The blog of Hope Grows

Check out to learn more about our farm.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Grow potatoes grow!

So our potatoes went in a bit late this year (about 2 months late--you're supposed to plant around Valentine's day), but they seem to be coming along fine. Not enough here to sell at the market, but Elliott and I wanted to give a little explanation about how we're putting this whole thing together.

Raised, mulched beds. How do you do it? After planting the beds, we mixed compost (for organic matter) and chicken bedding (a composted mixture of manure and straw--for nitrogen) into the top 4 inches or so of soil, then laid out our drip irrigation lines. You could also lay out your lines first and then plant. Gardening is a flexible science, not to be approached too rigidly. The most important thing is that you have good intentions.

A main header line runs the entire width of the garden, and individual drip lines "t" out over the beds. You can custom fit as many drip lines as you like in your beds depending on the placement of your rows. A system like this is relatively inexpensive and will last about 3 to 5 seasons. It's also 75% more efficient than overhead watering because the water comes out slowly where it's needed in the soil/roots and not the leaves. There's definitely an initial time investment to get it set up, but overall you'll save yourself lots of labor by eliminating any need for hand watering.

Once we installed the drip, we mulched heavily--about 4 inches deep--with wheat straw to conserve moisture in the beds, shade out future weeds, and deter any erosion you may have in heavy rains. As an added plus, the straw adds organic matter to the soil as it decomposes.

Yes, it's hard work, but it does a body good. There's an upfront investment to build the beds properly and get them set up, but I look so satisfied in this picture because the advantage of this style of gardening is that you won't have to do those things again--no future tilling necessary, and with the mulch so thick, weeds are easily pulled out by hand. Under the straw your soil composition continually improves and there's less need for compost or other amendments every year. If you lack a tractor (me, I've got no interest in them) or detest walking behind a smelly rototiller, this is a great way to grow.

So now all we have to do is get the other 7,750 square feet planted--and soon!


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Big Ag Unveiled: See for Yourself

In another episode of what Elliott and I like to call "geeking out on the internet, " we came across FeedstuffsFoodLink, a YouTube channel about the folks on the other side--the large scale, commercial agriculture side. Rather than watch seedy documentary footage shot by some incognito PETA member getting the "insider look" at a factory farm, this seems to be a series of videos funded by the big ag folks in blatant, plain as day support of...

--antibiotic use
--battery cage confinement
--unnatural, inhumane treatment of animals
--hormone use
--chemical and synthetic technology
--large, large scale production

And they actually show and tell on real live farms! You get to see everything, which is what we invite you to do. Please take a look. Though they are promotional videos, any thinking person can easily pierce through their false messaging about "bird welfare" in battery cages and other absurdities that kept us scoffing. Before I influence your perception any further, see for yourself:

Looking forward to your comments.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wholesale Pastured Poultry: An Oxymoron

Your local maniac farmer is about to rant. Make sure you're holding on to something...

It never fails. We're at the farmers' market. It's a beautiful day and all our friends (we like to call them co-producers) are coming out to support us, their local farmers, with cash money in exchange for wholesome goods like pastured eggs, pastured chicken, etc. We know their names, their families, how they like their eggs in the morning--intimate details of our lives are shared in these few hours on Saturday. But at every market there's at least one--a bed-and-breakfast owner, a chef, a caterer, or even a distributor who's heard about this idea of real, local food and thinks it would be good for their business. We chat for a while about our farm ethos, our production model, and other stuff until they get real excited and ask one question..."What's your wholesale price?"

"Well, we don't have a wholesale price."

And here's where our love affair begins to fall apart. You see, their expectation is that ordering in quantity should equal discount. It's not their fault, really--they're used to this paradigm, set up by Sysco and other purveyors of industrial food. But the clincher is that I'm not raising 100,000 crappy confinement chickens in a year. Quite the opposite--I run a small-scale, high quality operation from which I source my livelihood--and there's simply no room in my production model for wholesale pricing. I don't want to be the Wal-Mart of pastured poultry. Not to mention, if I sell them 40 dozen eggs or 40 chickens, that's about 40 families that I miss every Saturday.

And then there's that look that says it all...the "you must really rake in the dough" look. Quite the opposite, my friend. Many uneducated folks look at the higher prices associated with organic and sustainable agriculture as artificially inflated, but the fact of the matter is that the cost of production is high. For example, our broilers cost us about $9 to produce before our labor is factored in. When the average 3.5lb bird costs you, the co-producer, about $15.75 total, the remaining $6.75 for the 2 months of babysitting that went into raising that bird doesn't seem like much at all. That''s enough to make it worthwhile for us, but you can see there's simply not much wiggle room.

Of course this scares the dickens out of those chefs and other folks who wouldn't dream of, say, raising their own prices a little to account for the difference and provide wholesome, clean food to their patrons. Naturally the pastured poultry movement and the local, organic movement have tended to grow with direct farmer-consumer relationships and not middle men. And honestly, that's why we're in it. We believe in transparent, direct relationships where I know you, you know me, and that relationship benefits both of us. My relationship with you keeps me honest as a farmer and up to date with your gastronomic desires, and your relationship with me gives you front row seats to your food supply. Beyond that, our relationship benefits the local community (and I don't mean local like Florida and the Carolinas--local like Statesboro, Savannah, and Bluffton) in direct social and economic ways. Everybody wins. This exchange is the foundation upon which we stand, and upon which we continue to grow.

But lately there have been a few discouraging developments. When I heard there was a farm in Georgia that planned on wholesaling pastured poultry to a regional distributor, I arched an eyebrow. You see, I've met most of the pastured poultry producers in the state personally and not one of them goes through a distributor or provides a wholesale price. Call me crazy, but it just doesn't make sense economically, nor is it sustainable to produce chicken that's shipped all over creation when locally sourced production and distribution could provide jobs and nourishment to the local community. Additionally, producing on a large scale to provide a wholesale price skews the market's perception of costs for the small producer like me. In the end, the wholesale grower loses his shirt and I do, too, because my scale of production cannot fit the market's false expectations (established by the wholesale grower) of what my costs should be. We both lose.

Wouldn't it be money better spent if the larger producer charged a fair value for their product and used the additional money to employ aspiring farmers and not middle men? Wouldn't we be richer as a community if we formed more farmer-eater relationships?

The essence of the pastured poultry movement is not large scale production for shipment--even though the distributor may have a crunchy granola name, that's the model we're getting away from. The essence of this movement is much smaller. It's about people helping each other face to face in their own neighborhoods.

It's not about some Chef in Atlanta who says he's wanted to use truly local pastured poultry in his restaurant but didn't because, "it was too expensive." But now that so-and-so distributor is carrying a cheaper version from a farmer he'll never meet who's being paid unfairly and lives 3 hours away, he'll feel like he's doing the right thing.

So what do we do? We keep on building lasting relationships one handshake, one farm tour, one farmers' market at a time, telling the folks 'round the corner about what we do. As for the chefs, the caterers, the bed and breakfast owners? We accept they don't love us as much as you do, but we keep on challenging them to take a stand on their menu with truly local products. And when they finally come around--we'll be happy to receive them, and we'll tell all of you to eat their stuff, too.

By the way, these are the local businesses that proudly use our products. Eat their stuff, too:

The Sentient Bean, Savannah, GA
Thrive Cafe, Savannah, GA
The Herb Shop, Statesboro, GA
Chef Elaine & Elaine's Creations, Statesboro, GA


Friday, April 16, 2010

Garden Dreams

It's getting down to the wire, and we're scrambling to get our new 1/5 acre garden set up. Right now it's little more than a dirt field, but while spending the day shoveling paths (we don't have a tractor, by the way) we pause occasionally to look wistfully at our epic garden-to-be, dreaming of pink and yellow tomatoes, striped eggplants, purple okra.

So what's our vision? Semi-permanent raised beds, laid out with drip irrigation and black plastic mulch. We're definitely not wild about the plastic, but the invasive Bermuda grass we have a bounty of here on the farm would keep us hand weeding around the clock. In the paths we'll mulch with the paper chicken feed bags we've been saving for months (yay, recycling!) and a thick layer of oat straw.

You can see the soil is quite sandy and depleted, so we're amending with compost from our friends at Longwood Plantation. In addition to the compost we'll be fertilizing with the chicken manure/straw compost we accumulated in our very own coops over the winter. In an ideal situation, we would be producing all the fertility and organic matter we'd need to use in our garden, but unfortunately our 3-bin compost system didn't produce nearly enough to revive this piece of land. So we're importing to close the gap--because you can't have healthy plants without healthy soil. Here's a video of the drop-off:

Look for future posts on transplant productions, laying out drip irrigation, and other garden adventures.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

2nd Annual Egg Festival

Thanks to everyone who came out to the Egg Festival last Saturday! We had around 150 people come out to show their support for local, ecological agriculture. Double thanks to the volunteers who helped us pull of the event. We hope everyone had a nice time and will come out and see us in the future. The friendship of those we serve is the foundation of our progress.

Here are some pics from the event. The first 3 were taken by Heather Benton, our friend and esteemed local photographer. You can see her website here. The rest of the photos were taken by Ted Callahan, one of our gracious volunteers.


Farm Roundup

Things falling through cracks... must get back up to date... blogosphere closing in on me...

I never thought I would describe something on the farm as "coiffed" but after a year of weeding, bleeding, cursing, overwintering 400 chickens, and putting down 7 bales of hay, the blueberry patch is looking good and buzzing with bees.

A really beautiful rainbow from March, couldn't zoom wide enough to show that it went from horizon to horizon and had a twin just below it. A stunning rainbow.

The bag pile in all its glory! Our hideous pile of empty feed bags is now neat and tidy, waiting to be turned into the paths of our garden.

My "spirit" fig, the tree I planted when finished my 3 months of sweat equity on the farm. Its leaves started popping out a couple weeks ago. Go little guy!


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Why Are Pastured Eggs the Best?

If you have been reading this blog then you know pastured eggs are the best... but WHY are they the best? In this short instructional video, you too can know why!

A couple things I left out:

- Our chickens aren't fed antibiotics, arsenic (yes chickens are fed arsenic - more on this here), or any other nasty stuff.
- The orange yolk indicates high vitamin levels, less cholesterol, and more Omega-3s, evidence here.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Broilers: Week 7 Update

Ready to eat! They're cute and delicious, averaging about 3.5lbs. They'll make their 2010 debut in Savannah this week (Saturday, April 10th @ the Forsyth Market from 9am - 1pm), and in Statesboro next week (Saturday, April 17th @ the Mainstreet Market from 9am - 1 PM). After that we hope to have enough supply to continue alternating weeks and offering them throughout the market season.

When you (yes, you--and everyone you know) buy chicken and eggs from your local unconventional ecological farmers ( and Elliott), you're supporting...

--the production of clean, safe, epically scrumptious food
--a fair wage for your farmer
--responsible land stewardship
--your local economy and rural culture
--decent and humane animal treatment
--your own health, nutrition, and vitality!

We can't tell you how satisfying it is to raise these birds. Compliments about their superior flavor and texture never get old--it makes battling rainstorms and foxes seem worth it.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Comments much easier to make now

It was brought to my attention that I had the settings set so that it was very annoying to post one - I've changed the settings so that anyone can post and you don't need to be registered to any service.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Pigs Have Landed!

Our two new Berkshire barrow pigs made it here safe and sound last night. They came from Jacksonville, FL, which was a bit of a trek. However, Berkshires are a heritage breed known for producing the best tasting, melt in your mouth, weak in the knees pork, so it was worth it. They also thrive outdoors and are superior foragers. We look forward to seeing them grow as we pasture them in our woodlot.

With no further ado, Pork and Chop's video debut!