  Amazing food and for most of them the only time they were on a farm since they left North Carolina.  I think that it allowed them to tie together some of what they had seen and heard for the previous four days about community and food that is “good, clean and fair”.

The last three days we retreated to the Ligurian coast and the beautiful area of Cinque Terra.  Five fishing villages clinging to and strung along a steep coastline.  We walked the trails between the towns, ate way too much, and slept.  Finally the long road home with many train, bus, and plane changes.

6/17/09 Vol. 6 #13

Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain.  Good thing we had a rain day yesterday as we are all just now recovering from the Farm to Fork picnic on Sunday.  It looked like a good time was had by all despite the heat.  Not so hot that you just stood there panting but definitely the sweat was running down my brow.  70 plus farmers and chefs cooked and served up an amazing array of small bites from every kind of vegetable pickle to collard green kimchi and barbecued shrimp with bloody Mary sauce to cabrito tacos with heritage corn tortillas.  A pre-event estimate of 650 people were signed up to attend, including the farmers and chefs, not sure if they all showed but a nice chunk of money was raised for the new farmer programs at the Breeze Farm and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.

We had fun, as always, working with Amy Tornquist and Glenn Lozuke from Watts Grocery and Sage and Swift Catering.  We presented a beautiful trifecta of Treviso radicchio leaves with a small piece of Glenn’s house made pancetta topped with some of the first tomatoes of the season; a colorful hand held bitter, salty, sweet salad.  Glenn had boned out an entire pig, stuffed it with herbs and hot roasted it, all night, in a traditional porchetta style and it was amazing.  The third part of the trifecta was a lemon ice cream with a blueberry swirl in tiny little corn meal cones, each with a blueberry in the bottom.

Back here in farm land the rain is holding us up from getting things done.  Blueberry picking was canceled for yesterday and I hope we can get a full morning in today.  We began the onion harvest on Monday but it is too wet to continue until maybe Thursday, it is bad to harvest them when wet and muddy, too much danger of ending up with rotting onions later.  We need to cover the last of the Big Tops this week so we can plant the late tomatoes, the transplants of which are really ready to get into the ground.  Looks like we will blast into summer on Friday when it goes straight to the high 90’s, that’ll dry it out for sure!

Picture of the Week
Pig with snout on the left, radicchio salads in the middle, tiny little ice cream cones on the right.