Peregrine Farm News Vol. 17 #19, 5/27/20

What’s been going on! 

Another damn rainy week!  There is a great stress reducing factor when you can look back over four decades of farming and know that it can always be worse.  In our first season farming we had just planted four acres of blackberries and raspberries, 20,000 feet of row.  We were living in the tent next to the 20’X20’ tractor shed when after a March and April dry period it started to rain in May and didn’t stop the whole month, 15 inches of rain fell in those thirty one days.  Nearly every afternoon there would be a thunderstorm with great downpours.

The result was a biblical scourge of weeds that germinated in the berry rows.  We had turned over soil that hadn’t been farmed in years and unleashed millions of weed seeds that had lain dormant.  We had no equipment to deal with it and had not yet been able to mulch the rows.  After mowing the six foot tall growth in the aisles between the plants, standing on the tractor so I could see down into the mass so as to not mow the young berry bushes, I spent the month of June hand weeding circles around each of the 10,000 plants so as not to lose them followed by weed eating the remaining growth.

We were humbled by the power of nature and only by the shear dent of our stubbornness did we save those plantings and continue on to be successful.  We vowed never again to be caught that way.  So this seven or eight days of rain this month is just another blip in the long history of weather events here at the farm.  Needless to say it has slowed crop growth and nearly decimated the blueberry season but it is what it is.

Picture of the week

img055 - CopyIn this old grainy picture you can see the river that formed every afternoon that May, you can also see the weeds growing in the background

What’s going to be at Market? Continue reading

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 14 #36, 11/9/17

What’s been going on!

Raw, raw couple of days.  There are experiences in life that etch themselves so deeply into your being that they surface whenever the conditions or situation are similar.  Like knowing that something hot will burn you or that a barking dog with teeth bared can raise the hair on the back of your neck.  Usually these are survival lessons we have learned.

This kind of weather is exactly one of those for Betsy and me.  Our first year farming, in 1982, had been one of excitement and struggle as we planted and tended our first crops while trying to build infrastructure on this blank piece of land.  I was on the farm full time and Betsy was working in the kitchen at the Fearrington House.  In late March we moved into a tent next to the only building on the farm, a 20X20 tin roofed equipment shed that I had built the fall before to house the tractor and tools.  It allowed us to save money on rent and to be here to work as much as we could and not have to commute.

Spring moved into summer and we had to get a real house built but progress was painfully slow between trying to save the crops from biblical weeds, not having two dimes to rub together and building it mostly by myself.  By the end of October we finally had it dried in with just black board on the outside and the plumbing and electric roughed in but there was no insulation or sheetrock.

The first weekend of November we were staring down days of cold rainy weather that herald the end of beautiful fall and the beginning of winter.  After 7 months in the tent we did not relish being cold and damp so we rigged up the woodstove in the new house and moved in, not optimal but at least we were warm and dry!  By Christmas we had it insulated and the sheetrock up but it would be another six months before we would have running water and more electricity than what an extension cord from the temporary power pole could deliver to four plugs.

It was those days and many more like them that made us tougher and resilient enough to succeed in this business but as we sit here with the 40 degree drizzle outside and a fire in the woodstove it all comes rushing back like it was yesterday.

Picture of the Week

img078 - Copy

 Our blackboard house in the spring of 1983

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #4, 3/14/14

What’s been going on!

An interesting milestone this week as we realized that the last of our “Advisory committee”, Max Perry, passed away on Monday.  We live on Perry Rd. and the Perry clan owns large swaths of land up and down the road including the 400 or so acres on our south side.  Max was the patriarch of the family and the last of his generation, he was 77.

When we first moved here in 1982 we were like most of today’s new farmers in that we were not from a farming background and had to learn almost everything from scratch.  Today’s new farmers have vast and incredible resources from which to draw knowledge and information that we could only have dreamed about back then.  Sure we had degrees in agriculture and lifetimes of family gardening but never farmed for a living.  So we did what the Ethnologists would describe as gathering “indigenous knowledge”, we consulted the good old boys in the neighborhood or more accurately they freely volunteered their opinions.

Of course when we moved into a tent, next to our tractor shed with the 1949 tractor, they first thought we were crazy and doomed to failure (so did our parents).  Over time they would stop by and introduce themselves and to see just exactly what we were up to.  Most wrote us off but a group of them kept an eye on our progress and we were great fodder for discussion as we were some of the few folks in the neighborhood who were not from the “families”.  Max was one of them; he was an avid hunter and observer of the local flora and fauna.  He loved it when we started raising turkeys because he was very protective of the recovering turkey population that mostly lived on his land.  He was also the unofficial community watch as he worked third shift and would drive up and down the road late at night when he couldn’t sleep.

All of our advisory committee had similar backgrounds, they had grown up here farming but in the end had gotten “public work” in either construction or at the university.  Their family farms stopped with their parent’s generation and they were now just the stewards of the land which either stayed in pasture or trees, some they rented out to other farmers.  Their experience was that you couldn’t make a living farming but were interested in keeping farming alive in the neighborhood and to see what this new farming was all about.

Lenny Perry, Max’s uncle, would stop by regularly in the early years especially when we were clearing new land and commiserate with Betsy who was working alone with a chainsaw as I was in town trying to make some money to keep our dream alive.  “How’s that new ground coming” he would ask and give some advice on what to do next.  He had even farmed our land back in the 30’s and 40’s, raising wheat and other grains.  After a few years he was overheard at the corner store, where the old boys would gather, telling them that “she can drive a tractor as good as a man”.

Our other immediate neighbors, Herbert and Peggy Lou Thomas, owned all the land between us and the Haw River on our east and north sides. They actually lived down the road a few miles but raised a big garden in the bottom field across the creek from ours.  As we would be down in our field working they would be over there just talking away to each other while harvesting corn or tending tomatoes.  Let’s just say that Peggy Lou had a voice that could carry.  We would always find a basket of corn on the steps or Herbert would always check in to see if he had beaten me in having the first ripe tomato (he always did).  When we started using cover crops to improve our soil, he would advise me on when they were ready to turn under.

George Graves (who was married to a Perry) was particularly influential in our development.  He was one of the early members of the Carrboro Farmers’ Market and grew huge amounts of maters, taters and beans among other crops.  He told us what varieties of spinach and other crops to grow that were best for our area, when to plant them, where to get seed.  He and Betsy would drive together to the local farm supply to get onion sets and parts for things.  When he would stop by and see us doing something crazy he would just shake his head and say “sheeeeit” and steer us in the right direction.  Without George it would have been many more years before we started selling at the market, he frequently encouraged us to “get down there and sell those berries” until we finally did.

Faye and Ervin Perry rounded out the committee.  Ervin was George’s brother-in-law and he and Faye farmed across the road from George and sold at market too.  They came to market farming late in life but with ingenuity and of course the local knowledge.  We would watch them in their 60’s and 70’s slowly and patiently tend and harvest their two acres of crops and never break a sweat.  Ervin could somehow do it all off of a riding lawn mower.  Their “grocery house” was the picture of an efficient small packing shed and cool room that many small growers even today would want to have.  We would occasionally go out to dinner with them after market and just soak up their stories.

They are all gone now, we are on our own to screw up, make all the mistakes and figure out the answers.  I guess we are now the indigenous knowledge, not sure we can ever be the characters they were, damn few like them.

Picture of the Week


Thousands of onions on a sunny day

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

Peregrine Farm News Vol 7 #7, 4/21/10

What’s been going on?

Wow! Too many things to write about this week but I’ll try and focus. I would be remiss though not to mark tomorrows 40th anniversary of Earth Day. While there are many reasons that Betsy and I ended up farming and in a sustainable manner, this one event in April of 1970 certainly stands out as an important influence. We were thirteen then and the stirrings of the environmental movement were all around us and our minds were moldable. Of course we didn’t know each other back then but we both ended up pursuing educations in the environmental sciences. We wanted to be able to work outdoors, in the country side and in the end leave our surroundings in better condition than when we started. 40 years later we are still trying, where is that original Earth Day button I had?

The Piedmont Farm Tour is this weekend and is always held on the weekend closest to Earth Day. Originally started as a change of events for Weaver Street Market’s Earth Day celebration, they came to us and we got together with Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) to put on a tour to showcase the farmers at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market. Now 15 years later there are 40 farms from all over the NW Triangle area and it is the single largest fundraising event CFSA has. It is a self guiding tour, pick up a map at lots of locations (like the farmers markets) and head to the first farm you want to see and buy your all access button there. You can buy your buttons in advance and save $5 at places like Weaver St. Market. Saturday and Sunday afternoons, 1:00-5:00, come see what we are up to this year. Let the mowing begin.

Busy week on the farm. Last Thursday the first of the turkeys arrived. After a year hiatus raising birds we are back at it and you can read more here. They are happy and growing well. We are lurching towards tomato planting next week and yesterday pulled the plastic over the first three bays of the Big Tops that will protect the big planting from diseases. The rest of this week will include installing the irrigation, mulch and trellises. Today the guys are moving up the 2500 or so pepper seedlings into their larger containers to grow on until planting time in about three weeks. Also yesterday I finally finished the rebuilding of the Stand that collapsed under the snow in January, just in time for the Farm Tour as promised. The big issue right now is it would be nice to get some real rain, this pitiful spitting this morning doesn’t count.

Picture of the Week

Moving pepper plants up to larger containers, a good rainy day activity

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

Chain Saw Season

Among the tools that most people equate with farming like tractors and plows and hoes, none is probably as universal as a chainsaw.  We owned a chainsaw before we owned land and a tractor because we knew it would be essential.  Most farmers have one because inevitably trees fall down; on fence lines, across roadways, into fields.  Many also heat something with wood like their house or greenhouse.

We have used ours for all those reasons but we have also personally cleared more than 3 acres of land here on the farm.  When we bought this place we knew we needed more cleared land and so the cheapest way to do it was to cut the trees down ourselves.  We have spent months behind hot chain saws, to the point where we had his and hers chain saws.  A big one for Alex to drop and cut up the big trees and a small one for Betsy to drop the small trees and help limb up the big ones.

From 1981-1986 we almost always had a clearing project underway, first the blueberry field up on the hill and then the whole bottom field along the creek.   Our process was to first have the pulp wood cutters come in and take the sweet gums, smaller poplars, and other junk wood.  Some years this would actually result in money from the sales of the wood, usually not but it got the trees out of the way.  We would then take out the large trees for either firewood or lumber.  This would result in lots of brush that needed to be burned.  During some winters it looked like the Dark Ages around here with fires burning constantly. Finally we would have nothing but stumps left that required a bulldozer to remove.

The bottom field waiting for the bulldozer

My brother Jon, who helped clear the bottom field, said the first chapter in the book will be titled “Buy Cleared Land!”

The bottom field just months after the bulldozer

No matter what the reason we have a rule around here that chain saws will not be used when the leaves are on the trees (storm damage aside), hence chain saw season.  Chain saw work is physically hard, loud, and dirty.  If combined with warm weather it is debilitating and dangerous

Fortunately these days our needs are reduced to keeping the edges of the fields trimmed back and for firewood to heat the house.  We try and cut firewood the winter before so it has an entire year to dry.  So this past week we began cutting for next year.  It always seems that we start with the hardest trees.  This year it was a large dead oak leaning towards the house, well and heat pump.  Betsy lobbied for hiring someone to take this one down as we have managed to drop trees on things by mistake but I was sure we could do it.  After some careful rigging and the usual nervous last cuts, it fell beautifully in the correct direction.  Only a few months left in chain saw season, thankfully.

This tree leaned directly on a line from the stump, over the little well house, the heat pump and on to the house!

4/16/04 Vol. 1 #5

Kind of a mixed bag this week.  Beautiful rains early in the week allowed us to catch up on rainy day chores.  The Staff moved up 2400 pepper plants into larger containers to grow on for a few more weeks when they will go out into the field the first week of May.  21 varieties this year, a few new ones for you to try out, the pepper roaster will make it’s appearance in only 18 or 19 weeks!  Wednesday was a raw day and we used it to do some cleaning up of the edges of the field and burn some brush.  The Wednesday afternoon market also opened this week (kind of slipped up on us and I forgot to let you know last week that it was opening, sorry).  More clean up on Thursday after trying to cover one more of the “big tops” with those 30′ X 100′ pieces of plastic, we are lucky we all didn’t get blown into the next county.  Today is the day!  Calm winds and perfect weather, we are going for at least 4 bays, find out next week!  Cold weather scare the last two mornings, Thursday was right at 32 degrees with some scattered frost and we fully expected this morning to be colder but it looks as if 36 degrees might be a cold as it got.  We protected everything as if the worst was coming and it all looks good.  I did pick some short asparagus in anticipation of a freeze so they will look a bit odd at market tomorrow.

A bit of news from last week.  We had one of our best cheerleaders/supporters here last week helping us on the farm.  A bit of history, Betsy and I started Peregrine Farm by incorporating and then selling shares of stock to people who knew us and wanted to support this kind of endeavor, several who receive this newsletter.  We had many great shareholders who were very patient with us in the lean years as we figured out how to make this place profitable.  The best was Dottie Eakin who not only helped us with investment money but has come almost every year, from far distant places,  to spend a few days to a week working on the farm.  The reason I say was is that we now own all of Peregrine Farm, Inc. so we no longer have outside owners but Dottie still comes and helps.  Without her and others like her we would not be here today, thank you all!

Picture of the week
Look at the what’s to come!  Peas, spinach, broccoli raab, turnips…

8/4/04 Vol. 1 #21

Whew!  We made it to August!  This is when we really begin to think about the end of the season, the coming winters plans and next seasons preparations.  This week marks the three quarter point in our personal marketing season, 21 down, 7 to go.  While the Farmers’ Market goes until Christmas we end our season around the first of October.  This allows us time to prepare and plant for next year and have some quality of life time in the fall.  We used to go all the way to Thanksgiving but beginning five seasons ago we looked hard at the numbers and the effort required to produce those numbers and its effect on us and the next season and decided to call it quits sooner.  It was considered a radical move at the time but now we are very glad that we made the change.  Now we will of course be back for the special pre-Thanksgiving market to distribute the birds and with some just-for-Thanksgiving produce.  In the intervening seven or eight weeks we will have put the farm to bed for the winter, planted most of Betsy’s spring flowers and already done a little traveling!  We wouldn’t have been able to get all of this done under the old system.

No newsletter next week because we will be on our August break.  When we used to go straight thru to Thanksgiving we used to take two weeks off in August to try and rest and regroup for the remainder of the season.  Now that we stop early we just take one week off.  This is timed to coincide with the end of the early tomatoes and before the peppers really get going.  No exotic destinations this time just a little rambling around the area and general lolling around.  The staff gets the week off with pay and we get a week off!

We are looking forward a visit from my brother Jon and family this week.  19 seasons ago Jon came and threw in with us and helped turn the farm towards the course it is on now.  Jon is the one in the family who got the natural “grower” gene from my father, I have had to work at becoming a decent grower all these years, Jon can just go out and grow beautiful crops.  He was here for our first season at the Farmers’ Market (1986) and got us started growing vegetables and cut flowers on the only piece of ground we had left that wasn’t planted to blackberries and raspberries.  Unfortunately for us but fortunately for his wife to be, he moved back to Tennessee the next year.  He will be helping on the farm this Friday and at market on Saturday morning.  Like most Saturdays if you watch our stand closely you can usually spot members of my family behind the table.

Picture of the Week
Summer Crisp lettuce planted under shade cloth to keep it cool.  It should be ready the last week of August.

6/15/05 Vol. 2 #15

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

8/3/05 Vol. 2 #22

After 21 Saturdays Peregrine Farm’s marketing season is three quarters of the way done!  Whoopee!  While the market itself continues on until Christmas we decided in 2000 to stop at the end of pepper season and not to grow the fall cool season crops.  With a sustainable view of  our world we know that the most limiting part of our system is labor, and especially for us is our quality of life.  We realize that if we cannot renew ourselves then eventually the whole thing will grind to a halt.  This also represents the social part of the sustainable triangle.  The economic part of this decision came by looking at the numbers it took to go until Thanksgiving, and the return, we decided that it wasn’t worth it for us.  Turns out we were right, we make more now that we don’t market for the additional seven weeks or so than we did before.  Part of that is we personally are in better shape to manage the main season (see part one) and the other is the third leg of sustainability, the environmental side.  We forgo the fall crops, let the soil rest, get our soil improving crops planted just right and put the farm to bed for the winter in better shape, ready to go for the spring.  Of course as you know, 27 or 28 weeks of marketing doesn’t mean we have the rest of the year off, we are just working on other parts of the system.

Also after 21 weeks straight it is time for a break.  We have always taken a break the beginning of August after the early tomatoes wind down and before the peppers kick into full speed.  After the ugly hot weather of July we give the staff a week off with pay and we slow down a bit so we can all pull on through to the end.  So to that end we will be at the markets this week and then take the week of August 7-14 off.  No markets next week and no newsletter.  Nothing exotic for us while we are off, maybe the the beach for a few days, and maybe a few other excursions close by.  There are still the turkeys to keep an eye on and plants to water but by and large we will be lounging with our feet up!

Good news of the farm front though, turnips, radishes, lettuce all for September are in the ground.  Brussels Sprouts are planted for Thanksgiving and the leeks go in this week too!  Good rains last week have made all of these crops very happy.  By the way tonight, Wednesday, Panzanella restaurant (another of Weaver Street Markets businesses) is having another of their “Featured Farm” dinners where they have a special menu built around what the featured farmer has in season.  Tonight it happens to be us!  We took them lots of tomatoes of all kinds, cucumbers and peppers.  I know for sure that one dish will be poblano peppers stuffed with their house made chorizo sausage!  It should be an enjoyable eating experience.  Betsy and I will be there after market to eat our way through the menu, come by and see us!

Picture of the Week
Rudbeckia Triloba in full glory

12/19/05 Vol. 2 #30

Well the year is truly winding down.  This is the time of year for planning and introspection.  I am sitting here surrounded by seed catalogs, spreadsheets and notes from the last season trying to make myself order seeds.  Maybe its the short days and the low angle of the sun but it is difficult to get the brain headed in that direction.  Instead Betsy and I have been having long talks about the future and what it might look like, both for us and Peregrine Farm.  Now this is a common practice for us this time of year but after the tumultuous season that gave us many twists and turns we seem to be looking at life a little harder.  We think that most folks see Peregrine Farm as a constant with few changes but in reality we are changing all the time, both the farm and us.  For Betsy this has been the year of all things Italian with a keen interest in their culture and artisanal food.  She even suggested, that maybe for a change, that she take over the vegetable production and I run the flowers.  I raised an eyebrow at that one.  For me the big change that has knocked me out of my comfortable patterns is taking over the poultry processing plant.  Very scary at times but intellectually stimulating too, we still think that it is such a important piece of the local food system that it must happen.  The wish list of changes is forming; new crops (lots of artichokes, baby swiss chard, pigs?), new places to see (Italy again, Kenya for Betsy, southern Utah for Alex), new techniques to try which I will not bore you with now.

The biggest immediate change though will be the passing of my father Sam.  Many of you knew him as a fixture at our stand at Market.  Others may know him from his years at the University of North Carolina.  For Betsy and me he was a constant supporter and sideline advisor of our work for 25 years, and of course for my entire life.  Many people ask how I got into farming and I usually reply that my father was a rabid gardener and my mother a fabulous cook.  We grew up working in his gardens and eating three home cooked meals a day from her kitchen.  He lived a colorful, varied and determined 84 years.  He was first exposed to gardening as he grew up in rural Arkansas and spent summers with his grandparents.  Early morning trips with his grandfather to pick breakfast berries, gorging himself on figs while sitting under the bush and more.  He was the first in his family to go to college.  He lived in Memphis where he met Mom.  Spent time in the Pacific, in the Navy, in World War II.  A life long movie nut he went to cinematography school at the Univ. of Southern California before deciding to settle down and become a librarian.  They moved to Atlanta where he graduated from Emory Univ. and my brothers were born.  His first grand garden was in Columbia, Mo. where my sister and I were born.  He began to develop a style that included wide choices in plants in large beds with fences, patios, and garden art.  As kids we lived outside during the warm months and we all had small personal gardens with radishes and more.

He took us to Connecticut where he started the Univ. of Conn. Medical School Library.  Gardening continued to consume him and with the help of the “homegrown” work force he transformed a difficult hillside into a terraced wonder.  During our stay in Connecticut he made a business trip to Chapel Hill and returned telling Mom that he found the place for them to retire and garden.  A detour to Houston, Texas and the medical center library was the nadir of his gardening life.  Miserable climate and soil on a quarter acre suburban lot.  One Christmas we had railroad ties and top soil brought in and we built him a garden.  8 feet by 16 feet and two feet high he would come home from work, make a drink and go out and work in the garden, it helped keep him sane.  Finally he became director of the UNC Medical Library and his garden dreams unfolded.  The house that they remodeled and he designed and the gardens became the culmination of a lifetime of moving, travel and collection.   Over three acres of rolling terrain, granite boulders and mature hardwoods eventually would comprise the gardens.  Early on Betsy and I helped build the bones of the place with rock walls, raised beds, brick patios, pergolas and more.  Betsy spent many days with him going to nurseries and others gardens feeding their plant lust.  For those of you fortunate enough to visit the place and eat Mom’s food understand how they could influence ones life.  The picture below, while not crisp, is typical.  Pop sitting in the garden holding court with friends while Mom looked at him, trying to figure out where he was headed.  We will all miss them both, and we thank all of you we have talked to since his death.

I will leave you with two book suggestions for Christmas gifts or just winter reading.  The first is a couple of years old “Local Flavors- Cooking and Eating From America’s Farmers’ Markets” by Deborah Madison is one of the best reads on the importance of farmers’ markets and local food with many great recipes.  The second is brand new “Fields of Plenty- a farmer’s journey in search of real food and the people who grow it”  by Michael Ableman.  An excellent read about many sustainable, artisanal food producers around the country.  It also includes many recipes by the farmers themselves.  Betsy and I know many of these growers.  Between the two I think one can begin to get an accurate picture of a small farmers life and what inspires them.
Betsy and I hope you all have enjoyable holidays, eat well, rest up and stay warm.