Author: ingoodheartfarm

Farm It Forward, In Good Heart, sustainable farming, Western Wake Farmer's Market

Western Wake Farmer’s Market Vendor Spotlight


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 Check out the spotlight on us in the Western Wake Farmer’s Market newsletter. Thanks WWFM! 
Vendor Spotlight: In Good Heart Farm

In Good Heart Farm (formerly Ben’s Produce), owned and operated by Ben Shields and Patricia Parker, offers vegetables, strawberries & flowers of the highest quality and taste in the Triangle from their farm in Clayton, NC. Their mission is to strive for healthier people, community, agriculture and planet by growing and sharing the best tasting food they can. Their farming practices meet and surpass organic guidelines but they choose not to be certified because they are confident the reflection of their practices in the quality of their produce as well as their relationship with you speaks to their commitment to healthy food and holistic agriculture. 2012 will be their third year farming independently, though they have been farming with family and friends for many years.

Ben grew up farming and swore it off in early adulthood. After working a desk job in Manhattan, Ben realized he wanted to live a farming life. Patricia never imagined she’d be farming someday. She met and fell in love with Ben, realizing his dream was unexpectedly hers too. They farm because they love to grow goodness.

To make their farm sustainable, Ben and Patricia add nutrients to the soil using cover crops and crop rotation. They also use compost. They are currently making their own compost with scraps from Pullen Place in Raleigh. They also plan to start using the chicken tractor to allow the chickens to clean up old areas as well as fertilize. They irrigate when there is not enough rain and when they transplant seedlings. In terms of pest management, they begin by farm-scaping and planting crops that encourage beneficial insects with food and habitat (those critters that eat or otherwise kill the critters that eat the plants). They also work hard to improve their soil and boost the natural pest and disease resistance of the vegetables. The better the soil quality, the better their plants are able to fend off pests and disease.

Ben and Patricia are not only active on their farm, but also in our community. They feel very strongly that we need to grow more healthy food, more healthy communities, and more sustainable farmers so that we can all live good lives. They not only work to grow healthy food and relationships, but they also work to spread what they know and what they do as much as possible. Ben and Patricia co-founded Farm it Forward with Advocates for Health in Action and partners Wake Med, Energize!, the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, and EFNEP and NC Cooperative Extension. 2012 will mark their second year providing CSA shares to families in need who might not otherwise have access to sustainably grown produce. They are also involved in two agriculture-related working groups in the area. They take every opportunity to participate in local panel discussions, to speak with kids at schools, and they always invite folks to come out to the farm and learn more about what they do.

Ben and Patricia love that they are able to complement each other so nicely in their partnership as farmers as well as life partners. “We are so lucky to be able to do something we believe in and something we know makes a positive difference, even if it’s small. We love being able to form lasting relationships with the land and so many wonderful community members. “

They want you to know that you are MUCH more than a customer! Your participation makes you a co-producer. As Wendell Berry says, “Eating is an agricultural act.” Never doubt your actions have ripple effects around you. Change doesn’t have to be overwhelming – begin with baby steps. Together, we can all make the world a happier and healthier place!

So, why the name change? In Good Heart has a lot of meanings, but they decided on the new name based on the Old English use of the phrase. To say that the soil is in good heart is to say that it is healthy, in good cultivation, and in good spirit. To say that a person is in good heart is to say that they are cultivating wisdom, courage, and good spirit. Ben and Patricia felt that their farm name should represent their vision and they couldn’t think of a better representation of what they want to do and what they want to be in our world than In Good Heart.

To learn more about In Good Heart Farm, visit  www.facebook.com/InGoodHeartFarm and  www.BensProduceNC.com or contact Ben and Patricia at  InGoodHeartFarmNC@gmail.com, (919) 800-8898.

beneficial habitat, Clayton Farm and Community Market, cover crops, Farm It Forward, NCRS high tunnel cost share, Raleigh Downtown Farmer's Market, Wendell Berry quote, Western Wake Farmer's Market

Busy Bees


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Boy oh boy – it’s been a busy year so far! The last time I posted, I posted the invite for the 2012 Onion Planting Party. It was a HUGE success! We managed to plant – not 1,500 but 6,000!!! onion plants! And we did it all in under an hour. We finished so quickly, I was thrown off guard and hurriedly got together the food from inside to put outside under the tents – with the help of mostly the female folk in attendance. The taco salad, burrito/taco bar food theme was also a success. I’ve struggled to try to come up with a good theme that allows me (and others) to easily have food to meet almost everyone’s food preferences (e.g., gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, paleo, etc.). Thanks go to my mom for coming up with the idea! By three o’clock or so, most folks had a chance to plant, party, and were on their way. It was a beautiful, semi-lazy Sunday and we got work done – that’s my kind of Sunday! 
Folks gettin down and dirty with the soil. 

Look at that gorgeous blue sky.

Time to dig in!
Ben and I (with some help from our friend and CSA member, Charlotte) have been doing a lot more planting since then. Just to give you a good idea – those 6,000 onions were planted in 2 ½ beds (240 bed feet each). Since then, we’ve planted almost THIRTY (200-240ft long) more beds of produce that includes, spinach, beets, tat soi, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, scallions, leeks, chard, kale, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, parsley, fennel, carrots, peas, mesclun, arugula, dill, cilantro, and potatoes (I might be forgetting something). And, to tell you the truth, April is going to be our busiest planting month of all – and it just started! We can hardly believe it’s April already. April is not only our busiest planting month, we also do a lot of cultivating and weeding, and getting ready for markets. 
This year, we’ll be attending the Western Wake Farmer’s Market (the Spring/Summer market opens this weekend 8am-noon), the Clayton Community and Farmer’s Market (opening 4/14 9am – 2pm), and, for the first time, the Raleigh Downtown Farmer’s Market (opens 4/25 Wednesdays 10 am – 2pm). We’ve also increased our CSA membership to 59 shares. The small share size and alternating small share pick up weeks has allowed us to do this. We’re happy to see so many folks return and we’re also happy to see new folks join CSA and this CSA more specifically. We will also be continuing our Farm It Forward efforts this year. We hope to have two 6 week long Farm It Forward sessions, providing CSA shares to 12 families.

As you know, we rotate our cover crops and we also plant to encourage beneficial (to the health of the farm) critters. So, we’ve also spent some time taking down the low tunnels, mowing the winter cover crops, prepping beds for the spring crops, and then also mowing down the old winter vegetable crops and prepping ground for spring cover crops to go in. The cover crop that was just mowed consisted of barley, oats, peas, daikon radish and volunteer vetch and crimson clover. Ben planted Dutch white clover, mustard, barley and wild flowers for our beneficial habitat.

Here’s a picture of the beautiful cover crop we just mowed down.
In other news, we applied for and received a NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service – part of the USDA) high tunnel cost share! We currently have three home made high tunnels. We first constructed them in October. Shortly, we will take them down and set them up elsewhere for our use with Spring and Summer crops (mostly, tomatoes). As you can probably imagine, it takes a lot of time and effort to take down and reconstruct these high tunnels – and we’re not complaining! – we’re happy to have them! BUT – let’s just say that the new tunnel we’ll be getting from the NRCS cost share will be A LOT easier to move!!! This one will be on tracks and it will therefore be easily mobile. We’ll just have to slide the hoop house down the tracks (rather than completely taking it down, moving the parts, and then putting them back together again). So, while we’re not complaining about our homemade three high tunnels, we’re very excited to get one that will be more efficient and a lot less work, so that we can focus our efforts on one of the other tasks on our never-ending to do lists (actually, thanks to Ben and Habits of Successful People, we use a to-do quadrant with important/urgent, important/less urgent, less important/urgent, and less important/less urgent as the categories – it took some convincing for me, but it really does work!).  
Of course, in addition to our making preparations for a busy and productive year on the farm, we’re also making preparations for the arrival of our newest family member, Elliott (in late June or early July). The same day we had our (very fun!) baby shower, 50 baby chick-a-dees arrived in the mail. It was a Sunday, so the main Post Office in Raleigh called us at 7am to let us know the chicks had arrived and we could pick them up. So, of course, that’s what we did (well, Ben and my dad went – my mom and I were getting things together for the shower). While my folks were here, we got a lot of our nesting accomplished, with their BIG help including, putting new blinds on all of the windows, putting up new curtains in Elliott’s room and the living room, putting a new sliding glass door that leads out of our kitchen onto the porch, refurnishing the living room with new to us items – including my Oma’s awesome couch from the 1970s, setting up Elliott’s room organizationally and making it a guest room for now, which leads to the biggest deal yet – we got a new KING SIZE BED (and moved our old bed into the guest room – which will be Elliott’s room down the road)!!! Ben sleeps like a crazy person, our bed was old and may as well have been a hammock, and we’re about to have another person in it with us, so we decided (thanks to the help of my folks) to get a new bed. Ben and I are in heaven – we both feel like we’re the luckiest people ever to have a bed so darn comfortable. I’m not sure the thanks I feel every time I get in that bed is ever going to go away – and I’m sure Ben feels the same way. When you’re exhausted after a long day, and place you can lie down will do the trick, but having something you can wake up from rested – well, that’s heaven! Before my folks came, Ben and our neighbors put in wood laminate flooring in the guest room (to replace the old “white” plush carpeting). Ahhh – it is nice to have a cozy home – thanks mom and dad!

Mom, Dad, Ben and I (with Ben’s sister Mary in the background)
What else? Hmmm…there are a lot of other things that have happened out here since the last time I posted – but I’m not sure I can keep them straight. It might be a little easier if I just listed the rest of what I can remember:
·        Ben’s cousin, Roy, designed our new logo.
·        We designed a new banner for market and friend Cyndi hooked us up with a sign maker, Steve, who’s doing the printing for us. We can’t wait to hang the new banner up!
·        We also designed new business cards. We should get them in the mail sometime in the next week or so.
·        We met with our Farm It Forward partners to decide on a plan of action for Farm It Forward 2012.
·        Ben will be a panelist for the “What’s on Your Plate?” screening April 17th.
·        I volunteered for this year’s Dig In! event (it was lots of fun!).
·        We repaired the pick up (it needed a new starter).
·        We’ve been working on getting together our new pole building and walk-in cooler.
·        We finally finished weeding our strawberries just in time to have to do it all over again!
·        We pick up compost weekly from Pullen Place.
·        We’ve done our monthly profit and loss reports and we’re almost finished with our tax paperwork (cutting it close, I know) for 2011.
·        Ben, with the help of a neighbor welder, Jeff, designed and built a custom-made garden cart that’s big enough to wheel with us over the rows. We can also attach the custom built row marker as well (this saves us countless hours overall).
Well, that’s all folks – at least for now! We hope you enjoy our farm updates. We’re looking forward to a fantastic Spring and Summer – see you around!

Wendell Berry
farm potluck, In Good Heart, onions, planting party

In Good Heart Farm Planting Party & Potluck Sunday, March 11th


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Join us for our second annual Onion Planting Party & Potluck! We have about 1,500 onion plants to get into the soil so we can enjoy those tasty red candy apple, candy, and red creole alliums in the months to come. We’ll spend a couple hours getting those tasty treats in the ground and then we’ll feast outside with the fruits of our labor in view.

In the interest of the environment, please bring your own “table” (e.g., plate, utensils, glass/cup, etc.). We will provide a main dish and a colorful salad straight from the garden and we encourage you to bring your favorite treat (e.g., appetizer, side item, desert) if you’d like.

You are welcome to bring children, friends & family! The more the, the merrier!

Hosts: Ben Shields & Patricia Parker
Phone: 919-800-8898
When: Sunday, March 11th – planting (noon-2pm), feasting (2pm-5pm)
Where: In Good Heart Farm 1000 McLemore Road Clayton, NC 27520
*** In the event of bad weather, we will re-schedule the planting party for Sunday, March 18th. 

RSVP: Please send us your name & email address (to BensProduceNC@gmail.com) if you would like to spend a Sunday afternoon on the farm planting onions with us, eating good food, & enjoying good company.

Advocates for Health in Action, CRAFT, Local Food Micro Enterprise Working Group, manure spreader, recommended reading, spring/summer crop plan

Life is what happens…


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…to you while you’re busy making other plans.” (John Lennon)

That may be the case, but even so, Ben and I have spent quite a lot of the new year planning for the rest of 2012. As of yesterday, we finished our crop plan! This may not sound like the impressive feat that it is if you’re not aware of the time and effort that it takes to try to decide how much of each item we would like to have available for every week of 2012. Consider on top of that that we’ll be growing almost 50 different crops and over 150 different varieties of various crops (e.g., we’ll have 10 different potato varieties and 13 different tomato varieties). Diversity is the spice of life!

In addition to finishing up the crop plans, Ben and I have spent some time running around getting all of our new business eggs in a basket. We canceled our listing as Ben’s Produce with the Wake County Registrar of Deeds and we applied (and were approved) for our business name of In Good Heart Farm with the Johnston County Registrar of Deeds. I imagine changing a business name is something like changing your own name. We’ve had to open up new bank accounts and close old ones. We’ve applied for and received our new EIN number as well. Ben’s cousin, Roy, is working on our logo for us and it is well on its way to being finished. Once we have our logo, we’ll work on changing our electronic communications (new website with new URL and new Facebook page and the like). We also need to get a new banner for market. We’ll miss the old hand painted banner April made for us.

We were pleasantly surprised this month with a week-long visit from Ben’s mom, Jody. Jody is a fiber artist. She is employed by Rambler’s Way and also is a small business owner of Botanical Shades (a natural dye company). You can see a beautiful shot of Jody at work here. Jody came to NC to work with the folks in textiles at NC State and we got to visit with her, so it was a win-win situation :).

I’ve also spent a lot of time reading since the new year. Some of the books I’ve read include Crop Planning for Organic Vegetable Growers, The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crops, and Staff – and Making a Profit, and Ecology for Gardeners. I’ve read through the first two once already, but the latter is a little more slow-going for me (although I find it more fascinating than business planning, planning has been the task of the year so far).

In other news, Ben and I have purchased a manure spreader! We’ll be able to use it to spread manure in the future (when we have more farm animals) and we’ll be using it this year to spread compost. Last year Ben spent days upon days spreading compost by the truckload, *by hand with a shovel*! I am not kidding you when I say he spent days upon days. I posted quite a few pictures of Ben engaging in this task last year on our Facebook page, but I’ll post some here too:

You can get a good glimpse below of the area that Ben covered in one day.

The picture below gives you a good idea of what our manure spreader looks like (we don’t have ours yet – we’re picking it up at a farm in Snow Camp this Sunday) – except ours has rubber tires. 

This year is going to be substantially less physically taxing (or that’s the idea anyway) with the help of the manure spreader and our tractor (we no longer have to depend only on the walk-behind tractor – aka tiller). Although, of course, when you have equipment of any kind it requires maintenance and repair. And of course, the tractor needs a little bit of both. Here’s Ben driving the tractor 2 miles down the road to take the tractor to the repair shop (we are so lucky to have a garage specializing in tractor repair so close to us!).

In addition to our usual farm chores and tasks, we’ve been getting involved in some events in our community. Last week our interns, Meredith and Aaron, and Ben and I all attended the first Local Food Micro Enterprise Working Group meeting of the year. This group emerged out of an Advocates for Health in Action (AHA) event, “Connecting the Dots: Creating a Local Food System in Wake County.” Over 20 movers and shakers were able to attend this first meeting of 2012. Thanks to the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle for letting us use their board room for the meeting! We will be having many more meetings in the year. If you are interested in joining the discussion, please feel free to email Ben (shields.ben@gmail.com) or I (parker.patricia@gmail.com) to let us know you’re interested and we’ll add you to the listserv.

In addition to the working group, yesterday Ben and I had the pleasure of speaking with 4th, 5th, and 6th graders at the Sterling Montessori and Charter School. Juliann, our market president, invited us to speak to her son’s class – taught by Teacher Tom. We were so impressed with how engaged and smart of all the kids were. We told them a little bit about ourselves and the farm and sustainable farming more generally. We also played a game, “Star Power” (thanks Emily and David!), to talk about how the system rules are often created by those in power so that the rules allow them to maintain and even increase their power. The driving home point we tried to have for the kiddos is that gain that comes at the loss of another is not sustainable and that gain that is absolute (as with increasing fertility through crop rotation, cover crops and the like) – or gain that does not come at a loss – is sustainable. We strive for the latter. Here we are with the kids after we finished playing the game. 

Finally, tomorrow Ben and I are attending the first meeting of the Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) in the Piedmont region (CRAFT-UP). Here’s what the email that piqued our interest has to say about the organization and the meeting itself:

The Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) is a farmer-led coalition organized by sustainable agriculture farmers in a self-selected geographic region. Participating farmers offer up their time, talents and experience to help prepare the next generation of farmers. The secret to CRAFT’s success is simple — farmers learn most effectively from other farmers. CRAFT provides farmer-to-farmer learning and access to the social network and culture of local farmers.”  ( www.craftfarmers.org).   Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training – United Piedmont (CRAFT-UP) will offer resources for farmers (and farmers-in-training) of the Piedmont bioregion. CRAFT-UP will be a venue for established Piedmont farmers to streamline and network their training opportunities, while providing beginning farmers with a formal network and more resources for entry
into farming careers. Many CRAFT groups also host social events for beginning farmers to get together casually and celebrate! CRAFT members will gain access to on-farm training and learn skills that will support their transition from farming beginners to market farmers.

We don’t know much beyond that, but it sounds right up our alley! 🙂

Well, I suppose I’ve said enough for now. I hope you enjoyed the update. Thanks for stopping by!

farm news, In Good Heart, New Beginnings

New Beginnings In Good Heart


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It feels like Spring around these parts, even though it’s still about three months away. The days are beginning to grow longer once again and life is full of new beginnings for Ben and I this year.  For one, we have a new name. Ben’s Produce was never really our first choice. Actually, our first choice was Veni Vidi Vegetables (as in, I came, I saw Vegetables). We were so proud of ourselves when we came up with that name, but when we told folks about it, no one got it and others people told us they couldn’t pronounce it. So we scrapped Veni Vidi Vegetables and decided on Ben’s Produce for its simplicity. It’s been a good name for us. It’s good to have your name in your business name – it means everyone knows your name. But we also feel the name limited us in two main regards: 1) we want to move beyond just produce and 2) well, it’s not just Ben. Ben and I talked about changing our name last year, but when Ben’s Produce was voted Edible Piedmont’s farm of the year, we decided to delay the name change and resolved to change it for 2012. We threw around a lot of names, some serious, some not so much, before we finally came to In Good Heart Farm. In Good Heart has a lot of meanings, but we decided on the name based on the Old English use of the phrase. To say that the soil is in good heart is to say that it is healthy, in good cultivation, and in good spirit. To say that a person is in good heart is to say that they are cultivating wisdom, courage, and good spirit. Ben and I felt that our farm name should represent our vision and we couldn’t think of a better representation of what we want to do and what we want to be in our world than In Good Heart.
In addition to our changing the farm name, we are also changing the farm input – which is to say that I am now also a full-time farmer, along with Ben! I have gained a lot from working toward my PhD in Sociology at NC State, including mentors and friends. And while I will always think of myself as a Sociologist, I no longer feel that earning a PhD is an important goal for me. I never knew farming would be the life for me. It’s physical, cerebral, spiritual, immensely rewarding and it enables me to feel like I am doing something – and more than that, that I am doing something positive in conjunction with the people and the things that I care about. Ben came to his realization a few years ago when he decided to leave his job working for Smithsonian Magazine in Manhattan and move to NC with me. Now we’re on the same track and we couldn’t be happier, which is great – because the other new beginning in our life is that we’re going to be parents this summer! Ben and I (and our families) are thrilled and can’t wait until we get to meet the little one sometime in June (I’m due near the end, but my mom swears I’ll give birth two weeks prior to my due date). Life is good and we’re ready to take on this year with all the vigor it deserves! Stay tuned! 
farm bill

Bicameral Dissonance


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Here’s a follow-up write up to the previous post. It’s from this week’s newsletter and it was written by Ben.

With the failure of the Congressional super-committee to reach any sort of consensus regarding a deficit reduction plan, I think this is a good time to update you all on the Farm Bill and my letter to Rep. Renee Elmers. Here is the response I received from her aide who works on agricultural issues…

Thank you for your email Ben, I will certainly pass your concerns along to the Congresswoman.  She is keeping vigil as next week is when we should hear how Chairman Lucas is planning on moving forward with the Farm Bill.  Thank you, Allison

Short and bittersweet! The Farm Bill draft came to a halt with the failure of the super-committee to reach a deal on the weekend before Thanksgiving and was not submitted for inclusion in the mega-deal.Come to find out, the bill was being written by the “gang of four!” The “gang of four” consists of the two chairs and two ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture committees. So my letter to Rep. Elmers was in vain, because even she was held at arms length during the process and was not allowed to participate as a House Ag. committee member! It seems to me our government has made a turn for the worst with the use of a draconian budget cutting exercise to avoid democratic consideration of our next farm bill and many other programs.

According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), there are a few Farm Bill scenarios that can play out over the next year or so. The first scenario, also the most unlikely, is that the Farm Bill is passed by the end of 2011. Not enough time is left for such a deal. The second scenario, in two variations, is that the Farm Bill is passed in 2012 by either using the unpublished Final 2011 Farm Bill as the jumping off point or the Farm Bill is drafted from scratch. Neither of these variations seems likely in an election year. The fourth scenario, which according to the NSAC, is most likely, is that Congress will take a wait and see approach. This is most likely for a host of reasons, beginning with the fact that automatic budget cuts will begin January 2013 because the failure of the supercommittee to reach a mega-deal. This further means Congress will want to wait for the dust to settle on a possible 2012 mega-deal as well as on the deficit reduction targets before drafting the Farm Bill & budget therein to avoid doubling up budget cuts. NSAC expects the current Farm Bill to be given a one year extension and the drafting to begin after the 2012 elections.

I hope you have found this as interesting as I have. The Farm Bill has such large effects on the condition of our national food system that it is critical to the future vitality of this country. How would our lives change if commodity crops were not heavily subsidized? How would our lives change if healthy food were more affordable or perceived as equitably priced? How would our lives change if children receiving school lunch were fed good, healthy and local food? These are some things Patricia and I ponder as we think about the Farm Bill and our state of agriculture.

farm bill, SNAP

Oh SNAP!


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This is a newsletter entry written by Ben.

Hello all. It has been a while since you have heard from me via newsletter…I can’t remember the last time. Anyhow, I have recently become aware that the Farm Bill is being rewritten behind closed doors in record time (2 weeks vs. 1 year!). Below is a little bit of information I found on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition website followed by the letter I fired off to our Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (R), who happens to sit on the House Agricultural Committee. This is the first letter I have written to a Congressperson, ever! I called my father this morning for advice on how to speak to issues that concern us and our farm. He is a seasoned, politically active farmer because in the dairy business, wholesale prices are supplemented by gov’t subsidies which, unfortunately, are necessary for them to stay afloat as a farm. He enlightened me by telling me to speak to issues that directly concern us and not disparaging others and to directly contact the Congressional Aide for our Congressperson who deals with the issues at hand. He also suggested we attend affordable fund-raising dinners put on by our representatives and speak to them personally about issues which affect us directly, the method which tends to have the biggest impact for small folks like us. I will let you all know what becomes of my letter to Congresswoman Ellmers…

—-
The following is from http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/super-fast-farm-bill-super-fast-update/

 Last Monday, the Republican and Democratic leadership of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees sent a letter to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction suggesting a net $23 billion cut in mandatory farm bill spending over the next decade as their collective recommendation to the Joint Select Committee (hereafter referred to as the Super Committee) that is tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in government-wide cuts or revenue increases over the next decade by Thanksgiving.

Having sent off the joint letter, the staffs of the two Agriculture Committees hunkered down all week to stitch together a farm bill in what, if successful, would be record time.   Due to the brief two week window, none of the normal congressional processes for farm bills or other major legislation are being used — no hearings, circulated bill drafts, mark-ups in which committee members get to offer amendments, etc.  The primary activity has all been behind closed doors and has for the most part only involved the staff of the chairs and ranking members, not the members (and their staffs) who make up the rank and file of the two committees.

With action on the farm bill moving (at least for now) at such a rapid pace, members of the House and Senate are getting ready to introduce two major new bills this week.  One contains major rewrites of programs and policies to assist young and beginning farmers get started in agriculture.  Another proposes a comprehensive set of revisions and additions to farm bill programs to help renew local and regional farm and food systems.  Both bills promote new opportunities in farming and increase rural job creation and economic growth.  Both also renew funding for farm bill programs that currently have mandatory funding but which do not have secure funding after fiscal year 2012. 

—-
My letter…

Dear Congresswoman Ellmers,

My name is Benjamin Shields and I am a constituent from Clayton, NC. I started Ben’s Produce along with Patricia Parker, my fiancee, in August of 2009. Ben’s Produce is a small, un-certified organic produce farm that sells directly to the public via farmer’s markets (Western Wake Farmer’s Market and Clayton Farm & Community Market)  as well as our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) with 35 member families. We also began Farm It Forward, a CSA program that provides our produce to families with children at risk of developing type 2 diabetes and teaches the participants how to build lifelong healthy attitudes about food and fitness. This collaborative program is coordinated by Advocates for Health In Action, the participants are drawn from the WakeMed Energize! program and the cooking classes are put on by the Interfaith Food Shuttle. Sixty percent of Energize! participants are low-income, which brings me to my concerns with the cuts being made to Farm Bill funding.

Every Saturday at the Western Wake Farmer’s Market (WWFM), we make a number of sales to folks who receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. WWFM is the only farmer’s market in Wake Co. that accepts SNAP benefits. We also serve SNAP beneficiaries in our Farm It Forward program, 60% of the participating families are low income. Unfortunately, we do not currently accept SNAP payments from the Farm It Forward participants. As a small farm on a shoestring budget, every sale we make counts towards our profitability, including those sales from folks who use SNAP. I urge you to minimize funding cuts to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, specifically the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your service.

Sincerely,
Benjamin Shields

arugula, bok choy, daikon radish, French breakfast radish, kale, marconi peppers, radish greens, tat soi

Fall 2011 CSA Week 1


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We know that a lot of folks have a hard time sometimes distinguishing between, say tat soi and bok choy, so we like to take pictures of our CSA share items and label them, so our members have a reference once they bring their shares home. I took these pictures at market on Saturday, since I won’t be home on Tuesday when Ben will harvest and then deliver your shares. We usually like to put all the CSA items together for one picture, but since we did this at market, it wasn’t really conducive to our situation. Anyway, the single picture items should be somewhat helpful for identifying your CSA share items. So, as I stated in the email, you will receive the following items in your shares:

SCALLIONS                           ARUGULA

BOK CHOY                           PEPPERS
DAIKON RADISH                RADISHES/
NAPA CABBAGE                  HAKUREI
LETTUCE                              TURNIPS

KALE

Note: scallions, lettuce, and hakurei turnips not pictured

bok choy great for stir-fry

tat soi also great for stir fry, but also salad


daikon radish
you can cook the greens and stir fry the root or eat it sliced, raw with salt
it’s also good in kimchi


red Russian kale (aka ragged Jack)
this is good every which way
you can also save and eat the stems (they require a longer cooking time than the leaves)


arugula
great raw and cooked


French breakfast radishes
you can eat the greens cooked
the roots are great as a snack, in salad, or in a stir fry


sweet gypsy peppers
raw and cooked – either way, they’re tasty!


marconis
these are my favorite sweet peppers, by far



Well, that’s all folks! We’ll try to post more share pictures as the season progresses. Definitely feel free to email us if you have any questions about your share items or what to do with them. We’ve got TONS of ideas :). Thanks for stopping by!

– Patricia

arugula, beet greens, bok choy, greens, kale, mustard greens, radish greens, spinach, tat soi, turnip greens

Happy Autumn!


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Hi folks! It’s been a LONG time since I’ve posted on this ol’ blog – again – but what can I say? We’re busy farmin it up out here and that leaves little time for blog posts. As the weather turns colder, you can expect more posts. Until then, I’m posting one of our write ups from the first Fall CSA newsletter. It’s all about greens – and I figured lots of folks might be interested in how to deal with the plethora of greens to come this season. I’ve been taking pictures on the farm – some of them are outdated already, but expect a picture blog in the near future. 
As usual, thanks for stopping by! 
 – Patricia 
Greens Galore
By Patricia Parker
Even for greens lovers like us, it can be a challenge to keep up with all the greens (but we like challenge) and root veggies of the fall. I’d like to share a bit of our greens wisdom with the hopes that you find some of our strategies helpful.
First and foremost, it is important to get acquainted with your greens. You’ll be receiving numerous types and varieties, each with their own unique flavors and textures. Additionally, their flavors will change as the weather grows colder (they’ll get sweeter – this goes for the root veggies too!). I recommend trying your greens every which way – starting by trying them raw. I find some greens less palatable raw than others – for instance, turnip, radish, and mustard greens are a bit too pungent raw for my taste. But, when they’re cooked, they’re delectable. And some greens are great raw – like arugula and spinach – and others that might surprise you, like kale and swiss chard (all of them are great cooked). As a general rule of thumb, the more tender the green, the better it tastes raw (and the less time you will need to cook them).
Now, there are countless ways to prepare your greens – you can steam them, sauté them, stir fry them, put them in soups, chilis and stews, eat them with eggs (e.g., as a side, in an omelet or frittata), etc. We’ll provide you with recipes for your greens throughout the season to help spur along your greens creativity. We’ll also give you basic cooking instructions and storage information. If your greens ever start to feel like they’re piling up on you, remember how few greens there are in the summer. You can blanch and then freeze your greens to use them any other time you like. You can also use up lots of greens if you make them the primary course on your plate (e.g., dinner salad or beans and greens with meat on the side). Of course, you can also share with your friends, family and neighbors – and if you don’t have any takers, you can leave them with us and we’ll donate them to the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle for you.
Keeping up with your greens can be a daunting task in the beginning, but before you know it, you’ll turn pro!
Note: If anyone would like to share their own methods for keeping up with your CSA share, please send a write-up our way. We would LOVE for CSA members to contribute to weekly newsletters. You can send your write up in an email, as a word file, or as a pdf file. We’ll be sure to place it in the next newsletter.
chicken tractor, Fall 2011 CSA, fall crop plan, family fun, farm fun, high tunnels, unheated greenhouse

Time Keeps on Slippin’, Slippin’, Slippin’ Into The Future


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Ahhh, it seems I have slacked on my blogger duties. The last time I posted a blog was June 17th (besides the one below about our upcoming Fall 2011 CSA), nearly TWO months ago!!! Oh my. I can come up with a long list of excuses for why this is the case, but I’ll spare you those. Instead, I’m going to post a few of the old “On the Farm” articles I wrote for our Ben’s Produce weekly newsletter. Enjoy! 

Down on the Farm
By Patricia Parker 
Week 10 (June 22nd – July 23rd) 
photo by – rani urabi mustafa
In the last week a lot has happened here on the farm. Two new apprentices have joined the Ben’s Produce team. Their names are Meredith and Aaron. Meredith just moved here from Colorado and she’ll likely be heading to Nicaragua to work on a nonprofit agro-ecology project in the Fall. Until then, we’re very excited to have her on the team. Two of our CSA members (Bradford and Melody – Melody is Meredith’s mom) pointed Meredith our way and we are already so very thankful to have her help out here. We only hope we can give her as much as she is giving to us. Aaron, like Meredith, also found us by way of a CSA member, Adam. Aaron is going to school this summer, but will be joining us on the farm on his days off and before class when time allows. Both Aaron and Meredith’s extra help is already going a long way!
We also had the help of Alan Oswald, partner to Rene Oswald, author of Transitioning to Living Cuisine. Rene is doing a book tour up the East Coast from Florida on up to Montreal. Alan contacted Ben about a month ago to see if we would show him around the farm and to see if he could help for a day or two while they stopped in the Raleigh area. He just happened to find us online. Sure enough, Alan spent the day with Ben (I was diligently grading) doing all sorts of stuff. Ben said Alan kept up with him through the whole morning and afternoon. Alan is in his early 50s and he and Rene eat only raw foods. It seems the raw food diet provides quite a lot of energy, for Alan and Rene at least!
So, these are the folks that have helped us on the farm this week. And to get an idea of what’s been going on in terms of the farm itself, I thought I’d share with you all some of the things we’ve marked off of the do-to list this week.
1) Ben spent quite a lot of time prepping ground (about a ¼ of an acre) with the walk behind tractor (aka tiller) and then seeded cover crops including, millet, sorghum sudan-grass, and cow peas. The two former grasses scavenge nutrients. This means they take up nutrients in the soil and recycle them. The cow peas fix nitrogen in the soil.
2) Ben, Alan, Aaron, Meredith and I all mulched almost 3,000 feet of peppers with straw. This basically means you place straw in the pepper beds. You do this for a variety of reasons including to suppress weeds, to hold in moisture, and to reduce soil splash (which keeps the dirt of f the pepper plants so they’re pretty but this also helps with disease prevention). We used about 50 bales of straw. 
3) We also cultivated (fancy word for weeded) melons, winter squash and eggplant.
4) Ben inter-seeded buckwheat with the okra, field peas, and summer squash. We do this to suppress weeds, attract beneficial insects, add organic matter and prevent erosion.
5) Ben has been diligently staking peppers. We’ll be tying them shortly (to keep the plants from falling and/or breaking from the weight of the peppers).
6) Ben has also been doing quite a lot of tractor research. We were going to take a road trip to Charlotte last Sunday but after speaking with other farmers at market, we found out the tractor was way too pricey for what it is. So, we opted to float the Falls of Neuse with a few friends instead (and were able to do so thanks to Randy and Leza, who lent us their canoe for over a month!).
7) And finally, we harvest squash and cucumbers everyday and harvest everything else for the CSA and market every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Saturdays Leslie (and now Laura and Brian as well) pick up our goods for the Clayton Market and Ben and I have been taking two pick up trucks worth of stuff to the Western Wake Farmer’s Market.
Also, in all of that, I cook at least two meals per day, teach for my online Intro to Sociology course, write the newsletters, come up with recipes and type recipe cards for the market, do basic household chores including washing the never ending sink of dishes and laundry (including hanging it to dry and taking it down and in to put up), and every once in a while, also make samples for the Western Wake Farmer’s Market. This Saturday we brought quick cucumber kimchi and beef and cabbage bulgogi for beef day at market. Oh, and I forgot to mention we also had dinner guests on Wednesday night (CSA members Lara and Sam) and went to our neighbor’s 50th birthday party Saturday after market. 
It’s been a busy week and we’re ready for more. My folks and my nephew are coming into town tomorrow. That means I have to finish grading final essays and cleaning the house by tomorrow at 7pm. Plus, it’ s my nephew Julian’s 13th birthday on Thursday, so I need to get some balloons and cake action on somewhere between today and tomorrow. Meanwhile, Ben is going to check out a tractor in Zebulon tonight after the CSA drop. Keep your fingers crossed for us. We need to find a quality, affordable tractor. Ben is busting his hump on that walk behind tractor and it’s taking him at least three times as long to do things he’ll be able to do once we get that tractor. And while you’re at it, please send some rain energy our way too!  I think y’all helped us out yesterday – we got ½ an inch!

Okay – we hope y’all are keeping up with your own do-to lists and keeping happy. We’ll see you around. 

Down on the Farm, pt. 2
By Patricia Parker 
Week 11 (July 4-July 10)
Well, another week has passed us by. And, as usual, a lot has happened in those seven days. My folks came into town last Wednesday, with my nephew Julian in tow. Thursday was Julian’s 13th birthday and he got to spend it weeding in the morning (we’re cruel, we know) and then we went shopping and baked a yummy red velvet cake (from Nancy McDermott’s book, Southern Cakes). 
Julian is into the cake baking shows and wants to learn more about baking, which is why he baked his own birthday cake. My folks left Saturday morning to head back to Tennessee. Their visit was way too short, but I imagine we’ll be seeing them again soon. Of course, it was also Independence Day yesterday, so while Ben, Julian, and Meredith and I all worked in the morning (Julian only for an hour before he left with Beth and Eric and the kids to check out the Clayton parade), we spent most of the afternoon socializing. Beth (our neighbor, landlady and friend) had a 4th of July party that began at noon and ended sometime after 10 last night! Fun times were had by all, especially all of the kids J. So, that’s the fun we had, but we also managed to get quite a lot of work done too. Here’s the rundown from last week:
·         Dad and Ben built our chicken tractor!!! We’ve been wanting to build the chicken tractor pretty much since we got the chick-a-dees last year, but time and money kept us from doing so. As many of you know, the poor chickens have been cooped up most of their lives to keep Charlie the sweet, but chicken-eating, farm dog away from them. We do let them out in the evenings and keep Charlie inside, but we’ve really wanted to let them roam more often. We feed them greens daily, but at this point, we’ve been having to bring the greens to them. Now, we’ll be bringing them to the greens. For those of you unfamiliar with what exactly a chicken tractor is, well, it’s basically a moveable chicken coop. We’ll be putting the chickens out to pasture and they’ll be able to eat bugs, eat greens, and fertilize our soil while they’re at it (we’ll move them daily). Now we just need to work on getting some electrical fencing so we can keep Charlie and other chicken “loving” critters away from them.
·         Of course, we also did a whole lotta weeding this week. This is Julian’s least favorite farm task. I happen to think it’s not so bad, especially with our sandy soil. We weeded the butter beans, the field peas and the okra. We also all received bee stings of some kind. Well, almost all of us (Meredith managed to escape the wrath of the bees – but Ben, Aaron, my dad, Julian and I all received stings on Friday).
·         Yesterday Julian, Ben, Meredith and I all took strawberry cuttings off of the spring strawberry plants. We cut plants between 2 ½ and 4 inches long (about 700 of them) and them Ben made soil blocks and Meredith and I potted up the plants. We’re hoping we’ll be able to grow some strawberries for the fall – keep your fingers crossed for our fall fruiting experiment (it means you’ll have berries too!).
·         We also finished up staking and tying the peppers. There are plenty of peppers on many of the plants, but none of them are quite ripe – but you should start seeing peppers in your shares soon.
·         Finally, Ben has been working quite a lot on the fall crop plan. Speaking of…since I have some room below, it’s time to start thinking about the Fall 2011 CSA..
Farm (and Off-Farm) Life
By Patricia Parker 
Week 12 (July 18-July 24)
Since last week was our last week with Julian in town, it was an even crazier whirlwind than usual. I remember when Ben and I first moved to the Raleigh area, we were amazed at how many people rarely, if ever, went to the beach. Now that we’re rooted in our place, we’re beginning to understand why that’s the case. Pretty much the only time Ben and I leave the farm (barring holidays or other family celebrations) is to go to the CSA drop, go to market, go to school, or run errands – and that’s just to go to Raleigh. The beach is much farther away. However, Julian gave – at least me – the excuse to go to the beach. Last week here’s a recap of what we did:
·         Monday: Julian and I went to Kure beach. We packed a picnic and swam, dodging jelly fish as best we could, boogie boarded, built a sand castle with moat, and collected sea shells. We also stopped at a seafood place on our way back home to bring home some NC shrimp and scallions – YUM!
·         Tuesday: Ben, Julian and I harvested for the Tuesday CSA folks and Farm it Forward. Julian and I set up the drop and then packed up to head to the last Cooking Matters class for Farm it Forward. Julian had an awesome time and the Inter-Faith Food shuttle gave him a Cooking Matters cook book and nutritional information packets for his enthusiasm. After the class, Julian and I headed to CSA members and friends, Cate, Jeff, Ally, and Josh’s place for Josh’s 5th birthday celebration. Josh loves fireworks, so our lateness was sort of perfect timing – just in time for the fireworks and cake.
·         Wednesday: Ben and I harvested for the Wednesday folks and Julian played with kids over at Beth’s place. Beth has yoga at her house most weeks and mamas bring their kids in tow. It’s free yoga for the parents and playtime for the kids. They also usually have snacks and lunch in the afternoon. Living on the farm is so cool! J
·         Thursday: We all harvested and then we met up with CSA members and friends, Emily and David, to check out the Carolina Mudcats game. It was Julian’s first baseball game (that he could remember). He bought a foam finger and David brought Julian a glove. It was quite cute seeing him with one on each hand ready for a foul ball (glove) or a homerun (foam finger). Hot dogs and peanuts were had. Julian even got Muddy the Mudcat (the team mascot – who is a catfish, if you don’t know) to sign his foam finger. 
·         Friday: We all harvested for the Western Wake Farmer’s Market and the Clayton Market. We finished up early so we could make it to the 4:40 pm last Harry Potter movie. Julian even had time to fashion himself a wand to take with him. I’ll confess – I went to the grocery store prior and bought soda and snacks to sneak in to the theater. I carry a large purse and that can be particularly handy when going to see over-priced movies and smelling all of that over-priced popcorn. I think Julian was a little embarrassed when our soda cans popped loudly, but when I suggested he buy us some snacks from the concession stand, he got over it J.
·         Saturday: We all headed to market. When we got home, we made lunch, ate and packed Julian’s things up. His flight was scheduled for 6:35pm. This was Julian’s first flight and his first flight alone. I spoke with my mom (his Oma) after he arrived and she said he was ecstatic about the flight. After we saw Julian off, Ben and I went to the Bavarian Brathaus for dinner. I bought a Groupon last year for Ben’s birthday and Saturday was the last day it was usable. 
·         Sunday was fun day. Ben and I slept in and picked some of Beth’s blueberries and Ben made blueberry muffins. I’m not sure how many he made, but we’ve already eaten them all! We spent Sunday relaxing.
Now, on to more farm stuff! Here’s what happened on the farm more specifically:
·         We cleaned about 300 pounds of onions. When they’re curing, we keep the green tops on. Once they’re finished curing, we have to cut off the tops, one by one, for storage. Since this is something you can do sitting down and in the shade, this was one of Julian’s favorite farm tasks.
·         We made and seeded up to 40 flats of seedlings, including:
o    Kale
o    Kohlrabi
o    Chinese cabbage
o    Tatsoi
o    Scallions
o    Fennel
o    Cauliflower
·         We cultivated, staked and tied the second round of tomatoes – or rather, Ben and Kevin did these things.
·         Ben, Meredith and I put up our newest edition – the high tunnel. We put shade cloth on it so we can keep the seedlings in it (and keep them away from the rain, so we can control the water, and the bugs). This first tunnel is about half the size of the other 2 or 3 we would like to construct this year. It’s 54×12 feet and it cost us about $450 to purchase the materials (which is about $0.72/square foot).
·         We also purchased and received a truck load of compost (38 yards) for the fall crops.
·         That’s all folks!