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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 18 #17, 5/7/21 Thank You!

What’s been going on!

Thank You!

It has been nearly two weeks since our last market and we are still overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and thoughts from so many people not to mention the generous gifts.  We can’t thank everyone enough for the books, chocolates and cookies, the bottles of wine, champagne and bourbon and much more!  The touching words on so many cards and in messages have sent us off on the next phase well.  Again a big thank you!

We would like to say we have been laying around swilling all that booze but we have pretty much been business as usual, working everyday on various projects around the farm.  Betsy has really been working on her ornamental beds, cleaning, weeding, planting, shopping for plants; having a great time.

I have taken down two of the sliding tunnels so far, three more to go and working on getting the field in front of the tunnels ready, trying to knock back some bad perennial weeds, before we seed it to grass and surround part of it with the new deer fence that will protect our new food gardens.  This field used to be mostly woody perennials for cut flowers like viburnums, hydrangeas but we took them all out this spring.  There will probably be more ornamentals planted there in the future but time will tell.

We will give you updates from time to time on the progress with the new gardens and other adventures as they happen.

Pictures of the week

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Second tunnel dismantling underway

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¾ of an acre under conversion

Stay safe and well and we hope to see you all at the market or around town!

Alex and Betsy

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 18 #16, 4/22/21 The Last Market

What’s been going on!

Happy Earth Day and it’s a cold one!  27 degrees in the field, the few things we have that need covering are all tight and snug under their covers.  One more night and we should be good.

So here we are, after 1133 Saturday and another 434 Wednesday markets over 36 years, we have come to the end of our market road, our last rodeo so to speak.  It doesn’t seem real yet and yes it is an artificial stopping point but it has to end sometime and like most of the decisions in our lives we are the ones in charge and we know that now is the time to move to our next adventures.

The Carrboro Farmers’ Market has been the single biggest influence and constant in our farming lives and we are going to miss many aspects of it, especially the people.  First are our fellow vendors, all running their own businesses but assembling together for our common good to make one of the best markets in the United States.  The relationships with our immediate selling neighbors are one of the unspoken aspects at market, we all learn to live with and adapt to each other’s arrival times, parking and display styles.  We watch out for one another’s booths if we have to step away or things go crazy in a storm.  We know what our neighbors are selling and what to say about it after hearing them talk about their products week after week.  We never could have done it without all of our various staff over the years who were thrown into the deep end.

The Market Managers, who keep all of us in line and deal with all of our eccentricities.  We have worked with every manager the market has ever had, ten in total not including the equally great assistants and they have all done a tremendous job, every one getting better and better as the job gets harder and harder, this past year is the perfect example.

Our customers of course have shaped our business in every way possible and certainly been the pulse of our market days.  Saturdays have always started with the Patron Saints of produce growers, Dianne and Jim, who eat more vegetables than some restaurants buy from us.  The rest of our early morning regulars like Karen, Betsy, Polly, Anne and Brian, Catherine, Sue and Allen and more provided quiet conversation and seriousness about their food.  By 8:30 the pace quickens a bit but still with dedicated supporters like Bob, Archie and Dorie, Brian, Paula, Liz, Susan and Doug, Dominique and Andrew, Ellie and Jim.

9:30 to 10:30 is when the crowd hits with new and old faces.  Peter (on his first pass), Kelly, Eric and Penny, Nina, David, Jackie, Ann and Randell, Polly and Allan, Rahsaan, Sheri, Peggy and David.  The pace is brisk but conversations can be had on the side as newer shoppers are waited on.

By 10:30 it is really all over “but the shoutin’”  The folks who come now know the drill, either they get what is left or they were astute and put in an order ahead of time, the chefs especially.  Rebecca, Bethany and Robert, Debbi, Judy, Sylvia and Chuck, Nathan, Tim, Jeff, Ben, Gabe, Brendan.  The philosophy hour kicks in, few problems are solved but some good food does go home with them.

The flower folks have their own programs and we have had many dedicated flower connoisseurs over the years including Terry and Mike, LeeAnn and Sandy, Candy, Catherine, Brian and of course Karen, the Patron Saint of all the cut flower growers who not only bought for her house but her entire office.

Don’t even get me started with the specialists for Peppers, Peas, Tomatoes and Blueberries.  It, of course, is impossible to name everyone as there are hundreds more people who have made our lives rich and interesting and possible.  We thank you all, more than we can say and will miss our regular visits but we will be around.  My friend Scott and I are thinking of finding a corner to set up the Old Coots Giving Advice booth, until then look for us at market as civilians and a newsletter from time to time.

Picture of the week

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We leave you with a grainy picture of one of our first markets in 1986, you have brought us a long way

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 18 #15, 4/15/21

What’s been going on!

Forty years ago yesterday Betsy and I took a day off from work, drove down to Dillon, South Carolina and got married.  14,601 days ago but who is counting?  It was just another practical decision on our part, like so many others we have made over the years.  We had been together for a few years by then, having moved here from Utah in 1980 to try and start a small farm. 

I was working as a carpenter and she was cooking in the kitchen at the Fearrington House while we were trying to bring the farm to fruition.  We had incorporated the business in the fall of 1980, had raised some initial capital and were looking for land, a task made much harder during the recession with high interest rates but we forged ahead and eventually found this wonderful piece of land in the fall of 1981.

Getting married was a rational business decision (it made lots of legal things easier) as well as a commitment to each other but we were not at all tied to a “wedding”.  We worked on Monday, drove down with a few friends and my Mom for the 30 minute process which cost $35, stopped at South of the Border for our “reception” on the way home and then went back to work on Wednesday.  No fuss, no muss.

People have asked why we are retiring this month and I have said to many that not only is it our 40th season of farming but it’s Betsy’s 40th wedding anniversary present, instead of the traditional gift of a ruby.  She replies she would have been happy to stop at 39 and wouldn’t want a ruby anyway.  One of the words for retirement in Spanish is jubilado, very close to jubilation and we have taken to using it more frequently lately.

One of the other questions folks ask is “what are you going to do with yourselves?”.  It has never crossed our minds that we might not have enough to do.  Besides the joint care and feeding of all of our land and buildings, which is enough to keep us plenty busy on its own, we have a long list of over 30 places and counting that we want to travel to once Covid allows us to.

Betsy has become re-invigorated about what we have always referred to as her “recreational” flower beds, large areas around the farm dedicated to mostly perennial ornamentals.  She has always been a plant person and has upwards of an half an acre in these beds that and she is excited to finally be able to give lots of attention to.  She also plans to spend much more time in her pottery studio.  There of course is her ongoing work with the local Democratic party.

While also a joint project, I am looking forward to completely re-designing what will be our personal food gardens starting with taking down five of the six sliding tunnels, keeping one for us, and developing a new rotation of outside beds that will surround the remaining tunnel that will include vegetables, some cut flowers and of course cover crops.  We plan on finally planting some fruit trees and for the first time in decades some raspberries, blackberries and asparagus again.  It will be a new age of experimentation and growing things we never have or haven’t in years because it didn’t make sense for the business.  Small plantings, very manageable.

As some folks know I am an avid backpacker and plan on many more trips both local and in the western US.  There will be lots of day hikes and I may even put my kayak back on the water for the first time in decades.  Having just typed all of those plans I may have to sit down and rest a bit so we don’t overdo.

Pictures of the week

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Two of Betsy’s recreational flower beds

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 18 #14, 4/9/21

What’s been going on!

I indicated a few weeks ago when I was explaining some of the reasons why we were retiring now, that I would talk some about how it is we can actually retire as most farmers can’t unless they sell the farm, which we are not doing.  A large percentage of Americans have no savings much less retirement savings.  Farmers are the same or worse but they do at least have some, or a lot of, assets in their farmland and equipment.  They are sure as hell are not part of any pension system to rely on, short of some Social Security, if they paid into it.

Our parents were very fortunate to have had excellent pensions and health care insurance from working for large institutions but we knew that we would have to take care of ourselves and started early to make sure we could survive any disasters or economic shakeups that would come our way.  If you are under 40 or 50 you probably have already figured this out but- pensions/company retirement plans are a thing of the past!  Even if you currently work for a company that has one I would be very leery of it still being around when you need it.  I am looking at all of you younger folks, especially my farmer friends and self-employed folks, start saving now and as much as you can.

The other fiscal thing we got from our parents was “a Great Depression mentality”, those of you old enough know what this means.  You are frugal because you don’t know when things might get better and it imbues everything you do even when things do get better.  We knew that we would never make much cash money and moving into a tent, buying land and building a farming business from scratch when interest rates were near 20 percent just reinforced the vow of poverty we had taken.  We have never approached the median household income and I am sure that for many years we were technically below the poverty level but farm net incomes and public work net incomes are apples and oranges and too long a discussion for this newsletter.

Despite being cash flow challenged we started to save enough to have six months operating money in the bank and we had everything reasonably insured in case of a disaster, including us with health insurance as farming is the fifth or sixth most dangerous profession and it is the number one reason farms go out of business.

We were scarred by the high interest rates of the early 80’s so worked very hard to not carry any debt except for very large items like land, vehicles and greenhouses and paid them off on time and as fast as we could.  We paid the credit card balance on time every month and deposited the payroll and other business taxes on time too, it is probably one of the other main reasons people go out of business, they don’t deposit their tax withholdings.  We paid for almost all of the infrastructure development with cash, as it came in.  We lived within our means.  Everything is paid off, we have no debt.

We were very frugal, essentially didn’t take a vacation or trip that wasn’t farm related for the first 15 years and started to save what we could for the long run in our mid-thirties, a late start for sure.  We have been very lucky and can point to four important reasons we were able to save much at all.

1. We have been incredibly healthy with no major accidents or injuries and essentially have never missed a day of work, including our staff.

2. We did not have kids, just sayin’

3. We built and did all of the maintenance of the farm ourselves, every nail and plumbing pipe, saving tens of thousands of dollars by not hiring people to do the work.  We now have mechanics work on our vehicles and other equipment but we used to do all of that too.

4. We had very little student debt, a much bigger issue these days for younger people.

We have invested those savings in the stock market in mutual funds and exchange traded funds, very diversified.  I still think the stock markets are rigged for the big guys but if you keep it simple it works for us too.  We have used a fiduciary financial advisor particularly to help with our farm transition planning around Jennie.  She constantly remarks on how little money we live on.

So that is it, it is not rocket science just discipline and playing the long game, not trying to swing for the fences with get rich quick schemes.  Sorry, wish it was more sexy.  There is now an excellent small, short, uncomplicated book that I recommend to everyone, especially younger folks, The Index Card.  Written by a professor and financial writer who once commented that everything you needed to know about personal finance can be written on one index card and its true, the book just expands it a bit.

Picture of the week

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That lush green exuberance of spring

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Peregrine Farm News Vol 18 #13, 4/2/21

What’s been going on!

Well last night’s temperature forecast was an April Fool’s joke, we had been ready for mid 20’s but it was 32 degrees on the porch this morning and 27 degrees in the field.  Not complaining mind you but surprised it wasn’t colder.  Tonight they (the National Weather Service) are calling for 23 degrees for us, we will see but the second night is always the colder one.

Not nearly as bad as the April Easter Freeze in 2007 when we had five nights in the 20’s with the lowest 20 degrees, that one burned the tunnel tomatoes a bit but we survived.  We all know that the climate is changing and warming up but Betsy and I are slack jawed at maps we’ve seen recently with the last frost date around April 1st!  We used to figure April 21st was the safe date for us here on the farm.  I have climate maps from the 70’s that say April 11th for the general area but we are always colder and more akin to Siler City whose date is now listed at April 14thThis interactive map has the most current info with Chapel Hill’s last frost on April 6th

It’s similar to the Plant Hardiness Zones, were we used to be zone 7A based on the average extreme low temperatures in the low single digits.  Officially they now have us in 7B but certainly the last few winters we have been in 8A or B, I think the lowest we have seen this past winter was 17 degrees.  No wonder the perennial plants are shaking their heads and moving north.

Picture of the week

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Our 20 tomato plants well protected under two layers of row cover and inside the tunnel

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 18 #12, 3/26/21

What’s been going on!

Betsy and I were out yesterday morning doing daily tasks like we have done on any number of the thousands of farm mornings over the last four decades, it is automatic, muscle memory type of work.  I was pulling radishes, bent over with my left arm on my left knee, supporting my back with the growing bunch in my left hand while my right hand searched for the correct sized root.  One, two, three…eight, stand up grab a rubber band from the pouch on my right hip, two wraps around the base of the leaves, set the bunch down, bend over and repeat.  A bunch a minute, 80 bunches later I am done for this week- with radishes.

Betsy is in the anemone tunnel next to me, with in the same stance but with a growing armload of flowers in her left arm and a set of scissors in her right hand.  Judging each bloom for the right size and quality, sliding to the base of the stem, cut and move to the pile in her left arm.  When the load gets too big to carry, she walks them out to the back of the truck which gives her a chance to stand up straight for a minute or two before starting again; an important posture this week as she gets over a muscle pull in her hip.  The big difference is she repeats this task every single morning, except for market Saturdays, while the anemones and ranunculus are blooming.

It isn’t really terrible work but as we talk back and forth, we agree that it is one of the many things we will not miss once we retire in 5 weeks.  People are increasingly realizing that we are serious about calling it quits and having a hard time believing it will happen so soon when we are at market with a table full of produce and flowers and ask why and how (the how I will talk about in the future) but we are more than ready to move to the next phase or our adventure together.  There are so many facets of running your own business and growing on a commercial scale that we relished, enjoyed and embraced over the years but are tired of now or just don’t have the interest in doing anymore and we know that without that drive it is time to stop.

There are things we will miss like regularly seeing everyone at market, having the easy abundance of produce to eat and flowers to fill the house and give to friends but we can replicate most of that with a smaller garden and weekly shopping trips to the market.  We are not worried about how we will fill our time, just which thing we want to do first.

Picture of the week

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This sort of wild abundance will soon be a thing of the past

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 18 #11, 3/19/21

What’s been going on!

Well we were lucky with yesterday’s line of storms that slipped by us north and south and all we got was a short shot of rain.  Such is spring as we watch one front after another cross the state with the storms moving from the southwest to the northeast and we hope that they will split and go around us, which they frequently do.  The old timers say it is because of the Cane Creek Mountains, which fill most of southwest Alamance County, maybe they are high enough to divert the thunderstorms.  For whatever reason we are always grateful when they miss us.

I had an enjoyable Zoom event last Sunday as I spent the evening with a large group of Jamaican farmers discussing tomatoes and other things farming.  You may remember I spent two weeks nearly seven years ago working with the Jamaica Sustainable Farm Enterprise Project.  I was the first volunteer to go down and assess the situation and work with their initial group of farms.  It was an interesting time and I came away hopeful for their success.  They have continued to move forward against big odds and are being very successful in building a core group and getting produce into markets there.  It was great to catch up.

As painful as it will seem, don’t forget that the Carrboro Farmers’ Market goes to it’s summer hours starting tomorrow!  7:00 until noon, be there with us to greet the first day of Spring!

Picture of the week

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Typical upland farm in Jamaica

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 18 #10, 3/12/21

What’s been going on!

Betsy and I are very excited that we will be getting our Covid vaccines tomorrow after market!  We know that even with the “jab” we all will still need to be cautious for some time to come but there does seem to be a collective sigh of relief all around from family to customers to our restaurant friends, I think the spring weather does not hurt the optimism either.

I have been thinking about what a tremendous job the Carrboro Farmers’ Market has done this past year in adapting to the crisis and in keeping all of us as safe and fed as possible while staying open.  When all this hit a year ago, Maggie, our great manager was only weeks on the job and immediately shifted anything and everything that was required and has continued, along with her equally capable assistant Laura, to make shopping at the market one of the safest places in the entire Triangle or farther.

The Board of the Farmers’ Market has also done an incredible job in working with Maggie, the Town and the County Health Department to adapt our rules for the situation, supporting Maggie and being generally flexible.  They never missed a beat including continuing to hold their monthly meetings after market, no matter the weather or season.

The Town of Carrboro has been a great partner all along; helping with volunteers, signage and other support.  Working with the County Health Department and our advocate and infectious disease expert, Peter Gilligan, we were among the first in the country to implement a spread out set up, one way traffic in the market, one entrance and exit to the market, free masks, sanitation stations and more.  So much so that we have been held up as an example of how it can be done.

The members of the market have adapted as well but we are all looking forward to when the market can get back to normal with more vendors attending, where we can set up in our old spaces and build the big displays we are used to, bring in new farmers and products and finally have the time to visit and talk farming and gardening and food.

Of course all of you who come to the market to shop have done a great job too with wearing your masks, keeping distance, queuing out of the way and generally being safe.  It is yet another reason we have been able to stay open and that Orange County has possibly the lowest positive case rate in the State.  Keep it up, get your shots and we might be back to some kind of normal by the fall!

Picture of the week

More things coming in a few weeks- escarole, red leaf, green Boston, red Little Gem and romaine lettuces

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 18 #9, 3/5/21

What’s been going on!

When the Carrboro Farmers’ Market started it didn’t even open for the season until April and went until sometime in the fall, after six years it set the official opening day as the second to last Saturday in March and closing at Christmas.  It stayed that way for 22 years until 2008 when we moved to a year round schedule.  There had been some members who for a few years had been coming throughout the winter and as the winters continued to be warmer and the growers began to use new techniques it made sense to finally make it official. 

But winter is always variable and difficult as we have been reminded of this winter for sure.  Last spring was supposedly the earliest on record here in the southeast according to the National Phenology Network.  Right now they are saying we are a few days behind normal so compared with last spring that would be at least 2-3 weeks later and that is borne out in what we are harvesting.  Today I will cut the first lettuce and pull the first turnips and radishes, planted on the exact same schedule as last year but harvested nearly 3 weeks later than last spring.  Hopefully now we will begin to catch up a little.

Now they say the pattern is in for a big change with possibly the longest stretch of dry weather in many years.  I can see irrigation is in my future, an so the dance goes on.

Picture of the week

Party in a vase

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 18 #8, 2/26/21

What’s been going on!

What a glorious few days this week, makes one think that spring could finally come.  The first 70 degree day since before Thanksgiving is quite unusual.  A few other interesting bits of weather data from this past week comparing this meteorological winter (December through February) to the normal, were that we have had half of the number of days over 60 degrees than average and we are within striking distance to set the record for the wettest ever with over 17 inches of rain during the three month period.  No wonder our crops are running behind schedule.

We did plant the second to last batch of vegetables for market this week with kale, broccoli raab, radishes and lots of lettuce going out in the field, just before today’s rain to water it in.  Feels a little strange to look in the greenhouse and only see one more big planting of lettuce and all the rest is tiny seedings of things just for our personal garden the rest of the year.  One flat of tomato seedlings will give us the 16 plants we will put in just for our use versus the 260 of the last few years and certainly the 1300 we planted for many years.

People have been asking if we will be opening the online store and taking preorders this spring and with the still unknown nature of the coronavirus variants we plan to do so but it will not be until we have sufficient quantities of produce, most likely the end of March but we will just have to see.

Picture of the week

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Lots of Little Gem on the way

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