Well, I Made It

Out of difficulties grow miracles.

-Jean de la Bruyere

The Daily Steward

That’s right, I made it! It was touch and go, and I’m sure there are some out there whose expectations I have defied, but my thirty year trek has been completed! How do I feel? Excellent. What will I do next? Well, the only thing I can do, keep trekkin’! I want to thank all of you who gave me some birthday love on Wednesday, and for those who didn’t, all I can say is I KNOW WHO YOU ARE! Just playin! It’s been a busy week for sure! The midterm elections are over, and though it wasn’t the “blue wave” many were hoping for, I’m hoping with the Democrats taking the House, the folks on Capitol Hill will be forced to put aside some of these extreme partisan ideologies and reach across the aisle to do what they get paid so well to do: work together towards the common good of the American people and global community regardless of party, creed or color. Say a prayer for your representatives, that they may have the strength and the courage to do what is right and that they might not succumb to the temptation of greed, avarice, pride, or the pursuit of selfish gain, and that God may continue to bless America!

Here on the farm, it’s been especially busy. I’ve been running all over the state gathering supplies for next season, pulling tarps, cutting wood, building things, installing lights in the post-harvest area, planting, harvesting, and slinging microgreens, cashing checks and snapping necks! I want to give a special shoutout to my buddy Chris, an accomplished electrician who has been so selflessly helpful in working on all these projects, I couldn’t do it without you, homey! I’m really running on all cylinders right now, just trying to get all these projects knocked out as fast as I can so that I can, for one thing, get them off my mind, and for another, so I can have everything in place that I may work out as many kinks and inefficiencies as I can before the first crops go in the ground next February! That’s only three months away… yeesh! My new irrigation system was delivered yesterday, so that’s exciting. To me. Next week I’m hoping to get power to the well and start piecing together the new system, as well as make some headway getting my walk-in cooler set up. Soon there will be a farm field day here at Street Fare Farm where I will invite all of you to come help spread compost over all the growing beds so that the compost has a chance to intermingle with and embellish the topsoil and have a chance to break down a little bit before the crops go in the ground. Stay tuned for more info!

The accomplishment I’m most excited about from this past week is that I finally released the info for next springs CSA program! I know you all already got an e-mail or two about the CSA, but forgive me when I shamelessly promote the program until next season gets underway. Why should you join the Street Fare Farm CSA? You will be getting the freshest produce every week that will be far superior in quality and nutritional value than anything you can get in the grocery store, you will help me continue on this farming journey, you will help to fundamentally shift our flawed food system by voting with your dollars for local, sustainable produce, and it is my hope that you will have the opportunity to learn more about what goes into making this staple of life that is the food we consume for energy, and in doing so you will gain a better appreciation and attribute a higher value on what you put in your mouth! AND, if you sign up before Thanksgiving, you will receive a $20 gift certificate redeemable at my booth at the Piedmont Farmer’s Market on Winecoff School Rd. at any time! Click here for full details and the sign-up form!

Speaking of the Farmer’s Market, do come see me tomorrow from 9am til noon! It’s going to be a crisp, clear autumn morning, and I’ll be there with microgreens, shiitake mushrooms and eggs! The micro mix I introduced last week sold out pretty quick, so I’ve doubled the quantity for this week. Also, let me tell you, though I would prefer a bit more sunshine, the mushrooms are loving all this rain. Come see me!

I hope you all have a terrific weekend! In this current climate of extreme partisanship and polarizing ideology, please remember that when faced with a choice to be right or to be kind, always choose to be kind. Be well!

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Dirty Thirty

The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power.

-Unknown

Well folks, I’m hitting a milestone this coming week. On Wednesday, I’ll have traveled around this big beautiful, life-giving sun of ours thirty times. Let me tell you, I’m kind of excited. I’m excited to be taken more seriously for one thing, cuz nobody really takes anything a twenty-something has to offer without a grain of salt. What I’m really excited about, though, which is not really related to the age I’m turning whatsoever, is that things are coming along at the home site. I cleared out the rest of my tools and odds and ends from the Lomax Farm this past week, and it feels as though a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Don’t get me wrong, I love Lomax and all the connections and friendships I’ve been able to forge throughout my tenure there. I often tell people that one of the biggest reasons why I feel like this path I’m on is the one I’m meant to be on is that when I had the hair-brained epiphany that I’d like to try my hand at farming that one fateful night almost six years ago, the fact that the Lomax Farm and it’s program to help aspiring growers get their business up and running without having to assume all the capital risks that are inherent in any startup, that are especially risky and capital intensive for a farming enterprise, was located just outside the city I had moved to only a couple years before feels to me to be of a nature of providence more so than serendipity. I’m extremely grateful for the staff and the fellow farmers-in-training and the community of farmers and the greater supporting community surrounding the Lomax Farm, without your help I would not be where I am today. If you aren’t familiar with the Lomax Farm, please check them out at this link, and if you care to support other aspiring agripreneurs, please consider joining the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association who manages the Lomax Farm, or consider giving a donation so that they can keep doing the work their doing to change the world by changing our flawed food system. Thank you!

There’s just something about waking up and being able to get right to work, to be able to walk into the house and make a little lunch, and to be able to call it quits, crack a beer, and start a fire to wrap up the day in the most idyllic of fashions. I am beginning to appreciate the beauty of this place where I live in a way that I haven’t though I’ve lived here for almost three years now. I was driving down to Fort Mill during rush hour on Halloween to go trick-or-treating with my lovely girlfriend Sky and her son, Elijah (clever costume, eh?!), and that experience reminded me of how excited I am to no longer have to commute to get to work, something I’ve dreamed of since leaving my former 9-5 and the daily battle at rush hour! I’m excited to decrease my monthly gasoline budget, and to not have to worry about planning my schedule so diligently to try to balance my home-life and my work-life, for now they will be that much more intertwined. I realize I’ll still have to do those things, and it’s probably not going to be as utopian as it is in my mind right now, but just let me revel in this dream for a bit longer!

I’ve been going full bore getting some projects done and giving the place a long-overdue tidying up, as well as getting the working-areas here at home properly set up. My post-harvest area is now set up to wash greens with my greens-bubbler, my wash-machine-converted-salad-spinner, and my greens drying screen! Next step is to get the walk-in cooler set up so I can keep all these freshly washed greens chilled. Also on the docket is building a 10ft long root-washing and drying table. Stay tuned as well for news on spreading compost on my beds for next season, cuz I’ll need some help!

I hope to see you guys at the Piedmont Farmer’s Market on Winecoff School Rd. tomorrow from 9am til noon! I’ve got a new produce I’m excited to introduce: Micro Salad Mix! This is a bagged mix of pea shoots, radish shoots, arugula shoots, broccoli shoots, kale shoots, cabbage shoots and kohlrabi shoots that is great as a salad or a topper on your sandwich, in a wrap, or on your soup! It is soup season, donchaknow! We’ll also have shiitake mushrooms, pea shoots, radish shoots, sunflower shoots, woodlot-raised, free-roaming non-GMO eggs and Rowland’s Row butternut squash. Come see me!

It feels really good to be writing these newsletters again. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend and a fantastic week, and let yourself celebrate a little bit on my behalf!

Winter Projects for Spring Success

In difficult ground, press on. In encircled ground, devise stratagems. In death ground, fight.

-Sun Tzu

My body hurts. Farming is often a physically demanding profession, and in many ways I feel as though all the hours I’ve spent since I was 12 pumping iron in the weight room and sweating it out on the soccer field and the wrestling mat were appropriate preparation for my current profession, but my body is getting older each and every day, and today I’m sore. I’ll be turning the big three-oh in a week-and-a-half, and what I’m about to say may reek of naivete, but I feel as though I’ve lived thirty lifetimes already. I spent 8 hours straight grappling with my two-wheeled BCS tractor yesterday with a rotary-plow attachment to build fifty one-hundred foot beds. It was a tedious, strenuous, monotonous day. My hands are raw and my hip feels kinky. I imagine this is what Jacob might have felt like after wrestling God in the wilderness. It’s done, though! I was intimidated by this task for some time because of the size of the job, but the hard part is over! Well, one hard part is over.

Now I need to order two truck-loads of compost to spread about 2 inches worth on top of each bed, and then get each bed broadforked. If you don’t know what a broadfork is or what broadforking entails, check out his video. I figure if I broadfork 4 beds a day, it will only take me 13 days to get all 50 beds done, and then I won’t have to plan my workouts for almost two weeks! I also have to get another 50’x100′ silage tarp to put adjacent to the beds I just build to smother out the grass so I can get in and till it up and get it limed so I can install my caterpillar tunnels there. Wait a minute, did I say tunnels?! That’s right. On Wednesday, myself and a handful of my lovely nursing student volunteers disassembled my caterpillar tunnel and moved it from the Lomax farm over here to the homefront, and then, one way or another, I am going to acquire another tunnel to put right next to it! These tunnels will be planted with early greens mid-February, and then one will get filled with tomatoes and the other will get an early round of squash, zucchini and cucumbers next spring! I figure as the seasons roll on, I’ll invest in more caterpillar tunnels (as they are relatively inexpensive and easy to move around) and I figure I can probably fit 5 of them side-by-side, which will give me 5600 square feet of covered growing space with one tunnel serving as a greenhouse for starting plants and growing the microgreens, in addition to the 20,000 square feet of outdoor growing space you see pictured below! But I’m getting ahead of myself…

In addition to all this ground work, I need to get my post-harvest handling area set up. It won’t take too much, as I already have most of the stuff on-hand. I need to build a greens-drying table and pour an insulated concrete pad to install my walk-in cooler on (which you see stacked up under the blue tarp in the bottom-left corner of the picture above). After all that, we’ll be off to the races for spring 2019! I’m so excited I might pee myself. Just joking. But seriously. Get excited!

I hope you guys will come see us at the Piedmont Farmer’s Market on Winecoff School Rd. tomorrow from 9am until noon! We’ll have butternut squash grown by my good buddy Joe Rowland at Rowland’s Row Family Farm in Gold Hill, some tatsoi grown by Gena, the Organic Research Coordinator at the Lomax Incubator Farm that she grew for a trial, microgreens, and eggs laid by my lovely lady friends that aren’t allowed in the house and have to sleep up the hill. I only was able to harvest three shiitake mushrooms this week, I guess they were taking a breather, andddd I ate them all. Well, Zeus, my husky dog, got one off the counter like a VERY BAD BOY, but yeah. There are a bunch of little mushroom heads starting to grow out, and we’ll see what happens after the rainy day today, but no mushrooms tomorrow! I plan on starting a bunch more logs next spring, so expect mushrooms for years to come!

I know I promised to tell you about the CSA this week, but alas, the week filled up and I wasn’t able to get around to planning it all out. Next week, I promise!

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, see you soon I hope!

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!

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!