Breaking the Silence

If you’re going through hell, keep going.

-Winston Churchill

Happy autumn everybody! Some of you have missed me, some of you have never received this e-mail from me, and some of you may have been happy to get one less e-mail in your inbox, but guess what? I’m back! Looking back, the last newsletter I sent was back in July… That’s a long hiatus. Over the past few years, I’ve realized that the burnout really starts to set in around the middle of July. The summers down here are downright brutal, and it’s around this time that the crops I’d put so much energy into, pushing and planting and weeding and harvesting and selling all spring long and into the summer, really start to take a turn towards the decline. Disease and pest pressure increases, revenue starts to decline as prices drop because everyone is selling the same things, and when it’s climbing into the 80s and 90s with what feels like 1000% humidity by 8am, it starts to take a serious toll on the psyche. So, I decided to slack a bit. I stopped writing this newsletter, I did the bare minimum to keep the crops maintained, and I spent many an afternoon resting. I did eventually rally, got seeds started for the fall, and was ready to serve you guys once again the beautiful, nutritionally dense, beyond-organic produce that you’ve come to expect from me. I was even in the black financially from a bountiful spring, so the coming fall was looking promising. Hans and I spent a lot of time prepping the beds and getting the fall crops planted out in the field, and then mother nature threw me a curve-ball. Her name was Florence.

The picture at the top of this newsletter was taken the Monday after Florence creeped through our region. This block of beds lies about 300 feet above a creek. That creek flooded, heavily, and washed away 200 feet of broccoli, 200 feet of cauliflower, 200 feet of cabbage, 600 feet of kale, and my lingering pepper, eggplant and okra beds. I have another plot that was above the surge of the creek where we had direct seeded some spinach, arugula, baby kale, radishes, turnips, lettuce, beets and carrots, but even though it was safe from the flooding, most of those crops were decimated by the pounding rain. All that remained was a bed of lettuce, radishes, turnips, and carrots. That was a big hit, both financially and psychologically, and it sucked. I didn’t know what to do. My beds were all but destroyed, and the ground was too wet to rework and reshape, and I didn’t have any transplants started as back-up. I highly considered the prospect of discontinuing Street Fare Farm altogether. I began weighing my options. I traveled up to Door County, WI to spend a week with my mom in their vacation house up there, and tried honestly to not think about the farm. I came back, and still couldn’t figure out what my next weeks, but as I kept rolling those balls around in my head, kept maintaining what I had remaining in the field, kept praying, and slowly those balls started to settle. I began to get excited about next year, and the improvements I could make to my production strategies. For example, I’m going to plan to have very limited production from the middle of July until planting starts in the middle of August in order to nip these periods of burnout in the bud, maybe even head out of town for a week or two. I still could pull out a little revenue with what crops I had remaining after Florence to maintain my dignity, and I had already started the ground-work here at home (on much higher ground) where I am transitioning my operations from the Lomax Farm. Then mother-nature threw me another curve-ball; those rats with hooves we call deer. I went to the farm earlier this week and found that they had eaten up all my remaining crops. This may be a blessing, though, because now I can put 100% of my focus on getting the home operation properly situated, but with my potential profits being washed down the creek or gobbled up by deer, it’s time to get a winter job.

I heard this analogy to farming recently that I think will give y’all some perspective on what it takes to run a profitable small-farm enterprise. Imagine a profitable company that sells t-shirts, but one day decides that they’d be able to make a higher return if in addition to the retail end of the business, they also grew the cotton, spun the thread, wove the cloth and sewed the shirts up. That’s throwing a lot of complexity into what was a simple and likely profitable enterprise. Well, that’s what I’m doing. Not only do I have to grow the crops and ensure they are healthy so they are healthy for your consumption, but then I have to harvest, wash, pack, and do all the footwork to get it all sold, all the while making sure I can take care of the personal responsibilities that we all share. It’s a lot of work, and there are only so many hours in the day. But you know what? I love it. I love working with nature and learning how I can build the health of my ecosystem to help ensure the health of the crops which translates to the health of the body. I love the hustle of networking, marketing, and conducting the the business elements of my operation. Hell, I even love keeping the spreadsheets that track my production and finances. I love what I do, and all I can do is keep trying, because to me farming is more about making sure the bottom line covers the expenses; farming is about living as closely as you can get to our original design as responsible stewards of this planet, our home. It doesn’t hurt that I get to eat really well, too!

This is a long newsletter… Thank you all for your continued support. I want to give a special thanks to my parents, David and Michelle, my girlfriend, Sky, my siblings, Josh, Bree, Abbot and Amanda, John and Holly Robbins, and my right hand man Hans, for sticking with me and helping me along this journey. Production will be limited throughout the remainder of this year, but I’m excited to climb back on top in 2019. We’ll still be at the Piedmont Farmers Market every Saturday from 9am til noon with eggs and microgreens. Tomorrow we’ll also have some butternut squash and shiitake mushrooms. I am excited to announce that I will be bringing back the Street Fare Farm CSA for next season! I’m still finalizing the details, so more on that next week, but please keep in mind that your participation in the CSA will not only ensure you the cream of my crops, but will also be very helpful in getting my operations up and running for next season by pre-paying for your weekly produce boxes. There’s a lot of work I need to do over the course of the winter to get everything set up for next years growing season, but I have faith that the excitement I feel welling up in my gut and my heart for next season is an indication that I’m on the path I’m meant to be on, and that’s encouraging.

I’ll conclude by letting you know that I’ll be starting serving at Gianni’s Trattoria soon to keep the farm going and build up the necessary infrastructure and purchase the irrigation, seed, compost and fertilizer for next year. If you are feeling ESPECIALLY generous on this beautiful autumn day in October, you might consider heading toStreetFareFarm.com, clicking on “Donate” link on top of the homepage, and making a contribution that I can put towards the farm. I hate to play the sympathy card, but it’s kind of all I have at this moment… I’m also kicking around the idea of starting a GoFundMe campaign to acquire some financing to have seamless start to next season… Stay tuned for more on that. Thank you, once again!

Now I’m going to get my butt off this couch and go do a second tilling on the 1/2 acre plot you see below… I hope to see you tomorrow!

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The Great Transition

I forgot to mention last week…

Hans is single, ladies.

The Daily Steward

Well folks, after a lovely midweek break to celebrate our Independence Day holiday, we’ve been back at it, harvesting some delicious summertime treats to grace your refrigerators and delight your taste buds with flavor explosions! I hope that all you readers out there had a wonderful holiday, and that you all have all of your phalanges still intact! Hans and I ventured to our friends house for a wonderful cookout and pot-luck, but here’s the problem with a summertime cookout and pot-luck that is comprised primarily of a bunch of farmers: zucchini. Not only zucchini, but squash, eggplant, peppers, so on and so forth. Feast or famine, folks. It’s the name of the game. I definitely ate too much, but that’s kind of my modus operandi.

Now that the holiday has passed, it’s really time for me to get down to business moving my operations from the Lomax Incubator farm over here to the Riverbend Estates where I’ve been living going on three years now. The time has come, the walrus said. It’s bittersweet to be leaving Lomax. I love that place, it’s a beautiful gem of a property so close to the town of Concord, my business would not be where it is today without the program, and it is nice to go to work and have a community right there to socialize with every day. Honestly though, I’m sick of driving in circles all day long, having to plan out meals, blah blah blah, you get the idea. It will be way more convenient to farm where I live, and live where I farm. In fact, I consider it one of the perks, and I’m SO EXCITED. So, we’ve stopped the planting at Lomax, and it’s time to get down to brass tacks. Ya dig?

I hope to see you all at the market tomorrow! Hans and I have been working really hard to bring you some delicious Green Beans, Onions, Squash, Zucchini, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Peppers, Cherry Tomatoes, Microgreens and Woodlot-Raised, Non-GMO Eggs! Our backs are really sore because of such, so we’d be much obliged if you came to see us at the Piedmont Farmer’s Market tomorrow from 8am til Noon. WILL ACCEPT DEEP-TISSUE MASSAGE AND/OR ACUPUNCTURE AS PAYMENT FOR PRODUCE! Seriously though, green beans are the worst…

Have a great weekend! I think it’s supposed to cool down a touch this weekend. I’m sick of going through AT LEAST three shirts every day…

The Burn

The United States was born in revolution and nurtured by struggle. Throughout our history, the American people have befriended and supported all those who seek independence and a better way of life. 

-Robert Kennedy

The Daily Steward

Everyone’s going on vacations, the weather is hot, the 4th is coming up, and, in full disclosure, I’m starting to feel the burn. It happens pretty consistently around this time of year. I’ve been pushing hard since March, planting, weeding, harvesting, mowing, tilling, planting, weeding, harvesting, washing, packing, etc. It wears on a man. I’m not alone in this, however. Sometime in June, it seems like many farmers nationwide, and I have to imagine northern-hemisphere wide, start to feel the effects of it all. Around here, my farmer friends and I have less-than-affectionately termed the feeling “June Gloom,” though I understand that June Gloom is really a pattern of cloudy weather this month in the US southwest. I’m getting better at mitigating these feelings, but I’ll tell you what’s helped the most, and that’s this guy up there. His name is Hans.

Hans has been staying and working with me for the past couple months, and let me tell you, it’s been fantastic. Hans hails from Los Angeles, CA, though he grew up in the DC metropolitan area (as I did), and had been wanting to work in agriculture or on a farm in some capacity for a while. Hans and I got in touch when he was expressing these interests to my older brother, Abbot, whom he met through our sister, Amanda, whom Hans has been friends with for some 20 years now, and Abbot told Hans about what I was doing down here what with this whole farming thing and such. Well, after trading e-mails off and on for about 6 months, everything fell into place for Hans to pack up and drive cross country here to sunny Carolina, just in time for the summer plantings, and the summer heat. It’s been great! Many of you who frequent the Piedmont Farmer’s Market on Saturdays have already had the privilege of meeting Hans, but for those of you who haven’t, he is a large part of the successes we’re having this season, and a huge mitigator of the failures! Anyway, I just wanted to introduce you all to Hans, he’s been a great help, as well as a good friend.

Hans and I will both be thrilled to see you all tomorrow at the Piedmont Farmer’s Market on Winecoff School Rd. from 8am til Noon! We’re working hard today to bring you lettuce, carrots, beets, eggplant, peppers, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, microgreens and eggs! Come get some veggies to wow the company you’ll keep over the holiday, or stun the hosts of the cookout you’ll be attending, or just staying healthy as you take this holiday as an opportunity to get some much deserved rest! You know what goes great on the grill next to those dogs and burgers? Eggplant! Just slather some oil on ’em, salt and pepper, and you’ll be good to go!

I hope you all do find opportunity to recharge over this holiday, I know I’m looking forward to it! Happy Independence Day!

Solstice? It’s Been Summer…

This is the solstice, the still point of the sun, its cusp and midnight, the year’s threshold and unlocking, where the past lets go of and becomes the future; the place of caught breath.

-Margaret Atwood

The Daily Steward

Yeah I said it. The solstice may have officially marked the first day of summer, but, I’m tellin’ ya, summer’s been here for a minute as far as I’m concerned! Hans and I have been getting out to the farm by 6am to beat the heat and get the harvesting done when the fruits are at their plumpest and juciest. And, lemme tell ya somethin’ else, we’re picking some plump and juicy fruits presently! We’ll have a few hundred pounds of squash, zucchini and cucumbers at the market tomorrow, so get your skillets ready, wipe off that juicer, warm up that pickler, sharpen them choppers, and get you some summer veg!

I know, I know, everyone wants to know, when are the tomatoes coming?! Well, as is indicative of the photo above, there are some tomatoes beginning to ripen! I’m going to let you in on a little secret: tomatoes are not so different from you or I. They, like you or I, don’t like it when it’s too hot outside. We’ve got them tucked under the caterpillar tunnel, protected from the wind and the rain, the fog and the foam, and we’ve even got a shade cloth over the tunnel, blocking out 30% of the sun’s shine, but, man, that thing traps heat. When we get days like we’ve had of late in the mid-nineties, it gets upward of 120°F in that piece! Hence, the reason we’ve endearingly dubbed her the “Ziploc Bag.” But, all that aside, the saving grace has been the fact that the nighttime lows have been dipping into the seventies and even high 60s, so the plants are looking good and still growing, and there are a ton of green fruits hanging, they’re just taking their sweet time ripening up. Soon, my friends, soon!

I anticipate with great relish catching a glimpse of your shining eyes and smiling faces at the Piedmont Farmer’s Market on Winecoff School Rd. tomorrow from 8am til noon! Hans and I will be there, as I’m sure you know, this fact being the highlight of your week, with a ton of veggies in tow! I’ve already enlightened you to the immense quantity of Squash, Zucchini, and Cucumber, but I’m excited to tell you that the Lettuce mix is back for a limited time only! Additionally, we’ll have Red Beets, Gold Beets, Pink Turnips, Orange Carrots, Rainbow Carrots, Pea Shoots, Radish Shoots, Sunflower Shoots, and, of course, your favorite, Woodlot-Raised, Non-GMO Eggs! See you there!

Have a wonderful weekend and a blessed week ahead, and, all kidding, and hopefully heat aside, happy Summer for reals!

Spring Push

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”

-Theodore Roosevelt

The Daily Steward

I’m so happy to announce that the big spring push is over! Over the past 2 weeks, myself, with the help of many other very gracious and willing helpers, not to mention good lookin, were able to get 300 tomato plants in the ground, 100 squash and zucchini plants, 100 cucumbers, 140 peppers, 140 eggplant, 140 okra, and 200 feet of green beans planted. The weather’s been pretty steamy, but mostly pretty enjoyable to be working in. In addition to getting all these first rounds of summer veggies in the ground, we were also able to set up the deer fence in the summer plot, get a few of the spent beds in the spring plot turned over and prepped for another planting of something else, and had a bountiful harvest that we’ll be bringing to the market bright and early tomorrow morning!

I’m happy to be done with this push here, for now I have a little breathing room to be able to turn my focus on the home fields, getting the ground broken, amended, bedded and tarped so that they’ll be ready and waiting for the first fall plantings come late August! I love the Lomax Farm, I do, but I’m over commuting… I’m sure you all can relate! 

I hope you’ll come out to the Piedmont Farmer’s Market on Winecoff School Rd. tomorrow from 8am til noon! Hans and I will be there with Lettuce, Arugula, Radishes, Turnips, Beets, Spring Onions, Kohlrabi, Microgreens, and Woodlot-Raised, Non-GMO Eggs! I’m predicting a mild and generally pleasant morning, weather-wise. Maybe a little overcast with a light breeze, not too hot and not too humid. Come on out and see us!

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend! School’s almost out, and vacation time is almost upon us!

Tomato Planting Party!

“In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream…”

-Bruce Springsteen

The Daily Steward

I really need to start writing these newsletters ahead of time… Howdy folks! It’s hot outside… Where’d spring go? It seems to be the trend here, winter to summer. That’s ok, we do what we can! And guess what? We’ve done a lot for you all this week! The caterpillar tunnel is just a hair of a hair’s breadth from being completed! The spring plot has been cultivated, and we’ve got a lot of stuff harvested and are in the process of washing and packaging it all for your enjoyment! Also, on Tuesday, the newest addition to the Street Fare Farm family arrived: 104 healthy day-old Plymouth Barred Rocks chicks! This is the first time I’ve ever received chicks in the mail where there was not a single mortality in transit, and I still have yet to lose one (knockin’ on wood). These little freeloaders will eventually lay some delicious and nutritious eggs, the very same you’ve come to know and love.

Being that the caterpillar tunnel will be completed here directly, it’s now time to put some tomatoes in there! They are ready to get in the ground and stretch their little roots deep into the ground and reach their vines up into the expanse. Guess what? You can come help with that fun! I’ve created another Facebook event for this Tomato Planting Party that you can find here! Come help me get 300 tomato plants in the ground either Monday or Tuesday of next week. I’ll be out here all day both those days digging holes, adding compost and fertilizer, watering them in, and popping the plants in. Bring your kids, I’m sure they’re already expert hole-diggers, bring your friends, bring your parents, bring your aunties and uncles, it’s gonna be a party! Lunch will be provided, and I’ll be sure to send you home with some delicious eggs and veggies for your help. Come on out even if you can only make a brief appearance, or come let me regale tales of wit and cynicism, spin you yarns of trial and tribulation, or serenade you sweetly with songs of yore!

I hope to see you all at the Piedmont Farmer’s Market on Winecoff School Rd. tomorrow from 8am til Noon! Like I said, I’ve got the goods coming in now: Lettuce, Spinach, Baby Kale, Arugula, Spring Mix, Radishes, Microgreens, and Woodlot-Raised, Non-GMO Eggs! Do like mama told you and eat your greens!

Ok, I have to go. The help I’ve got here must think I’m just trolling on Facebook at this point. I never said I wouldn’t… Have a great weekend!

Strawberry Festival

Let me take you down, cuz I’m going to strawberry fields…”

-The Beatles

It’s a happy day? Why, do you ask? I’ll tell you why. I’ll ‘splain you up real good, indeed I will! If you really want to know why I’m happy today, I’ll tell ya: veggies are here! I spent all morning harvesting the first veggies out of the field, and, believe you me, it feels good to be back, baby! Just in time, too, for tomorrow at the Winecoff Market is the Strawberry Festival, which will kick off the busy season at the market! I’m excited to see the place filled up with vendors of all kinds, and to see throngs of yous guys smiling faces milling about, supporting local farmers and vendors, and participating in some of the family friendly activities that will be available! I have to make a prediction here, though… I foresee the best attraction at the market tomorrow will be… Spinach! And Arugula! And Baby Kale! All can be yours for a reasonable price when you swing by the Street Fare Farm booth! In addition, I’ll have Pea Shoots, Radish Shoots, Sunflower Shoots, Kale Shoots, and, of course, the real star of the show, my lovely ladies’ fresh, Woodlot-Raised, Non-GMO Eggs, also reasonably priced and did I mention fresh? The Strawberry Festival will run from 8am til 1pm tomorrow, and the market will start at 8am here on out. I can’t wait to see you!

There’s a lot going on, but I fear I’ll have to save the finer details for the next edition of the Daily Steward, as right now I’m in a sprint portion of the marathon that is this 2018 season, and I fear I must get back to work so I can finish up, get a good night’s sleep, and be as bright and chipper as I’m feeling right now typing this all out to you! I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and May the Fourth be with you!