Saturday, July 31, 2010

Shutterbug: Cosmic Hitchhiker & Kali

Sunset on the farm, a beautiful ending to a long, hot July. This is one of Andy's small sculptures. Our alien greeter is one of the many things that makes Feed Me Farms unique. Andy is adept at taking old discardable junk and breathing new life into it. One day, we hope to open our place to other visionary artists and visionary art enthusiasts. I wish this Kali gate was going to stay on the farm (because the cows really seem to like it), but its a commissioned piece destined for an old Victorian home in town, (The Dentage) right on the main road, at least we will get to see it everyday!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Bird's Nest on the Ground

"A bird's nest on the ground" describes some thing or some situation that is rewarding to the owner in a very big way. Another similar phrase: "low hanging fruit." Meaning a task that is done easily.

I don't know about tasks done easily but here goes:

This is the first post in almost two months, but Feed Me Farms is back with a new look and an even bigger vision. All this after a very disappointing summer growing season.

It's very hard to admit failure, but I admit, we failed miserably this summer with our farm venture, but the best lessons learned are the ones that are built upon failure. So as we come to the end of this season (much sooner than we anticipated), we look ahead to fall, winter and 2011. 

What happened? We are not sure, but we know that this years crops were nothing like last year. Last year we grew beautiful heirloom tomatoes, greens, okra, peppers, melons,squash, tomatillos to name a few. This year we have been lucky to coax a few tomatoes and squash off our vines, and our okra although plentiful, is nothing like last years bounty. We believe it had to due with a number of factors : late winter, dry spring and summer, early heat wave, unbalanced soil...farmer error (our timing), the list goes on and on.

But, have we given up? No, in fact, we are more determined than ever to have a viable, sustainable and ethical food production operation. We want to grow clean, nutritious and incredible tasting food for ourselves and for others. We want to be good stewards to the land, the animals and the impact that we can make with it.

In our quest to take care of this bird's nest on the ground ,we now know that there will be many trials and tribulations along the way. We know too,  that this way of life is a grand experiment and that flexibility and resilience must be two virtues that farmers and land stewards must possess in order to survive. Our ancestors had to possess these amazing qualities, and we too, need to embrace these two little words.

There is a tremendous learning curve and we have found ourselves at the very bottom, and now know that there is much to learn and from many different sources. We have also learned that diversifying the risk means we must open our eyes to more options, but where to start?

Luckily, we live in the great state of Texas and we have discovered that there are others out there just like us (in our way of thinking) and are willing to open their gates and share their knowledge and expertise. I think farmers and ranchers are some of the most generous people to work with in the world, they seem to love to share their own bird's nests on the ground.

Even though Andy always has and always will be an artist, he was also born into a family of farmers and ranchers and their love of the land left him and his sister with this beautiful patch of Texas soil. I think somewhere in the back of Andy's creative mind, he always harbored an idea to bring this patch of soil back to life in ways that would honor his ancestors. I know this because, as I was cleaning out a book shelf one day, I found this old ,yellow, faded copy of East Texas Farm & Ranch News from March, 2006.

I almost threw it away but the cover grabbed my was a picture of an old cabin with raised vegetable beds surrounding it with the caption " Roots Farming, East Texas farmer growing plants the natural way. Inside it highlighted the work of Moon Swanson, who shares a similar background to Andy's (more of a music loving artistic soul than a traditional farmer), now I knew why he had kept this article for so long.

I decided to keep the article and knew that one day, maybe Andy's and Moon's paths would cross, and if not, maybe I could hasten the process. It took four years but that day finally came. I knew from the article that Moon's family owned one of the oldest operating old fashioned basket companies in the United States and it was less than 60 miles from here in Jacksonville. I also knew that Moon's farm was even closer, in a little township called Neches just outside of Palestine.

We decided to take a day trip with Andy's mom to purchase some vegetable harvesting baskets and some display baskets for our vegetable cart (at the time, we still had high hopes to be selling our bounty at a farmer's market this year). On a hunch, I asked the woman behind the counter if Moon was there. She replied no, I explained that I really wanted to meet him. A few minutes later, she came out of the back office with Moon's cell number.

I called it and left a message, a few minutes later I got a return call. I explained to Moon that we had just moved back to the family farm and ranch and really loved the old article that had highlighted his methods and the next thing you know, we were on the way to his place.

We passed through the gates of the Diamond B Ranch and knew that we were looking at our future. What a serene, picturesque setting, even more amazing, this garden of Eden was feeding many locavores in Jacksonville and Tyler at their weekly farmers markets. Moon, his father Martin and their families have done an outstanding job blending traditional methods with modern conveniences (drip irrigation systems, decorative but functional arbors and hoop houses, even a beautiful old fashioned chicken coop surrounded by a modern predator fence system). He assured us that this was a long and ongoing process and that he was lucky enough to have his father's guidance and some additional help.

It was wonderful experience sitting on the old seed cabin porch, munching on fresh white peaches picked right from the orchard and talking fresh vegetable feasts with Moon's lovely wife, and their toddler son, happily playing with a fresh tomato. Andy's mom was savoring the taste of her peach and marveling at the fact that it was grown without pesticides. We sat for a while and found that we shared many similarities and that they had done what we so want to do, feather our bird's nest on the ground

Thanks to the Swanson's, we have a renewed outlook and a vision. We do not have the additional help so we know now, that this will not be as easy as picking low fruit from a tree. We are going to have to stretch ourselves and learn to grow in more ways than one. But we need to consider how lucky we truly are to have this bird's nest on the ground!

* besides our empty farmers market trailer, all of these photographs were taken at the Texas Basket Company & The Diamond B Ranch*

happy hour @ FMF

happy hour @ FMF
party till the cows come home