So, I’m thinking of buying a car. This will be the first vehicle I’ve ever owned and part of me is sad that I won’t be forced to walk everywhere anymore. It may have made my life a little more difficult at times, but there was something grounding (literally and figuratively) about not being able to just jump in the car whenever I felt like it. The pace of my day moved a little slower. I had to think ahead and build in 15 or 20 minute to everything I did to account for time spent walking to and from each event. Most of all, I love walking to work. The house that I rent now is only ten minutes from the farm on foot. I like the walk to work in morning when I can think about the day ahead and enjoy the beauty of the waking world around me. I like the walk home in the evening, too, when I can let my body stretch after a long day and maybe dunk in the stream by my house to cool off from a hot afternoon.

I saw a statistic the other day that only two percent of Americans walk to work. Two percent! I don’t know how accurate that is, but I’m proud to have been a part of that small number, even if I knew it wouldn’t last forever.

I still probably walk several miles at work every day. I guess I just like how connected my day feels when it isn’t broken into separate categories by a commute or a significant distance. I’m moving to a new house in November. My roommate is getting married and I won’t be able to afford the rent by myself. I’ll no longer be able to walk everywhere I need to go. That prospect has made me realize that I’m so blessed to live in a place where my community, my work, and my family are so closely intertwined. I can just as easily walk to my parent’s house as I can to my best friend’s, or my job. Walking allows me to know very intimately what those distances are and what lies in between. It makes me pay attention to things that I normally wouldn’t; the ripening of berries in the summer, the daily change of color in the leaves of an old sycamore, the way the clouds move across the sky at night. It makes me aware of my own limitations and also of my own capabilities. I can make it to certain places but only within a relatively small radius of home. I can get rides of course, but that only makes me more aware of my dependence on my friends and community.

I hope that this new drive (only about 8 minutes by car) doesn’t make me less attuned to my sense of place or community. I know it may sound silly, but I think a thing as simple as that will have an effect on the way I perceive my home and my place on the farm. I guess it is a step away from the farm. I’m still not sure what it is toward, but I hope that whatever it is, I will be able to hold on to the lessons I have learned here from a life that moves at the speed of my own two feet.

best,

Sweetbread

My little house. I’m moving out at the end of October and I’m sad to say goodbye.

As an aspiring farmer, educator, and writer, I thought it might be a nice component of this blog to include a vocabulary section. This is as much for my own edification as for anyone else’s. There are just so many interesting words involved with farming that most people will never have the pleasure of learning. I love the feel of some words, the taste as they leap from the tongue. Some match their subject, while others are confusing in their possession of some characteristic completely opposed to the thing they describe. Every vocation and hobby has its own jargon; a vocabulary that is specific to the needs and desires of those individuals who deal with a certain set of problems and tools on a regular basis. Farming may encompass several sets of terminology because farmers deal with such a wide range of daily tasks nevertheless, there are certain words that I’ve come across during my work here at Hickory Nut Gap that are just too good to keep hidden within the farming community.

Here are my words for today: Caruncle, Wattle, and Snood. These words sound like they came from a Dr. Suess book but they are real terms for the anatomical aspects of turkeys! The snood is the protuberance that hangs from over the male turkey’s beak. This fleshy finger is supposed to have a function in attracting females. The wattle, or dewlap, is the red flap that hangs under the beak. It also is an ornament which the toms (male turkeys) use to attract the hens. Caruncle simply refers to all the fleshy bits that hang from a turkey’s head and neck, including the snood and wattle.

Turkeys that are competing for a mate will often defer to the Tom with the longest snood.

I find these words perfectly suited to the curiously endearing birds that we raise once a year. The turkeys are vastly superior to their fowl (foul) counterparts, the chickens. They are intelligent, they are great foragers and every time we move their pen they rush into the new grass to delve for bugs, berries and seeds. They make strange clicking and barking noises that morph into full blown gobbling as they mature (actually only the males gobble). Every time we drive up with feed, they rush to the fence barking excitedly, and mill around as we empty the feed into troughs. They are not so interested in the grain as they are in us and the noise we make driving up. Walker, Zach, and I have contemplated the idea that maybe the reaction is a form of protection. If any predator approached the pen only to find 380 barking turkeys advancing on them, it might just make them forget their hunger. In fact, one day a few weeks ago, someone forgot to turn on the electric fence that encompasses our turkey house. When one of the fall interns, showed up with the feed, the turkeys were so excited that they rushed her and, finding no significant deterrent, knocked down the fence and chased the poor girl back down the hill! They’re not even fully mature birds yet.

Young turkeys attacking the comfrey that grows in the orchard.

Here’s to wattles and snoods,

Sweetbread

 

I love stories. There is nothing so pleasurable as hearing a great story told well. Growing up on the farm, I heard lots of tales about old characters and personalities who worked here over the years. My dad has an incredible knack for remembering the names and details from events that happened around the farm. Not only the things he lived through, but also the ones he heard his parents talk about from before his time. I love listening to him recount those tales in his precise, nostalgic manner. In a sense, stories are how we understand a thing, how we relate to it. They can be our most rudimentary method of communication or our most nuanced. To me, good stories beg to be told. They whisper in breathily in my ear until I can bring them out into the light. I’ve come across some great stories in my search for information about the history of the farm. They are most just fun little tales about living and working on a farm in Appalachia. I thought it might be fun to share some of them. I hope you enjoy!

Elizabeth McClure taking a ride with Aunt Freddie and Aunt Bessie in the Hudson while John Shorter takes the wheel.

When Jim and Elizabeth (my great grandparents) first came to Fairview, they made the drive from Asheville in their new Hudson Automobile. Unfortunately the flooding that had wracked Fairview in the spring also left the little country road impassible for some time. The newlyweds soon learned the dangers of traveling through the country in a city rig, when their shiny new Hudson got mired in heavy mud. John Shorter, an employee at Hickory Nut, and a fellow who would prove to be one of the most devoted and reliable workers for the McClures, had to come with his team of oxen to haul the young pair up the mountain. Upon learning that Mr. McClure was a minister, John Shorter informed him that the names of his animals were ‘Red’ and ‘Brown’, but only because he thought that a stoutly religious man might be offended at their real names: ‘Hell’ and ‘Fire’.

Jamie McClure, Jim and Elizabeth’s first child, was fascinated by many of the farm animals and took great interest in the tasks of the farmers. Once, when he was playing with the sheep, one of the rams butted him so hard it knocked him off his feet. While he was trying to ‘soothe’ that one with his miniature watering can, another ram came up from behind and butted him over again. He pretty quickly learned to keep a wary eye out while walking through the sheep herd and always carried some sort of protection.

Apple picking with the boys. Young Jamie McClure is the second from the left.

Jamie also became very interested in the mystery of chicken eggs. Unlike most children, he didn’t simply ask where an egg comes from, instead he decided to experiment. He ventured down to the chicken house and, finding and unusually docile rooster, he imagined he had tamed it. He snuck the bird into the house and hid it in his closet for several nights. One morning the animal started crowing at six a.m. and woke up the entire household. Jamie had tried to get his rooster to lay and egg for breakfast by prodding it with a stick. He was confused when it failed to produce anything but the loud squawking noises. Afterwards, demoralized by his failure to see scientific results, he bowed to necessity and asked his father, “why don’t roosters have egging powers?”

The past few weeks I’ve been working to put together some information, pictures, and old farm implements to create a history timeline wall in our education barn. It’s a neat project and one that I love working on because all the research ties so closely with my family and what I am doing on the farm. My great grandfather, James McClure, and his wife, Elizabeth, moved to Hickory Nut Gap in 1917, so it’s been nearly 100 years that my family has been farming this land! It’s so neat to go back and read through my great grandmother’s letters (a number of which were compiled by my grandmother, Elspeth Clarke) and think about how her life and mine coincide. The legacy that she passed on is still alive today in so many ways. The same is true of my grandparents, and all the workers who have contributed to the farm throughout the years. The farm hasn’t always been a prosperous or idyllic. Through the years there have been ups and downs and everything in between, but I’m amazed at the resilience and dedication that is so evident in the letters and pictures that remain.

Sometimes farming seems an overwhelming task. There is just so much to do, so much to think about and change. At times I grow exhausted in contemplation of the work ahead. This is especially true when the task in question is especially daunting, like raising apples. I love working with the fruit and the orchard is a fascinating and complex world, but it isn’t always an encouraging one. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent counting degree days, studying up on different apple diseases and pests, mixing organic concoctions and spraying them on the trees, pruning, thinning, examining, and praying for the apples, but our crop still isn’t going to be great. It’s not something I should have had terribly high hopes for. This is only my first year of orcharding, but when you put that much time and effort into something, it’s difficult not to hope. What the history project is helping me to see is that, no matter how depressing it may be to see your work fail, life goes on. That may sound a bit cynical, but really it makes me feel hopeful. We may not be the best organic apple growers in the world, but we will continue to do our best and, luckily, we still have family that love us, we have friends who support us, and we can only move forward as long as we keep our heads up and learn from our mistakes.

This has been a hectic week on the farm but, thanks to all the rain, I may get to do a little work in the office. Steve, the wholesale manager, is on vacation in Vermont with his family. While they’re paddling around in the cool northern lakes, I got stuck filling in for him, taking orders and trying to keep the books straight.  When he got hurt earlier in the year, I think I was even more overwhelmed, but now I’ve got a little more of a handle on things thanks to that previous experience. I’ve certainly made a few mistakes already, but nothing grievous as yet.

Meanwhile, our animals are all swimming in mud soup. The poor chickens looked comically pitiful this morning as we moved their house, subdued and huddled together under the tarp. The  pigs, after only a week in their new paddock, have made such a mud hole that we’re afraid we might not be able to get the tractor in to bring them their feed. I slopped to the feeder this morning and cleaned great gobs of mud out of the trough. Unlike the chickens though, the pigs were absolutely content with the weather and the lake of sludge that their home has become.

On another note, Our new interns started work this week! Hallie and Tina are great, at least, that’s my impression from the little time I spent with them this morning. They stayed very positive, even while trudging through pig mud in their sneakers (Tina found some muck boots in the shop soon after).  Their first day of work, Tuesday, was CSA pickup day at the farmstore, but they immediately rose to the challenge, learning the register, retail prices, and quirks of the job while dealing with and unusually high number of customers. It was a blessing for everyone to have them around during such a busy week, I just hope we didn’t scare them away already by expecting them to step right into the mix without any time to get adjusted.  That’s what it’s all about, though. Jumping in, hanging on, and trying to learn a thing or two along the way.

Food is personal. That is true for everyone and it remains true despite all the cultural differences of history, geography, language, etc…

Jamie, Walker, Zach and I went out to Hendersonville a few weeks ago for a discussion about blackberries. We learned about a lot of things we’ve been doing wrong. That always seems to be the case. The more you know about a subject, the more you recognize you don’t know.

Our over-producing blackberry canes

 

Farming is a constantly humbling profession. One that is so complex it is often difficult to understand the outcome of any particular action until several years later. On the way back to the farm, we talked about the frustrations of growing small fruits and apples, things that seem susceptible to such a multitude of pests, diseases, and fungal problems. In the blackberries, for instance, we thought that we were on top of our game because we’d pruned them well early in the winter and bedded them in the spring with hay to prevent weeds. Of course, we soon discovered that blackberries don’t really like thick bedding like ours, nor did we prune them sufficiently for the varietal type, a mistake that cost us half of the crop this year. At times, the pitfalls just seem too numerous to handle. It is as if any positive action is negated by unknown factors before it has the chance to provide any benefits. BUT, I think that one of the most rewarding parts of working on the farm is wrapped up right there in that very frustration. Despite all the dangers; despite the beetles and flies, despite the fungi, despite the rots, specks, blotches, and blights, growing good, healthy, organic fruit can be done. It can. We are doing it. And when it comes out right, when you pluck that apple from the tree and sink your teeth into the firm, juicy flesh, or pop those warm blueberries into your mouth, you know that it was worth it.

Food is personal. Everyone’s relationship with what they eat is different, but there are strong feelings involved whether a person eats primarily KFC, or Hickory Nut Gap chicken. Farming or gardening is, in this modern age, a way for us to understand our own relationship with food more completely. I enjoy knowing how my food is grown. Not just knowing the process, but intimately knowing and taking part in that process.

We have started selling North Carolina grassfed cows milk for the first time since Hickory Nut Gap Farm was a dairy! We aren’t the ones producing this milk, though. Wholesome Country Creamery is a new dairy outside of Hamptonville, NC. Their cows are 100% grassfed and humanely treated. We now sell both half gallons (available for $6.00) and 12oz bottles ($2.50) of the non-homogenized whole milk in our farmstore in Fairview.

Drinking the cream from milk is a treat that not many people get to enjoy anymore. Non-homogenized milk is pasteurized but it has not been through the pressurization process which evenly distributes the fat from the cream throughout the nonfat milk. This means that the cream will rise to the top of the whole milk and must be either shaken to disperse it, or enjoyed skimmed from the top of the bottle! Our farmstore is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm. Besides fresh whole milk, we sell a variety of other local products including: Roots hummus, 5th Sun Chips and Salsa, Haw Creek Honey, Buchi Kombucha, Roots and Branches crackers, and much more. Our grassfed beef, pastured pork, poultry, and eggs are also available for purchase at the farmstore.

A farm in the spring is a busy place. I haven’t had much time in the past few months to write much of anything because the whole crew has been scrambling to keep up with all the projects that seem to be piling up in front of our eyes. We also had a major setback when Farmer Jake, our illustrious intern, broke his wrist while playing basketball a few weeks ago. He has been relegated to working in the office and the farmstore, his left arm firmly wrapped in a bright pink hard cast. His absence from the more physically demanding chores has left Walker and Jamie and me with a lot more on our plates than we had anticipated what with apple spraying, taking care of the U-pick berries, maintaining a mowing schedule, feeding and moving the animals, fixing fences, harvesting asparagus and mushrooms, attending farmers markets…

The problem is that there is no end to the chores you haven’t done on the farm, so making time to write can be difficult. There’s always something else that seems more pressing or has more time sensitive consequences than posting on the blog. Considering all that, I’m going to take satisfaction in the small number of posts I have made and, once again, resolve to be more diligent in the future.

What else can I tell you about the past few weeks? We…well, I… did have a near catastrophe with the apple sprayer that scared the wits out of me and very nearly caused a major setback in our attempt at holistic orcharding.

I had been spraying the trees with Kaolin Clay all morning and the tractor and sprayer looked like they’d gotten coated with powdered sugar. The clay is meant to deter the curculio beetle, a pest that lays eggs in the developing fruitlets and can destroy and apple crop without proper attention and management. The clay is ground microfine and when it is applied liberally to the apple trees, flakes off on the beetles and inhibits them from completing their reproductive activity.

When I had finished spraying and cleaned out the spray tank, I headed back up the mountain to park the 300 gallon sprayer in the shed. What I didn’t realize was that I hadn’t completely secured the sprayer hitch to the ball on the back of the tractor. While there was spray in the tank, the weight kept the whole thing from bouncing off but now that it was empty, the contraption balanced precariously on its one set of wheels and was only resting lightly on the tractor ball. As I pulled onto sugar hollow I noticed that a black Lexus was coming around the curve behind me but I didn’t give it a second thought. A slight bump in the road made the tractor seat bounce but then I heard a snap and saw the sprayer handle and connection lines tear from their mount on the tractor beside me. I spun in my seat only to see the oddly shaped machine careening back down the road and gaining speed as it went. The driver of the Lexus seemed oblivious for a moment that the vehicle in front of him was headed straight for the recently waxed hood of his sedan. Or maybe he was just inclined to play a one sided game of chicken. I waved wildly at him and tried to shout over the thrum of the tractor. Finally he  broke out of his momentary stupor and swerved into the other lane. He sped around the whole scene and, without so much as a “ Looks like you’ve got your work cut out for you”, ran the stop sign at the top of the hill as if he couldn’t wait to get the heck out of Fairview.

The sprayer didn’t make the curve in the road but instead went straight over the edge of the road, down a steep bank, through a barbed wire fence, and crashed into a rhododendron bush. I pulled the tractor off the road and ran down the barn, legs shaking slightly, to get help.

Walker, Jamie, and I were able to pull the sprayer back onto the road and found that, through some miracle, it hadn’t been damaged beyond reckoning. Only the handle, which extends from the spray tank to the tractor, and the odd little platform on the back of the sprayer had gotten mangled. Everything else was more or less untouched by the accident. I kicked myself thoroughly for not correctly securing the hitch, but I guess sometimes those kinds of mistakes are good. I will never, never pull out without checking and rechecking that connection again. Ever. I suppose it was just lucky that the Lexus driver didn’t play his game of chicken for one second longer, and that the rhododendron bush stopped the sprayer from crashing all the way down the hill, and that the odd little platform on the back that acted like a rear bumper. Oh yes, I’m counting my blessings on this one.

I love living in a place with such varied and diverse weather throughout the year. There is nothing so enlivening as a warm day in April to thaw all thoughts of darkness which have accumulated through February. Likewise, those cool autumn mornings are such a blessing after the torpid heat of summer. The steady cycle of seasons here in the mountains is simply unimpeachable.

I think that working on the farm has given me a heightened appreciation for the spring season in particular. Despite the fact that this winter was relatively mild and we even experienced some balmy days in December and January, I am ecstatic that the warm weather is finally here. Jake and I decided that it is probably because, more than any previous year of our lives, we spent this winter outdoors, enduring the cold and wet. I don’t mean to complain. I know that many people suffer much more severe weather; shorter days, longer winters, and colder temperatures. My hat is off to anyone who works outdoors in Vermont or Montana or Canada or Russia. For them, spring must be almost unfathomably precious when it waltzes in, turning the barren earth green again.

For us at Hickory Nut Gap, spring means daylight after work! It means watching the apples and blueberries and blackberries emit tiny green buds from silvery twigs and branches. It means checking the asparagus patch for the shoots that sprout so quickly from the mulched ground. It means raising chickens again (and trying for all we’re worth to dissuade the hawks and owls and raccoons from taking their fill). It means working in t-shirts and shedding our long johns, sweaters, wool socks, insulated gloves, toboggans, scarves… It means happy pigs, finally out of the barn and into a paddock where they can root and grub and explore. It means new baby goats! It means swarms of bumblebees in the wild cherries and dogwoods. It means basketball after work. It means so much vim and vigor returning to our work and to our lives.

Maybe Jake and I were wrong. Maybe it’s not that we were so cold all winter that makes us appreciate the spring so much now. Instead it could be that we are, like everything else on the farm, ready for spring because it is time for spring. We can all feel that winter has held sway long enough and now we can press on, we can grow and reach out and find new energy in the world that is coming awake.

That’s right, the weather is warming up and that means we’ll have fresh chicken soon. Starting April 24 you can come out to the farmstore or visit us at our farmers market venues and buy fresh, never frozen chicken. We raise our poultry out in the pasture so they have plenty of space to knock about in the dirt and enjoy the fresh green clover and the warm sunny days of spring.

Pastured chicken is consistently found to have higher levels of vitamins A,C, and E, as well as much higher amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids and beta-carotene. Not only that but it tastes great too! This year we’ve come up with a new pasture rotation system for our poultry so that we will have fresh chicken all summer long. We will also bring chicken to our Market locations starting this weekend, 4/6/13 at the Asheville City Market.