Monday, December 12, 2011

2012 Harvest in Review

Having a difficult time finding words for this newsletter I picked up my copy of Mary Oliver’s American Primitive, and opened at random. Here I found…

Fall Song

Another year gone leaving everywhere

its riched spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumpling damply

in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island

of this summer, this Now, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering

in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries – roots and sealed seeds

and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time’s measure

Painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

Flares out at the last – boisterous, and like us longing

To stay – how everything lives shifting

From one bright vision to another, forever

In these momentary pastures.

There are no better words to describe the feeling about this time of year on a vegetable farm, when the cold and the rot and the dark finally overcome the once feverish life in the fields. It is fitting to think of the locus of this life and growth process moving underground, I can sense the movement as I grow more reflective in the shortening days…reflective and restless at once, unsettling as a warm December, I too am “flaring out at the last” as the roots and the greens hold my imagination still.

The Fall CSA has come to an end. I believe it was a success and not too overbearing as I was afraid it may be, on the heels of a particularly long and hot Summer. Owing to the abundant rain we’ve received since September, much of the irrigation work (‘drip-running’) I did late summer to prepare was largely unnecessary. It’s been in the farmer’s best interest to get out of the way and on the horn. We established good contacts this Fall to help move some of the overflow. Even so, much of those swelled-up roots, tender greens and fat broccoli shoots went straight into share boxes.

I believe investment in long-term health begins with seasonal vegetables. I also believe I would be amiss to not discuss vegetables and health when recapping this season. Inspired by the documentary “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” and Dr. Furman’s Eat to Live program (and having loads of vegetables needing consumption) my dad decided to combine a juicing regimen while adopting a vegetarian diet. He lost 30 pounds in just a couple months and has steadily dropped another 10 since. Without minimizing the enormous physical benefits of losing the weight (he’s on his way to kicking his blood pressure meds), his attitude and outlook have undergone a sea change, there’s a kick in his step and light in his eye that helps pick me up when he drops by the farm at the end of his day. For me it’s a wonderful thing to make a business of producing something actually healthy on so many levels.

And produce we did this year (with Mother Nature on our side). The harvest began in April and has been nearly nonstop since. April brought green onions, salad mix, radishes and spinach. The first asparagus shoots got us excited for Spring 2012 when we’ll finally taste in earnest the fruit of their active ‘subterranean’ life. May brought more salad greens, all sorts of lettuces, baby carrots and beets, Asian greens (Napa Cabbage and chois), broccoli, leeks (an excitingly successful overwintering experiment), sugar snap peas, kohlrabi, chard and the first new potatoes. June brought much more of May’s harvest with an emphasis on the roots (onions, beets, potatoes and carrots reaching maturity) in addition to cherry tomatoes, green beans, squashes, cucumbers and all sorts of herbs. Independence Day rolled around with our first Sweet Corn harvest just around the bend. While this first crop was small on the ears, there were three more crops to follow, seemingly each ‘louder’ than the previous. We were particular proud of our late August/early September harvest of bicolor Serendipity. More than a half acre of plump deliciousness. Many a lunch I had in those rows. Tomatoes really came on strong in July, and quite a vertible mix we handled this season. Next year we’ll hone in on the bigger, more reliable heirlooms and hybrids to minimize picking. I think we got a little overexcited last winter with our catalogs…the whole ’we should really try this one out…’ became a refrain that rang in my ears come August when the tomatoes seemed oh so small, Peppers started rolling in early-mid July, along with fennel, cabbage and garlic.

We planted a load of garlic cloves last fall…about 2300. The garlic harvest was accordingly abundant. Nevertheless, there is a reason it is typically grown in near desert conditions…humid weather during curing and storage can invite rot. While much of it has kept fairly well hanging in the barn, I found quite a number of damaged cloves cleaning it this fall in preparation for planting. Hopefully the stock will be viable for a successful (albeit intentionally smaller) harvest next year. I’ve found it more in everyone’s interest to grow more sweet and storage onions next year instead of loads of garlic. We have yet to master the art of storing onions past October…it will certainly be an objective for next season.

August brought peppers, eggplant (although disappointing numbers and size), melons (also somewhat below our standard), the aforementioned sweet corn, more tomatoes, blueberries and hard squashes. The blueberry bushes are reaching pretty decent size and should produce quite a bit next season. This August, we decided to make tree fruits part of our regular CSA shares. We sourced some magnificent fruit from Windy Hill Orchard in Southern VA. Their apples and peaches are superb and nearly all-natural (they would I believe meet organic standards in WA state). September brought a close to our Summer CSA with some superb arugula. Rounding out the late summer offerings were shallots, crowder peas, more green beans, sweet potatoes, okra, storage potatoes and onions.

Early October brought some much-needed down time following preparations for the fall CSA. A restful vacation to Asheville rejuvenated my weary bones and readied me for yet another harvesting bonanza. The Fall program brought kale, turnips, pac choi, peppers, lettuces, mesclun, green onion, chard, endive, mustard, beets, carrots, radishes, broccoli, cabbage and apples…which were supplemented by storage potatoes and sweet potatoes, garlic and hard squash. Fall is my favorite time to dine from the garden, and chard one of my favorite veggies (I know it sounds crazy) so I’ve been living high on the hog. With a couple months to lay low, recharge and envision next season’s farm, I feel full of anticipation and gratitude. Thank you and happy holidays.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Wake Forest Magazine Interview

K. Isaac Oliver (’06) is managing partner of Harmony Ridge Farms, an organic vegetable farm and co-op in Tobaccoville, N.C. His father, Kevin, is the other half of the farm.

“Harmony Ridge has been, I believe, a leap of faith for my father, entrusting me with not only the running of the farm and business (neither of which I had experience) but also with the rather dizzying task of growing about 35 varieties of vegetables and herbs, having only grown 10 or 12 of them in my previous home garden,” says Isaac. “I am still amazed at his enormous faith in me, and also by what we have accomplished thus far, through by what seems to be sheer determination and the belief that we could not fail.”

You were an English major at Wake Forest. How did you transition into running a successful farm and co-op?

Part of my amazement stems from my rather meandering career path. Since I have graduated from university, I have been a shoe salesman, construction worker, courier, part-time librarian, plant vendor and greenhouse technician. Anything to pay the bills in-between hiking and exploring nature. As is clear, I spent about zero time in the career center at Wake Forest. I owe my current success and the success of Harmony Ridge Farms to my father’s recognition of my potential.

Tell us about Harmony Ridge Farms.

Harmony Ridge Farms is an organic (though non-certified) vegetable and herb farm, now with 22 acres. Thus far we have supported a farm CSA (community supported agriculture) with added weekly restaurant sales having only cultivated less than two and a half acres. Our productivity in such a small space has been, in large part, the result of investing in and enriching our soil. The topography is variable, being hilly, with woods and two creeks. The soil types are variable as well and the topography allows for microclimates to exist, two factors that support diversity of plant life.

I returned here after having spent some time roaming the great north woods of Washington State. When I wasn’t working at one of my odd jobs, I was observing nature, much of it within pristine, untamed wilderness. Watching and listening for so many hours I believe enhanced my connection to nature’s processes.

Once my wife and I moved back to Winston-Salem, my father and I got more serious about starting an organic farm. We began looking for the right property and almost instantly, a horse farm in Tobaccoville went on the market. Still unsure it was the right place, on our third visit we witnessed a wild turkey poult hatch, accepted this as a sign, bought the place, and went to work.

All crops we grow are raised organically and include spinach, arugula, mesclun, carrots, leeks, lettuce, pac choi, Chinese cabbage, radishes, snap peas, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, Swiss chard, beets, cucumbers, summer squash, potatoes, cherry tomatoes, heirloom and hybrid tomatoes, onions, shallots, garlic, fennel, green beans, sweet corn, peppers, okra, cowpeas, eggplant, winter squash, cantaloupe, watermelon, sweet potatoes, collards, other greens and assorted herbs, harvested in roughly that order (with much overlapping) starting in April and running until December.

How does the co-op work?

The farm co-op concept is simple. A family or individual purchases a share of the farm in early spring. In exchange they receive fresh harvested vegetables on a weekly basis for the remainder of the harvest season. Our main season runs 20 weeks from around mid May until mid September. The vegetables are variable and reflect the progression of the seasons. There are many variations but this is the basic idea.

Obviously sustainability is important on your farm. How do you manage it?

Sustainability is as vital as the soil to an organic farmer. A vegetable farm is only as sustainable as its soil. A good grower aims to feed not the plant, but the soil. Every time some quantity of nutrient or mineral is removed through plant metabolism it must be replenished. The two most effective ways to accomplish this are to add compost or grow cover crops (or both). Compost can be of animal origin (as long as it is broken down) or of mixed plant origin (vegetable scraps, grass clippings, straw, etc.) We use both, and cover crop wherever we have fallow ground, planting legumes or some kind of grass/legume blend (such as rye and vetch in the winter).

Another way we manage the soil is to rotate crops. No one crop in the same family (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers are in the same family, for example) should be grown in the same plot twice for a four year period to reduce the risk of spreading plant disease and to manage available nutrients effectively.

In addition to ensuring the sustainability of our soil, we produce the energy to heat our greenhouse, house and barn with wood harvested on our property from unhealthy trees or delivered by tree companies. We cut up the trees and feed them to a wood burning water stove that distributes the hot water underground to wherever we need heat.

Do you ever wonder if there will be a day when there are children who haven’t tasted a home-grown tomato or experienced the joy of planting a seed and watching it grow?

I do not worry about such a day ever arriving, en masse; the gardening tradition is too strong in agrarian areas and has been gaining in popularity amongst crafty young adults for some time. Gardening is such a basic way for people to connect to nature, even if it’s just a tomato plant on a windowsill.

Even so, the removal of urban children (and adults) from such an opportunity and natural connection is, I believe, condition for any number of things to go awry. Many cities, Detroit comes to mind, are reclaiming abandoned lots and starting community gardens. They are springing up all over, as are farmer’s markets, but it will take concerted effort to engage young people in this way, and I believe incorporating gardening into public schools, as some districts have, would be a step in the right direction.

Were there people or classes at Wake Forest that influenced your life’s path?

When I hear this question I can’t help but think of Michele Gillespie. Her History of the New South rekindled my connection to this region and its history, its people and agrarian tradition. This feeling I held onto during my time on the West Coast, and it ever-tugged at my soles. Her spirit and passion for her craft was an inspiration to me. There were many others who helped shape me, particularly the faculty of the English department, and I am grateful.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

April/May 2011 Newsletter

Sometimes I am overtaken by gratitude for this place, these gardens and even for the time in which I live, we live. Like the Earth's movement, there is so much change afoot, and much of it passes without so much notice...a glimmer on a beetle's back. There is a merging of awareness that can seem sometimes no more than an exchange of a knowing glance. In these times of heightened awareness, I try not to clutch onto the sensation but let it pass and allow the sequence of experiences that follow be perceived simply, without judgment. It is incredible the way gratitude can wash away the mud of judgment and lift the fog of expectations. Living in gratitude is I think as close to simply "being" as can be.


A day so happy
Fog lifted early, a day in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

-Czeslaw Milosz

I will think of this last line when I am straightening up in the field and will not feel disappointment upon seeing instead a hill of browning wheat and hearing the bray of Bobby's donkey.

Between these little recognitions, there is work. And a long work song it is. At times and earwig of a work song, forever prying me back at it, immersing me in a kind of frantic hypnosis, like a John Coltrane solo. It is feeble to attempt to complete all the tasks at hand, there are only a series of small triumphs, and I try to see each action as significant no matter how menial. This is easier to do when I have a sidekick to share the burden as I do with Tyler, intern extraordinaire. His enthusiasm and humor has lightened the mood and he always takes his work and our occasional frustrations in stride. My Dad has been right there with us, dedicating his scarce days off to see to it we keep in time with the many cycles of the garden. Each crop has a cycle, and with thirty-some crops the overlapping can be dizzying. The help I've received this Spring has been overwhelmingly know who you are, Dale, Holly, Grant, Wendy, Susan, Jeremy and many more, you all have my utmost appreciation.
May I also extend my gratitude to all of you supporters of our farm. You all have shared now in four weeks of harvest, and I hope your mealtimes have been enriched as ours have. Here are pictures of our first four weeks of CSA shares....

There is much goodness to come as we transistion into summer: (more) potatoes, onions, squash, cucumbers and beans, and it won't be long before tomatoes and corn grace our tables.

Spring has been marked by early rain and humidity, giving way to brutal heat. A successive wave of cool fronts and many a storm passed through in May, a small tornado touching down less than a quarter mile away, destroying part of our neighbor's corn crop, downing some large trees and damaging a few structures (and blowing our snap peas off the trellises). Although the excessive rain has not significantly harmed our crops (save rotting a good number of lettuces), much of the seasonal fruit in the area has been ruined, including cherries and strawberries. The weather looks to be hot and humid this week, and hopefully not too dry for too much longer.

Believing, or wanting to believe we would continue to receive and inch or two of rain every week, I foolishly put off setting up our irrigation. Since May 20th we've received very little rain and very much heat. Kevin, Tyler and I undertook a drip line laying marathon on Saturday, setting some 3000 feet of drip line. I am still finding it difficult to stand up straight. Surely this is a lesson in planning ahead and pacing.

We commenced our potato harvest June 1st and it appears we'll have an increase in productivity over last year, pulling almost three bushels of red potatoes out of one 120 ft. bed. I believe the combination of planting mid-March, growing in sandy loam (vs. clay loam), manually hilling the plants after the first 8 inches of growth, spraying Monterey at first sight of Colorado Potato Beetles, and fertilizing a week after hilling has proven a productive method. We have also planted about 750 Sweet Potato plants and have another 700 waiting to go in the ground for harvest in fall. I don’t like to push a planting without any kind of reliable rain the forecast. Looks as though we might finally get them in this weekend at our new property on Briggs Rd., where we now have a well in place. We hit quite a good bit of water at a shallow depth…the amount of water at the depth predicted by the dowser we hired to “witch” the well. This should eventually allow us to drip irrigate another 5 to 7 acres, which will also allow us a greater flexibility to experiment with different cultural techniques without sacrificing productivity. In addition, we will better be able to utilize cover crops to gradually increase soil fertility.

One of the highlights from this Spring has been our broccoli harvest. Broccoli is typically a late summer-planted, fall-harvested crop, like other plants in the brassica family (cauliflower, collards, kale, cabbage and kohlrabi). The difficulty in growing it in the Spring here has to do with the early heat typical of a piedmont Spring. Last Spring our broccoli was on the small side for a few main reasons: hot and dry weather, pot-bound plants started too early in the greenhouse, excess soil acidity and multiple frosts occurring post-transplant. The wet Spring and (relatively) gradual heating made for a particularly generous (and tasty) harvest this Spring.

Another improvement to this year’s Spring harvest has been our Mesclun Spring Mix. Many of the greens in this mix are in the Mustard family of garden crops. Owing to their sweet flavor and high nutrition, many insects are drawn to them in Spring, dotting the leaves full of holes. Flea beetles are particularly troubling to the organic gardener. They also affect arugula, Napa Cabbage, Pac Choi, and Eggplant. Because we do not like to spray leafy green crops (even using organic pesticides), we choose to “hide” the crop from would-be pests. We use a transparent row cover to enclose the rows of mesclun (or Napa, eggplant, etc.) This not only provides reasonable protection from bug damage, but also creates a greenhouse effect inside, quickening growth, while protecting the plants from late frosts. We will continue to experiment using row covers in fall and winter to extend our greens harvest. Unfortunately the summer heat here makes growing greens quite difficult, although we will attempt to grow arugula in afternoon shade.

While I have your attention I should announce our intention to hold an on-farm cookout on July 2nd. More details will soon follow. Thanks again to all of you for supporting our farm this season. Until next time…


Sunday, May 1, 2011

2011 CSA Announcements

A few announcements for you all. First, the Harmony Ridge 2011 CSA membership is officially full. A BIG thanks to all those supporting the farm. We look forward to a great harvest, to meeting all the new faces and to picking back up where we left off with all you return members. To those still wishing to join, please let me know and I'll add you to our wait list. We may have a few more openings in the near future if we find we can provide more than ample produce. The official delivery start date will be Thursday May 12th (and Friday the 13th). Please send me a quick e-mail reminding me of your delivery location preference.

Delivery schedule will be as follows:
Thursday pick-up at the farm (3835 Bowens Rd., Tobaccoville, NC, 27050) between 5pm and 7:30pm. Please pull into the gravel driveway just West of the paved driveway and proceed to the barn on the right.
Friday's schedule will be as follows: between 10:30 and 11AM at New Planet Yoga, Burke St.,West End
between 11:45AM and 1:15 PM at my parents’ house in the Greenbriar Farms Neighborhood at 3620 Rosebriar Circle, Winston-Salem, 27106

Once again, please send me a quick e-mail reminding me of your delivery location preference! Please also try to pick-up in the same place each week. If you need to make alternate arrangements, give me as much notice as possible. I will have my cell on me when I make deliveries, so feel free to contact me if something comes up (336.467.1052)

In your first box you will find a "Unwanted Vegetables" checklist. Please fill this out and return the following week, so that we will know which items to hold back in your future delivery crates.

As for the crates, you will be issued 2 for the season.
Please return the previous week's empty crate each week so we can trade you the new week's full crate. If you forget, don't despair, we will have some spares.

We use a minimal amount of plastic for packaging, but when we do, we hope that you will rinse it and place it inside your empty crate so we can reuse.

Produce will be washed to the best of our ability before it is placed in your box, but we ask that you wash all produce before consuming.

That's all for now, please let me know of any additional questions or concerns.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

February/March 2011 Newsletter

The promise of regeneration resides in every flowering tree. It seems there is a hard, cold stretch before a thing of beauty can take shape. And when it does, it is unexpected, and a treasure to behold. Nature reminds us in March that out of difficulty and out of seeming death a thing of beauty can grow, and, if the conditions are right, feed and sustain another. Spring is a persistent season, urging us to break from our drab winter cloak and greet the sun with flying colors. And she can be cold, sending us right back into our shell. This in-between time leading into full-blown Spring is like a recalibrating of sorts, and if we are attuned, we can acknowledge the shifts and grow alongside. Spring was always the most difficult season for me, until I got into growing…then I forgot about most everything Spring has become something like marathon nursing. With each decision, I’m asking the question, “How can I create the conditions for optimal growth?” and “How can I cultivate a semblance of order amidst all this green opportunity?”

I’m answering the first question each time my Dad and I stack a load of wood next to the water stove, knowing it will keep the tomato seedlings warm on these chilly nights. I’m answering every time I hand-water seedlings, getting a better feel for their thirst as I gain experience. I answer every time I decide it’s dry enough to till, feeling the earth crumble, knowing the resulting mix will breathe and relax and not clench up and bake when the sun burns hotter. I’m answering with each decision to transplant into the field, with a faith the plants I’ve nursed in the most optimal of conditions will survive and thrive in an uncertain environment, this fickle Spring.

The second question (“How can I create a semblance of order amidst all this green opportunity?”) is an easier question to answer, and yet a more difficult one to put into practice. By “green opportunity” I refer to weeds and tilled ground. As Peter Fossel states, “Weeds are nothing more than nature’s attempt to bring stability to what she considers a highly unstable and volatile environment…Nature wants a…high degree of biodiversity. What we want is a high degree of corn or broccoli.” Last season, our weeds grew too mature, too quickly for us to handle manually. So we’re taking a different approach this season. We’re answering the question at hand by investing in the tools and materials we need to confront the many waves of emergence. Where we cannot weed around sensitive squash, melons and sweet potato vines, we are laying plastic. Where added soil heat may improve yields we are also laying plastic. Everywhere else we are planting rows at least 10” apart to allow easy passage of our beloved wheel hoe. It is essentially a stirrup-shaped blade that sits behind a wheel and below two handles. And I will tell you, this hoe on a wheel will be busy. Its continued use at the right times (when weeds are at their “white thread” stage and preceding a rain) should, at the very least, allow us to find our crops.

Some folks have asked me, “What is fresh at this time of the year?” These are lean times indeed in the garden. We have found ways to stretch our winter harvest with minimal effort. We erected a couple of row covers late last fall to protect some spinach, arugula, lettuce, carrots (and leeks). We are trying the theory that spinach grows best if fall-panted, and so we planted some in each season to compare. We’ve found that its performance may also be more cultivar-dependent than some other vegetables, as one variety (Tyee) is far outperforming the other (Bloomsdale). We’ve been munching on much steamed spinach, as well as the fall-planted lettuce, green onions, kale and carrots. The greatest surprise by far was the lettuce’s survival. Planted in early November and withstanding a cold winter, we are still harvesting cuttings. From our experience this winter, gardening in winter is quite easy if you leave enough food under row covers in late fall…it doesn’t grow much, but the plants are preserved like little living monuments to the fall garden.

We have continued to erect row covers into Spring. Asian greens (pac choi, tatsoi) and anything in the mustard family (including most mesclun mix ingredients) fall prey to flea beatles in April. The surest way to protect them is simply to hide them. If our little experiment works, we should be able to provide a greater a variety of succulent greens come May. And well, if they’re shot full o’ holes you know we tried.

By now, I’ve seeded just about all our Spring and early-Summer crop, and we’ve planted most of our potatoes and onions. The potatoes we planted are Yukon golds, a couple red varieties and two types of fingerlings. I went a little crazy on the onions, planting thousands, but I alone am not to blame, as we had a little help from our friends: Grant, Wendy, Virgil, Ted, my dad Kevin and my wife Holly all pitched in. Grant is here almost every Saturday, wide-eyed and sometimes bushy-tailed. Family friends from St. Louis, the O’Neals were in last week, and we were fortunate to have the help of Mark erecting trellises and daughter Isabel to transplant tomatoes and herbs in the greenhouse. A big thank you to Holly for all her hard work in the greenhouse this Spring and to my Mom, Wendy, for the delicious meals, and, I should add, for both of you for putting up with your manure-slinging farm husbands, no easy task for sure.

While I’m handing out thank-yous, I should thank all of you that have placed your faith in us to grow your produce this season. We are doing everything in our power to prepare for the harvest. May it be abundant! I should note that we have five 2011 CSA memberships still available for purchase. If you’ve put it off, now’s your chance! To enroll, please make check payable to Harmony Ridge Farms, 3835 Bowens, Rd., Tobaccoville, NC 27050. Basic program is $675 and "plus" $895. You may read more here: ______________

I would also like to thank Wildfire Creative for designing our new logo, as seen at the top of this screen. I admit being finicky during the creative process, but Chris, Tony and company had the uncanny ability to decipher exactly what stood in my mind's eye.

Thanks also to Peter V. Fossel for writing "Organic Farming: Everything You Need to Know." I referred to the chapter "Weed Limits".

I will leave you with a few more pictures from the farm and a fond farewell.

(1)These have all been moved to the field. (2) Oh so many onions. (3) Ted and Virgil

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

January 2011 Newsletter

A long shadow is cast by the great white oak in front the barn: a solemn reminder winter’s long in the passing. The same birds gather here for breakfast at the foot of the old tree, arriving each on time and trading stations on schedule, this hour bringing the cardinal and blue jay. The jay will by nature strut and eat and intimidate the new arrivals like some bullying senior cadet. The cardinal will live and let live, taking only what she needs. Her unprepossessing grace an easy extension of her drab coat – a scarce fleck of orange an outward murmur of her inner strength.

In the distance, beyond the checkered and chilled vegetable plot at the crest of the hill, the necks of Canada Geese bob up into view, each taking their turn to lookout, then back down to peck and scavenge amongst the corn stubble. There is a line of sleeping and skeletal hardwoods behind them, their white vulnerability set off by the evergreen virility of the occasional pine and cedar. Above that, a sky of such muted lavenders only a winter morning could produce.

It’s the kind of scene that dredges up some dormant and big gratitude, and, with a sudden turn of thought, a sadness brought by the realization that many are barred by circumstance from experiencing these wonders. And, many who do have access see it merely as something separate – land worth possessing for whatever profit it is most suited.

When we can relate, recognize and be lifted by nature in its many forms, we can enter unclouded by any estimation of its worth. We may accept the scene not as ours to mold, but as an extension of our physical selves, as family. Just as we do not own our brother or sister, nor do we truly own this land or its inhabitants, for it, like family, is bigger than the sum of any one of us. Its wisdom knows no bounds, and it is our constant forgetting of this wisdom that brings on the sudden sadness. Our juvenile refusal to coexist – or at least acknowledge – underlies our seperation. It’s like family: when mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. In other words, we’ve been strutting around like the jay much too long.

I suppose these thoughts are brought on by the prospect of acquiring more land near the farm and the attendant thoughts of land ownership and its meaning as other than a blank slate to be “written upon”. So much former farmland is being lost forever – the rate of loss is among the highest in NC (766,000 acres of prime NC farmland were lost between 1982 and 2007 according to the American Farmland Trust). I call this the “blank slate disease”. The greatest rate of return is to develop, and there are sometimes good reasons to do so. But, to develop is to inevitably lose the land’s intrinsic value, its many lifeforms, and lose it forever. So much attention is given to forest conservation (and rightly so), but farms are disappearing right alongside our wild brethren. Small farms are being swallowed by agribusiness and our country's lifeblood and food security right along with it. We cannot hinge our country's future on a wholly unsustainable food system. It will be up to small farmers and organic farmers to continue to protect the integrity and tradition of land stewardship. I'm proud to be a small part this movement, which is nothing really new at all.

The land we may buy lies just beyond the aforementioned line of trees and would significantly expand our potential vegetable production. Although we have enough arable land (about 3 acres) now to allow for a good bit of growth for our farm and CSA, our ability to allow for a proper crop rotation is hindered, particularly if we are to allow some tracts to lie fallow in cover crop and ensure a continued increase in soil fertility. Essentially, more land will allow for continual, sustainable farm growth (just as a greater tract of preserved forest would allow for sustainable animal populations). To sustain a diversified vegetable operation, variety and vigor of microbial soil life is everything

Winter’s shown little sign of letting up of late, so a day here or there in the greenhouse helps us chase away the winter blues. Most sunny days temperatures reach the mid to upper 70s under plastic, allowing for enough potential growth to justify early planting. We sowed onion seed and some herbs, while munching on some of the lettuce and mesclun mix we kept alive through the winter. We propagated some chard from last year’s side shoots, and it has held on nicely through the winter (pictured in pot). As soon as our organic soil provider can exchange out the overly wet medium they brought us this winter, we can really get sowing. Broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, lettuce, salad mix, kale, chard and beet seeds will be planted next week, along with a wide range of culinary herbs and some Spring-planted flowers.

Diversity is a key ingredient in any natural system. Where one variety may fail, another may flourish, and so we really try and mix it up out in the field. If I may, I’d like to profile some of the more delectable and interesting varieties that will color our fields this year:

Red Long Onion of Tropea

Italy’s most prized onion was born along the stretch of coastline between Capo Vaticano and Vibo Valentia in the region of Calabria. The Tropea Long is one of the sweetest red onions, and having the lowest lacrimal factor, it does not make you cry. It has a slightly elongated shape and a deep red, wine color. We will also grow the much-vaunted Candy as well as two more Italian heirlooms: Rosa di Milano and Bianca di Maggia.

Delicata Zeppelin Squash

As those who bought from us last fall can attest, this winter squash has fabulously sweet and moist flesh, and is great roasted or for pies. At about a pound each it is the perfect size to share between two people. It is the squash for lovers or just two squash lovers sitting down for a helping of squash.

Hillbilly Tomato

This tomato is quite large, sometimes 2 Lbs and colorful. The flavor is subtle as its name suggests. Mild and nuanced, just like a taciturn hillbilly.

Nyagous Tomato

This one is not only red, it’s Russian. I tried one grown locally last season and was intrigued. It is the dry white wine of tomatoes. There’s a range of Russian heirloom tomatoes, and all of them are quite strange.

Oregon Giant Snow Pea

This is a large podded, sweet-berried snow pea with possible extended harvests into July. We will grow loads of Snap Peas and try these on for more variety.


Popular in Thai and Vietnamese cooking, Lemongrass adds an exquisite flavor to curries, soups and sauces as well fish and chicken dishes. It also makes a great hot or iced tea.

Music Garlic

Music is large-cloved, porcelain hardneck garlic. Its flavor is very rich and musky, strong and robust and sticks around for a while. Last year we grew exclusively softneck varieties, trying not to venture too deep into the art of hardneck garlic culture. They can be finicky and the process demanding, but the rewards, chefs attest, are worth the trouble. Hardneck garlics, fresh or cured are truly an experience to be savored, as are the “scapes” or green tops that may be harvested in Spring…sautéed they are like garlicky asparagus.

I'll leave you with the Music growing in our field:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Harmony Ridge Farms 2011 CSA Registration

It is my pleasure to announce open registration for Harmony Ridge Farms’ 2011 CSA program. We are looking forward to a season of many harvests, many smiles and some (but not too many) surprises. With a year’s experience under our belt, we feel better attuned to the needs and well-being of our crops, our clients and ourselves. This year we will have a tractor, walk-in cooler, an additional acre+ cultivated space and, perhaps our most exciting addition, an intern! He goes by Tyler, and I’m sure you’ll all be meeting him come Spring. It has been a joy scouring the colorful seed catalogs and seeing in my mind’s eye the many beautiful plants that will bring our fields and bodies back to life. We hope you’ll join us along our earthbound journey here in 2011.

With more tillable land, additional hands and a bit more experience we are able to offer additional shares this year to interested families, couples or individuals. We will limit the number of members, like last year, to ensure we can provide high quality product and service.

We are not offering half-shares this year, but we will carry over half shares from 2010. We encourage you to ask a friend or family member to purchase a joint membership if need be.

Your weekly produce shares will be customizable to the extent that you can request not to receive items you or your family will not eat. We do not want to waste food that may be enjoyed by others.

Here are the benefits a subscriber can expect to enjoy:

Abundance. A season full of fresh, naturally-grown and nutrient-rich vegetables and herbs grown by us for you. The season will run from early to mid-May to mid-September. (We will start as early as Mother Nature will allow.)

Variety and Tradition. Vegetable varieties selected for flavor and delivered at the peak of freshness. We grow many hard-to-find heirloom vegetables, and a full compliment of the traditional standbys. We time our harvests to allow for the utmost variety on any given week, but do not skimp on the old favorites.

Unparalleled freshness. Much of the produce is picked within a day of delivery.

Weekly recipes. With each produce delivery you’ll find a set of recipes selected for their tried and true flavor, ease and for their inclusion of our vegetables. Often the herb cuttings we provide are called for in the recipes.

Family involvement. The opportunity to help out and learn basic skills on the farm (if so desired).

Eco-Sound. A contribution to the local community and ecosystem by supporting a (near) carbon-neutral, low-waste and chemical-free food production system.

Proximity. We are 3 miles Northwest of Winston-Salem, off Reynolda Rd. Scheduled visits are welcome.

Social opportunities: A Spring farm tour/barbeque, a Summer farm to table dinner at Willows Bistro and perhaps another event or two depending on time available.

Participation. Be a part of ever-evolving family enterprise. We want you to feel a part of the farm and we believe our personalized service reflects this warmth and gratitude. As we wish to evolve and continually enhance our CSA, we welcome your feedback and advice.

Peace of mind. Know your family’s vegetables are au natural and grown just down the road.

We have valued the above benefits at $675, to be paid upfront. (This works out to less than $34 per week at 20 weeks.) Payment received prior to the harvest season ensures your place as a member and ensures we have the resources we need to provide you with the most vibrant and varied produce possible.

“Plus” Membership

Harmony Ridge will also offer a ‘Plus’ program. ‘Plus’ members will receive all of the above listed benefits in addition to the following:

• Locally sourced (really) free-range, vegetarian-fed eggs
• Locally sourced raw honey
• Locally sourced, seasonally available fruits and berries. All fruits will be as naturally grown as we can find.
• Potted herbs for trying on your greenthumbs at home.

We have priced the “CSA Plus” at $895. The added cost of the “Plus” program figures in the cost of sourcing, including the time we spend picking fruit and traveling to acquire these goodies.

To secure your place in our CSA please send a check payable to Harmony Ridge Farms, 3835 Bowens Rd., Tobaccoville, NC, 27050 ($675 for regular membership and $895 for a “plus” membership) by Tuesday, February 15th. Please include also your contact information for our records. You may direct any questions to me, Isaac, at 336.922.5611 or

A few notes on CSA deliveries. After much deliberation and consideration of your feedback, we’ve decided to stick to the schedule we followed last year. Members may choose between one of four options: 1.) Pick-up shares at the farm on Thursday evenings between 5 and 7:30, 2.) meet me at New Planet Yoga, Burke St.,West End Fridays between 10:30 and 11AM or 3.) meet me on the front porch of my parents’ house in the Greenbriar Farms Neighborhood at 3620 Rosebriar Circle, Winston-Salem, 27106 Fridays between 11:45 AM and 1:15PM or 4.) request home delivery at an additional charge of $165. We ask that you choose one option and continue your schedule every week. We can accommodate reschedules with sufficient notice. I should explain to the folks requesting deliveries earlier in the week that it is quite difficult to source highly perishable items for the “plus” program more than once a week. Also, bundling our deliveries around the same time of week ensures consistency in the quality, quantity and freshness of the produce as it is divvied out, as crop readiness can vary from day to day.

Thank you all for your time and consideration.