By 3porchfarm, 07-May-2013 14:54:00
Nothing profound to say here, but it's been awhile since we blogged and we came in early tonight (9:00 pm) because we're too sick and/or rundown to push it anymore today, and it's gonna be another long week without end (read....no weekend).
Don't count your chickens before they're hatched. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Idioms like these are clearly applicable to anyone's life, but they keep running through my head and seem particularly poignant to the life of a farmer. I might just feel this way because this strawberry season has been markedly different than last years and not exactly for the better. Some of you know that we had the most amazing strawberries last year and they just kept coming. 9 weeks of robust harvests of juicy, sweet, gorgeous berries that started in mid-march. This year, we just got our first real harvest last week, about 5 weeks later than last years, and have consistently been beseiged with rain storms, slugs, fire-ants, the occasional bird feasting, and other new and formidable pests. 2 months ago I had visions of leasing 2 acres of our neighbor's land and expanding our berry production, and now I remember that thing about the eggs and the basket and just how relevant its seems. "Rain is so good for you" people keep telling me, but it's probably because they haven't had to throw out a hundred pounds of moldy and rotting berries every few days that cost just as much to plant, grow, and harvest, as the good ones do. Fortunately, my wife has some tremendous talents that range far beyond the world of tasty berries, conserves, and the ever dear-to-my-heart Honeypops. If you love somebody... pop em in the mouth. Honeypop. (T-shirt anybody?). Anyways, Mandy has a knack for seeing things that many of us don't. She is always pointing out beauty that is just under my nose that would certainly have escaped me. Even during my time as a woodworker who specialized in custom joinery, often times she'd be the first to notice fine craftsmanship and point it out to me as we ventured into a new setting. Mandy has worked with flowers for years and is now really bringing a lot of her experiences together and expressing her vast creativity by putting together beautiful arrangements and floralscapes. I may have made that word up just now, but how else to you describe the act and art of taking a already picturesque setting and setting it aglow with beauty bursting forth from every nook and cranny. And yes, I know I used the word setting twice in extremely close proximity. I'm a rebel. If I were a proper blogger, I'd have photos to attach to this, but I fall short of that mark and extend my apologies. If you see photos attached to this blog, its because my dear wife has followed behind me and filled in the gaps that I've left behind. Teamwork.
So, as it stands, we still have plans of continuing our fruit productions, but instead of moving forward with row-crops, we are henceforth putting much of our energies into sustainable flower production and most likely, more wedding and event work. (in fact, we are again toying with the idea of hosting weddings here).
Mandy just put together a beautiful floralscape last Sunday for our friend's daughter's wedding and I'm very much hoping that some of those photos (we didn't take any) will arrive in our hands and on this blog soon. As for now, I have to go sort through and throw out another huge load of strawberries that the rain has made short work of.
By 3porchfarm, 02-Apr-2013 16:54:00
After a challenging winter/spring filled with lots of wind and rain, we were greeted by an overwhelming show of support from the community on Saturday at 3 Porch Farm. People came to see where we live and grow, to learn about our mushrooms and strawberries, our converted vehicles, to ask about the solar array, to listen to wonderful music, and not least of which, to get some great starts for their gardens. People came to blow open the beautiful doors to spring and welcome the warmer nights, the jucier crops, and the sun on their skin. We met new friends and neighbors and got to share our property in a new way with old friends too. Our friends who have been here many times even joined us on the tours and let us know afterwards how fun it was to see the property in depth from another angle, with all the details that might escape a visit under another pretense.
Mandy and I were absolutely in awe at the number of people on the first tour and were pleasantly sore in the throat from having to project our voices for an hour and a half at a stretch. Everyone was kind and hopefully they got a nugget or two of worthwhile information or at least enjoyed the walk, as it was a beautful day to be outside and a beautful day to be on the farm. We really do live in a little slice of heaven and intend to never take it for granted as long as we are fortunate enough to remain here. We learned useful information on the tour too and as a result, are now talking to an entomologist about a brand new strawberry pest in hopes of learning helpful organic management techniques that can prevent significant or total crop loss from this little bugger. Let's keep our fingers crossed for a good Honeypop year. We saw the first three red berries today, a good three weeks later than last year, and are hoping for a healthy and delicious crop in spite of the lost weeks and the new competitor.
But back to greener pastures, the world is looking bright out here for us. The Plant Sale was a huge success! The music was awesome, the sun was out, fruit trees, bushes and strawberry plants are all blooming, one of the guests found our first 2 shiitakes of the year, people were smiling, picnicking, dancing, and chatting....nibbling on sticky buns and croissants, enjoying fresh farm made chai and 1000 faces coffee, stocking up on BlackBriar eggs and meats and just poking about the farm and taking it all in. Our mothers were rocking the plants sales while my Dad aptly directed traffic. Who knew there would be soooo many cars to direct?! It was like a festival. We were stunned.
An important point to note is that YOU HELPED. By not having a winter income to speak of, nor the early year income of a CSA, and adding the expense of a new tractor to our monthly payments, we have edged further out onto the proverbial limb and I am very happy to report that your support and your plant purchases really came to a greater total than we had even hoped for and helped us to continue forward in our endeavours out here on the farm. You really are owed as much credit for all the sustainable works out here as we are. Without your support and the vote you make with your dollars, we could not succesfully steward and nurture this land in as sustainable a way as we are. The surrounding watershed and its plant and animal inhabitants, the birds, bees, butteflies, amphibians, fish, lichen, and people in the surrounding area are all healthier as a result of the energy program and earth nurturing practices that go on here. Whether you are doing the work directly, or supporting it financially, we are all a part of creating the world that we live in. Thank you for saying that you support our vision for a healthier and more responsible world by purchasing our plants, our flowers, and our crops and treats. Thank you for supporting small attempts at locally focused businesses and for encouraging us to believe that its possible to do well as well as to do good....do be do be do. Anyways, we are grateful. We are grateful to the Red Oak Southern String Band. Grateful to Marilyn Estes for her article and promotion of this event. Grateful to Lou for the flyers and facebook help. Grateful to Lee Brown for letting us park on his property. To Anna Belle Wood and Marilyn Estes for photos. Grateful to our parents for traveling to our distant farm to joyfully bust their butts to help us in a time of need. Grateful again to those that threw money into the hat for our new friend "Birdie." And grateful for each other. We couldn't do this if we weren't best friends and I am constantly impressed and amazed at the talents of my wife and the intention and integrity that she brings to the table. She'll want me to erase this, but its a blog for crying out loud and i can write what I want. If I could send a big hug out to the whole world right now I would. Who couldn't use a good hug now and again. Consider yourself hugged and have a good night and a pleasant spring. We hope to see you at the market.
By 3porchfarm, 13-Mar-2013 02:43:00
The Hilsman Middle School Science & Energy Team just kicked off their Energy Education Week by visiting us at 3 Porch Farm. Mandy and I aren't used to being educators to that age group so we were a little nervous about our ability to bridge the divide of 20 or more years, but as soon as they got off the bus and our old dog hobbled up, the ice was broken and a mini petting zoo was born. Shortly thereafter our big snowy fluffball of a Great Pyrenees bounded up and our status was secured...we could do no wrong, the tour was a success.
By 3porchfarm, 23-Nov-2012 15:15:00
In my last profession as a Timber Framer, the term "farmer framed" was sometimes euphamistically used to denote an inferior job on an old barn or home. Though the building may have succesfully done its job and significantly outlasted its owner by 150 years, the quality of work was not up to snuff for what our industry and our customers considered to be professional. The way I heard it, and possibly used it, suggested that the person who did the job was out of their league and should have left the job to the professionals.
Now that I'm on the other end, I see a different light. Its of the utmost importance to the survival of the farm, that the farmer(s) be very succesful generalists. Farming for most, does not come with a substantial, or reliable source of income. Therefore the resources to hire out work are scarcely available.
The farmer then, due to necessity, becomes not only the gardener, soil scientist, and amateur vet, but also a mechanic, a carpenter, a plumber, an electrician, a salesperson, a secretary, a painter, a bookeeper, a web-designer, a blogger, a product-designer, a CEO (Mandy), the P.R., H.R., and R and D.
Oh, yeah, and sometimes a logger:
This is where the inexperience sometimes catches up with you. I've cut down maybe 25 trees in my life. Looked up how to do it on the internet a few years back and felt competent enough having landed the bulk of them right where I aimed em. This last one was a bit bigger than I gave it credit for and I misjudged the weight up top.....and never had I used a rope on another tree, so why use one here?
By 3porchfarm, 20-Sep-2012 02:24:00
September 17th 2011 marks the one year anniversary since we moved to our land and officially started 3 Porch Farm. It's been one helluva year. We drove across country from Northern California with all of our wordly belongings, our two old dogs, a 30 year old car and 20 year old truck. The truck towed everything we still owned (tools, homemade pottery, beehives, homemade furniture, instruments, and more tools )in a big trailer. The rusted out wagon carried the dogs and a smaller trailer with two 55 gallon drums of veggie-oil, pumps, hoses, solar panel, battery, filters etc... We slept in a cramped bed in a camper shell on a platform with stuff stored underneath us. I built a huge platform on top of the campershell and we stored tons of stuff up there too. Modern day BeverlyHillbillys.....in reverse though I guess.....since we were going from CA. to rural GA.
We tried to get all the way across country just using grease from restaurants as our fuel source. It was a noble effort, but the odds were stacked against us. We had 5 flat tires, 2 electrical problems, a solar failure, water in the fuel, a veggie pump failure, a fuel pump failure, kinked fuel hoses, failed fuel strainer/heater, the little trailer and car almost flipped, we were stuck in the desert for 3 days in 100 degree weather while I tried to fix one thing after another. It seemed like we broke down anew at every other offramp. P.S. It is hard to find parts for old vehicles when there is nothing around but cactus and scrub-brush. One time, when I was jacking up the car to fix a flat, the rusted jack point crumbled out and the jack broke underneath it almost smooshing a little bit of me......Virtually everything that could break did break.
We are not strangers to this sort of activity. Being involved in biofuels for a long time, I have travelled the country as a veggie bus driver/mechanic four times since 2003 and Mandy was with me for two of those journeys. We've had every sort of misadventure you can imagine and broke down in the most remote and perilous situations you can think of with 18 wheelers constantly whipping by at 70 mph, usually having to rebuild systems with spare parts, chewing gum, a bad headlamp, and relentless tenacity in the middle of the night in the cold of Fargo, or the heat and dust of a desert wasteland and come up with solutions where none seem possible to get to some important date somewhere two states away, bleeding, exhuasted and covered in oil and grease.
It's fair to say that this particular trip was the most relentless. Sleep deprived, broke, and frazzled, halfway across the country, we gave up the grease trailer in exchange for a safer Mandy and threw all of our biofuel equipment on my roofrack. Finally, 100 miles from our new home, nearly broken, we were too exhuasted to drive any further and decided to sleep one last night on the road, and just to keep up with the theme of the trip, the lock broke in our camper. We couldn't get into our little bed. Life sustaining and renewing and desperately needed sleep was being kept from us by a 1/4" of tinted plexiglass and a crappy broken lock.
Oh yeah, it didn't happen on this trip, but Mandy has been hit by lightning. It would have made a more interesting story if that was the point at which she did get hit though....Anyway, we managed to eventually break in to the camper, get some sleep and on the 17th, we made it!
And Gypsy, Mandy's Lab and best friend of 14 years who had been laying sown quietly the whole trip, stood up and started wagging her tail right when we passed the sign that said "Welcome to Comer, Make our Town your Town.:
She had never been here before and nobody said anything to her....she just seemed to know.
Gypsy got to spend a number of very good months with us out here and is now resting peacefully in the orchard where she will be a part of our daily lives indefinitely.
I'll try to sum the rest up a little more rapidly. But I'll say this first. After the hell-trip across country, we got to the farm and started to unload and eventually got into bed with the hopes of sleeping in for the first time in a long while. We were awoken at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning by about 15 shotguns firing in rapid succession as little as 200 feet from our house and raining birdshot on the roof for the better part of all day. It was opening day of Quail season and our neighbors thought it best to shoot away from their house and right by and at our house. Apocolypse Now. Welcome home.
THEN, we hit the ground running. We immediately tilled up a 1/3rd of an acre with a walk behind tiller and made raised beds and planted 4000 strawberry plants. This gave us the calloused hands we needed to get this farm started.
We rebuilt the falling down barn, framed in and pulled plastic on a hoophouse, built a veggie-oil fueling station and wired up an off-grid solar system to power it, tore apart and repaired old tillers, amended soils,planted a fruit orchard, planted 300 blueberry plants, built a certified kitchen....insulation, plumbing, electrical, sheetrock, mudding, paint, trenching etc..., built a walk-in cooler, invented HoneyPops, went into production of HoneyPops, tilled more land, sewed tons of seed, and grew more crops, worked through miles of red tape to get the whole farm running on a 4.5 KW solar system, learned bookkeeping and tax issues for a Partnership and an S-corp, became Incorporated, fought deer and built fencing time and time again, built up our logo, farm truck, market presentation, website, restaurant relationships, and understanding of good business practices, established beehives, extracted honey, made syrups and conserves, ran irrigation, chopped down trees to save the well and made 50 shiitake logs.....and on and on. It has been the most incredibly full year of our lives and we are grateful for the opportunity.
Virtually all of this work has been done by Mandy and I. The main solar system installation was hired-out. Mandy's dad and brother were here for awhile and put a ton of help into the kitchen and her mom painted signs, made wreaths with Mandy for holiday sales, and kept us fed, all of which was crucial and great. We had a wonderful new friend help with harvesting strawberries for about a month. Aside from that, its been us working 70-85 hour weeks. Hopefully next year, we can afford a little help, but to get started, we ran so broke that we were dumpster diving for a bit just to eat through our first winter. We have no outside funding, just a desire to do something good, and the support of good friends and family, and now....an awesome community. We love our fellow farmers and market managers, the chef's at the local restaurants, and the community that sees the value and hardwork in what we do and is willing to pay the real price of food in order to sustain and support the positive contributions we are attempting to make in our community and in the world. We did not pick the easy path. We are scrappers who struggle constantly to make our living align completely with our values and we are grateful to all of you for making that possible. Thank you for an incredible year at our new home and for a positive season at the Athens Farmer's Market!
Steve and Mandy
By 3porchfarm, 09-Sep-2012 15:37:00
Hello out there. We were just asked to share a recipe for the farmer's market blog, so I thought I'd put it on ours as well.
This recipe kind of evolved like all of my recipes do.....It's my turn to cook and I have a few ingredients and I kinda turn off my brain, use the force, and just start cooking whatever we have that is most perishable and seems like it might taste good together. Inspiring huh?
This cooking style was born of necessity at the first farm I lived at back in California. I did an apprenticeship almost 10 years ago at Laguna Farm in Sebastopol and each of the young farmers would take turns cooking a big meal for up to 8 people at lunch time. My first time I made Risotto from a recipe. I had never really cooked before. It took about 2-1\2 hours and was expensive (I had 50 bucks a month for all my expenses). Some of the ingredients were out of season and from the grocery store. Much of which was not local. The meal was delicious and although everyone enjoyed it, I realized that I wasted my employers time and that the common critique was that it'd have been preferable to use farm based, seasonal food. From that day on, I did what everyone else did.....ran into the kitchen 45 minutes before lunch, grabbed whatever vegetables and grains were available, checked to see what other ingredients we may have on hand from trades or donations (everyone was incredibly poor and without food stamps) and started chopping. It becomes improvisation in motion and you develop a feel for it fairly quickly. You can tryit yourself. Subtract any time for planning and just start cooking whatever you have. Season your dish with some leftover mustard and olive brine. Might as well dice up a few olives while your at it. Whatever you got that might taste good....just trust your instinct and add it. You'll make a couple of missteps here and there, but nothing major and you'll learn from them.
Ok. That's the end of my inspirational jazz cooking speach.
This particular dish turned out incredible and if you are in the Athens area you shouldn't have a problem finding these ingredients at our market.
The catch is that sice I cook kinda freestyle, with no recipes or measurements or even set ingredients, I'm gonna have to guesstimate all of that in the name of the blogosphere and hope it works out well.
Let's call it the "Fairytale Sandwich."
1 Loaf of Focaccia bread
1 lb of Fairytale Eggplant (or other small, tender, non-bitter eggplant)
1 med to large onion
2-3 Jimmy Nardello Peppers (incredibly sweet)
2 crook neck squash
1/3-1/2 stick of butter
(optional: oyster or shiitake mushrooms, white wine, beer, or piece of bacon)
Thinly slice everything and put in a pot with a lid. Cook slow on stove top at about 4. Should take a good half hour to 45 minutes to caramalize everything to the desired consistency (softer and sweeter is better for this meal). Monitor the process and stir occasionally. Add water, beer, or wine if necessary to prevent sticking to bottom of pot. (A piece of bacon during this process helps prevent sticking and adds a decadent and sinfully delicious southern touch.)
Slice focaccia bread down the middle if thick enough to make 2 open faces. (We get ours from Luna bakery)Toast focaccia in toaster oven then spread goat cheese on open face. Take caramalized eggplant mix and spread on top of focaccia. Add salt and pepper to taste and enjoy. For an added treat, break up 2 to 3 crispy slices of bacon and sprinkle on top. This sandwich is absolutely divine.
This is one of those meals where every bite grabs your attention and makes you be present to enjoy and relish the delicious morsels dancing on your tongue.
Try it. There's no way you won't love it.
And again.....don't be afraid to improvise if you don't have some of the ingredients. This combo is undeniably good, but the only thing you really need is an onion. The rest of it can all be interchangeable.
No eggplant? Use all crookneck squash instead. No peppers? It'll still be good. Don't like bacon? I'll eat it for you. For some dishes, you need to be precise, for others, just use what you got that seems like it might taste good. It usually will.
By 3porchfarm, 27-Jul-2012 03:23:00
Hey y'all. We are much better about doing things than we are about documenting them, so we don't really have any step by step action shots for you, but we just built a guinea house. Guineas are an African bird that is kinda like a chicken, but different in a variety of ways. Guineas are way more wild and independent and are more aggressive with insects. They eat and eat and eat all the little nasties that feed on our crops and feed on our blood. It's been a very heavy tick year due to the warm winter and due to high acorn and mice populations over the last few years. The lack of cold allowed the ticks to survive the winter....the high acorn years encouraged a population boom of mice. The high numbers of mice produced an abundant food source for the ticks and encouraged a population boom for them as well.
We have pulled more ticks off and out of ourselves and each other than we'd care to think about, so we needed to find an organic way to deal with them. Hence, the guineas.
We got seven of the little "keats" that were just 3 weeks old and put them in a small coop on the porch. We had a terrible rain storm that first night and woke up repeatedly throughout the night to make sure theyy were ok. 5 1/2 inches later, the rain did not harm them, but at sun up, we found a 4' black snake in the cage and 6 scared keats huddled up in the opposite corner. The snake couldn't get back out of the chicken wire due to the huge lump of keat still in its throat. That bird was at least 5 times the size of the snake's head. Amazing.
Mandy screamed and was quite sad at the turn of events, so I ran to the barn in my skivies to try and come up with a solution. Her dad had given us a litter grabber from Harbor Freight for this purpose, but it would slip right through if I didn't doctor it, so I got a bunch of insulating foam and some masking tape, filled the gaps and taped it up.
It worked! I had the bugger by the neck and boy was he strong. Pappa Tony's litter/snake grabber was working though. His tail grabbed the chicken wire and wrapped around it, pulling against me. I pulled as hard as I could, but he was too strong and I ended up getting pulled closer and closer until I was in the coop with him wrapped around my neck. Just kidding. He was strong though. We wrestled to get the tail loose and got him in a little cage, threw it in the bed of the truck and drove him back to the state park to set him free to eat copperheads. Side note: We'd been keeping the blacksnakes around to eat the copperheads. We had to kill one ourselves just the day before all this happened. Mandy almost grabbed it while reaching for a dowel in the barn. Anyways..... the mice bring in the copperheads, so we prayed for blacksnakes, but they weren't effective enough and they killed our bird which we got for the ticks, which ride on the mice, so we got two feral cats, which tease the dog, which we got to chase off the deer, who flip us off while they eat our vegetables right in front of the dog.
I don't know why she swallowed the fly.
Back to the guineas. They almost double in size every five minutes. We needed another shelter for them quick. It was a pretty awesome project. One of those rare projects that goes faster than you thought it would and takes less materials and costs nothing. We comnpletely made it out of recycled materials. Our friend's old greenhouse tables with wire mesh on them were doctored and stood on end to make the walls. Old metal roofing that was laying in a pile with another copperhead was used for rain protection. Framing lumber was pulled from an old trellis that I dismantled. Chicken wire was salvaged from the barn. All the fasteners were left over from other projects and a sheet of plywood was warped but useable in the barn. That's about it. We literally bought nothing for this job and finished it in a short period of time. I don't think that's ever happened to me before. Aaahhhh. How nice.
So we built them a couple of little beds, and installed some branches in the rafters for them to roost on and then tipped their old home into their new one and watched them cautiously huddle together while exploring this vast new and unfamiliar universe. They were testing it all out and taking it all in, always moving in a little cluster of tempered exuberance. Yes, eat the ticks my pretties. They were grabbing at everything, grass, sticks, bugs, lichen, at one point they picked apart a mushroom of unknown variety.....If they are dead tomorrow, we'll know it wasn't a good one. I think they'll be fine though.
As an added bonus, they are supposed to be great at picking all the pests off of our crops, without doing the damage that chickens would. The down side is that they have a god-awful call and are very loud, with a tendency to cackle at every passing car, or new stimuli that they encounter. Nothing comes without a price.
That's my update. See you at the market,
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