Peregrine Farm News Vol. 11 #11, 5/22/14

What’s been going on!

The end of an era and a sad day.  A quiet collapse of part of our local food system rippled through the area last week.  Chaudhry’s Halal Meats in Siler City, who has run the only local independent poultry processing plant since 2008, announced he was throwing in the towel and closing.  He will keep his profitable red meat plant open but despite building a state of the art poultry plant there were not enough birds going through it to keep it open.  This will probably be the last time we will see an independent poultry processing plant operating in the Piedmont of North Carolina.

What happened?  You may remember that when we first began raising turkeys in 2003 there was a small poultry processing plant between Pittsboro and Siler City who had been in business for a few years, struggling to make a go of it.  In the fall of 2005 they announced they were going to close just as the Thanksgiving season was approaching.  We quickly formed a group to take over the plant to at least run it through the end of the year.  In the end we formed a cooperative, Growers Choice, and we fought a losing battle for nearly two years to keep the plant running and get enough birds on the ground to make it profitable.  Between the condition of the plant, the USDA, and not enough birds we closed down operations as Chaudhry announced he was going to build a new plant.

We thought “great you run the plant and Growers Choice will work on increasing the number of local birds being raised”.  In the long run two things happened.  Farmers are independent sorts and really don’t work together well, we could not get them to cooperate to even buy feed in bulk, which would dramatically reduce their production costs.  The other change was loosening of the self-processing rules that allowed people to process more birds on their own farms without USDA inspection; most of the new growers of chickens now process their own.  Only those growers who raised a lot of chickens or turkeys would take them to Chaudhry’s, it was not enough.  I will say that Abdul Chaudhry and his folks did a good job and he kept the plant open longer than was economically feasible made only possible by having his other plant next door to absorb some of the costs and employees.

What will happen next?  The next closest plant is now in 3 hours away in Marion, no one I know will drive their birds that far; so for many, including us, it is the end of their pastured poultry operations, especially turkeys.  Some may begin self-processing their own chickens because they are relatively faster and easier to do than other birds but will do them in smaller numbers than they did before.  All of the turkey producers I have talked to have indicated that they will not be raising turkeys.  Few people self-process more than a few turkeys because they are heavy and much more work than chickens.  So savor that rare local pasture raised chicken you see at the Farmers’ Market and be prepared to go back to a Butterball turkey or have one shipped in from someplace else.  For us it is certainly the end of a long experiment but we will not be raising turkeys this year and probably never again.

Picture of the Week

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We finally got the last of the Big Tops covered on Monday, now the top of the hill looks more normal

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #37, 11/22/13 Thanksgiving!

What’s been going on!

The family travels went well, lots of driving but mission accomplished.  While we have seen each other at family gatherings over the years it had been 42 years since I had stepped foot onto my aunt and uncles (and now my cousin’s) farm in northern Mississippi.  Amazingly it looked pretty much like I remembered it except the buildings and distances were much bigger back then.

We raced back home and the week has been a busy one since.  Turkey harvest day went smoothly and the birds ended up being much larger than normal this year.  Last year we had almost no birds above 15 pounds which had never happened before.  This season we have very few below 15 pounds, lots of leftovers!  We are now focused on our favorite eating week of the year.

The weather forecast for both the Saturday and Tuesday markets looks less than desirable, cool and rainy.  In between we will have a hard freeze on Sunday/Monday.  To that end we are harvesting as many of the outdoor crops as we can today while it is warm and will wait until Monday to pick the indoor crops that will go to the Tuesday Thanksgiving market.

The special Tuesday pre-Thanksgiving market (3:00-6:00) is always a bustling and produce beautiful afternoon.  We will probably not be in our usual space as all the vendors are parked in the order that they arrive.  Look for our big white truck and there will be signs to point folks to which shelter we are in.  Dress warmly and with rain gear.

Pictures of the Week

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Our Norman Rockwell turkeys

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Celery and Baby Chard

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #32, 10/3/13

What’s been going on!

Made it to October and one last shot of summer like weather, had to happen.  Slow progress on the fall soil preparations because we now need some rain to help make the soil easier to work.  Still most of the mineral amendments have been spread and the first pass over the fields with the disk to cut in the crop residues is done.  Rain forecast for Sunday, Monday and into Tuesday should do the trick.

The Carrboro Farmers’ Market Fall Harvest Potluck last Thursday was again a great event with lots of delicious dishes from the chefs and restaurants that shop at the market.  Perfect weather and of course a perfect location.  We have so many chefs and community volunteers who support the market and make these kinds of events possible, we can never thank them enough.

Heads up, we have one more Southern Season cooking class coming up the evening of Wednesday October 16th.  Again with our friend Craig LeHoullier of heirloom tomato fame but this time all about chiles as he grows those too.  We may even bring the roaster and set it up on the balcony next to the cooking school class room.  The menu looks really good and there are still seats available.

Picture of the Week

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Turkeys grazing away next to freshly disked field

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #25, 8/1/13

What’s been going on!

5:38 this morning the phone rings, jolting us out of the last stages of sleep.  I say “just pick it up and then hang up” as Betsy reaches for the phone “No wait!  It might be the Post Office calling to tell us the turkeys are here!”.  Indeed the case and we are off and running, Betsy driving to Graham to pick up the box filled with little chirpers and me across the field to finish up the brooder preparations.  By 7:00 they are all installed, eating, drinking and running around.

You may remember this newsletter from June when I was debating if we would raise turkeys this year and the specific hurdles to doing so.  Well those hurdles have mostly been cleared.  The feed plant problems have been solved, the availability of poults later than normal worked out and a processing date has been secured the week before Thanksgiving allowing us to have fresh birds and avoid the freezer plant issues.  One more time around the block.

A fun event coming up a week from today The Crop Hop at the Barn in Fearrington Village is a fundraiser for the Farm Sustainability Programs at the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI).  Live music, square dancing if you are so inclined, microbrews and some deserts all for just $10-20.  We will be there as I am on the Board of RAFI, one of the oldest and most important of all the sustainable agriculture organizations in the country.  They do great work in many areas of agriculture but this night we will be focusing on the work they do to help save family farms from going out of business.  Come on out for an enjoyable evening and support sustainable farms.

Once again we have made it through July and it is time for our annual August break so no newsletter for the next two weeks.  After market this Saturday, Betsy and I will be laying low for two weeks, taking short road trips, going out to eat and just taking it easy.  The exciting party (really) is we are going to focus on moving into the new workshop, building a work bench, putting up shelves, sorting and organizing all the tools and supplies that are strewn across five buildings; Betsy has been waiting for this for years!  Jennie and Liz will be working next week and expect to see them at market, maybe both Wednesday and Saturday.  They will both then have a week off and we will not be at Market at all on the 17th.  When we come back it will be full pepper season and roasting should begin on the 24th.

Picture of the Week

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This little turkey is saying “here we go again”

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #20, 6/19/13

What’s been going on!

Just amazing that the cool(ish) spring weather continues this late into June along with the rains.  We are trying hard to catch up on weeding, tying up tomatoes and other chores held up by both the wet conditions and blueberry season.  Blueberry season is over this week (we will cruise through the planting one more time tomorrow) so now we can concentrate on taking care of the summer crops.  The main red onion harvest is finally over too, hard to pull onions when it is too wet but the urgency to get them out before the weeds took them was pressing.  They will now cure for a week before we begin to bring them to market.

The past week is normally when the little turkey poults arrive in the mail but not this year.  There are multiple red flags that have caused us to hold off raising turkeys this season.  Feed is the number one cost in raising the birds despite the fact that they are pastured.  Feed prices remain at record high levels and on top of that, the feed plant that we have used that past few years had a fire earlier this year and is still shut down, making it difficult to get the feed we want, two strikes.  Last fall, the week we went to process the birds, we found out that the freezer plant that we had used for a decade would no longer allow us to store our turkeys there (they changed ownership) and we scrambled to find a substitute facility.  We did but were underwhelmed at the options and the service we ended up with, third strike.

But there may be a silver lining to the story.  There are two reasons we have processed our birds well before Thanksgiving- one is just the shear madness at the processing plant just before the holiday and the other is the Broad Breasted Bronze poults that we prefer were generally not available later than mid June making it necessary to process them in early October otherwise we would end up with 30 pound birds.  We have now found a hatchery that can provide the little birds up into August.  This would allow us to both avoid the freezer plant issue, with fresh birds, and we also may be able wait out the feed plant closing.  We will let you know the outcome.

Picture of the Week

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Beautiful Campanula and Dianthus after the rain

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #25, 9/26/12

What’s been going on!

Oops, missed a newsletter last week, way too much going on including an overnight trip to the beach to spend some time with family that happened on newsletter day.  It was too wet to stay home anyway after the awesome four inches of rain at the beginning of last week; we haven’t had a rain here on the farm like that for years.

Dry enough now to get going on fall soil preparations for the 2013 growing season.  Everything that can be has been mowed (only three fields left- peppers, fall vegetables and over wintered flowers), yesterday I spread the phosphorus and potassium rock powders that the crops will need for the next year.  Today I will begin turning soil, should be perfect after last week’s rains.  Disk, subsoil with a field cultivator, maybe disk some fields again.  Once nice and loose and with all of the crop residues incorporated I will hill up the beds for next spring’s early planted crops.  Finally the cover crop seeds will be spun out over the waiting rough but soft soil to be brought up by the next rains and to be the protective blanket for the winter.  Lots of time on the tractor.

We are in mid Big Top hoop moving, from one field to another, to be finished today.  This year of course is the additional complication of sorting hoops that are OK, from those that we can re-bend, from those that will go to the steel salvage lot.  Good news is that we did a test re-bend yesterday and it looks like we will be able to save quite a few, if we are careful.

On top of all of the above, Monday is the one bad day in the turkey’s lives, we take them to processing.  A before dark start to catch them while they are sleepy and then most of the day spent down at the processing plant.  It is a long, tiring and somber day but an important one.  There are still birds available if you haven’t gotten your reservation in yet, all the information can be found here.

Pictures of the Week

Half of the hoops moved, tomatoes will be in this field next year

The sorting piles- maybe re-bend, off to salvage, top rails and parts

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Peregrine Farm News, Vol. 9 #24, 9/13/12

What’s been going on!

Glorious weather!  This is why we suffer the summers to revel in these kinds of days.  Of course now we work non-stop because we can and it is so enjoyable.  This is the beginning of the big project season when we have the time, energy and it is time to do some of these things too.  The general end of summer clean up and organization of the farm for winter is underway but we have even more shuffling to do as we have had to move years of gathered materials like cedar posts and old pallets to make way for the winters big project, building a new workshop and living space.

The only infrastructure item that we have never had is real workshop space.  We have had the open air tractor shed with an outdoor workbench from the beginning but I am getting tired of working on things in the gravel driveway.  We have also accumulated quite a number of wood working tools over the years and they are tucked away here and there in various buildings which doesn’t lend its self to actually using them in a timely manner when one needs to.  So this winter we are building a 24’X28’ space with an apartment upstairs for current staff or to rent in the future.  Hopefully we will be pouring concrete within the month.

The other looming project, now that all crops are out of the Big Tops, is to finish the dismantling of the bent metal parts and actually get a count on how many we will have to replace.  We also have the annual move of hoops from one field to another so quite a bit of time has been spent this week in handling greenhouse parts, either dragging them out of the field for salvage or taking them apart and carrying them to next year’s position.

With fall soil preparations and cover crop planting on the schedule in the next few weeks, more fall crop planting and the continuing harvest there are a lot of balls in the air each with its own set of details.  Maybe that hiding out in the air conditioning all summer wasn’t so bad after all.

Picture of the Week

A beautiful morning, turkeys feeding and empty Big Tops awaiting dismantling

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #22, 8/29/12 Turkey Reservations

What’s been going on!

Great farm dinners last week, it was good to see many folks we knew at both events and we certainly enjoyed everything we ate.  Many thanks again to the chefs and staffs at both Elaine’s and Panzanella.  The amazing cool August weather continues, sure does make getting things done a lot easier as our momentum has certainly been slowed.

As promised early in the year, this week marks the start of Turkey reservations.  We always wait until Labor Day when we have a better idea of how many birds will actually be available. By the time they get this old they are usually pretty hardy but even now we can lose some to one thing or another.  There will only be about 65 birds available this fall and they are all the larger Broad Breasted Bronzes.  All the information about what kind we have, how much they will be and the order form is now on the Website for easier access.

Look for the order form either at the top of the page or near the bottom under “How do I reserve one of the special birds?”  You can easily download the Word document there.  We will also have the order forms at Market on Saturdays through the end of the month.  I can also tell you that with the “Frequent Flyer” reservations, nearly a quarter of them are already spoken for.  I will continue to update how many are available on the website.  Don’t wait too long.

Standard late summer projects going on. Most of the big tomato planting has been taken out.  We are slowly winning the battle with the grass, maybe this big mowing push will hold us until the end of the season. Soil samples need to be pulled and sent in so we can be ready the end of September for the big annual soil preparation.  Pick pepper, pick peppers, pick peppers.

Picture of the Week

Happy birds in front of Betsy’s giant popping sorghum

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #18, 7/19/12

What’s been going on!

Newsletter a day late as yesterday was turkey moving day, planting and on to Farmers’ Market so there was no opportunity to sneak away and write.  The first stage happened Tuesday morning when I was up at 5:45 to catch the eleven guinea hens while they were still a bit sleepy.  They have moved over to Liz’s Bushy Tail Farm where they will grow up and hopefully eat all of her ticks.  When the Barkers are ready Confit and Fricassee (or is it Grits and Gumbo?) will move on over to their house to live out their guinea fowl lives.

Yesterday morning I was out just after 6:00 (this damn heat!) getting ready for the move of the remaining 70 birds.  Turkeys are always a bit daffy when exposed to new things and so I wanted them to have 24 hours to get used to not having the guinea hens around before yet another new experience of moving to a new field.  By the time Jennie and Liz arrived at 8:00 I had the electric fences up, waterers and feeder moved; everything ready for the long walk.

Like last year I thought it would be less stressful to walk them the 200 feet down to their next location instead of catching each one, putting them in the truck, driving them down and then grabbing them again and setting them out.  I have to say that this group is not as cohesive and sharp as last years but it still seemed the best option.  30 minutes and a lot of patience we coaxed them past the gravel drive (they are easily distracted by bright objects) and the sliding tunnels to some nice green grass and the shade of some bushes.

Usually when turkeys move into a new lush area they make the “happy turkey” sound, heads down searching out new bugs and tender greenery to eat.  This outfit stood in the corner of the fence calling out and staring back towards the brooder.  Eventually they finally settled down and the heat drove them under the bushes and close to the waterers.  Finally late in the day they began to explore their new larger accommodations, another successful move.

Picture of the Week

6 feet per minute, through the scary narrow gate

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 9 #15, 6/27/12

What’s been going on!

Newsletter a day late, had an unexpected visitor yesterday morning that ended up taking up the whole morning.  Here is where I was when I was interrupted:

Wow!  A look at the forecast brings a great shake of the head in disbelief that such hideous weather could possibly follow a day as succulent as yesterday and a morning as bright and clear as this one.  Possibly five days of 100 plus degree temperatures with higher humidity, really??  This is certainly a stretch of temperatures to brace oneself for, plan the days carefully and for early exits from the field.  We must also irrigate early in the mornings to get the most from the tiny amounts of water that the drip irrigation lines deliver to the base of the plants while getting the field chores done.

The turkeys are now two weeks old and growing fast.  The extra eight or nine “runts” that came with the order are now clearly looking like a different bird.  In years past, with other hatcheries, we have had roosters chicks added in to make sure that there were enough birds in the box to keep them from being jostled around too much during their trip with the USPS.  I called our hatchery and asked if they had done such a thing and they said they never did that but if a mistake had happened they might be guinea hens or pheasants.  After a quick Google search for two week old guinea hens and I am suspicious that is what we have.  If so, it is not so bad in that Liz, who works for us, wants some guineas for her farm to eat the ticks.  We’ll know better what they are in another week or two.

An important note for the coming July 4th week.  Because the 4th is on Wednesday the market will be held on Tuesday instead.  That will allow you to get all of your holiday meal and picnic needs in advance and just in time.  Until then, stay cool!

Picture of the Week

A brilliant, cool and low humidity afternoon

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