Farm Blog

Revitalizing Main Street

 

 

 

 

 

Peaceful River Farm lies between vibrant small communities – the revitalized mill village of Saxapahaw (pop. 1,648), and the historic Towns of Hillsborough (pop. 6,087) and Pittsboro (pop. 3,743). Sustainable farming has as one of its goals the revitalization of small towns. For example, a dollar spent at your local farmers market leads to an additional $0.58 to $1.36 in sales at other nearby businesses – this is more than three times the “multiplier effect” for local communities than chain stores.
In 1980 I was part of an interagency/private organization team in Washington that launched the National Main Street Center. With the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the International Downtown Executives Association providing consulting, design, and technical assistance, a total of 30 demonstration communities were selected in six states – North Carolina was one of them. Most of these communities had been adversely impacted from big box stores in addition to manufacturing and agricultural decline.
That demonstration program proved extremely successful, and each year more small towns have received assistance from the National Main Street Center, assessing their strengths and taking the bottom-up steps to revitalize their downtowns. The results are impressive according to the Center’s website:
Cumulatively, commercial districts taking part in the Main Street program have spurred the rehabilitation of more than 246,000 buildings, and generated $59.6 billion in new investment, with a net gain of more than 502,728 new jobs, and over 115,000 new businesses. Every dollar a community uses to support its local Main Street program leverages an average of $18 in new investment, making Main Street one of the most successful economic development strategies in America. These community benefits would not be possible without the training, education, and leadership of the National Main Street Center.
In North Carolina our urban areas are by and large significantly wealthier than our nonmetropolitan areas. Forty of the most economically distressed counties are rural, dotted withwith boarded up downtown districts and stagnant economies. Fortunately, there are success stories as illustrated by the communities in our area and by the 64 designated Main Street towns in North Carolina which have seen a dramatic increase in business starts, new jobs, and public and private investment.
It is humbling to reflect back on those beginnings 36 years ago and to recognize what can be accomplished with good ideas, professional attention to challenges and opportunities, and local pride and commitment to community revitalization. Small town living has rich rewards for families, businesses, and civic and religious organizations alike. We love the sense of community, the friendliness, the open space, and the connection with nature that living in the country and near small towns affords.
Larry Newlin

 September 2016

Meet Andrew Mayo

We want to introduce Andrew Mayo, a young man who began helping us on the farm in May, and who we have come to rely on as a prime mover in ensuring the success of our growing and marketing efforts. During his interview, Andrew pledged to come to work each day with a can-do attitude, and he has more than fulfilled that promise. But first, let me put into context the importance of folks like Andrew in transforming our food system.
Just prior to World War II, we had some 31 million farmers. With the Post-War advent of industrial agriculture, we are now down to 2 million with the average age of 55. Machines have largely replaced farm labor, and cheap fuel and subsidized irrigation have resulted in our food coming from further and further away. Nineteen percent of our total fuel consumption is from agriculture, and 50 percent of our fruit, vegetables, and nuts come from California – a state suffering from prolonged droughts and threatened with devastating earthquakes. Clearly, this system focused on efficiency to create cheap food is not sustainable, and in the process of building this system we have sacrificed taste and nutrition.
Reflecting on the ten years since the publication of his Omnivore’s Dilemma, food author, Michael Pollan champions the changes that have taken place regarding the question of where does your food come from:
There are now more than 8,000 farmers markets in America, an increase of 180 percent since 2006. More than 4,000 school districts now have farm-to-school programs, a 430 percent increase since 2006, and the percentage of elementary school with gardens has doubled, to 26 percent….Sales of organic food have more than doubled since 2006, from $16.7 billion in 2006 to more than $40 billion today.
If we are to build a sustainable food system, we will need millions of new farmers willing to engage in the labor-intensive methods employed by small, sustainable farms. We will need well-trained young people who can engage in the complicated tasks that sustainable farming entails. They will need to be both intelligent and idealistic, but they will also need the tenacity to weather hot, grueling days, outsmart unwelcome farm pests and varmints, and overcome low margins. We don’t have millions yet, but there are lots and lots of young people interested in farming. A dozen or more have helped us get the farm up and running, and we have encountered hundreds of others at sustainable farm conferences and workshops and tours of our farm. Moreover, student farms are springing up at traditional liberal arts schools like Duke, Wake Forest, Elon, Guilford, and Appalachian State, and pioneering student farms are still flourishing at Warren Wilson and Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro.
The prestige of local farmers is rising as their pictures are featured on the walls of up-scale grocery stores and their farm names are on the menus of prestigious restaurants. Again, Michael Pollan:
One of the most popular internships among college students today is to work on an organic farm. Most of these aspiring farmers will no doubt decide farming is not for them, but even those will emerge from the experience with a keener appreciation for what it takes to be a farmer and a greater willingness to pay a fair price for the important work farmers do. But some of these novices are evidently sticking it out: The total number of farmers in America, which had been in free fall for most of the 20th century as agriculture industrialized, has begun to rise again for the first time since the U.S. Department of Agriculture began keeping track. This is encouraging news, since it’s hard to imagine creating a more sustainable and diversified agriculture without a great many more farmers on the land.

Andrew is one of those farm interns who gained experience at several farms and has returned to the land to pursue his passion and to live out his principles. It was at Central Carolina where I first met Andrew when we took classes at the nationally recognized Sustainable Agriculture Program. He had just returned from a summer working at a pioneer farming program in rural Japan learning traditional agricultural techniques and food ways. He graduated with honors from Central Carolina and worked at a Pittsboro sustainable farm that utilized bio dynamic techniques. Andrew went on to Appalachian State’s Sustainable Development program with a concentration in Agroecology* where he graduated with highest honors and assisted several homesteaders and farmers in the area.
Following his graduation Andrew moved to Durham where he became a bread baker at Loaf and among other duties sold for them at the Chapel Hill Farmers Market. There was a pull to get his hands in the soil again and to be in a more serene, rural environment that led Andrew our way.

There’s a lot that can be said about the day-to-leadership that Andrew brings, but it’s the higher elevation view of the role that Andrew is playing and that sustainable farms like ours need that I would like to emphasize. We need both intelligence and skill in working the land – this work is complicated and challenging. We need the nose-to-the-grindstone persistence in good weather and bad as well as the amiable qualities that engender teamwork and good customer relations. We need strategic thinking as well as attention to detail. These are all attributes that Andrew brings.
As our farm makes progress with the help of a person like Andrew, our nation’s transition to a sustainable food system also needs to progress. To get there we will need a lot more sustainable farms and a lot more Andrews.
According to Andrew, “One of the exciting things of being involved in this farming endeavor is seeing up close the many ways our food system is changing, from the rapid multiplication of small farms, to the growing number of inspired peers I have met, to the principled and enthusiastic support of customers. The career path of farming does not look like it used to, and hasn’t quite stabilized in a new way; we are all learning how to make these new models of food production and distribution viable.

*Agroecology- the ecology of the farm, studying agriculture in the context of its biological, chemical, and social science.

August 2016

Larry Newlin – Peaceful River Farm

 

Legislators Address North Carolina’s Food Deserts

 

Larry was pleased to represent North Carolina farmers in advocating for the Healthy Corner Store initiative at a breakfast for legislators and the religious community recently.  In a press release from the North Carolina Alliance for Health, remarks by Bishop Hope Morgan of the United Methodist Church, Representative Yvonne Holly, Colonel Paul Conner of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base’s Medical Group, and Larry of Peaceful River Farm were highlighted.  Larry is quoted as stating, “Obesity is a crisis in our state.  By helping put fresh, local food into corner stores, as well as ensuring stores have the equipment to stock the foods and the tools to market the foods to their customers, we create markets for farmers, like myself, and ensure that communities will have access to healthy, local options.”

 

In a recent WUNC Radio wrap-up of the budget passed by the NC General Assembly, one reporter expressed his pleasant surprise that the $250,000 Healthy Corner Store Initiative was included.  The initiative is a bipartisan measure aimed at addressing our burgeoning obesity epidemic, especially among children, and to broaden access to fresh, locally grown produce and food.  There are 1.5 million North Carolinians living in “food deserts” without convenient access to grocery stores.

 

The NC Alliance for Health sets the cost for our excess weight at $17.6 billion a year in medical costs and lost employee productivity.  They estimate that having fresh food more accessible will lower diseases linked to obesity — Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and some kinds of cancer.

 

While NC’s initiative offers a modest start, if a similar test program begun in 2010 in Philadelphia is a predictor of NC’s success, the impact will be strong.  Its success has spread to 600 corner stores now offering fresh, local food throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania – a win/win/win for customers, retailers, and farmers.

 

In his remarks, Larry also highlighted the success of Saxapahaw General Store, one of Peaceful River Farm’s key customers.   The Saxapahaw General Store calls itself a “five-star gas station in the middle of somewhere”.  Saxapahaw may be out of the way, but it has been transformed from a declining mill village on the Haw River to a bustling new urbanist community where music, food, river recreation, and community blend in a unique way.  Three years ago the General Store attained financial assistance from the Rural Advancement Fund International based in Pittsboro to experiment with providing more local, fresh produce to increase impulse sales near the register.  An open cooler was installed, and local, sustainable farms were contacted to help keep the cooler full through the seasons.  Their produce was identified with handwritten signs labeling the variety and the farm that produced it.  Produce and berry sales grew exponentially according to owners, Jeff Barney and Cameron Ratliff.  Peaceful River Farm’s sales to the General Store saw a similar dramatic increase.  Great farm food means great dishes, and the General Store has received recognition from Our State Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The News and Observer, UNC – TV, and Garden and Gun Magazine.

 

The good news is fresh, healthy food may soon be “right around the corner” for thousands of North Carolina’s rural and urban residents.

February, 2016

Popeye had it right – “I’m strong to the finich (sic), cause I eats me spinach”. We’ve been growing a good bit of spinach this winter both inside the high tunnel and outside in low tunnels. There is less weed pressure in the high tunnels, and the leaves are more succulent, but spinach is hardy enough to grow outside through most winters under low tunnels – hoops covered with frost cloth. In the mid-South semi-savoyed versus smooth leaf spinach grows best. “Tyee” has been the variety of choice for several seasons, but our major seed supplier, Johnny’s, substituted “Reflect” this fall, and we like it even better. Some folks wait for the plant until it can be harvested in one bunch – one and done; others like to harvest it as baby spinach; and we like it as a cut and come again crop harvesting it when the leaves are bite size and come back in 10 to 14 days and harvest again.
Chefs love the red edged variety, “Red Kitten”, which we are growing in the high tunnel and will seed again for spring in a few days. It is counterintuitive to think that now is a good time to sow spinach, but the seeds germinate best in soils that range in temperature from 40 degrees to 70 degrees F. Fifty degrees is optimal to produce normal seedlings. We keep the prepared bed warm and dry with clear plastic for a few days before seeding. At fifty degrees F it will take about 12 days to germinate. After watering in the sown seeds, we will recover and begin checking for seedling emergence in about a week – checking each day and then replacing the clear plastic with permeable frost cloth. We’ll pull back the frost cloth on warmer days, and then pin it back before freezing nights.
Spinach is prone to bolting with warmer weather; so, this early start is important for a cut and come again harvest plan. Spinach is in great demand and is one of the more profitable crops. By the time our high tunnel spinach is through harvesting, we should have spinach ready to harvest in the spring beds. Spinach is in the Chenopod family along with its cousins, chard and beets, and for home or market gardeners makes a strong addition to a crop rotation scheme – following a root vegetable in a different family like carrots, potatoes, or radish. It should not immediately follow the cover crop rye.
Recent studies have shown that spinach can offer significant protection against the occurrence of aggressive prostate cancer – the only leafy vegetable with that potency among several that were tested including kale and collards. It is a superfood ranking in the top 10 of green vegetables in the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index developed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. Darker green leaves will be higher in Vitamin C than paler leaves. Spinach provides antioxidants, helps maintain a healthy cardiovascular system, helps lower blood pressure, aids in cognitive function, and helps protect the lining of the digestive tract. It is low in fat and very low in cholesterol and filled with healthy vitamins and minerals.
Spinach is a super-duper food – grow it, eat it, grow healthier.


 

November, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!


 

August, 2015

Voted #1 by Chapelboro “Best Place for Vegetarians”
We are thrilled to have been voted the best place for vegetarians by the locals here in the Chapel Hill area! Click on the link above to read about it.


Late Summer, 2015

Aren’t farm tasks supposed to slow down in summer? Here’s are random thoughts about how our summer has progressed:

Tomatoes

We decided after last year that we wouldn’t grow tomatoes in the outside market gardens again – we had about 20% of the production outside that we had in the high tunnel due to pathogen pressures. But what’s a farmer to do when the high tunnel is only 35’ wide x 78’ long and we grew tomatoes in most of its beds last summer? The answer we came upon was to purchase grafted heirloom tomatoes from an NC organic greenhouse. Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, and German Johnson were grafted on to disease resistant root stock, and with a couple of inches of compost added to the beds following winter lettuce and spinach, we planted 48 plant trays in each of three beds. According to research at NC State, grafted heirloom tomatoes grown in high tunnels should yield 50% more than non-grafted heirlooms. Heirlooms have the taste that you remember from your grandparents’ garden, but because they are so big and juicy, they are prone to splitting. We have found with this year’s crop that we have fewer culls than last year, and we still have green foliage with good though slower flower and fruit set than earlier in the season (temperatures reach 110 degrees F on really hot days). So, so far, so good. Lee has processed most of the culls roasting them overnight on a low temperature and then peeled and cored to freeze for use in her healthy cooking classes. The demand for heirlooms far exceeds hybrid varieties, and the profit margins are significantly better as well.

Cucumbers

Last year we were growing “Straight 8” cucumbers on the north bed of the high tunnel and were producing an abundance of very straight and long cucumbers. About the first of July, the plants looked like they had the measles – large yellow lesions on the leaves and a powdery edge. In a few days the entire plant declined, and we had to rip out the plants at the peak of their production. The culprit was a nasty disease, powdery mildew, which used to creep up from Florida around August but has been coming earlier and earlier due to warmer weather.

After hearing a talk about Cornell/NC State research trials on downy mildew resistant cucurbits, we bought seeds of the trial winner for disease resistance. It is an unnamed variety from Cornell – PMR 264 – it’s a cucumber not a Star Wars robot. Commonwealth Seeds near Charlottesville, VA is the grower and offers an excellent selection of seeds adapted to the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic which are open pollinated and organic. The results from our two beds in the high tunnel has been excellent from a disease resistance perspective with vigorous plant growth even into August, but the production has been spotty. A plethora of blooms have largely fallen off unpollinated – perhaps due to the heat inside the high tunnel but more likely due to poor pollination as bees are sparse inside on these hot days. We are still averaging harvests of over 40 pounds per every other day, though some of the cukes are short or misshapen from inadequate pollination.

According to research at West Virginia University by high tunnel guru, Lewis Jett, cucumbers are the number one most profitable high tunnel crop. Nevertheless, we are likely to experiment with this variety outside next summer for improved pollination. It will mean a slower start to the season but hopefully greater yield. The cucurbit trial continues this summer (see our participation in melons below), and we’ll be anxious for updates to see if there is any experience in growing other downy mildew resistant varieties successfully in a high tunnel. Otherwise, we’ll select a greenhouse variety or two that needs little or no pollination from Lewis Jett’s list of recommended varieties and take our chances on downy mildew.

Muskmelon Trial

We have participated in a cantaloupe trial sponsored by Cornell, NC State, and Auburn Universities to test the downy mildew resistance of eight varieties. Only one of the eight is recommended for North Carolina: “Athena”, which accounts for 70 percent of the cantaloupes produced commercially in the state. All 8 varieties we tested developed alternaria leaf spot early in the season, but all but one of the varieties survived. None of the varieties grew vigorously, and all experienced fruit rotting problems. We use a refractometer to test the sweetness of the different varieties, and Athena scored the optimal 12 early in the harvest season. None of the varieties have been prolific producers. We are not experienced cantaloupe growers, and this research experience does not heighten our interest in growing cantaloupes in the future. The good news is that none of the varieties developed downy mildew.

Other Summer Happenings:

  • We have just completed grading for our second high tunnel which is supported by a “cost share” from the Natural Resources and Conservation Service/USDA. The high tunnel will be constructed in early September and will be located directly to the south of our first tunnel with the same dimensions and design.
  • We have also received NRCS assistance to conduct a Conservation Assistance Program organic transition whole farm plan. The plan is being conducted by former Chatham/Orange County Extension Service agent and NC A&T State University researcher, Keith Baldwin, PhD. Keith is highly regarded and was awarded Carolina Farm Stewardship’s 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award. Keith is currently the Farm Services Coordinator for CFSA.
  • We have recently begun providing produce to a group of independent restaurants in the Triangle through a collaboration with other farmers. We are one of a select group that pool our resources to serve this growing restaurant group.
  • It seems early to be planting cabbage, bok choy, kale, broccoli, and collards in this heat, but with 60 to 85 days to maturity, it is important to get them in the ground to avoid freezing weather (especially for the broccoli and bok choy). We are using the written advice from sustainable farming guru, Pamela Dawling of Twin Oaks Farm near Charlottesville, author of Sustainable Market Farming. Pam suggests sowing rows of red or crimson clover about a month after planting around cabbage and broccoli to help crowd out winter weeds and to have a nitrogen fixing cover crop in place through the winter once harvest is complete.

The cooler mornings are enjoyable and we try to get most of the heavier work done before the heat sets in.  Tomatoes and cucumbers are still producing in the high tunnel, Asian pears have just been harvested, the summer squash and winter squash are producing fewer fruit, and we are beginning to harvest recently sown arugula.

The bounty of fall will soon approach, and we can’t wait! -Larry Newlin


 

Mid Summer, 2015

A Tale of Two States

 

California grows half of America’s fruits, nuts, and vegetables, and we North Carolinians consume our share.  As their drought worsens and several hundred thousand more acres are taken out of production, we need to ask again is our food system sustainable?

Consider the number three while comparing California (CA) agriculture to North Carolina’s:

  • CA is more than three times larger in land mass (163,600 sq. miles vs. 48,600)
  • Has more than three times the population (38.8 million vs. 9.9 million)
  • Has three times the farmland (25.5 million acres vs. 8.4 million)
  • Grows more than three times the variety of commodities than we do (400 vs. 80)
  • We both have three plant hardiness zones (Cold tolerant Zone 6 is our west and their north, Moderate Zone 7 is our Piedmont and their Central, and Warmer Zone 8 is our Southeast and their Southern) – not many things they grow that we can’t grow

Yet, their gross agricultural sales are nearly four times greater than ours.  Moreover, a mere five percent of our agricultural sales are comprised of vegetables, melons, fruits, and berries.  Fifteen percent of California’s cropland is devoted to vegetable production and another 37 percent to orchards and vineyards.  A more sustainable food system in NC would have a lot more farms (we’ve lost half since the 70’s); have more farmers growing plant-based nutrition; facilitate the profitability of small family farmers through reduced price pressure from California (and other Southwest) mega-farms, and have NC consumers voting with their pocketbook by buying a lot more of their produce from NC farms.

California has had droughts before – the late 70’s looked especially dire for California farmers.  So, maybe it will rain tomorrow, and our food system will go back to normal.  Normal meaning a heavy carbon footprint, as produce is transported 3,000 miles to our table; less nutrition and taste as food is bred to withstand long distance travel, to be picked earlier, and to last longer on shelves; more consolidation of our farmland by larger agricultural interests; and more risk as witnessed by significant food recalls from California mega-farms in the past decade or so.

California_Drought_Status_Oct_21_2014

Shows “exceptional drought” over 58% of the state.

This is CA’s fourth year of drought, and it is definitely worsening.  The heat and dry conditions of droughts tend to make them progressively worse and prolonged.  Droughts tend to tear communities apart pitting neighbor against neighbor, region against region, city residents against farmers, and sector against sector.

Depending on California for half of our produce with its history of severe droughts offers a shaky future for our food system.  An agricultural region located along major fault lines presents additional uncertainties.  Experts estimate devastating consequences to the agricultural economy in the event of a major earthquake.  Farmers and ranchers drilling new and deeper wells are impacting fault lines according to geologists.  Land is sinking and water in aquifers is at risk.

Change is rarely pain-free, but change is in the air for our food system.  It is overdue.  It will require new strategies among North Carolina farmers, and hopefully, it will translate into new opportunities for young farmers wanting to enter the profession and increased financial security for existing farmers.

 

Late April, 2015

Gaining Ground On the Farm

We are always looking for ways to be more productive and successful at growing.  Some of the things we’ve learned have come from visiting other farms afforded by the annual farm tour sponsored by Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and Weaver Street Market which will be held again this weekend (scroll to info below).  We are proudly one of the forty farms (find us in Cluster 8 farms) featured on the tour.  You can get your carload pass by visiting carolinafarmstewards.org.  Here are a few things we are putting into practice this spring:

* Sugar Snap Trellising — last year we tested and liked a lot a new nylon netted trellising system for our tomatoes.  Using T-posts for support the putting up and taking down is much easier, lighter weight, and faster than the traditional hog wire used for support.  Nevertheless, it does take time to pound in the posts and support the netting coupled with laying landscape fabric over the bed, and thus, we decided to keep the supports in the outside market gardens in place and seed “Super Sugar Snap” peas which are now beginning to reach the trellis bottom.  Sugar snaps are popular with our customers and chefs; their shoots and tendrils can be harvested early for salads and garnish; and they help fix nitrogen in the soil much as any legume in a cover cropping system does.  “Super Sugar Snap” is a mildew resistant variety sold by Johnny’s Seeds and is sown in late winter before garden/farming tasks become so intense in March through June.

* Onion spacing — For the second year in a row I attended the winter Virginia Biological Farming Conference in Richmond with the highlight being the 37-year old author and farmer extraordinaire from Quebec, Jean Martin Fortier.  Jean Martin (JM) is a wiz at efficiency and has turned an acre and a half farm intro an income producing machine — over $140,000 annually in gross sales.  I learned last year his methods for ensuring leeks have long white shafts, and this year one of his tidbits I have put into practice is digging a hole every 9 inches to place 3 to 4 onion starts in versus holes much closer together with single starts in each.  This speeds up the planting process and makes weeding between plants much easier.  As the onions beef up they push each other out and do not impact the overall size of the onions.  JM also touts the ease of harvesting, but we haven’t reached that point.  We can attest that planting and weeding is sped up as we have close to a quarter acre devoted to onions.  We are also growing more spring onions due to JM’s advice.  He is the consummate record keeper and has found spring onions to be one of his highest margin items with significant consumer demand.  Onions are generally deemed to be a low margin item, so, we are anxious to test his profitability findings this spring.

* Fighting cucurbit downy mildew — Twin Oaks Farm near Charlottesville and their sister company, Commonwealth Seeds, have trialed a number of cucumber varieties to determine their downy mildew resistance.  Last year the “Straight Eight” Cucumbers we were growing in the high tunnel were producing prolifically in the north side of the high tunnel when downy mildew hit about July 4th — it was a downhill slide as white speckled leaves gave way to total shriveling and a shutdown of fruit production.  The top performer in Twin Oaks trial was a new seed developed at Cornell.  We have sown two beds in the high tunnel which are just beginning to emerge.  We are anxious for the results.  We are also trialing several varieties of watermelon seed as part of the ongoing research that our farm coach, Tony Kleese, is conducting along with NC State, Cornell, and Twin Oaks.

* Grafted tomatoes — Crop rotation for tomatoes is especially important as you don’t want to spread any pathogens that may have infected last year’s crop to this year’s.  Because the high tunnel is expensive real estate to grow produce with the need to produce high margin items, many farmers have turned to grafted tomatoes to grow year after year in their high tunnels.  This year we have Banner Greenhouses near Morganton growing our grafted tomatoes — Cherokee Purple, German Johnson, and Brandywine — using disease resistant root stock and grafting the relevant variety on top of that.  Research at NC State has shown that grafted tomatoes in high tunnels can generate 50 percent higher yield due to an earlier start and ending of the harvest season.  We planted our tomatoes two weeks ago, and they are beginning to size up.  By the way, we left the aforementioned trellis netting rolled up above the beds over the winter, and we’ll be getting the trellising back in place this week.

* Liquid feeding — An Extension agent in Virginia is touting a $1 per square foot farming program and achieves those profitability results in part because of his use of worm casting compost tea.  It is sprayed on the plant by a hose with a siphon pulling in the compost tea in a 5 gallon bucket next to the faucet and hooked into the hose at the point of connection to the faucet.  This weekly feeding is touted as a way to stimulate growth and increase yield as well as shielding the leaves from potential pathogens and insect invasion.  With the frequent rains, we haven’t been able to stay on a weekly schedule, but we have seen a nice bounce in plant growth after the application we were able to perform.

* Succession planting — with Banner Greenhouses as our organic propagator this spring, we have been able to order some plants in various size cells in the flat.  Spinach, for example, came in 200 cell, 128, and 72 cell flats.  We planted these all on the same day, but since they were in various stages of root and plant development, it served to stagger the ready date for harvest for this crop.  It makes planning simpler and also negates the need to time next plantings with weather conditions, moon phases, availability of farm help, etc.

Farm Update  

We are in transition between spring crops coming on and getting summer crops in the ground.  Here’s what is going on:
* We are suckering and staking tomatoes in the high tunnel, and we have seeded a lot of carrots and French Breakfast Radish on the shoulders of the tomato beds to maximize space and production potential.
* Beets have been both direct seeded and planted (Chioggia, Merlin, Touchstone Gold, Cylindra, and Early Wonder) and anticipate baby beets coming in 2-3 weeks.
* Nearby, we transplanted overwintered Swiss Chard from the high tunnel, and they have bounced back and are yielding well.
* We have seeded “Luscious” corn in 5 short rows to enhance cross pollination and will sow French filet beans this week.
* The early potatoes (Red Gold) are nearly 12″ high and have had their first hilling.
* The leeks are looking great and are in need of some weeding which we’ll do in conjunction with hilling to maximize the white shank.
* Strawberries are going from bloom to green berry.
* The blueberries are abuzz with bumble bee pollinators — we have focused on weed control this winter with cardboard to smother emerging weeds and a top layer of pine needles throughout the beds.

The brassica market garden at the top of the hill took a hit with the 22 degree night we had a few weeks ago, but Curly Kale is ready to harvest and broccoli, cabbage, and collards are beginning to make a comeback.  We have been harvesting green garlic which we purposely planted close together for this early harvest at the end of the garlic bed — the garlic is beautiful with its blue green sturdy foliage.  Lots of lettuce coming ready to harvest — we had some at our farm dinner last night.  We have recently sown Summer Crisp, heat resistant varieties, which should take us well into June with one of our most popular, in-demand crops.  We love the rainbow of colors and “want-to-touch” texture of the lettuce beds and are eating salads at virtually every meal.

 April, 2015

We’re On The Piedmont Farm Tour – April 25th & 26th!

We are pleased and proud to be one of the new farms on this year’s 20th Anniversary Piedmont Farm Tour. There are over 40 sustainable farms on the tour which is sponsored by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) and Weaver Street Market (we are avid members of both). Go to carolinafarmstewards.org for more information, to view an interactive map of the tour, and to register. Look forward to your visit!

It was on such tours in the past that we really got the bug to farm sustainably; so, whether you are a backyard gardener or a farmer wannabe or simply one who enjoys meeting farmers and visiting their farms, this tour is for you. The tour is from 2:00-6:00 P.M. Saturday and Sunday afternoons, April 25 and 26. You can visit one farm or as many of the 40 farms as you can squeeze in. Buy your button for your carload for $30 in advance or $35 the day of the tour. All proceeds support the advocacy, education, and farm technical assistance provided by CFSA.


March, 2015

IMG_3241

There’s a lot going on at the farm even in the midst of our seemingly endless winter:

* Our organically certified seed potatoes have arrived from a Colorado potato farm and are in storage for sprouting. They will be planted in a new field on the river bottom next to the hops around St. Patrick’s Day (has nothing to do with green beer).

* The largest onion grower in the nation has sent us three varieties of onion starts, Lancelot leeks, and two varieties of cippolini from their Texas farm. Garlic and shallots have overwintered in the Allium/lily market garden where the onions, leeks, and cippolini will be planted. We hope to plant this coming week where beds have been hilled and clear plastic sheets have kept the soil warmer and drier.

red cipollini

* An organically certified greenhouse west of Morganton will be delivering tomorrow 60 flats of various spring plants — grafted and early tomatoes for the high tunnel, beets, broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale, lots of lettuce, spinach, chard, pac choi, parsley, and fennel. We’ll be planting these in various market gardens as the weather cooperates.

 

* We have pine needled the blueberry beds and composted the asparagus beds as well as around the heirloom apples, Asian pears, and Japanese persimmons.

* A load of compost from recycled restaurant waste that is compliant with organic standards is being delivered to replenish the beds in the high tunnel where lettuces grew this winter and tomatoes and cucumbers will soon be planted.

* The Natural Resources Conservation Service – USDA has provided us preapproval to prepare a Conservation Assistance Plan under their Organic Transition Program. Keith Baldwin, retired Extension agent with the NC A&T State University, will conduct the plan under the auspices of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.

* The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association has included Peaceful River Farm on its Spring Farm Tour that will be held Saturday and Sunday afternoons, April 25th and 26th.

Click image for details

* The high tunnel class of the Sustainable Agriculture Program at Central Carolina Community College will be touring our high tunnel and farm next Thursday.

* A new flame weeder has just arrived that will make weed prevention and control a lot more efficient and timely.

Our friend, the late garden author and Victory Garden host, Jim Wilson, stated, “Once you first place a spade in the ground in late winter you come in contact with something that is ancient and authentic.” We’re looking forward to that annual ritual to reconnect with those who have prepared the soil before us and as an expression of hope for those who are yet to come.

Winter, 2015

“Sustainable  farming is the art and science of cooperating with nature, rather than always trying to overwhelm it.”

 

GROWING VEGGIES IN WINTER

Some of the tastiest and most nutrient-dense vegetables grow in winter. We have been growing carrots; beets; Salanova lettuce mix; Romaine lettuce; Italian parsley; Swiss Chard; Savoy, Red, Green, and Napa Cabbage; Bordeaux and Green Spinach; Arugula; Mustard; Tatsoi; Mizuna; Bok Choy; Scarlet Queen and Hakurei Turnips; Radicchio; Broccoli; Collards; Dino and Curly Kale; and French Breakfast Radish. We use season extension techniques to keep growing through the winter.

Season extension is a buzz word in the sustainable farming world. Organic farming guru, Eliot Coleman of Four Seasons Farm in Maine, has written back-to-back books on the subject: The Winter Harvest Handbook and Four Season Harvest. The subject is a bit intricate with a number of nuances and “what if” scenarios (e.g., “What if we get a 17 degree F night in mid-November like we did this year?). Yet, who doesn’t love a tender, fresh salad in January? Maybe it’s a subject you’d like to know a little more about and make winter vegetable gardening a New Year’s resolution.

Every winter vegetable has a temperature at which it is at risk. The very hardiest of the winter vegetables include brussel sprouts, beets, carrots, collards, kale, parsley, and spinach and can survive temperatures at or below 20 degrees F. Even above that temperature a plunge in temperatures can cause significant foliage damage to plants that have not been hardened off. Other winter hardy vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, lettuce, mustard, onion, radish, and turnip) can take it down to 26 degrees F. Season extension techniques can reduce or negate winter damage if temperatures fall moderately below these thresholds.

It helps to get an early start in planting brassicas because early freezes coupled with the reduced day length of winter (below 10 hours a day from around Thanksgiving to Valentine’s) make it difficult to get a good head of broccoli or a solid head of cabbage. We are faced with this obstacle this winter as our best laid plans of having our organic propagator finish our brassica starts by late July went awry when his greenhouse temperatures got too high, and we didn’t get new plants in the ground until September.

We’ve found direct seeding some vegetables like radishes, spinach, tatsoi, and arugula in our unheated greenhouse (high tunnel) as late as December and January can be successful as long as the soil temperatures are moderate. In this instance and with these particular vegetables, soil temperatures trump day length. If we had direct seeded lettuce, however, we’d have had less success as they are more daylight sensitive.

Low tunnels (small hoops that arch over beds of cabbage, arugula, broccoli, spinach, beets, etc. and covered by frost cloth) can protect many winter vegetables during early plunges in temperatures and when especially cold temperatures set in during the winter. Depending on the fabric, the low tunnel keeps the veggies a few degrees warmer than the ambient temperature. As importantly, the cover helps protect them from frigid winds which often cause foliage desiccation.

Colder weather changes the taste of many winter vegetables – collards and kale become sweeter and mustards and arugula become spicier. So, a major advantage of winter growing other than fresh availability is taste. I mentioned nutrient-density earlier. The Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) was developed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman and championed by Whole Foods. Mustard, turnip greens, collards, kale, and Swiss Chard rank 1000 out of 1000 on that index and not far behind are bok choy, green lettuce, Napa cabbage, spinach, and arugula in the greens category, and radish, carrots, beets, turnips, and cabbage in the non-green vegetable category. All of these high-ranking veggies give an extensive range of micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidant capacities.

Vegetable gardening – it’s not just a spring thing!

Daybreak

To Everything there is a season

As summer harvesting begins to wane, there are seemingly endless tasks to get fall crops going. The abundant rains which were so welcome a few weeks back have slowed down cover crop mowing, tilling, and bed preparation. There are seedlings of radish, beets, arugula, kale, Asian greens, carrots, mustard, Asian greens, sugar snaps, and snow peas beginning to emerge. Flats of lettuce have been sown and placed in the refrigerating room to get the soil cold enough for germination and are then taken to a semi-shady makeshift table behind the pole barn to grow out. With a break in the heat, we will begin to transplant. An organically certified farmer near Elon is growing cabbage and broccoli starts for us, but his earlier sown flats cooked in the July greenhouse; and so, we hope to get the reseeded flats in the ground later this week. Hopefully, we can harvest the cabbage and broccoli before hard freezes set in.

Salanova Salad Mix

A major aspect of sustainable farming is profitability — if we can’t make money at this, we won’t be doing it for long. “Residency” is an important consideration in selecting crops. Radicchio and brussel sprouts, for example, generally take 110 – 120 days to harvest from the time they are planted versus arugula, baby lettuce, most Asian greens, radish, and baby kale which take 30 or so days. We’d rather grow successive crops of the quick crops than the slow pokes. The longer a crop is in the ground the greater the chances of something going wrong — hard freezes, pathogen or insect issues developing, groundhogs feasting, etc. Moreover, it is more profitable to grow crops that can be cut multiple times — so, that the space the plant is occupying is providing several harvests without having to re till, seed, or plant a new plant to achieve that productivity — arugula, lettuce, and kale are the standouts in the “cut-and-come again” crops.
We are going to try and grow our own onions in a raised bed in the high tunnel this fall and overwinter them before setting out the new starts in early spring for late spring harvest. We’ll harvest a number of scallions beginning in early to mid-April. We also will be growing King Richard Leeks in the high tunnel to get a jump on their harvest by a few weeks. We’ve come to love this crop for its elegant white shanks, its great taste, and its high-demand/high profit.


A recent New York Times article by a New York farmer entitled, “Don’t Let Your Sons Grow Up to Be Farmers”, is creating a stir in the foodie/farming world. The gist is that most farmers don’t make money and can’t send their kids to college or offer them health care or encourage them to stay on the farm. Ironically, Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid is coming to Raleigh in September and will be raising money for farm groups that assist farmers in making money and facilitate generational transitions.
The question we have been pondering is family farming in a Spring rebirth or in its winter barren season. There are both hopeful signs and signals of danger.
We are fortunate to live and work in a region with a high “foodie” ethic and have had little trouble marketing the food we grow. Yet, the profitability picture could be improved greatly — not by subsidies but by higher margins. The American family budget in the fifties portioned out 30 percent for food, but fifty some years later that portion has shrunk to a meager 13 percent. “Food” is at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs necessary for survival. The societal discussion we need to have is not simply how safe is our food but also how secure is our food supply when the average age of America’s farmer is 56, and most of their children are not interested in farming. A quarter of family farmers went out of business since the 1970’s, and North Carolina leads the nation in the loss of farmland. The concentration of agriculture has increased as documented on Farm Aid’s website: farmaid.org – go to “All About Good Food”.
Not to be too gloomy, there are signs of hope:
* Our farm coach, Tony Kleese will be conducting a second in a series of new farmer workshops at our farm on Saturday, September 6 and will be holding a series of September evening classes at a local library on farm budgeting and profitability.
* A relatively recent book on organic farm profitability has been published by a Vermont farmer, Richard Wiswall, who spoke at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s annual meeting. He focuses on what crops make him the best margins, which outlets are best to market his produce, and how to measure and record expenses to better utilize financial tools in making business decisions.
* Quebec farmer, Jean-Martin Fortier, author of The Market Gardener: A Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming grosses nearly $150,000 on an acre and a half, takes three months off with his family in winter, and holds on to $70,000 of his sales in income to cover their family’s needs. His biointensive farming methods of using a broadfork to prepare beds more deeply to encourage deeper roots and higher yields, planting more closely than the seed catalogs recommend to get more out of limited garden space, flame weeding to keep weeding time down to a minimum, and perfecting growing methods for the highest margin crops like early tomatoes, have enabled his wife and he to make a decent living for his family of four. I heard him at the Virginia Biological Farming Association conference last winter, and Lee and I will attend his full day workshop during his return this winter.
* The number of farmers markets has increased by 17% since 2010; the purchase of locally grown foods has doubled in the past ten years to $11 billion; the number of farms in major counties of the Triangle is actually increasing; and nationally, organic is the fastest growing food segment. We are still in that infancy stage of progress, but at least many of the trends are going in a favorable direction.
Farming has rich rewards — one of those should be making a decent living. You can help by increasing the amount you purchase at farmers markets, subscribing to a Community Supported Agriculture (weekly CSA produce box) at your nearby farm, looking for locally and sustainably grown food at your grocery store, and eating out at restaurants which focus on fresh, local food. Farmers know full well Ecclesiastes wisdom that “to everything there is a season”. All of us will answer whether or not this is the season for family farming.
Happy farming,
Larry

Snow comes to the Farm   February 13, 2014

The snow this week was widely predicted, but it always seems to come as a surprise.  Soon the fat flakes started to come down with that no-sound drop to the ground.
The great garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll, contended that white is not a color and is to be used to accentuate other colors.  Yet, in the dead of winter, white is transformative — evoking awe and joy and serenity.  Robert Frost stated it well in “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening”-The only other sound’s the sweep  of easy wind and downy flake.

High on our New High Tunnel    January, 2014

In late November we and an expert crew put the finishing touches on our new high tunnel.  High tunnel guru and 30-year organic farm veteran, Steve Moore, gave us expert on-site advice and hands-on supervision of his original design. It is a simple and relatively inexpensive structure made of tubular steel and covered with clear plastic. The high tunnel is 35 feet wide by 78 feet long, has a Gothic arch style construction, utilizes square tubular steel for greater snow load and wind load, and maximizes ventilation in the warmer months with wide double doors on each end, roll-up sides, and large louvers that open to 90 degrees on the gable ends.   Air is blown in the double poly on the top to keep it inflated to increase warmth on the coldest nights.  In this unheated greenhouse we grow winter vegetables – lettuce, chard, spinach, radish, kale, sugar snaps, mesclun mix, arugula, and Asian salad.

The high tunnel name comes from the fact that you can stand up and work the beds easily – planting and seeding, weeding, watering, and harvesting.  Crops are protected not only from the cold but also from high winds and excess rainfall.  The broad side of the structure faces south to maximize solar heating in the winter.

At our latitude the days when sunlight is less than 10 hours and plant growth stalls is generally from late November through early February.  Yet, we planted in the high tunnel in early December lettuce starts and direct seeded winter hardy veggies, and everything is growing and emerging.  We expect harvest by the end of January.  When it is in the thirties outside on a partially sunny day, it is 60 degrees plus in the high tunnel, warming up the soil for root development and more aggressive top growth.  At this writing we have weathered a single-digit night with daytime temps in the mid-20’s. We combat the frigid threat by providing extra protection in the high tunnel with low tunnels – small metal hoops that hold up 6 mil plastic or Agribond frost protection cloth over individual beds.  The high tunnel keeps temperatures several degrees above the ambient temperature outside, and the low tunnels keep those temperatures even higher.

The fancy word for this type of farming is season extension.  What it means for us is cash flow through the slowest winter months, higher quality produce and higher margins than what we can grow outside with winter hardy vegetables, a more consistent supply to our customers, a better balance of activity (i.e., workload) through the year, and not least, a more comfortable working environment on those coldest and wettest of days.  In early spring we are not impeded from planting early crops due to cold and damp conditions, and we can get a jump on important high-margin crops like tomatoes and peppers.  We are aiming for a four season harvest and targeting annual sales from the high tunnel comparable to what our initial construction costs were for a quick payback on our investment.

Steve Moore with Larry

So far, we are pleased with this new addition to Peaceful River Farm as we “walk into spring”.

Growing Under Cover   September, 2013

Steve Moore teaches AgroEcology at Elon University, was an organic farmer for thirty years in Pennsylvania, and dubbed “the Gandhi of Greenhouses” by Organic Gardening Magazine.  I have attended a number of his workshops on winter production in unheated greenhouses known as high tunnels, and when he asked me why I keep coming back, I told him that in my dotage I need to hear things several times to sink in.  Steve has been advising us on building our first high tunnel and last Saturday helped lay out the footprint and elevation.

It will be Gothic-style with roll-up side curtains, sliding double doors, a temperature-controlled vent on the gable ends.  High tunnels help to extend the growing season, protect produce from the vagaries of weather – too much cold or rain, reduce disease pressure, and maximize yield by growing vertically in troughs or hanging baskets as well as in-ground production.

If all goes well, our 3,000 square foot high tunnel will be ready for winter harvesting – providing a new definition of “in-season”.

Bathing Brahma Birds  July, 2013

Never did I ever dream I could not only bathe a chicken and keep her calm but I could also put olive oil on her vent as well.  It was a great feeling of satisfaction to help this bird feel better today.  She kept looking at me to lead the way and having her trust was amazing.  Since I was on a roll I bathed the rest of the girls while I had the notion.   Examining hens can be daunting but once you do it correctly and with confidence they seem to know you are looking out for them and settle down.  Hope she gets better really soon.  We need her to teach the 14 “newbies” how to be good chickens!  Another amazing day at Peaceful River Farm.

Bedtime for the “newbies”.

BLACK SKIES OVER BLUE BERRIES

June 27th, 2013

This storm came up quickly but we were able to take a shot while inspecting our 2nd year Premier blueberries just beginning to color.  The striking colors took our breath away like so many moments do on this amazing property.  What a gift this new life has been for us in so many unexpected ways.

 May 9th, 2013

We have just finished our busiest harvesting week even in the midst of a monsoon-like Spring.  To keep a continuous supply of produce ready for our customers, we utilize succession planting – planting the same crop staggered every two weeks ago.  In a spring like this one where crops were slow to start growing, virtually all of our lettuce has come ready at the same time – all 25 varieties.  That has meant a lot of lettuce harvesting these past few weeks – 175 pounds of lettuce mix and 425 heads of lettuce this week alone.
I must be growing mellow as I get older.  Rather than stressing out over the rain and cool weather we’ve had, I have been grateful for not having to worry about watering , and since most of our beds were prepared earlier, we have not been handicapped in our seeding and planting schedules.  The disease issues that would normally keep me awake have not occurred yet (knock on wood), and the load after load of leaf mulch we hauled in from the huge piles stored by the Town of Carrboro (loaded and unloaded by hand) have paid rich dividends in providing porous soil that is less prone to promote rot in wet weather.
We have increased production by fifty percent this spring opening up two new market gardens.  Eight varieties of beets are getting to be baby size with some very pretty tops.  Ruby Red Chard grows next to its cousins, spinach and beets, and the red tops of Bordeaux Spinach and red varieties of beets blend in well with the chard.  We have been harvesting green garlic and anticipate the curly Q garlic scapes to be coming soon.  We also expect green onions to be ready soon.  Other alliums we are growing include leeks and shallots.
This is our second year of growing asparagus – Jersey Giant and Jersey Supreme, and we have had a good harvest.  The rule used to be to leave the spears alone until the third year, but Person County Extension agent, Carl Cantallupi is an expert on asparagus and advocates a two week harvest the second year and adding a week of harvest with succeeding years.  Peak production is at five years, but asparagus can continue producing for twenty years or more.  Cardboard covered with hardwood mulch has helped keep our weed population down.
The Asian mix we grow is several times more nutritious than the lettuce mix, and we had it for lunch again today.  Fast growing Asian greens like Mizuna, Mibuna, Hon Tsai Tai, Yukina Savoy, and Tatsoi are also fast to bolt in the spring.  The flowers are edible, and the taste of the leaves is not really affected by flowering.  Also in the brassica family is kale.  We are growing Dino – the most nutritious and popular – as well as Red Russian and Ripbor Curly.  The bane of spring brassicas is the flea beetle.  We have taken the advice of a farmer author from Virginia who advocates spraying an organically approved insecticide, Spinosad.  Our flea beetle population started out strong, but has been reduced by the Spinosad, and the brassicas are a lot prettier for it.
Strawberries are beginning to ripen.  We are growing Chandler, the most popular variety in North Carolina, as well as Camarossa, which is better suited to the eastern part of the state but which has produced well for us.  We anticipate some blueberries ripening before the end of the month.
We love to share the Peaceful River story and to tour folks through the market gardens.  Yesterday over thirty ladies from the Guilford College Art Appreciation Club visited and had lunch in the education barn.  Fortunately, the courtyard garden was nearing its prime with a French pink rose beginning to bloom on the front picket fence, peonies bursting with beauty, salvias and snapdragons blooming, and a lot of texture and foliage color.  This Seattle/London-like weather has meant that blooms have been delayed but have had great staying power once in bloom.  No wonder Pacific Northwest and English gardens look so pristine.
Lee has been busy tending our baby chicks.  They had their first outing to their new baby chicken coop built by our neighbor, Jerry.  We spent much of the morning putting hardware fence over and around it to deter predators, and the young girls made their outside debut after lunch.  They loved it and didn’t want to come back inside.
The rain has encouraged the weeds to flourish.  That’s on our to-do list for tomorrow.  All in all, I’d rather be harvesting.  -Larry
“The appeal of organic farming is boundless; this mountain has no top, this river has no end.”
― Eliot Coleman, The New Organic Grower

April, 2013     Lettuce – Mix It Up!

Our quest at Peaceful River Farm is to grow the perfect lettuce mix. We eat a lot of salads, and we want our mix to be tasty, fresh, and attractive for selfish reasons. Another reason which might be considered selfish is we want to make money at this, and lettuce offers a good margin with cut-and-come-again harvesting. Margins are important, but if there was little demand, then we wouldn’t be growing bed after bed of succulent lettuce timed to come ready throughout the season. In fact, we are fairly amazed at the strong demand for lettuce from our customers who can’t get enough.

Lettuce seed can be tricky to propagate, but once you have a good starter plant, it thrives in rich soil, can tolerate frosts and mild freezes, needs both good moisture and drainage, is quick to establish in early spring, and is fairly free of insects and disease.

So, what is the perfect mix? We like to grow a wide variety of leaf and butter crunch lettuce. We prefer varieties with proven good taste. We buy primarily seed from Johnny’s Seeds of Maine, but we choose varieties that take our Southern heat and do not bolt early. We like civic colors – burgundy red, bronze, emerald green, lime green, and rose. Chefs prefer a blend of 60% green and 40% color. Perfection means good selection which includes frilly ones that give the mix loft, oak leaf that gives substance, and butter head which combines taste with succulence. we like to harvest when the leaves are bite-size. This means little prepping in the kitchen as tearing leaves is a chore that is eliminated or at least minimized.

Our lettuce is grown in silt soil (drains well but retains moisture and nutrients better than sandy soil). The soil is high in organic matter from multiple seasons of cover cropping and adding compost. New transplants are soaked in a solution of fish emulsion for a quick start in the ground, and new plants are fed with slower release feather meal (nitrogen), kelp (micronutrients), rock phosphate, and muriate of potash. Our market gardens are forty to seventy feet in elevation above the Haw River, if we used 8-8-8 or another synthetic fertilizer, we could promote river pollution as unused nitrogen tends to sink into the ground polluting groundwater and in turn creeks and rivers. runoff from increasingly violent storms also threatens the Haw. Our lettuce, and all of our plants, are grown sustainably for the health of the soil, the health of our customers, and the health of the Haw which flows into Jordan Lake, Raleigh’s principal water supply, which flows into the Cape Fear River, which flows into the Atlantic.

To achieve the succulence of our lettuce mix, we need to water often but sparingly. We do this with drip irrigation. We harvest early in the morning to keep our lettuce from withering. In the prep room each crate of lettuce is rinsed, soaked twice, and spun dry before bagging and placing the bags in refrigeration.

The real reason we seek to grow the perfect lettuce mix? We love the praise and accolades from our customers. And by the way, did we mention they are loaded with Vitamins A and C Romaine especially, and butter head offers Vitamin A, folacin, and fiber.

Beautiful, flavorful, and healthy -now that’s about perfect! – Larry Newlin, Peaceful River Farm

 

 

Mystical Morning

March 3. 2013 An Organic Farm–Really? How We Got Here

It was the fall of 2002 that Daniel Salatin, son of sustainable ag superstar, Joel Salatin, met us at their family farm, Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Lee had just read an article about Joel and Polyface in Gourmet Magazine by soon-to-be-famous Michael Pollan, who later authored the best-selling Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Penguin Press, 2007) and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, (Penguin Press, 2008). Joel has built Polyface into an intriguing sustainable farm in which each element of the production cycle plays off against the other (hogs, chickens, rabbits, laying hens and Joels famous mobile chicken tractors, whom we later discovered are protected by Great Pyrenees dogs (we’re interested for our own laying production), pigs, brooders, and a wealth of herbs and grasses that make Polyface pastures so special.

Polyface Farm is extraordinarily ordinary. Part of the extraordinary aspect of the visit are the beautiful Shenandoah Mountain and the meandering country lane that led us to the farm. What is ordinary is how plain and mundane the farm is – it is Joel’s genius in developing a profitable, and inter-related food system that truly makes Polyface extraordinary. And, it was Daniel’s passion and deep sense of pride as our farm tour guide that unveiled a family farm that is rich in both tradition and innovation. Daniel told us about the annual family farm retreat that the Salatins host to trumpet the values of family farming and to model how their family has caught hold of an American ethos that they refuse to let go.

On our visit we purchased some of the infamous salad bar beef that melts in your mouth. We also purchased Joel’s book, Salad Bar Beef, as a gift to Larry’s cousin, who has wrestled with how to make a go of the ancestral dairy farm he inherited and on which Larry’s Dad, Jim, was raised with his six siblings. Corporate dairy farming in the Midwest and West has wreaked havoc on Piedmont NC dairy farmers, and in Alamance County there are only a few dairy farmers left. We are pleased that Charles is pursuing grass-fed beef as a more profitable alternative to dairy farming.

We were fortunate to get a foretaste of this amazing farm which has been the center of the documentary, Food, Inc. and a major focus of Pollan’s Omnivore Dilemma, but it was not until six years later that our interest in sustainable farming truly peaked. It was an April Sunday afternoon in the spring of 2008 that Carolina Farm Stewardship Association sponsored a three-hour workshop with organic gardening/farming guru, Tony Kleese, at a Unitarian Church in Durham. Tony succinctly laid out why organic gardening/farming is important.

Why Organic?

Organic is more than simply not using synthetic fertilizers and chemicals. It is a way of gardening/farming that builds soil (one tablespoon of healthy soil contains 6 to 8 million microorganisms). It is environmentally friendly and SUSTAINABLE by not polluting waterways, enhancing the productivity of soil, promoting biological diversity, and encouraging pollinating flowers and insects. Organic farming promotes local consumption and farm support and thereby enhances rural community economic development. Organic farming provides farmers with a value-added product that increases their gross margins, enables families to eat care-free and healthily, and concentrates economic resources in the local communities – WIN/WIN/WIN for everybody! Organic farming is certified – you don’t have to guess if your food is safe or not. It is not genetically modified. Pediatricians based on recent studies are recommending to expecting mothers to eat organic because tests have show that conventionally produced food with its reliance on pesticides lowers infant IQ’s 7 points on average. Plus, there’s no irradiation of organically grown food, livestock are raised more humanely and healthily than conventional/industrial methods, and since organic produce and berries receive their nutrients from nature – research shows that they offer more nutrition.

At that workshop Larry asked the CFSA representative, Fred Broadwell, about how useful the courses in sustainable agriculture at Central Carolina Community College are. He received a glowing endorsement of a program that is among the elite in the nation and among the most experienced with the best track record. So, Larry took the plunge and enrolled. The combination of classroom learning and hands-on experience at the four-acre student farm has been extremely helpful in getting further up the learning curve. Tony Kleese had been one of the pioneer instructors building the strong reputation before moving on the become Executive Director of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Associaton.

We have benefited greatly by attending the farm tours sponsored by CFSA and attending their amazing annual conference that is filled with some of the best resource people in the nation on a host of subjects related to sustainable agriculture. We have attended similar conferences sponsored by the Organic Growers School in Asheville, NC and the Southern Agriculture Working Group (SAWG) which is regional in scope, highly diverse, and exceptional in the information presented.

We got the organic gardening bug. The kitchen gardens that Lee laid out and planted at our Greensboro home and Larry helped tend heightened our resolve to venture in this new direction. Participants in Lee’s Healthy Cooking enjoyed touring the kitchen gardens and learning about how organic methods increased the productivity, taste, and nutrition of what was grown.

The Search

We began leisurely looking for a farm a couple of years ago. Organic farming guru, Eliot Coleman, had outlined in his book The New Organic Grower (Chelsea Green, 1989), and so, we posted the parameters of what we were looking for on CFSA’s listserve.

* Coleman felt 30 acres was ideal (more than we could afford in the Chapel Hill area but settled for 18 acres)

* 20 acres mixed hardwood (we have a couple of acres plus an acre of pines)

* reasonably flat (about 5 percent slope to south or southwest) – we did well on this score

* set on the brow of a hill with good air drainage – nearby communities “Chapel Hill” and “Hillsborough” illustrate that we reside on the fall line with ridges and eroded ancient mountain ranges

* protected on the north by higher land and dense forest – there is actually a northern ridge on adjacent land where legend has it that a 19th Century slave cemetery exists

* excellent year-round gravity water supply – not so much – water is in the Haw River at the very base of our sloping farm property, and its quality is problematic with decades of textile mill pollution

* Soil on the cleared land is clay loam on one half and sandy loam on the other half – indeed in this dirt poor, i.e. clayish region of the country, the river bottom soil cuts like butter, is high in organic matter and has a relatively good pH. Unfortunately, being river bottom, it is prone to spring flooding – so we are looking to produce quick crops here like sweet potatoes, winter squash, and corn.

So, we found a piece of property that is not that far off from Coleman’s ideal. There are obstacles such as a septic field in prime pasture space, a geothermal line running where an unheated greenhouse (high tunnel) is planned, an active herd of deer, a family of groundhogs, pesky voles, obnoxious weeds such as nutsedge, bermudagrass, and Johnsongrass, and a big stand-alone solar panel that would have been better placed by the previous owners on the broad, South-facing roof of the garage/barn.

A decided plus which we had not originally been enamored with, is a 1,500 square foot retreat center on the eastern side of the property which is fronted by a beautiful pasture that is shaded much of the day in the summer. We are considering it as a future home for free-range heritage chickens and turkeys.

Lee’s circuit-riding Quaker pastor great-grandfather studied at nearby Cane Creek Meeting’s Sylvan Academy. Larry’s great, great, great grandfather had one of the earliest textile mills in the state in the little nearby community of Sissipihaw, which he changed to Saxapahaw so that his secretary could better spell it. His son’s farmstead is a few miles from our farm (Larry’s great, great grandparents, so is his great grandfather’s farmsteads, and of course, his grandparent’s farm is on Green Hill Road near the Revolutionary War battlefield of Lindley’s Mill. Each day for us is like a segment of Alex Haley’s Roots, where we feel the constant presence and influence of those who came before us.

Naming the Farm

It was about a year ago in Meeting for Worship that the old Negro spiritual, Peace Like a River, was sung as our opening hymn. Lee turned to Larry somewhat teary-eyed and proclaimed we have to use this as our inspiration for the new farm. Nine hundred feet of frontage on the ancient Haw, where John Lawson had met and studied the Sisipihaw Indians in the early 1700’s sealed the deal for us in terms of whether or not this land was right for us. It was on a trek back from the river, that our farm coach, Tony Kleese, stated, “Hearing the birds and wildlife – this land speaks to me.” And so the name, Peaceful River Farm came to mind, almost mystically. The name “speaks” to us each day and night – with stars so close that you feel like you can touch them, with approaching storms that can be seen from miles away, with the sound of coyotes in the evening, and with the prancing and dancing of goldfinch, bluebirds, and martins.

Radical Amazement

Rabbi Abraham Heschel stated that the most appropriate posture towards the Creator God is one of awe and reverence and “radical amazement”. Peaceful River Farm keeps us radically amazed as new sprouts emerge, as weather changes in a moment, as birds and cicadas serenade, as mist enshrouds the morning after a storm, and in every moment of the day and night.

We look forward to sharing this wonderful adventure with you in the near future.

 

 

January, 2013 Whoosh!

 

First year blueberry hill at Peaceful River Farm

Was that 2012 that just flew by?  It was our first full year of sustainably growing nutrient-rich produce and berries for our customers — participants in Lee’s Healthy Cooking Classes, customers at the Tuesday Fearrington Market, Saxapahaw General Store and the Eddy Pub, LoMo Market’s mobile farm fresh food truck, Oakleaf Restaurant in Pittsboro, Small Cafe in Pittsboro, and Eastern Carolina Organics farm co-op.   The biggest surprise was how constantly busy we were and how much time was spent harvesting, prepping, and packing.

We also devoted time to welcoming visitors and showing them the farm.  Around 700 folks in all toured the farm — participants in Lee’s Healthy Cooking, participants in our May garden symposium and tour who also enjoyed a farm dinner, Guilford College first -year students, a couple of Master Gardener groups, a couple of family reunions, and a horde of middle school students from our daughter, Meredith’s, school.

I never tire of telling the story.  We are not from here, but we have come home.  Come home to our ancestral roots.  Come home to an ancient land along the Haw River of which we are seeking to be good stewards.  Come home to a lifestyle congruent with our core values and our vision for a future for our children and theirs.  And come home to a hotbed of locavores, sustainable farms, and restaurants and groceries focused on local and sustainable food.

Novelist, poet, Kentucky farmer, and godfather of the sustainable farming movement has said, “I stand for what I stand on”.  We stand for and on Peaceful River Farm.  We won’t stand long — got to run and let out the chickens.

 

Happy and Healthy 2013,

 

Larry Newlin

 

December 1st, 2012

Kentucky farmer, novelist, short story writer, poet, and the muse

of sustainable farming, Wendell Berry, has written:

“What I stand for is what I stand on.”

Early Stages  Peaceful River Farm March 2011

We stand on Peaceful River Farm, an 18-acre sustainable farm on the ancient Haw River in southern Orange County, and we stand for:

* Healthy soil.  Two seasons of cover crops are grown on each market garden before we plant or seed any vegetable crop.  This builds organic matter and helps fix nitrogen — providing half of our nutrient needs.  Additionally, we have added organically certified mushroom compost on most of the gardens to add additional nutrients and organic matter.  Leaf compost is added or a new blend of cover crops is sown after each harvest.  What we are seeking is healthy soil — where up to 6 to 8 billion microorganisms per tablespoon of soil thrive and provide the perfect home for our vegetables translating into very healthy produce that tastes great

* Our heritage.  These 18 acres were part of a 250 acre land grant from the King to the Edwards family in the mid-1700’s.  Before that the Sissipihaw Indians fished and hunted and lived up and down the Haw River as documented as early as 1703 by botanist explorer, John Lawson.  A few miles to the south, the Quaker village of Snow Camp was settled in the mid-1700’s including John and Mary Pyle Newlin coming down the Great Plank Road from Pennsylvania.  Larry’s father grew up on a farm in Snow Camp where his cousins and aunt still live, and Lee’s great-grandfather was educated at the Sylvan Academy in Snow Camp which was funded and administered by Baltimore Quakers following the Civil War.  Also nearby to the northwest, is the town of Saxapahaw where Larry’s great, great, great uncle, John “Dear Me” Newlin, was one of the first textile mill owners in North Carolina.  He was bequeathed forty-four slaves by a friend, the wife of the local doctor, knowing that John was an abolitionist and would help set them free.  Contested by her heirs, it took ten years to settle their freedom in court — the NC Supreme Court, and after winning their freedom, John escorted them to freedom to Ohio.  Today, Saxapahaw is a bustling new urbanist village where mill structures have been repurposed for an upscale general store, a pub, residential lofts, offices and studios, and a 900-seat ballroom that is often packed on weekends for concerts and special events.

* A sustainable environment.  The Haw River was described in the seventies as “dead nature” by a UNC biologist due to mill pollution, urban and agricultural runoff, and general disregard of its sensitive ecosystem.  It has had a major rebound ecologically thanks to the Haw River Assembly and courageous local and state policies and initiatives.  Our farm slopes downhill — so any unused synthetic fertilizers, especially nitrates, would flow down into the watershed impacting folks downstream including Raleigh and surrounding communities’ watershed, Jordan Lake, the Cape Fear River, and the Atlantic Ocean.  We don’t use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.  We grow half of our nutrients through cover crops.  We capture our water in cisterns which supplement our irrigation.  We protect the creeks running through our property as well as the 900 feet of river frontage.  A third of our electricity is provided by solar panels and all of our hot water.  Geothermal is our source for heat and air conditioning.

* Local, healthy, delicious food.  Most importantly, we stand for healthy food — super food that is loaded with antioxidants and other disease fighting properties.  Healthy food comes from healthy soil and by proper farming techniques and seed selection.  Organically produced seed that is non-GMO grows in soil that is loaded with organic matter that feeds microbiota, earthworms, and anthropods — the web of life.  Care is taken to harvest produce and berries to remain fresh and clean for our customers.  Our customers include participants in Lee’s Healthy Cooking Classes, customers at the Fearrington Farmers Market, top-notch local restaurants, a local organic food co-op, a mobile market with three going on five mobile grocery stores that run a weekly route, and an upscale general store.  We want good health for ourselves, our family, our friends, our community, and all of our customers.  We want to share tasty and nutritious recipes and cooking techniques with a lot of folks and appreciate the scores of folks who have already participated in healthy cooking classes.  We want those recipes and our food to taste great and really appreciate comments like — “these are the best (fill in the blank — sweet potatoes, beets, lettuce, carrots) I’ve ever tasted”.  The more you eat of sustainably grown superfoods the better you will feel emotionally and physically.

We stand for changing the world, at least our corner of the world, through honoring those who came before us, those who we love and cherish today, and those who will come behind us.  That’s why we stand on Peaceful River Farm — that’s what we stand for.  And did we mention, inordinate gratitude for all of this?

 

 

 

August 25th 2012

This has been a busy week on the farm. The seeding that was accomplished on the upper L-shaped garden last week is now sprouting 6 varieties of beets on the small section of the L where winter squash was harvested 6 weeks ago (Hreh and Bai, our Montagnard helpers plucked volunteer squash from the emerging beet rows). On the longer section of the L garden, there are a variety of brassicas appearing – Toscano Kale, Asian greens such as Tatsoi, Mibuna, and Mizuna, and Arugula. This favorable August weather is repenting for the putrid heat and humidity we experienced in July, and it’s a great climate to get fall crops up and going and contrasts sharply with drought-ridden Augusts of yesteryear. We ache for the farmers in the Midwest and West experiencing such hardship.
Even the beds where cover crops were grown this summer are given a fresh dose of leaf compost from the Carrboro municipal compost pile. “95% of the soil problems I consult on are related to the lack of sufficient organic matter,” states Larry’s soil science instructor, Dr. Kristen Hicks. Organic matter helps retain moisture, encourages microbiota, and improves drainage and thus discourages pathogens.


Visitors to Peaceful River often remark that they can’t believe all that has been done in renovating the farmhouse, teaching barn, entry courtyard, pole barn, and retreat center. They are also impressed with the amount of work that has been done around the farm. Much of that credit goes to our wonderful farm helpers.
We love our Montagnard workers – they love farming and especially Peaceful River. They come all the way from Greensboro at the crack of dawn and usually appear at the door before we are fully awake. Greensboro has one of the largest groups of Montagnards in the country – about 3,000. They have suffered such hardship in Vietnam as an isolated mountain minority (“they called us monkeys”, as Christians, and as allies to the Americans during the War. Hyai is the “grandfather” of the particular group we relate to, fought in the war and was hospitalized for a year with a wound to the abdomen, has a large extensive family he does not expect to see again, and phones home to his wife every evening and tragically does not expect to see her again. He exudes boundless joy despite all the cards he has been dealt and hoops and hollers each time he sees us. He works through the week at his landscape job and especially likes helping us plant flowers and vegetables – always ebullient and cheerful – a pick-me-up we look forward to each visit. He weed-eated around all of the deer fencing and at the retreat center on the day he worked with us.

Hreh’s wife has just been released from prison for teaching the Bible, and he is earnestly attempting to get her to America with their son before she is arrested again. He works on the UNC-Greensboro grounds crew and is always upbeat and smiling on the days he works with us. His English is good, and he comes up with some zingers that he states matter-of-factly but make us laugh. He helped prepare a lot of the beds this week and with his colleague, Bai, planted several hundred brassica plants – cabbage, bok choy, and broccoli.

Blinh is very handy and has helped us with all of the deer fencing, clearing invasive vines and shrubs along the creek, and preparing and planting beds. He also is adept at English and speaks in dramatic tones when he wants to emphasize a point. When we first took him down to the river, he picked up a nursery spade to take with him. Larry asked him what it was for. “Kill animals,” he replied. It was funny to us, but then again, who knows what kind of danger lurks along the river in Vietnam. He works for a company that clears power lines of limbs and loves operating our chain saw. He hopes to bring his family to America in the future.

 

A recent Appalachian State grad, Rick Surber, came back today to help us prepare beds and plant more brassicas. Rick worked on the student farm at Appalachian while getting his degree in sustainable development. His Dad has a livestock farm in West Jefferson in the NC mountains. Rick helped us several weeks this summer and landed a full-time position with a property development company putting his contracting background to good use. We enjoy having him help us on the farm – he painted the exterior and interior of the new food prep and refrigeration rooms on the north side of the pole barn and also shored up the chicken tractor and set up the chicken fencing.
A heat-tolerant variety of lettuce, “Lettony”, was started by Rick in seed trays a few weeks ago and planted by Hreh this week – its looking really good in the field and expect to harvest some in the coming weeks. Our lettuce mix has been especially popular at the Fearrington Village Market. Radishes and carrots have also been seeded, and Radicchio plants have gone in. The demonstration garden’s cover crop of field peas is being pulled to place on the compost pile, and we are beginning to get some of those beds planted and seeded ahead of Lee’s first Healthy Eating workshop the last Saturday in September.
This week we will plant the rest of the brassica plants, seed more beets, seed our first batch of spinach – which was a big hit with both Eastern Carolina Organics and Saxapahaw General Store, and seed lots of lettuce varieties. We’ve ordered three varieties of strawberries from Whitted-Bowers Farm in Hillsborough and will plant those in mid-September, but first, we need to fence in the long, linear plot on the east side of the property that has been prepped by growing two seasons of cover crops. This part of the property is on the deer trek, and we have 12 foot posts ready to go in – should be 9 feet tall once they are placed in the ground.
The favorable weather and beneficial rains have meant lots of grass/weeds to mow, and we see that there are already little baby weeds emerging in the newly planted beds that will need attention. We also need to catch up with placing drip irrigation back in place on the newly planted/seeded beds, so that we are watering the plants and not the weeds.

From the Kentucky farmer muse, author, and philosopher, Wendell Berry:   “So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute…Give your approval to all you cannot understand…Ask the questions that have no answers. Put your faith in two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years…Laugh. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts….Practice resurrection.”

 

August 1, 2012
Our layers and rooster have arrived at Peaceful River Farm! These five month old Brahmas and Buckeyes are our first flock of chickens here at the farm and we could not be more excited. As you can tell they have been perfectly cared for by a fellow farmer and great friend who offered them to us. The chicken tractor was set in place with a 200ft electric netting system powered by a solar energizer. It will be a boon not only for their luscious eggs but to have less ticks and other bugs as well as plenty of fertilizer for our property.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 4th, 2012

This is “Luscious” bicolor corn, a hybrid corn, organically certified seed from Botanical Interests Seed Company that we just harvested this morning.  Luscious doesn’t even begin to describe how succulent and delicious this corn is.  Plump, tender kernels are juicy and sweet.  The only corn to rival this was Larry’s Dad’s corn — he grew Silver Queen next to Golden Queen to cross-pollinate a bicolor with the juiciness of Golden and the sweetness of Silver.  We’re only growing enough this year for our friends and family… but wait until next year — our best soil is at the river bottom fields — just waiting for a great crop of corn!  There is nothing to beat sustainably grown corn fresh off the stalk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pile of rubble that you see is what remains of a basketball court that came with our new farm which was smack in the middle of our market gardens. We had it removed so we could finally finish creating our last planting bed. This new area is now ready for a cover crop to start building fantastic soil for our fall planting. This was a great feeling for both of us!

Yes, we are still excited and invigorated after our first growing season; and yes, we are still bounding out of bed early in the morning to get our day going and check off our ever-increasing to-do lists; and yes, we do love this area more and more; and no, none of the major plagues or pestilences hit the farm this year though we had an 80 mile an hour microburst in May that opened the tin roof on the pole barn like a sardine can. Oh yeah, and we don’t have any trouble falling asleep at night.

Visitors remark how quiet it is here – an occasional interruption from the cow bellowing on the other side of the river, a squawking V-shaped flock of geese heading towards the Haw; or a hawk up in the pines with its shrill shriek. Bluebirds, robins, goldfinch, and titmice love it here. Unfortunately, so does our local groundhog, who boldly invaded the market gardens at dusk on several autumn nights.

The major task this past year was renovating the farmhouse and adjacent garage – now an upscale barn for Lee’s healthy cooking workshops (you can see it on the Workshops page). We located some wonderful craftsmen to help with the renovation. We admire their skills, and they, in turn, are very appreciative of the delicious lunches Lee prepared.

The design of the twin market gardens is patterned after Productive Gardens of Cornwall’s Lost Garden of Heligan. We were drawn to the aesthetically pleasing symmetry of the gardens and the variety of colors and textures of the produce in season. The axis of our market garden walk lines up with the door out our back deck. So, we have a beautiful view of the farm year round which is incentive to keep it as neat and presentable as possible. The design of the demonstration kitchen garden was created by Ada Eason from Ada’s Garden. It is a wonderful design that is both functional for teaching students as well as beautiful to look at from the deck.

These past few months we’ve installed electric fencing around the perimeter of the market gardens and berry fields, circled those fields with irrigation lines, upgraded our pump to increase water pressure, planted cover crops to build soil, planted our first produce and marketed them to a regional organic co-op, a local farmers market, and an upscale general store nearby. Now, the over wintered crops are protected by floating row cover or straw, and as days are shorter there is very little growth occurring. We’ll begin harvesting and planting again in February using season extension techniques.

The serenity of the farm has been interrupted a few times in recent months – a family reunion replete with a slipping slide for the kids and those that think they are kids, an organic gardening series led by our farm coach, Tony Kleese, our daughter Meredith’s commitment ceremony, and Lee’s first healthy cooking class at the farm. This spring there will be more healthy cooking classes beginning in late March and visits from the Master Gardeners from Oxford and from Troy as well as other groups.

We will also be hosting the 15th Annual Garden Symposium and Tour here in May with a wine reception and delicious farm dinner to follow. Hope you can join us!