To You and This Earth We Give Thanks. (Happy Holidays)

Most all of the leaves in the valley below Echo Mountain have let loose of their perch and collected in fiery piles that have quickly decayed into young soil.  Sun Dog Farm has been put mostly to rest as the weather has taken a turn for the frozen, with frosts as hard as 16 degrees.  Our cover crops have had a sudden guerrilla siege by foraging deer whose selection of lush summer edibles have all since gone dormant.  A quick visit to some Farmer friends down South has sent us out with t-posts and fishing line for a quick fix, and the purchase of a rifle and acquisition of a license are high on the horizon.  As we come to the close of our first growing season here in the valley, I feel the Earth's movement towards a slower, more digestive, and introspective time, when we have a moment to reflect and gather from the lessons met throughout the year.  We have poured out our hearts here on this beautiful landscape and have been rewarded handsomely with the abundance germinated from a healthy relationship with the land and community.  To say this year was successful would be true, but it is but the successful beginning of something much larger than ourselves and will take many, many years to fulfill.  Our dedication to this piece of Earth is one out of the interest of our own well being, but in acknowledgement that our own well being relies entirely on the well being of our land. This simple reality, that everything is connected and our responsibility to cherish the natural gifts of this world as if they are (and they are,) extensions of our own body, has begun to elude us as a culture.  The infiltration of virtual realities, technologically induced introversion and apathy, and the uprooting of our values for anything that can be traded for with money (with the acquisition of such never in question,) has laid waste to our watersheds, condemned numerous species to extinction, and ravaged the community centers of our human populations.  With screens in our eyes and "facts" at our fingertips, we feel unstoppable, comfortable, and limiting our imagination has become a  game whose addictive stimulation cages our peace of mind.  Our food, losing life and vitality with every unnecessary laboratory and feedlot, is not nourishing our bodies and spirits in ways that promote healthy personal exchanges and greater social communities.

Our war on the planet has no winners or victories, it can only provide for short sighted economic gains and help determine the outcome of political election.  We've spent the better part of our history convincing ourselves that we are separate, that sciences are separate, that our religious ideals and the creative natural forces within our ecosystems and solar system were separate phenomenon, things that simply occurred because they did.  Our current medical system works diligently to convince the paying customer that the organs in ones body are to be feared, that they are separate entities likely to fail.  We've lost touch with the life force that resides within us and therefore our scope has been shortened and our expectations have been limited.  How are we to connect with nature when we cannot even connect with ourselves?

When people ask me why I farm, I suppose I should say to cope.  Working 7 days a week to grow food and maintain a homestead is an incredibly difficult task that tends to ask too much of us on a regular basis.  The chores are physically demanding and the changing temperaments of the land and climate are very taxing on the mind.  After a long day we are tired and sore and after a long month our spirits are eggs in a frying pan.  And still, here I am, most every day of the year, pouring out more of myself into the land and being met with the richness of life.  My relationship with this piece of land gives me a purpose, gives me the tools I need to cope with a world that seems to be too far along towards an end I fear.  Accepting less plastic and possessions for a healthy, sustaining lifestyle leaves me the opportunity to do good by this world, to make peace with my fears in the fields and turn my doubt and insecurity into seeds sown and nurtured.  It is my greatest treasure to put my fingers into the soil and feel with my own hands that which sustains.  This joy can be found in any moment, even during the harshest conditions or when we have suffered difficult loss.  I carry these gifts of the spirit with me every day when I rise and I hope to return all of them to the farm before I lay down to sleep.

In the words of the great Wendell Berry:

"The change of mind I am talking about involves not just a change of knowledge, but also a change of attitude toward our essential ignorance, a change in our bearing in the face of mystery. The principle of ecology, if we will take it to heart, should keep us aware that our lives depend on other lives and upon processes and energies in an interlocking system that, though we can destroy it, we can neither fully understand nor fully control. And our great dangerousness is that, locked in our selfish and myopic economies, we have been willing to change or destroy far beyond our power to understand."

As we move into winter and the Holiday season of Thanks, I send to your heart of hearts, within this great struggle, this daring of symbiosis and survival, the solace and peace of a season spent in the fields among the honey bees and blooms.  I send you all the love I have collected from my growing calf and harvested from my babbling creek.  I share with you the urgency of a world in turmoil and the hope for that which sustains us all.  I encourage each of you to go outside and become a part of some beautiful and complex natural rhythm.  To nurture something whose roots extend beyond sight and whose territories are not limited by the bars of a cage or the asphalt of a city block.  I present to you my open and ever changing perspective that guides me to make small moves everyday towards the dynamic partnership between this common, shared existence and myself.

Peace be with all of you and Happy Holidays.  Thank you for sharing with us, here at Sun Dog Farm, a beautiful first season in the valley.

Trailblazers of Sustainability: Women Farmers of the Southeast

Growing up a woman in America affords you many benefits not found in other countries. Opportunities abound and the likelihood of success is tightly linked to ambition and courage. If you do well enough in school, head off to college or an apprenticeship, and take achievements seriously enough, you can often get a well paid job that will provide for you and potentially a family. These days a woman can be a Doctor, Professor, Actor, Philosopher, Scientist, Astronaut, and many other jobs that were until somewhat recently reserved for men. This is not to say that the gender barrier has been broken and that there is no room for further improvement, but great strides have been made by brave women and men alike who have defended the feminine spirit for its beauty, power, and importance on this planet at the risk of endangering themselves, their reputations, and what History would one day have to say about them. Even so, History (His-Story) has often been fuddled and repeated and generation after generation is asked to revisit issues when mass stereotypes prevail in the face of social progress. These reoccurring issues and stalemates, sexual abuse in the workplace, inequality in pay, complaints about public breastfeeding and other maternal misunderstandings, the religious subversion of women's rights, and a long list of other seemingly ridiculous trends are enough to get any tough girl down. In a world built by the words and promises of good and bad men, divided and dominated by their whims and understandings, where a woman's only hope of achieving power is to emulate masculinity, what is a good girl to do? Well, I think the answer is farm.

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While a Farmer may not be what every little girl in America pines to be when they grow up, a study done by the Organic Farming Research Foundation in 2005 found that 22% of all Organic Farms in the United States were operated by women. A similar study conducted by the Women on U.S. Farms Research Initiative at Pennsylvania State University found that women were generally less likely to employ chemical intense practices. Women were found to be more likely to utilize organic and sustainable methods for producing their crops. And where does this tendency towards more open-minded, nurturing and holistic practices come from, you ask? I'm afraid to say it comes, straight up, from being a woman.

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The Southeastern United States and the great State of Georgia in particular houses some of the most innovative and important women Farmers of our time. These champions of the fields may be as pretty as their flowers, but there is nothing frail or fragile about them. Pioneers in an industry that is just barely being recognized by our mainstream society, these women have come to do the dirty work just as well as their male counterparts and in many cases their products and professionalism serve as guiding lights for young women and men alike interested in a different, more holistic path towards success. They have come to face the adversity generated by our bent industrial food system and they've come to do it in what has for centuries in America been considered a man's line of work.

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This is certainly not an attempt to downplay the importance of the strong men in our community out every week at the farmers market dishing out the best of their harvests. You go on, be the studs that you are and keep on giving our young men an example of how hard work is still alive and thriving, shaping and guiding us towards healthier bodies and a healthier planet. Many of the great farmer women of our time share their workload with an equally bad ass male partner, but no longer due to some legal or social requirement.

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The Women Farmers of the Southeast are trailblazers for a new and enlightened view of what is important in life. Born nurturers, these women are mothers and daughters, their spirits are naturally entangled in the affairs of the wild and they are here to show us not only what it means to be an empowered female, they are here to show us a different system of values. There is no time for a woman farmer to try and be like any man or fit any standard. They openly pour their love where they lay their seeds and the fruits that grow from that effort are the sweet tastes of social change in a world in need of more lovers, dreamers, and healers.

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The most important thing a man or woman in Georgia can do today is to support these incredible figures of strength and ingenuity. To go and purchase their food and show their children that being a woman is a gift, not a sentence. By going to the farmers market or joining their CSA programs, you are playing an important role in acknowledging that women can be leaders, that their strength and courage can manifest beautiful, healthful change on this planet in a time of utmost need.

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When I see the incredible achievements of these talented women I am left inspired and encouraged. The world we live in today is wrought with challenges, but I see before me all the strength and ferocity necessary to tackle them. We are living in exciting times and it is time to acknowledge and appreciate what each of us can bring to the table. Whether your daughter wants to be a Congresswoman, a Princess, or a Farmer, she needs to know that she is an entity of great importance and value and she is supported in her pursuits. The more positive examples of woman leaders we cultivate in our communities, the better.

(For more information about any of the farmers featured, click on their images.)

Calling All Localvores: Why You Should Hug a Farmer.. Today.

This growing season has been an incredible test of the spirits and ambitions of the farmers scattered across the Southeastern United States.  The ample rain turning quickly into saturation and finally, over saturation, has limited our sunshine, brought about ideal conditions for parasites, fungi, and diseases, made certain crops flavorless, and even caused devastating floods which wash away weeks of hard labor, topsoil, and the dollar value of anything planted in the path of the surging water.  When crops sit in soil where their feet (roots) are always wet, they tend to weaken and rot at the level of the soil and below, their cell walls are filled and sometimes burst from the Turgor pressure of the excess water and the plants become overly lush, a condition that makes them easy to chew on if you are a sneaky little beetle  or invade  if you are a disease or fungus.  The consistent rainfall cuts down on the amount of time pollinators are able to do their jobs and can even kill off crucial soil biology necessary for the proper breakdown and dispersal of nutrients from the soil to the plant roots. Excess rain also limits the amount of time a farmer is able to work their soil.  If using a tractor or a draft horse, a roto-tiller or your own brute strength, a farmer has a limited window between showers where the soil is of the proper consistency to till, spade, double dig, or disk.  If soil is worked when it is too wet, the soil structure is compromised and the result is a nasty hardpan that dries and does not allow for the proper percolation of rain during the next storm.  This means that the water washes across the top of the soil, which can perpetuate erosion and leave your plants high and dry during times when rain is less frequent, in soil that is slowly losing its nutrition.  You know what loves lots of rain though?  Weeds.

On top of all of these issues, the rain also presents a problem when the farmer is attempting to market these products they are tirelessly attempting to salvage and sell.  A rainy day at the local Farmers Market not only means hours of standing out in the rain, but it also means a lower turn out of market shoppers who, like the farmers, would rather not go out early in the morning or after a long day of work and get soaked or chilled.  A lower number of market shoppers means an even lower number of sales, which subtracted along with the subtractions of crop failures can begin to deduct quite a large amount of the gross income of the operation.  This loss of income makes it more difficult to cushion the following season, generating a cycle of loss which is difficult to catch up from.

While the pain of this season can be felt every time I look out the window and see those persistent little drops, this is all a part of the beauty and the beast of a local food system.  When you look at the situation from a very broad sense, the increase in rainfall has helped eliminate the threat of drought that has had its claws in the Southeast for a number of years.  As you get closer to the mechanisms of the local farms themselves, it is obvious that our foodway is hurting and it needs your help.  Obviously as a customer, volunteer, or advocate we couldn't ask for you to slow the rains to the perfectly timed storms we all dream about at night (or can we??)  Being realistic, there is never a season without challenge and we wouldn't want it that way.  What we can ask for is for your support during this time of great stress and uncertainty.

Ever had that funny feeling in your belly like you wanted to go out and work on the farm? (It's okay, this is a safe space to admit it and others are doing it.)  July 2013 is the perfect time to act on those passionate feelings.  Get your boots out, get your rain gear on, and get yourself some mud on your brow.  Just go through your facebook feed and find that farm that seems to be feeling it the hardest and make the first move.  If you don't have the time for hands-on aid, then maybe the most important thing you can do for your local foodway right now is to buy local food.  Go to the Farmers Market of your choice and buy what you need.  Buy what you need for the week.  Plan out your meals and bring a list with you.  Go to several farmers and lay your money down for some of the best food available to you.  Buy spontaneously.  Go to the Farmers Market with no idea what you want to cook and make it up as you go.  Tell your friends to go with you.  Guilt them into it.  Take your next hot date to the Farmers Market and spice things up with some locally grown hot peppers or some sexy heirloom tomatoes.

The beauty and the beast of the local foodway is a complex relationship whose integrity we are all responsible for.  It takes every single localvore and farmer to make this magic happen and during times of hardship, we all have to contribute the very best of ourselves to see it through.  The layers of this food community are all connected and we all have a role to play in its success.  While it is my role to push through these storms, meet the challenge and become better as a farmer for my sake, for the sake of the farm ecosystem, and for the sake of my reliable customers, it is the role of the customer to meet me with flexibility and support.  The rainstorms of 2013 have been the beast this year and those who come out every weekend to the market rain or shine to support those that grow their food; there are few things on this planet more beautiful than them.  See y'all at market.

When Food Becomes Medicine

It has been a cold and rainy Spring here at Sun Dog Farm and our leisurely mountain drives around Nottley Lake have been particularly beautiful.  The high water levels mirroring the breathtaking cloudy skies strewn across the horizon have given the lush mountain peaks an extra sense of majesty.  The trees have put on what are most nearly full leaves and the blooms of cultivated and naturalized plants have filled the air with their delicate scents and features.  Life is all a buzz, yet even this morning our neatly tucked little valley faced the damaging chills of a late Spring frost.  Another frost is predicted for tomorrow morning and possibly after that the threat will diminish and the bounty of foods gathering strength from the sun and other energies will safely pursue their purpose.  Even with the unpredictable weather patterns and bouts of heavy rain, life has found its course and navigated the extremes with grace.  We harvested the first of our cultivated crops and brought them to market on Saturday and I suspect that each week will grow in volume and diversity.  After just five months on the property, Sun Dog Farm is finally shaping up to be a productive venture and thriving farm organism. 020

And here I am on a daily basis soaking in the beautiful expressions of this valley.  On a golden morning harvesting radishes, I was amazed to realize how much the farm is an extension of my own consciousness.  The cracks and crevices of my imagination burst forth the blue print for this dynamic landscape and my physical experience went about like a busy bee putting the pieces together.  While part of this process certainly seems to stem from the vision within my own consciousness, the farm is an organism unto itself.  There are moments as a farmer where you look about all of your work and feel a great sense of pride.  There are maybe just as many differing moments where you look about at all of the incredible life forces around you harnessing energies all on their own and you simply feel grateful.  I have come to realize that my role here on the farm varies, but it is certainly never "master" or the "boss."  I have found that I am but one part of the farm organism, an entity just as important as any other, but not one that could work to the exclusion of any other of the farm's necessary functioning systems and organs.

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The farm also serves as a perfect mirror of the self.  It always seems that when there are deep rooted, difficult issues within my own being to confront, the farm suffers an ailment that can only be cured through braving these tough emotions.  This process not only strengthens the vitality of the farm organism, but strengthens my own abilities and purposes on the farm and as a person living in a complex and physical realm.  Viewing the farm as a perfect mirror and as an extension of myself, myself an extension to it, is what I believe turns the vegetables from food into medicine.  This is not strictly speaking to how the farm is medicine for me, but how I can take what is grown in this precious ecosystem and share it with the vibrant food community as a nutrient dense edible with highly medicinal properties.

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When the farmer acknowledges that the farm is of their own creation, uniquely them, and filled to the brim with the love of those who work the land, the food grown under these conditions of holistic nurturing and care exhibit medicinal qualities.  The addage, "know your farmer," truly expresses the importance of purchasing food from the very people who put the seeds in the ground.  When someone loves their land and crops enough to not only put their name on the label, but to put their face behind the table at the Farmers Market, it can be made quite clear that they are doing what they love and that love is what grew the products they are offering.  That love is what ensures that the crops receive the proper nutrition required to fulfill the needs of the plants and the people who eat them and that love carries over into the farm organism as a whole.  Love is as dynamic a force as a farm is an organism and the relationship between the two is the best source of medicine available today.

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The season of abundance is upon us and there is no better time to get out and buy your food, your simple medicine, from the farmers directly through Farmers Markets, CSA programs, and other venues dedicated to the good food movement.  Just as the farmer is but one part of the farm, the customer has as much a role to play in the success of the farm and the fulfillment of its purpose.  Every dollar spent on a farm based product is a dollar that filters back through the farm organism and replenishes the needs of the system.  This process ties us all together, and I would like all of our customers and supporters to know that they too are an integrated part of the Sun Dog Farm organism.  The vitality of the farm is inextricably linked to the vitality of the venture and we are so honored to be a part of such a culturally rich and dedicated food community of families, farmers markets, and chefs alike in the city of Atlanta.  Your support manifests the medicine from our fields and ensures that our love wanders only to those who wish to cherish it.

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Hippocrates - "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food"

You Can Never Hold Back Spring

It is surprising how much the climate of the North Georgia Mountains reflects the climate I grew up with in the Northeastern US.  I often have to take a breath and calm my soul when I view all the incredible pictures of the progress of Spring from Atlanta and even further South in the Low Country.  Here we are in March, having battled days of snow, only the maple blossoms having dared to break, with nighttime temperatures in the teens, and yet there is a greenhouse full of beautiful life slowly leafing out with a persistence that is inspiring, but with a gate that lends my heart to anxiety.  We are officially located in growing zone 6 and we certainly feel it today in the valley with a temperature hovering at 37 degrees and a wind chill that encourages hot tea and lingered strolls through the greenhouse. 542718_498857433484713_593848835_n

It has been a whirlwind of activity here on the farm.  I can just barely remember what this abandoned property looked like before my machete cleared the bamboo and Elliot trimmed up the pastures with a chainsaw and bushhog.  We have filled two roll off dumpsters with the remains of what was, moldy memories telling us the story of what this farmhouse, the barns, and pastures used to hold.  The energy of that incredible story echoes through the valley on a daily basis and as we spade up the soil to plant, we can see how the direction of this farm has been fated long before we even stepped foot on the property.  While I sprinkled our first Biodynamic Preparations through the fields prepared for Spring, I felt more connected to the manifestations of energy all around me than ever before.  We have a purpose here.  Farming in this beautiful place has given us the responsibility to make it better, to treat the soil and atmosphere holistically, and to share what we grow with the community we love.

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Now that we have removed a lot of trash, reclaimed a lot of useful tools and treasures, and now that my Father and Uncle have restored running water to the farm, we feel that the Winter has finally run its course.  As we move into Spring, our efforts can be more centered on the pursuit of life.  This will include remodeling the interior of the house with fresh coats of paint, continued removal of moldy drywall, and eventually the most important and enjoyable part of the process, adding the touches that will make this farmhouse a home.  Life will carry on in the fields and wetlands, in the growing beds and bamboo jungles; arising wherever there are boundaries to create it and filling this beautiful landscape to the brim with the intertwined relationships of this incredible Universe.  My collection of Praying Mantis cocoons soon will hatch and with them all the other crawling, flying, humming, chirping, and calling creatures in this lonely valley, returning each to the hustle and bustle of yet another fruitful growing season.

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We are looking very forward to April when food will begin to grow and our farmers market will once again return us into the loving arms of the community that housed us back before we moved to the Coastal Marsh.  Sun Dog Farm will be selling at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market once again and we couldn't be more pleased.  This market is unlike any we've seen before, being the largest producer only market in Atlanta, it is filled with all the food you need and crafts and artistry enough to feed your soul.  We will also be particiating in the birth of The Homestead Atlanta, a brave new school offering classes aimed at bringing us back to our roots.  Everything from herbal medicine to mushroom cultivation, blacksmithing to wool spinning; The Homestead will remind us how powerful we are, each of us individually, and that when given the right tools, we are capable of creating beautiful things that will make our lives and the lives of those we love better.  I will be teaching a class at The Homestead on April 27th called the Basics of Biodynamics and I invite you all to join me there.  This journey has already been a test to our spirits with all the ups and downs associated with reclaiming something lost.  We look forward to sharing what we have found and our efforts with all of you for another growing season.

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"It has been said that by working the soil it is possible to do in a few years what would take nature thousands of years to accomplish.

Intensive soil cultivation and the addition of proper soil amendments can aggregate sandy soil to give it more crumb or open heavy lime marls to give them more porosity.  In both instances, when the proper soil consistency is maintained, the soil is said to have ‘heart’." -- Dennis Klocek

Hey Georgia, We're Home

The year 2013 has already been the most important for Elliot and I and that is saying a lot being 23 days in.  This year we have accepted the challenge of setting down roots in a place, ending our nomadic wanderings and committing ourselves to a region, a community, and most importantly, 12.5 acres of delicate ecosystem.  Our journey to this decision has been important, at no point during our travels through the state of Georgia would I have changed a detail.  Each new location our tired wings placed us was full to the brim with intelligent, inspiring, and loving people dedicated to their communities, the preservation of the region's heritage, and the adaptability and evolution of their foodways.  While we have often times felt guilty about ducking into a food community only to see the bloom open slightly, and ducking out once again, it has been an honor to be a part of such incredible progress in the Southeast.  Our farmer friends, food advocates, and loyal customers have been our best teachers and we hope to carry all of their lessons with us as we build our homestead and dedicate our labors to the North Georgia Mountains. IMAG1194-1-1 IMAG1201-1

As 2013 begins, we have become proud residents of Blairsville, Georgia, a town nestled into the Southern most tips of the beautiful Appalachian Mountains.  The farm is located in a valley with a single mountain in view in the back growing space.  It has an incredible stream running its length, a pole barn, old homestead, milking barn, several other outbuildings, and rampant patches of bamboo.  The farm itself has been unoccupied  by humans for about 10 years and the wear and tear of life has made its mark on most of the buildings and growing spaces.  We have already dedicated numerous hours to the farms reclamation and this will be a project that lasts for several years.  Overall the farm has very good bones, the house is injured but sturdy, the outbuildings needing only roofs, patches and some tinkering, and the farm totes some of the most incredible soil I have ever seen.

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We have negotiated a lease purchase agreement with the former owners of the property, the Biodynamic growers and educators Hugh Lovel and Shabari Bird.  This farm was formerly known as the Union Agriculture Institute and was operated as a nonprofit.  The land was farmed for 30 years by Hugh Lovel himself and was the very place where his incredible knowledge and understanding of the relationship between the universe and plants bloomed.  Right here on our new land was the muse for the book A Biodynamic Farm and this very soil was sculpted with the most intentional, restorative methods in agriculture today.  The Union Agriculture Institute was the first Biodynamic Farm in Georgia and not only served as an educational farm for interns such as Farmer D of Farmer D Organics, but also a site for conferences, a CSA, early sales to Farmers Markets in Atlanta, and so much more.  Hugh Lovel, having left the daily operations of the farm, now spends most of the year in Australia with his wife Shabari, sharing their wealth of knowledge about what Hugh has termed, Quantum Agriculture, the most holistic and comprehensive view of farming generated from the idea that no form of influence to the growth of the plant, small or large, distant or immediate, can be excluded from its overall evaluation.  That every aspect of the crop's reality creates an impact on its growth and therefore all relationships the plant has with the soil, soil biology, minerals, nutrients, atmosphere, cosmos, energy, etc. must be considered.

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This method of growing, as Biodynamics has always stressed, requires a considerable level of dedication to sustainable growing methods.  It reaches beyond organic growing and views the farm as a living, breathing organism.  Growing in this way imitates the elaborate and complex relationships replicated in any and all ecosystems on the planet.  Elliot and I have always been drawn to this farming mindset and we are beyond excited and honored to carry on the heritage of this incredible piece of land.  From building our own composts using the Biodynamic Preparations to considering the alignment of the cosmic bodies when we start and end life on our property, we can only hope to do our best and learn as we go, just as Hugh Lovel did when he first landed upon this beautiful valley.  This is an oppportunity for us not only to homestead, set roots, and grow, but to revitalize an inspired landmark nestled in the Georgia landscape.

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And Georgia, sweet Georgia, our love affair with you  has been tender and humid, often times difficult and complex, but always rewarding and it appears that we are in it for the long haul.  As we begin to turn over soil this spring, set seeds and pull weeds, we are reminded of what you have provided us.  The support systems you have unveiled and the communities you have housed.  This year especially will be one of great challenges and difficult decisions.  It will require from us a work ethic unlike any we have set forth to this day and it will break our limits and test our spirits.  We have already tasted some of this challenge and we are anxious and excited to see what we've got.  In the heat of it all, and I mean there will be heat, we know that Georgia, sweet Georgia, you have always been our home.

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A Not So Delicious Tyson Chicken Christmas Gift

November in the marsh seems to sneak away slowly, like the populations of roseate spoonbills, ibis, and warbles in September.  The trees have barely begun to lose their leaves and the temperatures remind me of a summer day in Vermont.  As we all flip to that last page in the calendar, the holiday season with its tradition and compassion, takes hold of my sleepy winter mind and brings warmth into my being. Though the marsh never truly clears out of creature inhabitants, the numbers of the local flora and fauna go from being so incredibly biodiverse that every moment churned with the quake and hum of life, to a quieter, more tranquil time whose year long inhabitants are more clearly highlighted.  The king fishers and bald eagles have taken over the hunting of the snaking waterways and the otters can be seen submerging in the rising tide or scurrying accross the land bridges.  A 6 foot resident gator has reclaimed a sunning spot on a dock in front of our home where turles spent the long summer days and attended the insect evening parties.  It has been about a month since I have spotted an armadillo, but evidence of their presence in the garden is still an occasional find.  A small group of 9 adolescent wood storks has taken refuge with a roosting group of herons, night herons, egrets, and comorants on the fishing ponds by the farm.  The citrus has been harvested, and enjoyed, the crops and weeds have slowed their pace, and our final market of the season will be this weekend.  As the season's hopes, worries, accomplishments, and disasters seem to fade into my memories, the celebration of a new coming year has filled my spirit once more. IMAG0910

And what an ending to this incredible year.  I have witnessed so many amazing individuals dedicated to small business, local economy, and the local and regional foodways of their communities.  The Forsyth Farmers Market was a season long display of the efforts and inspiration of a collection of artisans and farmers.  The elegant limbs of the live oaks and delicate tufts of spanish moss created a mirage of paradise in the blistering heat and a reason to bundle up and go outside on the coldest days of the year.  My correspondence with farmers from East Coast to West Coast has given me hope when the rain would not come and patience when the rain would not stop.  2012 was a year for all of us to be proud of, a step in the right direction for the empowerment of our food movement.  It takes a little bit of effort from each of us, and so many of the people I met this year have committed their lifestyles and everyday choices to the practices that protect our fellow human beings and the Earth we all share.  More incredible still are the individuals dedicating their free time to educating their friends, family, and communities about the benefits of eating a healthy diet and supporting those who produce the ingredients.

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Unfortunately the year did not end on a perfect or easy note for all of us who dwell in the sometimes challenging world of producing organic food.  Jeff Poppen, also known as the Barefoot Farmer, is a biodynamic farming educator and farm owner of Long Hungry Creek Farm in Boiling Springs, Tennessee.  His farm has been an organic, biodynamic farm for over 30 years and provides incredibly nutrient dense, holistically grown foods to over 200 csa members.  His growing methods reflect an elevated understanding of the systems at play within the complex ecosystems of his beautiful farm.  His exploration into Biodynamics has given him the advantage of using the natural world as the most significant tool for nurturing his diversified crops.  Experiences on his farm and knowledge he has shared has incubated the hatching of several farmers who have radiated out of Boiling Springs and set down roots in the surrounding communities.  The Barefoot Farmer has written two books, starred in the very popular and informative television series, Volunteer Gardener, written hundreds of articles about growing food in the Macon County Chronicle, and has made a lasting impact on the Tennessee landscape and Southern growing scene. Unfortunately for this seasoned farmer and educator, 2012 brought about a terrible cross examination of what we as small farmers and local farm supporters are up against.

Mostly complete in September of this year, two industrial chicken houses were built within 450 feet of Jeff Poppen's home and precious acres of biodynamically maintained farmland.  The chicken houses were constructed without regard to the only source of water the farm has available to it and the County Legislature violated their laws prohibiting the building of chicken houses and other industrial food producing buildings within a restricted distance of public areas, residences, and businesses.  The construction of the houses was a bully move made by elected officials who have a limited understanding of the importance of nuturing local, small scale agriculture for the sake of the community.  The decision was one born out of fear for change and the intolerance that we can generally link with ignorance or indifference.  This farm boasted the title of the oldest organic farm in Tenneessee and as we close this year, Jeff Poppen is forced to give up his farm and relocate away from the toxic manufacture of caged livestock.  This devistating move on the part of Tyson Chicken subsidiaries is a haunting living portrait of the real and not so glamorous difference between organic and conventionally produced foods.

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This tragic step backwords from the forward moving ideals of agricultural change in Tennessee and the nation as a whole is a keen reminder of what is at stake in this modern world.  Moving into 2013, we should remember the triumphs and the hardships we have all faced and shared with one another, accepting and learning from both victories and defeats.  The holidays give us an excuse to try and reconnect to one another and show compassion for those in our lives and those we may only interact with indirectly, through our own rippling actions and the actions of others.  This time of year reminds us that we are all in this together and the more effort and positivity we put into this place we call home, the more we will be able to care for one another.  An abundant garden is grown where people not only come together to share in the meal,  but also the harvest, and that spirit must continue to spark new life into our foodways everywhere.  The Barefoot Farmer may have lost an iconic, celebration of a farm that served as a daily dose of inspiration and encouragement to all of us who choose to explore a better understanding of the complexities of this planet, but we shall not let him lose the support and appreciation of all of us who know the importance of his work in the Southeastern United States and his role in changing the national perspectives on growing food and living a healthful, mindful life.

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"For the first time in the 40 years I’ve lived here, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Agribusiness has been destroying agriculture in many places for many years and I am not alone in this predicament. Actually, we are all in it together.  I look forward to continue working for a just and sane agriculture, where people matter. I’ll probably move back after they’re gone." - Jeff Poppen

Conventional vs. Organic? Oh Come On, We Are Better Than This

It has been a slow trot towards cooler weather here on the farm and we've been wearing the art of the simple life on our brows and mud stained knees.  Our fall transplants have finally made their homes in the mucky, marsh soil and seeds are germinating in sporadic dotted rows.  Many of the summer time crops are coming to an end as the Okra expands and lengthens, shadowing the landscape around it with trunks as much as 4 and 5 inches thick.  In order to harvest from these Okra trees, we must bend the plant and take several steps to the side to reach the pods at the very top before releasing this dangerous catapult back into the air.  Sugar cane swishes this way and that in the sea breezes and our newest batch of noodle beans has begun to set their colorful, spaghetti like fruits.  Cucumbers, Summer Squash, Bush Beans, Flowers, and Field Peas are making a triumphant second go at it as delicious fall crops like Broccoli, Cauliflower, Kale, Radishes, Beets, Carrots, Chois, Lettuce, Turnips, Scallions, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Mustards, Collards, and a list of other delicious items we have been nostalgic for since the summer heat sizzled the Spring time crops away return in abundance.  It is still hot here on the farm, though we've experienced the occasional crisp morning and a few days that appeared to wander together into the lower temperatures as a reminder of what is to come.  We've been savoring the first tastes of Fall greens and our meal times are transforming from the exotic, delicate colors of Summer back once again to the deep, earth tones of cool weather and hardy crops. I believe I was sitting at the kitchen table in my parent's house in Pennsylvania on a short visit the day some news reporter with sculpted hair, a low neckline, and chicklet teeth boasted the claim, "Is Organic Food worth the extra cash?  A new study on Conventional versus Organic products may surprise you...."  She went on, of course, to very shallowly explain that this study conducted by the expert researchers working under the banner of  Annals of Internal Medicine discovered that the nutrient densities of Conventionally grown produce were as substantial as those found in Organically grown foods after doing a two-year study and focusing on a few indicators of health in human beings.  Following that viewing, the news story seemed to pop up everywhere in my life, every mainstream journalist with a soap box to stand on was spreading the controversy wildly, taking aim at Organic Agriculture as if it had tricked everyone,  as if one study completed by a few individuals was enough to overthrow the guilt associated with not giving a damn about anything but the couple bucks we figured we'd save from buying our summer squash from mexico.  The news story became a blanket we could throw over our shoulders, sheltering us once again from having to concern ourselves with the annoying task of stewarding our planet and taking extra measures to care for our bodies.

The worst part of the whole controversy wasn't necessarily the argument itself.  Plenty of passionate, informed rebuttals exploded from the individuals who had educated themselves on the issues associated with the study.  Besides, in all honesty, making the assumption that pouring toxic chemicals over food you are going to consume and replacing the natural soil nutrient cycling, replicated in any ecosystem on planet Earth, with crude, concentrated elixirs of the most necessary nutrients is better than food grown utilizing natural forces with a focus on generating a holistic product born from a living soil is to make an assumption that commerce means more than health, life, and the planet on which we live.  Ever since our ancestors landed on the shores of North America, our nation has had access to an abundance of natural resources.  This gift errupted into a party that we've been having ever since, the richness of this beautiful nation providing for the economic, industrial, and societal growth we now hold so dear today.  We have come to love our comforts, our products, our way of life and to think that any of that has to change brings us remorse.  It isn't necessarily all our fault, industry in America has produced enough money to control what we can and cannot do, what we can and cannot believe and this goes straight to our inability to contradict the motives of the products we now rely on.  We have been labeled unpatriotic when questioning the growth of industry into the last uncontaminated realms of our world and to help us cope with losing our voices, we've been handed computers that fit into our pockets and a constant stream of media to replace the need to use our minds.

So I say to the argument, Conventional versus Organic? Oh come on, we are better than this.  We are better than this and I have seen it.  The State of Georgia has a history of utilizing production methods that haven't always had the land or its people in mind.  Though Georgia has, from time to time, held onto close minded nuances in the agricultural spectrum, life in the South is starting to bloom.  Farmers Markets have exploded and succeeded in all of the major cities from Atlanta to Savannah.  Beautiful, spirited people have dedicated their lives to farming sustainably in the South, preserving the best of the Southern heritage through the incredible foodways this agricultural state has maintained throughout the years.  Chefs, Farmers Market Managers, Farmers, Customers, Creatives, Food Purveyors, and enlightened souls from the Northern Mountains all the way down to the Swampy Deep South have all played a major role in dispelling the concept that Organic food is a luxury saved for the rich.  Organic food is a necessity designed for us all.  The impacts of growing food with thought to the health of the consumer and the health of the environment go far beyond any two-year study conducted by researchers with their own story to tell.  The sustainable food movement is created, supported, and endorsed by so many because it simply makes sense.  It makes sense to feed your children the best quality food available, it makes sense to protect the natural world where everything we need to survive is derived from, it makes sense to localize the economy and support most those whom you consider neighbors and friends.

We are better than this argument, better than this delusion and so many incredible individuals in Georgia are proving this everyday.  Under our uniting banner of Georgia Organics, we can continue to make the difference that is needed.  We can continue to bring healthy foods into the lives of fellow Georgians rich and poor, and through this act of compassion and love for our neighborhoods, families, and friends, we all will move closer towards a better future.  The biggest problem with the study was that it addressed the concerns of Organic versus Conventional products on a person to person basis.  The study did not take into account how Organic, sustainable methods provide for the preservation of our natural spaces, the preservation of our precious foodways, and the preservation of our communities founded on the fundamental morals of truth, beauty, and love.

A Romance with the Seasons

It is difficult for me to string together enough words to describe the epic beauty of this evening in the Marsh.  Rolling thunderstorms made their way from whispers in the breeze to hazy, persistant downpours all over the farm and dense waterways.  Flocks of immature white ibis, egrets, and the occasional spoonbill darted from their daily wading grounds to seek shelter in the trees and grasses.  The Marsh got quiet, quiet in a way that only the rain can command of the usual chorus of insects and amphibians that dominate the airwaves.  A slight breeze, the sound of rain hitting water, and a sky that couldn't emotionally commit to being a storm or a sunset.  As the last rain drops fell, the tiny ripples from the drips were replaced by the tiny ripples of millions of insects, the chorus returned for the crescendo with one buzzing, croaking instrument sounding at a time, and the bruise colored clouds parted to reveal a sky on fire with the hues of an evening in paradise.  Perhaps I think this is paradise because we recently sowed a lot of seeds in the ground that desperately needed water.  Perhaps the alligator lazily swimming away from me thinks it is paradise as his tail cuts through the mirrored blaze. We have enjoyed incredibly timed storms here in the Low Country this Summer.  We haven't had to fire up the irrigation since May and it appears that this most recent set of showers, that which happened last evening and repeated itself this evening, have been enough to spare us once again.  It was only this week that our plants at the farm were showing their stress from lack of water and it was only this week that we discovered that our irrigation system happened to be on the fritz.  Fortunately, the rains came and we have a little more time to stress out about the prospect of The Dustbowl 2012 at Harvest Lake Farm.  During this time of notable stress, it has also been nice to acknowledge that we are finally over the Summer slump!  Every year, from one season to the next, it seems like a farmer's day is spent day dreaming about the productivity of the following season.  This never being in the present moment is certainly a life long journey.

What this can mean for someone who farms in what feels like the Jungle is that you spend your days loving and hating the life giving, sometimes oppressive heat and humidity of the Summer months.  In the Winter and Spring you long for it because with it comes tomatoes, squash, okra, eggplant, peppers, and all the other gifts of the Sun.  Unfortunately this gift doesn't stop there.  The Sun will happily give more and more of this gift until the heat and humidity finally oppress the very plants that were once so eager to reach for it.  The squash disappear, the beans give up, the tomatoes slowly droop and rot in a morbid, depressing display.  Soon all you have left are Eggplants, Okra, Peppers, and Peas and my goodness I love these things, but eating them everyday can be somewhat of a contributor to the whole "slump" feeling.  But wait!  There is light at the end of the tunnel.  There is hope at the end of the 30th eggplant dish you've served up.  At some point you get to start preparing for Fall.

And Fall!  What a time to obsessively look forward to.  Let's face it, down here in the very bottom of the melting pot, (where many of us live everyday, melting,) the Fall is maybe one of the best times of the year to try and grow food.  All of your early summer favorites get a second shot and your Spring season is reborn and then extended into the mild Winter days.  The bugs reduce in seemingly size and numbers and the overall temperature of the farm allows for a much more comfortable, friendly operation.  Now remember, this is all being said by a farmer in the heat of the Summer.  If you ask me about Fall growing this Fall, I will likely tell you about how well that may be going but how much I am looking forward to Spring.

And so it goes.  It could be argued that this almost bipolar fascinationg with the changing of the seasons is just one more hurtle for someone trying to farm in this modern world to jump, but that can't be it.  Everything a person who has commited themselves to the landscape achieves from day to day is some form of spiritual fulfillment I have never properly learned to explain.  Being in tune with the seasons is to be open to the ongoing romance of the planet.  Love is a beautiful, dangerous thing and this world has cycles of life, death, lust, and rebirth to prove it.  The changing of the seasons teaches us how to be constant and also how to change.  Each season contributes to a maddening love and unconsolable loss, everything on Earth being created from the death of something else.  The seasons teach us that there must exist a trade off, you must give to get and sometimes when this equillibrium is disturbed at the farm, we end up giving much more than we get.  Our modern society, that has been severed from seasonality, is currently getting a lot more than it gives within the energy cycles of the planet, but it can't last forever.  At some point no amount of giving on our part will undo all the "getting" we've added up.

As I am aging, slowly and quickly all at once, I am finding that the health of our societies and the condition of our planet are two things that are too difficult for me to process.  From the newest NASA images of the Greenland ice sheet melt to the violent fiction of a man dressed in a bat suit becoming nonfiction violence in our growing world, it all seems like too much to swallow.  Meanwhile real, nonfiction bats in North America are declining in shocking numbers due to white nose syndrome; a potential loss of 6.7 Million individuals and the cause of this devastating illness is still mostly unknown.  The factory farmed humans locked inside all day, fed stimulants and stimulus can barely defend themselves against a governing body whose greed both concentrates and destroys them like logs in a woodburning stove.  We are pushing this world to the very limit for the success of so few that the dream of exponential anything seems like such a crass joke.

But what can you do when all you have is one life, one shot at romance with this unforgiving, beautiful Earth?  You court the seasons one by one, relearn the rhythm in the chaos and set some roots in the ground.  You look forward to kale while you eat your tomatoes and as the trees drop their leaves, you lovingly lay your ambitions in the field and come inside for a hot drink and a creative heart.  Not sure how all that goes down?  Don't worry, neither was I.  I probably still don't quite get it in a lot of ways and I doubt that the entirety of my life will enlighten me to all the great complexities of my relationship with this world.  All I know is that Fall is coming soon, it's time to clean out the greenhouse, throw up the shade cloth and day dream about broccoli and beets.

Ride Like the Wind, You Naturally Grown Warriors!

I don't know about you out there walking around on different parts of the Earth, but Riceboro, Georgia just got hot. We playfully spent Spring maintaining low humidity, cool breezes, and an abundance of rain and then suddenly, humidity hit, the breeze slowed, and the thickness of the Deep South settled accross the Low Country. Doesn't make you want to do much more than eat watermelons and shell Crowder Peas in the shade. We finally recovered from all the soppy marsh soil we'd been managing for the two weeks of rain, and the farmer and the farm are still a bit behind, but we all seem to be trimming up nicely. The vibrant colors of summer articulate the landscape like paintings and our Okra plants are sharing with us their brilliant blooms, a deep blood red surrounded by a hue that seems to dance on the rainbow between the colors green and yellow.

Our meals hum with intensity as we feast on Hot Peppers, Fresh Tomatoes, flavor oozing Okra, and whatever delicious meat we picked up from the farmers market on Saturday. Something about the summer makes us feel alive, like all the colors on our plates bring out all the colors in ourselves. The struggle of Summer in the South is one of a Southern Farmer's greatest lessons. Summer brings heat from the sun, lack of rain, and thick humidity resting on your shoulders. All of this love and loss, effort and strife for sliced tomatoes and delicious homemade Mexican feasts. A Farmer in the South is probably a lot like farmers all over the place, but it does seem true that anyone farming down at the bottom of our Nation has a dedication to a strong back and a good tomato sandwich.

The wilds of the internet have given me a window into the farming lives of people from all parts of this Nation and the diversity in season and the variation in seed choices is enough to bring hope to any struggling thinker. The idea that so many people are sharing the important task of bringing real food to their community is something that brings me my second wind on a Friday afternoon when there is still a list of things to do and a temperature that has more than 2 digits. Knowing that dedicated customers support these brave people fighting to make a difference in a world that is not ready to change is what motivates me to get up at 4:45 AM every Saturday and put on my best, "I swear I am in a great mood and of course I want to set up the Market Booth!" smile. Saturdays are long days, but every single person that tells me a new recipe or asks me if my food is "Organic" is a reminder that people want to be good to each other and good to this world we share.

The truth is, we've got a rocky road ahead of us. Our food administration is hell bent on protecting anyone with enough money to cushion the immediate impact of their actions. Discount factors are high among humans and trapping our poorest brothers and sisters in the nutrient desert that is convenient, cheap fast food is not an empowered system and is a laughable evolutionary miss step. Forgetting how to take care of each other is how money has made us feel powerless. We have a world here, and it can be anything at all that we want it to be, we just have to settle for a little more sun on our skins and a little less sugar and empty nutrients.

Sometimes I am overcome with worry, but tonight, tonight I am in awe of you warriors out there bringing life to our communities and kindling for our souls. I am immensely grateful for such constant inspiration from people I have met who are promoting a healthy food system through their daily actions. I feel absolutely fulfilled when I see a tired Mother bringing her beautiful children to Market every Saturday to pick out the food they will eat that week. Getting to see these young, future fate holders of our planet eat a tomato right from the table or get excited about Okra is enough to put a permanent smile on my face. As I skim through the pictures of Farms growing everything from corn to kale, from tomatoes to turnips, I am less at odds with everything. I fight less for the cynical side of my mind and root more for the power of the individual, for the strength of the masses.

And Then She Said, "Let There Be Love!"

I have been sitting here staring at this screen trying to figure out what doomsday scheme I could write about this time, something deep seeded in human evolution or otherwise manifested from the evils of our greed and really all I could think to write about today is Love.

Throughout my life I have gone through plenty of my own external and self made struggles, I have found comfort in sorrow and being solitary and I have, on the other hand, felt moments of enlightenment, positive self awareness and shed many insecurities to truly feel days from the first bursts of warmth billowing out from the sun to the cool breeze of  a new moon.  Mostly I have found the elixir of life to be laughter, exposure to the outdoors, a positive self image, hard manual labor, and devouring delicious, homegrown foods.  Surely a lot of people could benefit from this combination of physical and mental treats, but there is one other component that has become very evident to me this past month which is ever so easy to take for granted, and that is Love.

Elliot and I got married on March 31st, 2012 and my goodness what a process that turned out to be.  Trying to get the farm where it needed to be in our growing season along side this Wedding planned right in the kisser of the annual Spring growing madness made for some very extensive work weeks.  It seemed like the intensity of having a homemade wedding with the expertise of some wonderful friends here on the Island and that of some of our most beloved traveling kindred spirits and family erupted in a rain storm that started about 2 hours before the actual ceremony and ended as my father and I stood, waiting to walk down the isle.  Most times there is nothing more calming to a farmer than a rain shower after a week of dry weather and surprisingly the rain did just that on our wedding day.  It was a wash of the anxiety, the chaos, the overwhelming thoughts of celebrating and solidifying a journey that we had already begun with the recognition of our friends, family, elders, and role models.  When I stood in front of the people who loved us enough to make the journey all the way to Riceboro, Georgia, looking into the eyes of the Love of my life, at the farm where I pour my heart and soul into the soil everyday, I felt so humbled.  It reminded me how small I am in comparison to all of the incomprehensible pieces at work in our physical and spiritual realities.  I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to Love this beautiful man for the rest of my life, receiving his Love in return, united in an effort to be good to all people in our path and to nurture the small corners of the planet we choose to inhabit.

Of course the Love felt on your wedding day is not at all limited to that which is shared between you and your new spouse.  Every person I interacted with during the entire process gave so much of themselves to help create this beautiful occasion.  Even during the times when the stresses of the components were at their most crippling, my heart was full to the brim with support, advice, and compassion from people who dotted timelines on every stage of my journey as a human being.  When a crowd is drawn together from the desire to celebrate the harmonizing of two hearts, it turns out to be quite the magical symphony of people indeed.

 

This one chaotic moment in time has had the added benefit of heightening my awareness of the Love shared, lost, savored, and denied throughout my day to day.  Love is no simple feeling and often comes with several ups and downs, none of which happening in any sort of predictable formation.  While it may very well be the most important function of our brains, it comes with a lot of costs and Love equates most easily to a struggling commitment over a chance happy ending of true bliss.  There are times when nothing in your life hurts more than your Love and times when other emotions such as resentment, fear, jealousy, and intolerance feel like a more appropriate fit. The true challenge in all of our lives here on Earth is letting Love prevail.  Not in some contrived sense, but in the sense that when you are able to Love others openly, your friends, family, partners, neighbors, those that have done you wrong, those that continue to do wrong, and most importantly, yourself, you will find an inner peace that cannot be achieved from any purchase, any achievement, or any social status.

To Love openly you must turn your judgements into curiosities.  You must find the inner strength to give value to yourself and your circumstances and to have the same compassion you have for others, for yourself.  It is a difficult task becoming so comfortable with who you are that you do not find the need to ridicule the physical and mental state of others.  While this is a life long journey for all of us, if we can attempt to approach more of our interactions, our communications, and internal thoughts with Love, there is a chance that humankind as a whole gets a little bit better.

One of the most special parts of the sustainable movement Elliot and I are a part of, in my opinion, is the sense of Love built upon this collection of fading traditional knowledge taken from our ancestors.  The willingness the youth of this generation has to work hard for very little reward beyond the fulfillment felt giving such incredible gifts to their communities is absolutely beautiful.  These ambassadors of sustainable farming and living are reminding all of us in this greater world the importance of putting Love into everything we do.  Love takes a lot of effort and the effort put into these old world trades reflects the Love and intention that is required to create such masterful pieces of art whether it be picked from the field, harvested from the woodlot, or crafted in the shop.  These individuals use Love to harness a work ethic required to mend cut corners and revitalized tortured landscapes.  All the while, all of this effort, this artistry, is shared willingly and joyfully with those who choose to be around it.  I'll take my Love where I can get it, and fortunately for me, my lifestyle rewards me with some of the most wholesome, abundant Love this world has to offer.  I just hope to meet it with an open heart and graceful, patient spirit.

Farming and the Ancient Spiritual Stirrings of Fear

We're nearing the end of January in the marsh and the warm, full days followed by the long, cool nights remind me of a Northern Spring.  Flocks of migrating waterfowl, including hooded mergansers, wood ducks, and grebes are collecting in the tidal canals.  The deciduous trees have dropped the last of their green and have further dramatized the elegant, spanish moss and stark, upright pines.  It is a beautiful, quieted version of the marsh, though not quite as quiet as the snow covered birches and quaking aspens I can just barely remember. The farm is probably the most alive looking place on the entire island.  Our vegetable beds shimmer and twist in the wind as the winter rye triumphantly heads for the heavens.  Patches of clover slither through the undergrowth and fill out from left to right like a delicate carpet of lace.  Rows of young onions and garlic, just as green, have ventured higher still with their long stalks thickening ever so slowly during these short, January days.  A few small rows of collards and scallions hang on for our own uses and a beautiful germination of baby spinach has popped up its first true leaves.  There are still a few lemons left to harvest and our strawberry plants are taunting us with their slow trot towards maturity.  We've cut the last of the sugar cane, put away about 250 lbs of storage roots, and the dead ferns of asparagus have been chopped and mulched to provide the young spears of 2012 with some added nutrients and protection.  The warm weather has ignited our ambitions and the greenhouse is already packed with the first favorites of Sping time crops.

I know this beautiful, mild weather should be enough to satisfy me in the present moment.  However, my racing human brain already has me fixating and fantasizing about the first squash harvest and first tomato sandwich.  I certainly remember the torture of the exotic heat and humidity of the deep South but I almost find myself longing for that as well.  I never considered myself one to desire pain and discomfort, but nostalgia has me remembering what it felt like to step out of the sun in the shade of the pines and catch a subtle, sea breeze.  The pleasures of working in the sun when it seemed so unbearable and taking the moonlit, sultry nights to enjoy the beauty lost to the heat of the day.  The wood storks, white ibis, spoonbills, many of the egrets and herons have left for their winter stomping grounds and the quieted version of the marsh has me feeling lonely.  The king fishers, bald eagles, and pileated woodpeckers should be enough to keep me full, but still I hunger for more.  I suppose cabin fever has a way of stretching its fingertips into more than just my cabin.  I suppose that maybe this year I will be even more Southern than last.

We awoke last night, several times, to the abrupt leaping of our canine companions to the windows and doors towards some outside disturbance.  Generally this involves a lethargic armadillo making its slow path around our cabin or a raccoon quickly ascending a tree.  Mostly we ignore them but do not always discourage their protective nature in the strange and random event that it could prevent us from harm.  Last night, it was a little bit different.  They jumped and snarled and ran about the house on the usual mission and then suddenly became nervous and quiet.  They came to our bedside and laid down, anxious.  Being only one tenth awake and nine tenths asleep, I rolled over and uttered something like, "Good Dog," or maybe "Finally."

My eyes were wide open seemingly before my brain had time to process the sound.  A pack of coyotes descended on the cabin with their haunting yips and yowls.  They were so close to the back of the cabin that we could hear the low, rumblings of their snarls and growls as they meandered through the forest floor.  A few would sound and silence and the loudest of the carols would quickly be replaced by heavy breathing and deep, throaty notes.  Elliot awoke in just about as much panic as I and we, all four, laid still, barely breathing, listening to the eerie sounds of the nocturnal predator.  I had no real cause for alarm, but the sound, the unpredictability of the noises, the thought that they could be stalking something with their excellent moonlit vision, it all wrapped me up in a tight bundle of nerves.  Their presence disappeared several moments after their last high pitch notes melted into the music of the night.

This certainly wasn't the first encounter we have had with coyotes.  I can remember on several occasions throughout our journey being stirred from rest by the shrill call of a pack of dogs tearing through the night.  One night when we were living in a Yurt in Northern Vermont we experienced a similar rude awakening by a fisher cat moaning in the moonlight.  All of these experiences, though we are completely out of harms way, leave us unsettled and shaken.  Our brain power has removed us from the circle of life by eliminating predation upon our species.  We've been cunning enough to eradicate the wolf, tame the bear, and make minute the threat of the wild cat and for that reason we have made more available to our own species all the resources our lands have to offer.  It is so earth shattering to us when someone is attacked by a wild animal or falls into the lion pit at the zoo.  The idea that an animal would take our lives, passionately, rocks us to the core.

But the species to species fight for survival is not an uncommon theme in the natural history of this watery paradise we inhabit.  Most creatures on this planet spend their days working towards furthering their species while narrowly evading their untimely demise at the jaws of a hungry creature.  There was even a time during our own evolutionary journey when this was a very big part of our own reality.  I recently watched the film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary based on the Chauvet caves of Southern France where the oldest pictorial creations of human kind have been preserved in an air tight cavern cracked open by the modern human world.  Within this cave are the most intense and soul-stirring images of predators and prey extinct long ago.  During this time in the human form it appears that our spiritual connection to these creatures and the land were much stronger than that of today.  The everyday encounters with these incredible beasts exploded within the human species an artistic representation of their affect on the lives and minds of the early humans.  After seeing this film, I spent several days completely consumed by the images and implications of the film.  It is only until recently that I have been able to digest the images, the abyss of time, and the journey we have made as humans to what our realities reflect today.

It has always bothered me when humans have boasted their intelligence and ingenuity over that of other species.  While our expansive use of tools and problem solving has served us better than many wild adaptations found in other forms in nature, there has always been something so very respectful about the way animals interact with one another in an ecosystem.  Something about that connectedness, that reliability plants and animals have with one another, sometimes in very exclusive ways.  This always seems to me to be a much richer form of interaction over that of humans to say chickens in chicken houses or cows in the dairy houses of today.  There is also something so seemingly enlightened about the way an animal caught by a predator seems to accept death once its fate seems sealed.  All of these beautiful displays of symbiosis can easily be chalked up to being animal, nonthinking, and obviously not as strong as humans as we enter a bottleneck of species extinction unlike many before, but this one cave in the South of France gives me hope.

Why?  Because it shows that there was a time when human beings were more associated with this united energy.  There was a time when human beings had to fight for food or become food and what did they do?  They began to paint the animals around them.  They were in spiritual awe of the world they shared with the other great predators of their time.  They showed a complex understanding of the movement, physical traits, and emotional displays of the creatures they interacted with.  Maybe they didn't understand modern day economics, or how to start an assembly line, but their understanding of their surroundings seemed absolutely profound.  This brings me hope because I know that this unbelievable connection to the plants and animals around us could not be completely severed.  We carry many similar qualities to these early humans and we have the same opportunity to reconnect to the wilds of the Earth.

I'm not saying it is time to put on the loin cloth and set up shop in your neighborhood park.  I'm just saying that if these creatures, these predators and these prey species, were so important to the early humans that it was the first images they felt spiritually compelled to recreate; that maybe they are important.  Maybe the way that animals think and behave does not come simply from their inability to be like us, their inferiority.  Maybe if we payed more attention to the wild spaces of our planet we could learn a thing or two about being present, being patient, and treating each other with respect.  Maybe at night when we hear the coyotes yipping and dancing, that bone chilling feeling we have is the soul of the forest beating on our spiritual drum.  I say we dance to that drum beat and rethink our desire to excavate all open spaces for the singularly forward movement of our own species.  It starts with curiosity.  First we have to take an interest in these places, these creatures great and small.  We can only build compassion for them if we choose to understand them.  If we fail to find them important, their spirits will be forever caught in photographs and images like those painted on a wall in a cave in a forgotten dream.

"I Just Don't Have a Green Thumb."

Sun Dog Farm is living true to its name as the Sun has been out everyday for what feels like months.  We haven't had a decent rain and many of our Spring time crops are showing signs of stress.  We are fortunate to have a deep well that has given us hope and kept our plants alive through the arid 90 degree weather.  Our chickens have done well enough laying eggs everyday and our other livestock have made the best of it by staying under the shade of trees and in areas of cool, dense brush.  The Summer crops seem to grow a foot a day; Tomatoes already whispering words like trellising and blooms.  Our Eggplants look as if they are war veterans with Flea Beetle holes like gun wounds creating leaves of delicate lace. Timid Squash plants have nervously set their first fruits as their rivals, the Squash bugs, have begun to lay their eggs upon the Squash greens.  The battle for food in the summer heat has just begun and we can only be hopeful for a spell of rain and the balancing acts of Nature's grace.

All of this slaving away in the field during the immense heat and aridity has brought me to thinking about what it takes to grow food for yourself and others.  We've put in hours that far surpass the average 9-5 job and yet we awake in the early morning with smiles on our faces, a little bit of anxiety to keep the ambition alive, and the desire to do good work and heal people utilizing the natural world, everyday.  The concept of a "green thumb" is troubling to me.  I have spoken with several people recently about how they just "don't have a green thumb" and I can assure you that it has nothing to do with your thumb (besides the evolutionary advantage of having a thumb, that is.)  Having a "green thumb" is an oversimplified explanation for a connection to the natural systems of the planet.  By stating that you do not have a "green thumb" you are simply saying that you do not understand or are removed from what it takes to make a living organism thrive.  There are varying levels of difficulty when it comes to making plants and animals survive that have been domesticated by the human species.  While I do understand how our modern civilization has removed many of us from the ever important task of nurturing life, I do not take "I don't have a green thumb" as a reasonable excuse for being oblivious to the role that our natural world plays in our everyday survival.

First we must examine the plants and animals we eat.  These creatures have been bred to produce high levels of fats, sugars, starches, proteins, and other necessary nutrients we crave and grow on.  They have been manipulated by our hands and have grown to produce more of the beneficial structures we now rely on to gain weight, utilized energy, and reproduce.  This is somewhat of a double edged sword for both the human species and the animals themselves.  Our manipulation has assured their species survival, but it has also eliminated their instincts and other attributes that allow them to survive on their own.  That makes tomato plants, cows, chickens, watermelons, goats, lettuce, and other plants and animals very vulnerable to our abuse and misuse.  Having a family milking cow or a small grass based dairy is the most respectful example of the human to animal symbiotic relationship while the factory farm dairies in the United States and beyond are examples of how easily these relationships can lead to abuse and exploitation.

Second we must review our role as stewards of this planet.  It is not our fault or the fault of any other organism on Earth that we have evolved such that our frail bodies have been time and time again protected by the ingenuity of our brains, allowing us to reach such great numbers.  Having been placed in that position, it is our responsibility to regulate the actions of our culture and the needs of our societies.  We have created a reality so vast and consuming that many of us do not even recognize how the natural world plays a role in our everyday lives beyond the lifestyle Soap Operas we all operate in; human centric and based on the idea of commerce.  Having a "green thumb" is left to the hippies, the idealists, and the outdoorsmen (and women) who, for reasons beyond even their own comprehension, open up ornamental nurseries, hike the Appalachian Trail, plant school gardens, or start working for close to nothing raising food for themselves and their community.  I believe that the desire to grow is a part of our intuition, it is the realization that human beings were once delicately placed in the balance with all organisms working together, not  in competition, to share this place we call home.

The modern age of convenience has robbed many of us of the ability, the work ethic, and the passion to take care of ourselves using the most basic of human instincts.  We've taken the lessons you learned from your grandparents about cooking food and growing vegetables and handed you Poptarts and an Excell spreadsheet.  We've compartmentalized your day so that you value only parts of your life as yours and accept that much of your life belongs to others to fulfill endeavors that are not your own.  This has been normalized, advertised, and explained to anyone who will listen as being the "American Dream" that will lead you to happiness, peace and prosperity.  But what does this really lead us to?  It leads us to a hierarchy that ensures that the "Haves" will easily and efficiently keep control of the "Have Nots" while swiftly overusing and wasting our natural resources

So what do we do?  What can we do in a system that is so slated against those of us who have a dime in our pockets and a full time job meant to support ourselves and those that we care for?  We have to find it within us to explore the instincts hidden deep within our bodies and souls.  We must not accept that we just "don't have a green thumb" and become more in sync with the rhythm of life that surrounds us and keeps us afloat.  We must plant gardens and watch them fail season after season before our questions and prayers are answered and our first perfect Tomato is enjoyed, as is, with a touch of salt.  We must enroll our students in the school of Universal-Reality where they realize that even at their smallest size, their bodies and minds can affect the greatest change.  We must take this age of convenience and feel bored, mentally exhausted, and thirst for the satisfaction of a hard day's work that serves as the best weight control tool, making us look better, feel healthier, and all the while steering us away from having to wear spandex in a room full of other humans rhythmically lifting and tugging on weights made of synthetics.  Your body was meant to do things, it has evolved to be strong and accomplished, to be beautiful every day and it is a sad waste of your precious figure to be glued to a desk with a screen, a Snickers Bar, and a bad attitude.

Change is not easy or quick, but the most positive aspect of it, is that it is happening all of the time.  We are moving towards a sustainable future and so many of us understand the benefits that lie within ourselves and in the hidden geometry and complexity of nature and it is only a matter of time before real change can be seen within Atlanta and the United States as a whole.  The more Urban Gardens that fill vacant lawns and parking lots, the more farmers that fill the rural horizons of Georgia, the closer we come to embracing our "green thumbs," our instincts, and our natural ability to nurture and take care of our resources and each other.  All is not lost and we are very close to a future that may allow us to leave this landscape in better shape than we found it for the children we raise and the lives they will one day lead without our guidance.  It is time to take value from the dollar bill, the clothing store, and the appliance outlet,  and apply it to the green things in our lives that are at risk of disappearing all together.  It is time to take this movement from a trend and turn it into a real way of living life.  It is time to support all farmers and growers who respect your health and the health of their land, everywhere.  You and I both may have little money, but we are powerful.  We have the perfect set of thumbs for the job and we can make change.  If we work together and recognize the biological world as kin, we can make things in our hearts, our forests, and in our gardens, grow as one.

Join Us at the Farm to Table!

Every night I close my eyes and dream.  I dream of events from the day carelessly mixed with memories and elaborate confusions.  Every night time is spent lost in my mind where all of my worries, excitements, insecurities, anxieties, and fantasies go to tea together.  The only thing consistent about them, or the passing of them, is that when I wake in the morning, Sun Dog Farm is one day closer to Spring.

Being one day closer to Spring, everyday, is a little intimidating and mostly exciting all at the same time.  Our greenhouse has finally been dressed and newly sown seeds are pulsing with life in seedling trays, gently moving upward towards the nourishing rays of the sun.  The smell of soil, humidity, and a sharpie always cause us to reminisce of every Spring we've spent organizing energy and nurturing these tiny, miraculous life forms.  Some seeds are so similar and yet as they grow the diversity of their genetics turns the greenhouse into a miniature rain forest of so many different leaves and stems.  The tags denoting their varieties emerge from the greenery like poems, "Vulcan, Early Jersey Wakefield, Champion, Giant of Italy, Henderson's Charleston, Vates, Dinosaur, Skyphos, Black Seeded Simpson, De Cicco," and on and on and oh, it is just the beginning.

As I sip my tea, scratch my head, and type, I can hear rain falling with some urgency outside.  Rain has been a common companion here at the farm as of late and we can't say that we're too distraught about it.  The risen water table will hopefully contribute to a nice, lush Spring and help give our vegetables the life giving water they need to carry on into the hot, unforgivable days of Summer.  It has been; however, too wet to wander out into our growing space and begin sculpting the landscape into segments and rows in preparation for transplants and seeds.  Organization has been key in this newest operation of ours and Elliot and I have spent our fair share sitting in front of Microsoft Excell trying to figure out how we had deleted an entire column of crops or why half of the spreadsheet had become bold.  It is all a part of the process, every bit, and there is nothing more empowering than making something from scratch.

To be empowered.  My daily commutes to and from the City of Atlanta for my off season job have given me a unique perspective on modern human development.  I drive from way out of town, in the boonies where Sun Dog Farm makes its home.  I drive over landscape that quickly transforms from rolling hills and clusters of forest still hanging on into the strip malls and fast food chains that spill over the edge of Atlanta as its population over boils.  I get closer still to the perimeter and more lanes are added to the road, more elaborate concrete has been poured for on and off ramps, overpasses, and a sturdy median.  As I breach the perimeter I am finally at the belly, Downtown where the money is, or in a lot of cases was, and the flannel shirts and baseball caps quickly mutate into flashy suits, designer glasses, and a sales pitch.  It would all be too much for me (I would be thrilled to never look at a billboard again,) except that I get to do it all in reverse on my trip home.

And what of this city life?  I have never done well in a city setting; the weight of human reality always in my eyes and ears sends me into some serious fits of zombie.  Everywhere you look, there is something to be sold or bought, a mostly naked woman here, a familiar celebrity posing with their favorite milk shake there, the most crude and hollow examples of our civilization on display guiding us and our youth further down the road.  It is complicated and complex, constantly changing, yet so much remaining dangerously the same.  Atlanta is just a city like others, facing the same problems, overcoming similar obstacles, but there is this one thing that keeps bringing me back.  It would be easy for me to write off the entire city of Atlanta, except for one thing: Food.

Food has always been the great peace maker in my life. Now the uniting forces of food are swiftly taking over small sections of the city where empowered and beautiful minds gather to go outside of the boundaries of modern culture and economy and stretch the limits of a "normal" city life. Rashid Nuri at Truly Living Well Urban Natural Farm, Joe Reynolds at Love is Love Farm at Gaia Gardens, Oakhurst Community Garden Project, Dunwoody Community Garden, and the increasing numbers of Farmers Markets and other growing spaces around the city are contributing greatly to awareness and the access of those in the city to healthy, sustainable food. I urge you to run to these places immediately and get involved!  Restaurants have also become savvy to the desire of their customers for thoughtful food and the importance of supporting those who grow it. Some of our favorite and, in our opinion, most influential Chefs in the food movement include; Steven Satterfield of Miller Union, Joshua Hopkins of Abbitoir, Todd Mussman of Muss and Turner's, Kevin Ouzts of Spotted Trotter, Thomas McKeown of the Grand Hyatt, and arguably the most revolutionary of the bunch, Chef Linton and Gina Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene, Holeman and Finch, H&F Bread Co, and H&F Bottle Shop. These individuals have spent their lives sculpting not only incredible foods, but incredible food pathways. As a food conscious human of Atlanta, I urge you to put down the taco bell, save up your pennies, and support these businesses because they have made it their business to support people like us.

"The greatest delight the fields and woods minister is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable.  I am not alone and unacknowledged.  They nod to me and I to them." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

We're all in 2011 Together

World!  It is 2011!  It is 2011 and there is so much to do, so much good to replace bad, so much healing of humans, wildlife, ecosystems, and communities.  There is an ever evolving list of things to become more conscious of as we move into a future less connected to the land.  It is 2011 and we are losing important habitats all over the world at an alarming rate, changing the world in ways we don't even realize will eventually change us.  We are relying more and more on technological advances in medicine to keep up with our unhealthy lifestyles.  We are less attuned to the natural forces of our planet and more of our time is spent inside focusing on realities that are entirely human inventions.  The distractions of this modern age of people do well enough keeping our brains constantly stimulated, always something to worry about, always some way to progress, reach success.  It gives us very little opportunity to search within ourselves for what truly brings us peace.  When the forces of our economy and practices of waste are added up, it seems like a desperate time, but this is the year.  This is the year to start over, to rethink the ideas sprouting from "how" and start asking ourselves "why?"

This year, the first official year of Sun Dog Farm, will be one of great hardship and tiny battles won.  With every person who grabs a CSA share or purchases Kohlrabi at the Farmers Market, a person, a couple, an entire family may be fed clean food whose roots dug deep into a landscape nurtured and replenished.  The hearts and minds of our nation are currently being redesigned as more individuals are becoming aware of our devastating food system.  More people want to feed their children the best of what's around.  More people bring their own bags to the supermarket or even teach themselves the skills to avoid utilizing the supermarket or drug store.  The year 2011 should be embraced by all as the year to reclaim our world from the clutches of wasteful consumerism, malicious advertising, and fear mongering and start moving into an age of self reliance, community, and grace.

All of this change requires an immense amount of patience.  Humans beings do not purposely cause harm to each other and their world around them, for the most part.  Much of the change we have to muster within ourselves needs to be spread to others through vigorous education and empowerment.  We are only as strong as our weakest links and we must do our part in picking up those who have fallen into despair due to the excess of others.  This is made ever more complicated with the value system put in place by the highest rungs of the economic food chain.  We need to take the time to educate individuals (without expecting an economic return) as to what is really important and necessary in a lifetime and guide all of us toward a more simple, responsible lifestyle.  It won't be easy or fun and there will be failure  and an awful lot of resistance along the way, but it will be the sort of challenge whose rewards are so sweet, they will slowly enrich the quality of all life on Planet Earth.

As for Sun Dog Farm, 2011 has already held several wins and losses.  The epic ice storm that closed down the City of Atlanta for a week locked us within our little homestead on the farm and made for some pretty mentally exhausting planning and plotting.  All the time spent nestled in the belly of our property gave us the opportunity to continue to explore our own self sufficiency and the weaknesses we feel we have as stewards of this landscape.  Big plans hatched, re-hatched, erased, and blossomed into ideas that will either lead us to victory or teach us some serious lessons.  The snow and ice keeping us from straying too far out of our county gave us the time to enjoy and learn from those in our wonderful community.  The ice has prevented us from planting onions, turned our goats and sheep into ice skaters, and caused our chickens to eat some serious feed.  Our lack of current income made it impossible for us to cover our greenhouse with plastic just before the ice hit, saving us from having to manage or replace plastic during the storm.  I don't know that there is a real balance to it all, but there certainly is an enchanting rhythm to aligning your life with that of the natural world.

Times have been pretty tough at the farm as our anxiousness for spring grows and our vegetable plot gently hibernates.  Driving home from Tagyerit Farm, owned and operated by the wonderful Michael and Mary Elizabeth Shoptaw (and their adorable son,) I distinctly remember feeling that inner peace that we all seem to be endlessly searching for.  Something about being around so many good people who love all life on Earth and have made it their personal goal to defend and support it connects all the dots in my soul.  The sun was setting over the white glazed pastures, brilliant pink reflecting from horizon to footstep.  I remember squeezing Elliot's hand and recalling the amazing number of Meadowlarks I had seen earlier in the day.  It's not perfect this life of ours, but my goodness is it beautiful.

"I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe." - His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Christmas Outside the Box

It’s that time of year again!  If you haven’t already heard your favorite Christmas song to the point of disgust then you clearly haven’t made yourself available to the Christmas Spirit!  It’s on the radio, lighting up in the trees, the clearance racks, and ribbons and pine can be found scattered all about homes and shopping centers.  The smell of cinnamon, holiday flavored lattes, evergreens, and credit card machines has everyone drooling.  We don’t have a TV, but I can just imagine the seductive commercials of kitchen gadgets, toys, flat screens, fashion gear, plastics and more all at the right price.  It is the Holiday of Consumption and my goodness is it in full swing!

Now please, don’t get me wrong.  I appreciate little more than a clever gift, well thought out and useful (or beautifully crafted.)  Christmas may be the only time that Elliot and I get items we are too self righteous to buy for ourselves.  It’s just the magnitude of the whole affair.  So much waste and consumption of resources is designated to this holiday that supposedly (having a few different origins) celebrated life and goodwill towards men (and my god, women too), none of which having much to do with spending as much money as you can on cheaply made products not meant to withstand the test of time.  I am certainly no authority on religion or the practices therein, but I do notice how convenient it must be to go from celebrating a uniting spirit and giving to those in need to celebrating a fat man in a red suit who is willing to give you anything and everything you want, all at once.  Have yourself a merry little indulgence!

I’m not pointing fingers here, it is very satisfying seeing someone’s face (especially children) light up over a gift.  This holiday ritual has also been going on for a very long time.  But what does Christmas really mean to us?  The reason so many of us are drawn to purchasing gifts, and wrapping paper, ribbons and tape is because of the love we share for those near and dear.  The obvious rush of adrenaline that takes over the minds and intentions of people Christmas shopping is a clear sign that our industrialized society has a significant hold on us.  As long as the fat cats who’ve manipulated our resources for the best quality of life money can afford them can rely on targeting our citizens through flashy advertising and ritzy products, they will do so.  They will do so at the expense of human beings, the environment, and those trying to enforce strict codes of conduct for the safety of our Nation’s people.  Now if there is any pattern worth obscuring with love, it’s this one!

I’m not saying if your mom buys you a car for Christmas you should give her a crappy Christmas card you made out of bark and sap, either.  I’m not saying you should do away with Christmas gifts and give your expectant children hugs and haikus when they come down to an empty tree.  I’m just encouraging all to ponder the idea of “Less.”  Try to buy less products so that you can spend more of your money on higher quality items made to last.  Try to buy products that have traveled less of a distance to reach your Christmas Tree.  Try to buy less paper and plastic to adorn your packages and household while thinking of creative ways to recycle materials or try and make your decorations yourself.  Select a Christmas tree from a farm whose practices involve less of an impact on the surrounding landscape.

The ultimate less is trying to come up with Christmas presents that are handmade by you!  Just because the elves working hard in Santa’s workshop at Nike can churn out a product that seems inconceivable to design does not mean that you with your normal human hands have to make poorly put together handmade goods.  There are several incredible things you can make with your own two hands that are beautiful and desirable.  There are many ancient skills lost to the everyday American who has grown up in the age of convenience.  If you need help coming up with some ideas, send me an email..  I have loads.  My family will undergo the joys of Darby and Elliot creations whether they are ready for them or not!

But really.  Beyond the spending, the less, the more, the here, or the there, Christmas is about celebrating the people in your life that keep your heart warm through the chilly winter.  It’s about giving back to those who have given so much to you.  It is a Holiday that exists only in your heart and it can mean as much or as little to you as you choose.  No matter what you get or give, I hope that you embrace those crazy people in your family and show them how they’ve all helped see you through to Christmas Day.

“Good workmanship-that is, careful, considerate, and loving work-requires us to think considerately of the whole process, natural and cultural, involved in the making of wooden artifacts, because the good worker does not share the industrial contempt for “raw material.”  The good worker loves the board before it becomes a table, loves the tree before it yields the board, loves the forest before it gives up the tree.  The good worker understands that a badly made artifact is both an insult to its user and a danger to its source.” --Wendell Berry

The Holidays Taste Familiar

Something about the softness of a cloudy day stirred up with the spontaneous fires and sparks of changing leaves always steers my dreaming towards childhood memories and family gatherings.  Maybe it is the chill of the weather that brings us together over food and libations, sharing our mysteries and retelling the oldies but goodies.  I anxiously await a table full of handcrafted creations, shared and passed by many hands before it is plopped down in front of me, steaming and smelling of traditions kept.

As my emotions orbit the upcoming holiday festivities of Thanksgiving and Christmas, the farm continues to get ready for the cool down.  Our crops in Douglasville are starting to slow as our cover crop in Buckhead is starting to grow.  Rows have been skillfully tilled and shoveled into perfectly straight lines by Elliot and garlic will soon make its  home in the soft, fluffy soil.  The beds will be mulched with hay and (fingers crossed) there will be garlic to harvest following winter as the world begins to warm.  The animals are all putting on their winter coats and fences are being mended to welcome their arrival onto our new land.  The blissful act of chopping wood accompanied by the meticulous building of fires in our fireplace have taken the edge off the slowly cooling weather.  Clouds of blackbirds have been dancing for us over the open fields mimicking the bee swarms of the summer.  Their cackling and conversations fill the air as they land in the treeline of our home.  Our homestead continuously smells of hardy meals of greens and roots devoured quickly in hopes of staying warm through the night.

Much of my time during this activity lull is spent spinning the pounds of wool collected from this year's fleece harvest.  There is nothing more meditative to me than sitting on the back porch in the golden hue of fall with wool running through my fingers.  Elliot and I have a lot of planning to do with both our plants and animals in the spring.  We will be elbows deep in more wool, goat's milk, lambs and kids, chickens, vegetables, and hopefully two piglets for the chest freezer.  We are currently crafting a plan to can all the vegetables we will need for next winter throughout next year's growing season.  We are still working through the kinks of our CSA as members are beginning to show interest in signing up.  There is still more advertising to do and more families to add to the list of families we hope to provide wonderful food for.  So much to do, such a short window of opportunity, and all I can do is hurry up and wait!

These cool weather days spent indoors are often accompanied by smothering ponderings both positive and negative.  Lately I have been so lost in thoughts that it feels like the "real" world is spinning by without me.  There is always so much to consider when trying to process the endless list of problems human beings face on this planet and within our own society.  Often, these thoughts lead me in a very hopeless direction as the negatives collect and churn into a bad attitude.  In all of this hopelessness, I have found sanctuary in the spirit of children.  One will recognize quickly after spending time with a child that evil, hatred, greed, and intolerance are not embedded into the DNA of human beings born.  All attributes of humanity are learned and just as easily learned are the guiding forces of compassion, a love for the natural world, and the desire to love and nurture other human beings.  This desire to only do good is easily complicated by the demands of a modern world and I would encourage all to embrace the child like desire to love and do good work throughout our day to day.

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.” - Rachel Carson

Building My Nest

This sleepy, rainy weather is such a stark contrast to the drought conditions we've experienced over the past few months. We were beginning to watch our fields crack; lines of separation sprawling from one bed to another as our plants wilted and struggled to grow. All of our gardens were beginning to look like mini deserts with backdrops of trees losing their leaves early under the stresses of aridity. Our harvests for market were slowly shrinking and we were beginning to worry that the fall growing season of gorgeous greens, roots, and spicy flavors was going to give way and slowly wither from frenzied thirst. Desperate times call for desperate measures and for many days Elliot and I could be found out in the field carrying buckets and watering cans all over the farm in hopes of quenching the roots and leaves of our most delicate plants and germinating seeds. Fortunately, just in time, rain has finally come. I remember waking in the middle of the night to the first pitters and patters of life giving water on our roof and feeling a deep sense of relief and appreciation. October has proven to be a very busy month for the two of us. Elliot has spent hours on the tractor in Buckhead, Georgia at our new farm getting the growing space ready for a winter cover crop. After several different tractor implements tore through the thick, healthy sod of the pasture, it was finally time for a fresh, leveling till that would allow our cover crop seeds the proper growing medium. Following a full Sunday of tilling and homemaking, we walked the two acres in lines with seed buckets strapped to our bodies until the sun had completely descended below the horizon. I was tired and sore, feeling the weeks in a row we've gone without a single day of rest, but I found myself at peace. Bats left their perches inside tree bark and took over the evening sky, the cows in the neighboring pasture gently hummed and settled into their sleepy groups, Bell, becoming somewhat nervous of the falling sun, attached herself to my side and did her best to keep up as we quickly walked the field.

Our transition to the new property is nearly real as we intend to move the limited furniture we have and our chickens from the camper in Douglasville to our house in Morgan County next week. With the little that we own, it will likely feel as though we are camping inside the large, spacious house. Like a broody hen I have developed nesting fever, endlessly pondering the placement of items utilitarian and decorative. At our usual stops in hardware stores I find myself looking at lamps and light fixtures and considering the ambiance each would add to particular rooms or how they would look against the somewhat outdated textures and color schemes of the house. Most of these thoughts are just dreamings as Elliot and I have no intention of buying anything new and our home will be made of recycled goods of all kinds donated or discovered and acquired very slowly.

As the cooler weather sweeps into our lives we realize that like most things in nature, it is time to slow down. With no fields of vegetables to tend to this winter, our energy will be spent planning out our growing space, fixing up our home, planning out the lambing and kidding season, spinning wool, writing, reading, collecting CSA members, meditating, and reviving our bodies and minds with plentiful rest. This work we do to the point of exhaustion comes with no economic gain and many capitalist headaches, but the lifestyle we live and the community we contribute to everyday is invaluable.  With every step taken towards our own self sufficiency, I know that I am learning from experience and rattling ancient wisdom from the soil with my own two hands.

"The problem is that man's conquest of the world has itself devastated the world. And in spite of all the mastery we've attained, we don't have enough mastery to stop devastating the world--or to repair the devastation we've already wrought. We've poured our poisons into the world as though it were a bottomless pit--and we go on gobbling them up. It's hard to imaging how the world could survive another century of this abuse, but nobody's really doing anything about it. It's a problem our children will have to solve, or their children." - Daniel Quinn

It's Time to Change

I have begun a journey and I need your help. Yesterday I went to the Field of Greens Festival and celebrated life and food with all my favorite friends, chefs, farmers, and met so many new, incredible human beings.  I ate incredibly well, drank incredible brews made by the masterful, Mike Lorey from his Folsy Brews Collection, and laughed so hard and so often that today my face is sore.  It is absolutely wonderful being surrounded by individuals who are empowered to care about good food grown and cooked the right way.  I felt so much love as I drifted from one conversation to the next that when it was time to leave I could feel my spirit trying to cling to the left over feelings of peace.  I had some trouble sleeping last night (likely due to the quantity of brews I was given) and it left my mind to wanderings of why it all felt so good.  After hours of thinking and laying in the darkness, listening to the gentle hum of the bustling city outside, I decided it was time to start my journey.

My journey is not a physical one; it is not a journey with a clear, finite destination.  My journey is a spiritual one where I will attempt to become a more positive being.  I have been doing some reading lately that has influenced me to truly believe in the power of positive energy and the betterment of the world through the betterment of ones self.  The Field of Greens Festival was pure positivity from every source and it only leaves you to wonder why human beings can be so destructive to one another where there is the opportunity to be so good.  Food and beer definitely help, but honestly I believe more days can be spent with a smile on our faces and a helping hand extended to those who need it.  Being a very sarcastic human being is part of my charm (yes, I said charm) but I know that my sarcasm consistently borders on cynicism.  This fall, next year, this life I am going to attempt to go through a huge attitude shift.

This is not an easy thing for me to do, as Elliot has noted I am somewhat of a "Hater."  Not that I actually hate things, just that it is part of me to poke fun at the silly mishaps and shortcomings of life and the pursuits therein.  I think that a little bit of that goes a long way and too much of it can definitely lead to a bad attitude problem, which is where I believe I find myself sometimes.  I can be harsh, unforgiving, and I can feel hopeless and helpless in situations where there is so much that can be done.  With this journey I want to latch onto the positive forces in my life and make a change for myself and the world that surrounds me.  I want to approach every situation with an honest heart and always try to be understanding before I am critical.  Love will be my motivation and I hope to give it to those whom I am fortunate enough to cross paths with in this life of mine.

This is where I need your help.  Being a cranky Yankee makes this a very hard and nearly impossible feat.  I will need a lot of positivity in my world to be able to map out the personality changes I am hoping to go through.  I need to be taught good forms of meditation and or ways to naturally, holistically curb stress.  I would also appreciate book recommendations which are always useful when trying to create a new reality for yourself.  I want to purify my diet, once again, and will need help fighting the urges to consume the occasional sugary delight or savory snack.  Mostly though, I hope that many of you will consider taking this journey with me.  Positivity is another part of our lives where a little goes a long way.  Maybe the next time some Atlanta driver cuts you off on I-285 instead of flicking them off you hope for their safety and think about how you could become a more careful, conscious driver.  The next time you're at your favorite dining spot and your waitress is rude, you meet her with an equal amount of love in hopes that she will feel better and her service will improve for others.  Or you can just have fun by telling me to put down the hamburger I am about to stuff in my face.

I know that my move back out of the city and onto the new farm in November will drastically help my pursuits towards peace.  Elliot and I will be spending the day today preparing our acre garden plot at Sun Dog Farm in hopes of throwing out some cover crop seed this week.  The farming community of Buckhead, Georgia is full of love and only part of the wonderful collection of people I get to interact with everyday within this food movement.  I am lucky that I have them on my side, a beautiful plot of land to farm and live, wonderful plants and animals to raise and eat, and a beautiful, passionate human being to share it all with.  There is so much good in this world that there is no room for a bad attitude, anyway.  Let's change the social climate of our world this week and be good to one another.