The blog of Hope Grows

Check out to learn more about our farm.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

An End. A Beginning. A Thanksgiving Manifesto.

You're reading this because somewhere along the way you became part of the story of Hope Grows. Maybe you helped us process chickens. Maybe you ate our bacon. Maybe you're a farmer we called for advice. Maybe you wrote about us in the newspaper. Maybe you made a documentary about hot, young Georgia farmers. Maybe you came to one of our workshops or listened to one of our presentations. Maybe you've read the blog or are our Facebook friend or watched one of our zany videos. Maybe we ate dinner together. Maybe your children insist on our eggs. Maybe you're a CSA member. Maybe you're our Mom (and in that case, God Bless you!). As Thanksgiving arrives this year I find myself straddling two important chapters in my life. I'm writing you to express with deep gratitude that Hope Grows is one of the greatest stories I have to tell. I also want you to know there is further to go, and that your presence will be required for writing the next chapter.

Hope Grows wasn't just a name we thought was cute. I remember the days we spent tossing out ideas while washing eggs, hanging up laundry, making breakfast. "Eat This…Farm" was too blunt, but a popular option. We were weeding an onion bed when the name came, our hands in the dirt. Hope Grows was not just our brand. It was our triumphant refrain to the world. It was how we saw ourselves and our little pasture-based operation in it. It was a seed just beginning to sprout, a whisper of change. Farming was not an arbitrary decision for us. It was a lifestyle chosen out of desire to live by our own hands. We were children of the city. We grew up like most folks with convenience foods, TV commercials, and strip malls, but decided to say "No, thank you" and try something else. Today I'm thankful for the bravery of that decision. It has made real human beings out of us, with real guts and real gusto.

Our exuberance for a road less traveled (at least initially) was met with confusion and doubt--from our parents, our friends, our neighbors, our former employers--but it did not keep us from working hard for ideas that, above all, simply felt good to practice in a world gone mad. We spent our days trusting in the integrity of natural design, building raised garden beds without tractors, piecing together bits of tin and recycled wood with zip ties and duct tape to do more with less, skills taught to us by far-off mentors (thank you internet!). We just went with it, did the best we could with what we had. And then, on Saturdays (and sometimes in between) there you were, a support train, a life-line, saying thank you with grocery bags eagerly waiting to be filled with our products. As we are seeing with the Occupy movement, money and where it goes is a measure of power. Thank you for empowering a couple of kids in your neighborhood. Your trust and loyalty made us the youngest self-employed, full-time farmers in the region by over 25 years--no small feat when the average age of a farmer in Georgia is 58. Your dollars have given us faith in a system of alternative investment, have helped us to believe that people can and will value not only themselves but the future. Today I'm thankful we were able to make that connection, to shake hands with real people who valued our efforts not just with lip service but with dollars. Your support drowned out the doubt (made it marginal, even), and made us feel at Home. Big "H" home--perfectly needed, necessary, wanted. I urge you to continue putting your money where your mouth (and your heart) is--Hope Grows because of you.

We paid it forward by teaching what we knew, and by sharing what we we were learning just as we learned it. In our handful of years hundreds of students visited the farm, listened to our unconventional ramblings, and got their hands a little dirty. Some for a few hours. Some for a few months. Yes, we taught the practical, technical bits like how to pasture-raise chickens or track your farm expenses, but really it was more than that: How to have unstoppable confidence when you need it and utter humility when you don't. How to trust in Mother Nature--she is always smarter than you. How to ask for help. How to be present. How to be zen in August without air conditioning, in February without heat. How to see the problem as the solution. How to honor the farm, your gut, and the great web of life at breakfast, lunch and dinner. How to challenge an institutionalized mind, especially your own. How to find work you can wrap your hands around in the world. How to approach constant work slowly and in small amounts for the greatest effect. How to develop a liberal attitude toward grass growth. How to be the kind of person you'd like to see more of in the world--even though it may be challenging or downright terrifying at times. Today I'm thankful our farm wasn't just a farm. It was a the start of a conversation, a place for raising questions, for making an example (mistakes included) for the growth of ourselves and others.

A farmer is--if she is any good--a community organizer. She's a connection-maker, an enabler. She creates effective ecological relationships, including human relationships. She understands the benefits of chickens overwintering in the blueberry patch just as well as the benefits of connecting thoughtful eaters with her pork chops. The health and sustainability of any system depends on the number of connections she can create. These connections ensure diversity, which keeps her buoyant in stormy weather. After three years running, we are moving on with a healthy network. Today I am thankful for the eaters, fellow farmers, entrepreneurs, activists, chefs, educators, and just plain friends who are a part of our network, excitedly looking forward to the next chapter. You made us feel that what we were doing in the world was part of what the world needed. You supported us even though we were unconventional, quirky, a bit rogue even. You liked our edge. We stole your hearts. The meat and eggs were good too, weren't they? I have enjoyed being strengthened by you, and look forward to repaying the favor in the journey ahead. Let's keep making connections.

And you, Elliott--how could I forget? You have taught me about working partnerships, and just how much two highly motivated kids with something to prove can really accomplish. You have been my best friend, my worst enemy, and the perennial comic relief in this adventure. I wish you much luck in the transition to a New England farm-based existence (To Be Determined). The South will graciously reaccept you with open arms whenever you need respite from the bitter cold and Yankee attitudes. Today I am thankful you were the first one to show, and the last one to leave. You have taught me much in the way of dedication and friendship.

Hope Grows laid the groundwork. It was an incubator, an epic educational experience. We're not leaving for lack of success. We're leaving because it's time to go further. Words like "community" and "alternative" and "possibility" don't quite capture what we've been practicing. At the risk of sounding like a hoodoo-voodoo-hippie-dippie (though if you're still reading this you probably don't care), "magic" seems like the most appropriate term for describing the adventure we've been on--walking together, learning together, eating together has been nothing short of profound, magical work. The lessons learned from this era will be carried over, recycled into the next, priming us for even greater success. The Universe has Spoken: Anything is Possible.

Many of you have asked what the next step is for me, where it is, what it looks like. I must apologize, this is only a teaser: Hope Grows into The Revival. Soon we'll be gathering adventurous eaters, thoughtful investors, successful designers, locally rooted, holistically minded, sensually enthusiastic people to build the infrastructure necessary to support likeminded farmers and eaters. The Revival, my friends, is what I hope you stay tuned for. I'm hoping you become part of the gospel choir for the Southern Neo-Agrarian movement--its farmers and its culture. In the words of Rebecca Thistlewaite, "We cannot be casual about the food system we want to see." Today I'm thankful you've trusted your gut and in doing so have trusted me--you haven't been casual. If I could I'd reach through the computer screen, look you in the eye, shake your hand and say thank you. You'd be able to see I really mean it.

We'll talk more soon. Happy Turkey Day!

All the Best,

Hope Grows Farm

Arianne (and Elliott)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Big News from Hope Grows: A Letter from Your Farmers

Dear Friends,

Big changes are on the horizon for Hope Grows. There is much to say, but here's a condensed list of what we'd like to share with you:

  • We've learned a lot in 3 years.

  • We are ready to transition--we need your help!

  • Elliott will primarily run the farm through the season's end.

  • Arianne will pursue employment in Savannah ASAP.

  • Thanks for everything. We're looking forward to the next steps.

These points are explored in further detail below.

We've learned a lot in 3 years.
When I came to the farm in late October 2008, I'd worked on farms before, but never with chickens. With abundant generosity from Janet Taylor, Elliott and I started with the nucleus of a farm--some laying hens, some land, and some customers. Since then we've built a diverse, pasture-based farm enterprise. We added meat birds, pigs, turkeys, and vegetables to our repertoire--and our list of supporters grew to over 150 families. It wasn't always rainbows and sunshine. We learned the hard way from time to time. Ducks were discouraging, not to mention the drought that's postponed our sheep dreams (sorry...but the grass just won't grow when it doesn't rain for two months). However, after 3 years we're endowed with bigger muscles and a richness of real-life, dirt-under-your-fingernails experience. Through it all we have witnessed the power of community, and are encouraged about the possibilities to come as we reorganize ourselves and our farm.

We are ready to transition--we need your help!
At the end of 2011 the 3-year lease on our 6.5 acres will end, and we have an opportunity move on to other adventures--perhaps other farms. We've enjoyed our life here in Dover, but after the year's end we will likely find ourselves closer to urban centers and the urban eaters responsible for 80% of our sales. We do not expect gas prices nor the price of commodities to decrease (and quite frankly we weren't so jazzed about using so much of them to run our farm and market our products in the first place), so it is exceedingly important for us to put ourselves as close to our customers as possible. Not to mention, there are infinite possibilities for education and exposure to the ideas and practices we've been promoting in an urban environment. Right now we are excitedly brainstorming how this will look for each of us, and will certainly leak plans and details as they become available. Keep reading for what we will do in the meantime--and how you can help. Our network of friends is our most valuable resource.

Elliott will primarily run the farm through the season's end.
At the beginning of the year we promised to produce good, clean, fair food for you and your families--especially to those of you that signed up for the CSA (thanks again). We will continue to make good on that promise. With the assistance of WWOOFers and community members, Elliott is committed to running the farm. You can expect pork, chicken, and turkey, plus an assortment of veggies and fruits throughout 2011. Please let us know if you'd like to stock-up on products for next year so we can plan accordingly in our production through the fall. After Thanksgiving we will begin the process of winding-down production and packing up the farm. If by chance as a CSA member you have not used all of the credit in your Farm Trust account by the end of the year, we will gladly write you a check for the difference. Once the farm break-down process is complete, Elliott will be going on an epic adventure that does not involve chickens, furthering his education and ending up in the DC area, near his sister and family.

Arianne will pursue employment in Savannah ASAP.
To support the farm and begin the transition to an urban iteration of Hope Grows in Savannah, I (Arianne) am seeking part or full-time employment there ASAP, hopefully in an area related to food production, preparation, distribution, education, management and/or activism. If you know of opportunities, please send them along. Also, if you know of land that's available for long-term lease or for sale in/around downtown, don't hesitate to tell me about it! I will still keep close ties with the land activities here on the farm, but it's important to begin the transition process. The ultimate goal here is to continue to work in a field related to providing local people with information and products that let them live healthy, sustainable lives, while making preparations to establish a new local food enterprise in downtown Savannah.

Thanks for everything. We're looking forward to the next steps.
It has been utterly rewarding growing for and with you. Inside of ourselves we have grown 10 years in only 3. We'll move on as smarter, stronger, more connected, more patient, more skilled, deeper versions of ourselves. Of course we will have a party, and you'll all be invited.

All the Best,

Arianne and Elliott

Hope Grows
284 Dover Rd.
Sylvania, GA 30467

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Processing Process in Pictures (and some words)

First, the birds are taken off feed 12 hours in advance (they can only eat pasture salad after that, no carbs) and then loaded into crates early in the morning the day of processing.

The crates are then loaded into the truck. As farmers, we're happy about this. We've been pulling around those pens every day for 9 weeks.

The birds are then unloaded a few at a time into "kill cones" aka road cones.

With feet up and their heads poking out, a sure hand and a sharp knife cut through the main artery, bleeding the chicken out within 30 seconds. Earplugs not necessary. Elliott's just a wimp.

A photo of the entire layout: Kill cones, scalder, plucker, evisceration table, chill tanks. Aprons and sharp knives are a must. Of course all surfaces are sanitized several times throughout processing.

Once the birds are bled out, the heads are removed. In most countries heads are saved for stock. We put them in our compost pile. However, if anyone's crazy about them we certainly can save them next time!

De-headed bird is dipped in a scalder containing 150 degree, soapy water. We improvised and used a brand new galvanized trash can set on top of a propane burner. It requires a bit of monitoring to keep the temperature at the right place, but it works at this scale. We dipped the birds about 7 seconds each, two at a time.

Wet, soapy bird is then transferred to the plucker for lickety-split feather removal. This was the most expensive part of our facility...but the most worthwhile. 15 seconds with those spinning, rubber fingers gets almost every feather out for two birds at a time.

Whirr...the feathers shoot out into a bucket which is dumped regularly into the compost. Chicken feathers are an excellent source of nitrogen.

It helps if you spray with water while the plucker rotates.

Look at that!

Then to the evisceration table. Step 1, remove feet. Then save in ice cooler for stock. This is Maggie, our current WWOOFer, who became a pro after 3 days of processing.

In a neat, clean (and apparently fun) process, the innards are removed. We take care not to puncture any intestines. Edible organs (livers, hearts, gizzards) are separated, rinsed, and then put into a chill tank separate from the feet. Everything else goes into the "gut" bucket which is periodically emptied into the compost. We compost with wood chips.

Evisceration is the linchpin of processing. It takes lot of practice to work quickly and well. It helps to have multiple people doing it at once.

Working with Maggie is Christine, a community volunteer who came out for two days of processing. She got right in there and was impressed by how much she learned. Christine is a mom who values good, clean, fair food fer her and her children. She has a thyroid issue that propels her to be vigilant in seeking out the best food out there. Eating our chicken and other pasture-raised meats is an absolute necessity for Christine and many of our customers, who are also coping with or recovering from serious illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc.

Eviscerated, thoroughly rinsed birds are then placed into an ice bath in a chill tank. You want to plunge the internal temperature of the bird to less than 40 degrees as quickly as possible...and it's important to be happy about it!

These are food grade barrels. You want your ice bath to cover your birds thoroughly. This is when the ice was getting low and needed to be replenished.

And voila! Fresh, pasture-raised, farm-processed, clean, good-for-you, local economy boostin', good stewardship supportin', community buildin' chick'n.

Thanks again to the Segal family and the AmeriCorps Alums network for providing the funds to make this facility and the community engagement it will inspire possible.


Monday, May 9, 2011

3rd Annual Egg Hunt and Pig Roast

We had an awesome turnout (over 100 folks) for our 3rd Annual Egg Hunt and for the first time we roasted a pig. It was a sight to see all of those kids running through the orchard finding real, boiled and some eggs. (One unfortunately found a fresh one laid by a wayward hen, but no permanent harm was done).

After the hunt we dug into the pig, a big salad, and all of the great sides folks brought and it turned into a big picnic accompanied by Charlie's fiddle playing. All in all, it was our best event yet. Thanks to everyone who came out!

And here's a spectacular video made by one of the attendees. Moms are by far our best advertising agents. Thanks!


Pig Processing/Roasting

The most interesting part of this year's '3rd Annual Egg Hunt and Pig Roast' was the 'and Pig Roast'. We had never killed, cleaned, or roasted a pig before so we were up against a bit of a learning curve. Luckily for us there is the Internet.

The story begins when we ask our friends over at Savannah River Farms if they could catch us a wild pig. They agreed and brought us a small (freshly shot, dead) wild pig early in the week which turned out to be a good warm up for the main event later in the week. Knowing we were going to have a big crowd we went over to their farm Thursday to get a 120 lb pig (if you don't know pigs, a 120lb pig is pretty big and extremely strong.) I don't want to throw anyone under the bus here but Arianne thought it would be a good idea to tie the pig up and bring it back to the farm rather than just shoot it there so that we could all have the experience together. I think this is the sort of thing you think when it is not you who is wrestling and tying up an enraged pig. So anyhow, Charlie and I managed to wrassle this pig, tie him up, and put him in the truck. We rode back to the farm and without much delay, dispatched the pig and got to processing.

Typically when you process a pig at home you have a large vat of boiling water to dip the pig in so you can get the hair - we have no such vat - so we resorted to pouring boiling water on the pig to loosen the hair. Here are our good-natured WWOOFers doing this job:

Eventually we got most of the hair off. It turns out we needn't have been so thorough as accidentally setting the pig aflame in the roasting pit took care of the pesky hair remaining. Next came eviscerating the pig and removing his head which was just as gross as it sounds. Lastly we put him on ice.

We were so busy on the day of the hunt we didn't take any pictures of the pig roasting but here is a picture of Maggie digging our pit:

To roast the pig we followed instructions found here. They worked. Our only addition to these instructions would be to cook a wild pig lower/slower if possible. They have less fat and can dry out/toughen up easily.

Then we hoisted the cooked carcass on a table and let folks get to picking.


Charlie and Stella

Thanks to our intrepid WWOOFers Charlie and Stella - who rode here on BICYCLES from Alabama. They were with us for 3 weeks and great help. You can follow their adventure around the Southeast here:

Here are photos to prove they actually biked, although I think as soon as they turned the corner a van picked them up.


The Chicken Wagon

We have spent 2 years dragging around coops on skids with a system that ancient Egyptians would have found antiquated. This was the old system:

Step 1 - Jack up coop onto wooden rollers using a 2x4 (with a high likelihood of snapping in your face) and a cinder block (with a high likelihood of disintegrating)
Step 2 - Pull coop up 5 feet, add rollers.
Step 3 - Repeat.

Enter our new chicken old timey cotton trailer modified by yours truly into an example of agriculture vernacular architecture. After adding a roof, slatted floor, nest boxes, and doors folks might want to use it for weekend getaways.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Story of Us

A guest blog post from SCAD student Leslie Marticke, who came over for lunch and the story of how we got so darned enthusiastic about farming since we don't come from farming backgrounds or formal training. Thanks, Leslie, for this post:

What Happens When You Quit Pre-Med to Become a Farmer?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Local elementary kids discover where Hope Grows

In partnership with the Georgia Southern Botanical Gardens and local elementary schools (5 of them in Bulloch County), we've been spending the afternoons this week doing farm education and discovery workshops with anywhere from 20 to 40 students from Pre-K through the 6th grade. It's injected the kind of energy and enthusiasm to farm life you just don't get with the older crowd (i.e. college students). Granted, we love giving tours and educating folks about what we do--but there's something about seeing a kid get infectiously happy about seeing spinach growing or a chicken laying an egg. They yell. They jump up and down. Their heart seems to be in it just as much as ours is.

We learned about combs, waddles, and how a chicken's feet feel...

Peeking in the chicken pen...

Feeding pecans to the pigs...which mostly looks like throwing pecans at the pigs. They don't mind, I guess.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Clippin' Chick'n Wings (with GSU students)

We were fortunate enough to have three GSU service-learners come out last week to help us with clipping the wings of our layers. They showed up and got right to it. 400 birds later, they were pros. A little uneasy at first--they didn't realize clipping wings was more or less like cutting a fingernail. Here's a video of how to clip a chicken's wings from last year:

And some photos from this year:

You need a catcher, a holder, and a clipper, plus somebody workin' the door. It's all hands in on this project. We wear masks because all the birds in the coop flapping around wildly = major dust. Chickens are chicken, and they freak out a little before it's time to clip, but once they're done it's a non-event and they enjoy the rest of their day.

Thanks, y'all.