Last winter we had a company come and clear two areas on the farm that were overgrown in invasive trees and brambles. One was a half-acre or so area that had been my grandparents garden/orchard many years ago. Years of neglect due to illness, allowed the area to become overgrown and begin to re-forest itself. Pine trees, brambles and poison ivy grew so thick we could barely walk into the former field. And despite searching for the fruit trees, we only turned up one very sick apple tree. So we had the area cleared of all the trees, mulched down to the ground. I planted it this spring with grasses and legumes and have been mowing to reduce the tree regrowth. I’d love to see it become a fruitful area once again, as I remember it from my childhood.
With the pine growth, we know that the soil is fairly acidic, and soil tests have confirmed as much, which means either heavy amending with lime or planting something more suitable for its pH. Enter blueberries! These acidic soil loving shrubs would thrive. In fact, our forest floor is already covered in low bush, wild blueberries.
But we need some help to make a blueberry orchard happen. So, we’re planning an old-fashioned barn raising. Or, in this case, an orchard raising!
We need two things, okay 3. First, hands and strong backs to help us plant the orchard. We’ll be putting in around 600 plants! Second, funds to purchase the blueberry plants and install deer fencing. And third, folks to help us celebrate.
The orchard raising will be October 20th from 2:00 till dark. We’ll plant as many as we can and work on putting up the fence. Just bring yourself and gloves. We’ll have plenty of tools on hand. And then, stay and help us celebrate. We’ll have a potluck dinner and probably throw some pork on the grill. Plus a fire to celebrate and relax around into the evening. Come to help work, come just to eat, or come for both. Check out our Facebook event page here.
And whether you can make it that day or not, consider helping us with the cost of establishing the orchard by buying a Blueberry Share. Details are here: blueberry share agreement, but here’s the gist. At the local markets around here you can buy pints of blueberries for $4-5. We are offering blueberry shares for $3 each. Shares can be exchanged once the orchard begins producing and each $3 share will earn you one pint of blueberries, plus exclusive early access to blueberries before we sell to the general public. You can purchase as many shares as you like. Obviously, this is a long-term investment in our farm as the plants will take at least a couple of years before they begin producing in any significant quantity and we may limit the number of shares that can be redeemed in the first year.
Our hope is to have a pick your own orchard in the years to come, where folks can come and gather for an afternoon in the summer to pick some berries, enjoy a walk through the woods, perhaps have a picnic with the family, and just enjoy the beauty and bounty of our farm. You can help us bring that dream to reality.
We are excited to begin offering pork shares for our customers who want to stock their freezers with lots of tasty pork. Shares are an opportunity to get our pork at a reduced rate compared to buying retail from us at market. Plus, you get to choose how your half or whole pig is cut and processed into a variety of roasts, chops or sausages. The options are quite varied and we’ll help you fill out your cut sheet to get the most out of your share.
Shares come as either whole or half shares. You pay $3.50/lb on the hanging weight plus the cost of butcher. Butcher costs start at $0.80/lb and go up from there depending on the sausage and curing options you choose. Exact weight won’t be known until we take them to the butcher, but for reference our last two pigs came to a hanging weight of around 165 lbs each.
We are hoping to have two pigs available for shares around the end of April. $100 deposit is required to reserve your share, with the remainder due when we deliver your pork (generally 2-3 weeks after butcher date). If you are interested in getting a share, please email us through our contact page.
Our freezers are stocked up with a variety of pork cuts and sausage. Our pigs are raised in our hardwood and pine forests, foraging on the forest floor. They also work as scrub land clearers, helping us to remove invasive species and prepare new ground for production. In addition to their forage they receive scraps/waste from the garden and a non-GMO feed to balance their diet. Their meat is sweet and tender.
To buy some of our pork, find us at the Scottsville Farmers Market on Saturdays beginning April 7th. Starting in May you can find us every Wednesday in Meade Park for the Farmers in the Park Market from 3-7. Or, email us at email@example.com to arrange a time to come to the farm to pick up your order. We may also be able to arrange delivery to Charlottesville or Richmond.
Pork Price List
Picnic Roast $6.00
Boston Butt $6.50
Plain Ground Pork $7.00
Sage Sausage, bulk $8.00
Sweet Italian $8.00
Bratwurst (4 per pack) $8.50
Sweet Italian Links (4 per pack) $8.50
Jalapeno Cheddar Brats $8.50
Fresh Kielbasa $8.50
Maple Breakfast Sausage $8.50
Chops, bone-in (2 per pack) $9.00
Loin Roast $9.00
Bacon (nitrite/nitrate free) $12.00
Canadian Bacon $11.00
Back fat $4.00
Leaf Fat $4.00
Smoked Ham Hock (nitrite/nitrate free) $8.00
Forest Raised, Non-GMO feed
Raising kids and running a farm at the same time can feel a bit overwhelming at times. I often feel pulled in so many directions I forget to take the time to appreciate the beauty of both. But kids have a delightful way of bringing me back to the joy of it all.
Ella was 6 years old when we got our first pigs – a breeding pair of pot belly pigs. After the pigs had gotten over the shock of their relocation and begun to get comfortable with their new digs, they began to engage in certain, uh, boarish behavior. Ella and I walked by the pig pen to see the male mounted on the female. She was not in standing heat, so she kept trying to walk away from him while he waddled behind in an attempt to stay mounted. Ella laughed and said, “Look, mom, he’s riding her like a bicycle!”
The garden and the house are separated by a stand of pine trees. I can almost see the house through the trees while I’m in the garden and I can hear voices calling, though I can’t always discern whether the voice is a child or a goat. We hung a dinner bell on the back porch so the kids can ring it to get my attention and call me back home. They were instructed to use it only in emergencies. In non-emergencies they are *supposed* to walk back to the garden to get me. One day while working in the garden, I looked up from my work to see the goats wandering down the lane. I dropped my tools, grabbed a handful of greens and went to round-up the goats. They happily followed my handful of greens back to their pen near the house. As I approached the house, I saw Ella standing in the yard. I asked her if she saw how the goats got out. She responded, “I let them out. I thought it would get you back faster than me walking back to the garden.” It was so clever I could hardly fuss at her for letting the goats out!
This past summer Ella asked to have a space in the garden for growing cut flowers. We planned out the space together, planted together and then I let her be in charge of harvesting and selling the flowers. Several Saturdays over the summer she harvested, bunched and brought flowers to market to sell. She sold out every week. It was so fun for me to share those market mornings with her and to watch her take pride in the work of selling her flowers.
Jake has pretty much only known life on the farm, we moved here when he was 6 months old. Before going off to school full-time this year, he was home “helping” me on the farm most days. The first year he rode on my back in hiking pack while I did farm chores. Sometimes he would fall asleep and I could hear him quietly snoring behind my head. I put hooks on various fence posts around the farm so I could quietly slip off the pack and hang him on the hook freeing me to do tasks that were too dangerous or difficult to do with him on my back. Most days though, he was awake through the animal chores singing and talking to me as I worked. One day, as I was scooping grain into buckets for the pigs he spoke from his place on my back, “I can feel God you know?” “Oh yes,” I answered, “How do you feel God?” “When I’m touching your shoulders.” Melt my heart…
As Jake got older and heavier, he had to start walking with me to do chores. Mostly he ran around doing his own thing, but occasionally he would help me carry a bucket or insist on helping me unload feed sacks from the truck. Often his delight in the work or the simple joys of the farm remind me to be joyful in the midst of the farms many demands. One day while walking down on our long driveway to meet Ella off the bus, he reminisced about a previous day waiting for the bus. “Remember that day we walked down the driveway, and threw rocks and waited for Ella? That was a good day.” A good day indeed.
Folks often ask me if I’m enjoying all my time off from farming in the winter. I try not to laugh too hard. While it’s true the pace is a little slower, my days are still full of farm work. Turns out the animals want to be fed all year, not just in spring and summer. Feeding chores always take much longer when the weather dips below freezing and I try to give them a bit more attention than I have time for during the rush of spring planting and the endless demands of the summer garden. Once the animals are tended, I have a list of building, repair and fencing projects that I have to put off till winter. And then there’s the planning. I spend most of December working on a comprehensive garden plan for the coming year.
This year, I have also been working on a holistic management plan, using the framework from Holistic Management International. As a part of that process I mapped out our property. I was able to get a rough outline using google maps and the distance measuring tools it supports. For the finer detail, though, I had to actually walk and pace out the landmarks. This was a fun process, getting to know our woods a little better. I did the bulk of the mapping on a nice fall day and then drew out my map on graph paper.
The next stage of the holistic plan is a rotational grazing plan. We are hoping to work our goats and cow into the rotation with our pigs. To do this we need to add a bunch of fencing in order to utilize some areas that will be more beneficial to the goats and cow. It also means carefully planning which species will graze where, for how long and in what succession. Lots of factors go into this planning and it needs to be flexible. Nailing down this plan is my task for the next couple weeks, hopefully done in enough time to allow me to construct the required fencing before tick season begins!
One pleasure of the off-season, is the dark evenings when the family all settles down early and I have some time for reading. Since I don’t have any background in agriculture, a few farming books are always on my reading list. Always learning and improving! On my list this year are The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips, The Family Cow by Dirk Van Loon and Holistic Management by Allan Savory. And then, I can’t ignore the spiritual aspects of agriculture so I’m also reading Food & Faith by Norman Wirzba, Soil and Sacrament by Fred Bahnson and Grounded by Diana Butler Bass.
All told, the pace of winter is certainly slower, and not nearly so punishing on my body, but I’m certainly still working. Every day I’m striving to improve the farm and to educate myself and get us all ready for a productive, sustainable year.
One of the beauties and challenges of farm life is that you never really know what each day will bring. Between escaping critters, rogue chickens in the garden, unexpected weather events or human crises of one sort or another, something is always threatening to derail my best laid plans for the day. Still, most days fall into a familiar rhythm. So let me walk you through a spring day on the farm.
After getting everyone else off to work and school, my farming day starts by feeding the critters. The goats have likely been crying since they saw the first light go on in the house, as if we torture and *never* feed them. So they get their food first. The loudest of all, tiny Butterfinger, gets her bottle while the other jostle over some grain and Lespedeza pellets. It’s a bit like fending off a horde of velociraptors when I step into their pen with the grain bucket. While they eat, I refill their hay rack. Soon I’ll start milking two of the does, which will make feeding time even more chaotic!
Once the goats are settled I head to the pigs. The goats pale in comparison to the ravenous pigs. I dare not even step in their pen when I feed them, opting instead to dump the feed over the fence line while they fight over prime feeding position. Even a small pig is strong enough to knock me over. One time I tripped stepping into the pen and the bucket of grain spilled on me. I saw the hungry hogs running at me… I have never jumped up so fast in my life! Anyway, they’re sweet outside feeding time, but the expression “you eat like a pig” is an insult for good reason.
With the big animals settled I check on our rabbit and let the chickens out of the coop. The dogs and cats are usually last on my list to feed, being the most patient by far.
With the critters settled, it is time to check on the garden. I open up the greenhouse and water all the seedlings waiting for their turn to go into the garden. Then I open up the high tunnel. I usually take a walk past all the beds and stare at the bare ground or tiny seedlings beginning to emerge, as if my staring will bid them grow faster. Does what they say about a watched pot apply to seeds? Actually, checking my beds everyday is part of how I manage disease and pests. The close monitoring allows me to notice quickly the first signs of pest or disease pressure, so that I can address it before it becomes a problem. It only takes a day or two for something like flea beetles or squash bugs to go from minor issue to major infestation. I also take my trusty warren hoe and cultivate between the rows as I go. As with pests, it is much easier to knock back a just emerged weed with the hoe than to hand weed a bed that has gotten out of control with weeds.
With my daily rounds finished, I move toward planting and field prep. I spend most of the winter planning and preparing a spreadsheet that lays out my garden schedule for the year. This “Crop Master” is a massive spreadsheet (developed by Josh Volk of Slow Hand Farm) that would probably make your eyes glaze over, but it allows me to generate a list of tasks and dates for each garden activity. I print these out at the beginning of the season and then just follow the plan. Obviously things don’t always get done on the planned date, but eliminating that step of having to figure out what to plant and when during the rush of the spring season frees up valuable head space and decision-making capability.
At some point I break for lunch and then work on other projects around the farm in the afternoon. Right now this includes putting up fencing in the woods, improving our wash station, creating swales on the slopes of the garden, and prepping an orchard space. Obviously not all on the same day!
I knock off every day at 3 so I can meet the bus and then pick up Jake from daycare. A few farm chores happen in the evenings – another bottle for the little goat, closing up the chickens after dark, closing up the greenhouse and hoophouse, checking on water for all the critters. The kids might help me in the garden on a nice evening. But mostly the evenings are for the kids.
That’s it. Most of the magic here happens between 9-3 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays while kids are at school. Jake and I do a few little things on Tuesdays and Thursday, his “Mommy Days,” but mostly we play, run errands and try to tame the house (which definitely gets neglected). Bones helps with big projects on the weekends. It’s a lot, and I run pretty hard during those 18 hours of solo working time. But when I collapse, exhausted at the end of the day, it is with a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
If you’ve read our Meet Your Farmers page, then you know that I went to seminary some years ago and have served in a number of ministries before coming to the farm. When we moved here I thought I was finished with that part of my life. Well, you know what they say about God and plans…
After lots of conversations with friends and neighbors who hadn’t found a church in our community where they felt like they really belonged, I began to feel called to help create a faith community here where everyone, everyone, everyone is welcome at the table. With the help of my church, Sojourners United Church of Christ in Charlottesville, and a couple good friends, I’ve been working toward sowing the seeds of a new church for this community. We are gathering once a month around a shared meal and worship. As the United Church of Christ (UCC) says, no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome. There is room at the table for everyone.
As a part of moving into this new ministry, I was ordained in the UCC this past Sunday. It was a beautiful service and affirmation of all that has led me to this moment. I feel overwhelmed with the love and support of this community, of my church Sojourners, and all the friends and family who came to share in the celebration with me or who celebrated with me from afar.
I have no intention of giving up this farming thing as I also move into a more active role in ministry. The two are not really separate to me. Being a farmer feeds my body and soul, keeps me grounded, and connects me deeply to this community as I also feed you. The work of farming is my daily prayer for the seeds I sow, for the earth that I work to regenerate, for the critters that I love and tend, for the folks who will eat the vegetables and meat I produce, and for those who visit the farm to snuggle goats or take a meditative walk through our woods.
I don’t know yet what it will look like as I work to bring these two realms of farming and faith together. I am attending a week-long fellowship this summer centered around the intersection of faith, food and farming. I’m excited to gather with others who share these loves of mine – to dream and vision together. In the meantime, I will, as always, be bringing great food to you grown with love and pray. And, if you are so inclined, you could join us for a meal and worship on the first Sunday of the month at 6 PM at the Fluvanna Community Center.
I love tomatoes. They’re what got me into farming. I love the smell of the new starts when they just begin to leaf out in the greenhouse. I love watching the flowers turn to fruits and then swell with growth till that first flush of color announces their impending ripeness. And that first tomato is heaven – usually on some lightly toasted bread slathered with mayo. I gorge on tomatoes all summer, till I can hardly stand to eat another one.
But tomatoes, although certainly the star, are not the only delicious vegetable in the garden. Each has its place. Some more familiar than others. So let me tell you about some of the unusual ones that I love.
Mexican Sour Gherkins (aka Mouse Melons, Cucuameloms, pepquinos)
These tiny cucumbers are full of flavor – like a slightly lemony cucumber. Generally eaten whole and raw they make a great salad topper; can be a salad on their own tossed with some red onion, feta and a light vinaigrette; and make excellent pickles.
We brought them to market in July and August last year and they were a big hit drawing lots of curiosity and conversation. My kids like to go down the row, picking and eating as they go. And I must admit to eating more than a few when harvesting myself.
Sunflower Shoots and Pea Shoots
When I looked at our sales numbers at the end of last year, I was kind of surprised to see that the third best seller was Sunflower Shoots. I shouldn’t have been surprised because I get asked about them all the time at market. These are the sprouted seeds of sunflowers grown until just before their true leaves appear. They have a mild, nutty flavor that is excellent on salads and sandwiches. We mostly do sunflower shoots in the shoulder seasons when not much is growing outside since these can be grown inside and take just over a week to produce.
We’ve also been experimenting with other microgreens this winter and have found a new love in Pea Shoots. The shoots taste just like peas. I’m eating them on every sandwich and salad these days. They are also great as a garnish on stir fry and soup. I’m serving them tonight as a part of a Pho dish. You can often find me snacking on them while I sit at the market booth.
I’m not a big fan of hot peppers. Aji Dulce is the one exception. This delightful pepper looks menacing, like a twin of the dangerous habanero, but has a floral, citrusy flavor with just a hint (sometimes slightly more than a hint) of spice. Even my delicate tongue can handle the spice here. Excellent in stir fry and salsa or even blistered and eaten whole. I use these for anything that calls for a hot pepper.
Sweet Potato Greens
Folks are always intrigued when I bring these to market in August and September. Sweet potatoes produce a prolific, vining green above ground that quickly takes over the beds and pathways where it is planted. Everyone knows the sweet potato itself, but not many folks realize that its green are edible. I worked for a time on a network of farms for refugees and they taught me about eating these greens. In fact, in many of their cultures, they grow sweet potatoes exclusively for the greens and don’t bother with the sweet potatoes. The greens are mild and a bit like spinach. Not at all bitter or spicy, they make a great green for folks who don’t care for other greens. And best of all, they fill the gap in the heat of summer when other greens and lettuces just don’t thrive. They can be eaten raw as a salad, though I prefer them cooked. Try in a Thai peanut sauce or a coconut curry.
This is another one I learned from the refugees, specifically a Burmese farmer. Roselle is in the hibiscus family and its calyces (flower buds) are used to make Hibiscus Tea or infusions. But my Burmese farmer friend never grew them out to flowering stage. Instead, he harvested the leaves. The deeply veined leaves have a surprising bright, lemon flavor. The Burmese use it to flavor soup and rice dishes and it is one of the staples of their diet. I adore this green. I’ve used it in soups, rice, stir fry, and salads. I love to have people taste it at market and see the look of pleasant surprise in their eyes when they are greeted with a burst of citrus instead of the spicy or bitter flavor they expect. I have not had success with it in Virginia yet, but I am still trying and can’t wait to bring it to market when success comes.
Be sure to try one of these veggies out this year and add a little variety to your plate! I’m always happy to chat recipes with you to help you make the best use of your produce.
Farmer’s Market season starts this weekend and, despite the forecasted snow, we are excited to get to market and see all our friends and customers again. This year we are alternating Saturdays between the Scottsville Farmer’s Market and the City Market in Charlottesville. Our full schedule for the season is listed below, but we’ll also post a reminder each week on Facebook about where you can find us. And we’ll continue to be at Farmer’s in the Park on Wednesdays in Meade Park.
Kidding season is here and we’ve been blessed with all does! Twins from one doe and triplets from the other. We have one more doe who *might* be pregnant, but not due for another month or so. Unfortunately, one of the kids was killed by a dog, leaving us with four. Farming is heart wrenching somedays! Still we are loving on the remaining kids and enjoying their silly antics. We plan to keep two and offer two up for sale. They have all been disbudded and all are registerable with the Miniature Dairy Goat Association as Mini-LaManchas.
The two doelings available will stay with their mom until mid-May. Please email us through the contact page if you are interested in purchasing either of these two cuties. Both of the mothers are first fresheners. There udders are looking good, but I haven’t started milking them yet, so I can’t speak to their production. However, they come from good milking lines.
Licorice is one of the triplets. She is available for purchase – $250. She has elf ears, which conforms to breed standard for mini lamacha does.
Truffle is another one of the triplets and is available for $200. Her upright ears do not conform to breed standards and she should be registered as experimental. We still think she’s adorable though!
Butterfinger is the third triplet. She is about half the size of her sisters. We will be keeping her because my kids have fallen in love with her. Her mother rejected her, so she has been on the bottle and spends and lot of time hagning out with us. She is super friendly and so stinking cute, there’s no way we could let her go!
Finally, Snickers is the surviving twin. She comes from my favorite doe and is the spitting image of her mother. We’re hoping she will grow up to be a fine doe for us and will breed her next year.
From the beginning we have been committed to growing as naturally as possible with limited inputs and a focus on sustainable methods. Folks at the market ask all the time if we are certified organic and the answer is always a mouthful because using the word “organic” is controlled by the USDA. In the short interactions I have with customers at the market it is hard to convey that yes, we use organic methods even though we are not certified.
So why not pursue organic certification? We have definitely thought about it. On a practical level, the cost of certification and the paperwork/inspection process are stumbling blocks for a farm as small and lean as ours. Though small farms certainly do pursue organic certification, in general it seems more geared toward larger farms. And on our scale, where we can know most of our customers and they can know us and our practices, the expense and hassle just don’t seem necessary or worthwhile.
Still, we wanted to be able to provide some sort of verification to our customers that we are indeed following the practices we claim. Enter Certified Naturally Grown or CNG. CNG is a grass-roots certification program geared for small farmers like us. Annual dues are a suggested donation of $200, though farmers can pay less if needed. The paperwork is more streamlined and less of a burden on our lean operation.
But here’s the part we love best – inspections are conducted by other CNG farmers in your area. This gives the opportunity to connect with other growers, to learn from one another and to create supportive networks in the community. All CNG farmers are required to inspect one other farm each year and you are not allowed to inspect the farm that inspected you. Our inspection last year was such a valuable experience because the inspector/fellow farmer walked our fields with us talking about our operation. He gave lots of helpful tips on things we could improve or tweak and I think he learned a bit from some of the things we were doing. Similarly, I had a great time doing my inspection of a neighbor farm and learned som much from seeing his set up. Rather than high pressure, make or break inspections by outside auditors, CNG views the inspection process as equal parts learning opportunity, community building and inspection/verification of your practices.
Another awesome part of the CNG program is the transparency they encourage. Anyone can log on to their website and see the profile and inspection forms of any certified farm. In fact, here’s a link to our profile. Feel free to check it out if you have any questions about our growing practices.
We are proud to be Certified Naturally Grown. CNG is in the midst of a membership drive, so if you’re a fellow farmer, check them out and consider becoming certified yourself. And if you’re a customer, look for and support the CNG farmers at your local market, including us!