Advocates for Health in Action

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

Life is what happens…


…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 ( or I ( 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.”  (   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!

Advocates for Health in Action, AHA, Cooking Matters, Energize, Farm It Forward, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, New Grass Gardens, positive change

Farm It Forward Update – Change Ain’t Easy, But It Sure is Possible!

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Hi folks,

I wanted to post an update about the latest and greatest goings on with the Farm It Forward efforts. Since Michele McKinley, of Advocates for Health in Action, already posted an introduction and my letter to the Farm It Forward members on the AHA site, I’m going to go ahead and “lift” it to post here (you can view the original here).

Change Ain’t Easy, But It Sure Is Possible!

Thanks to guest blogger Patricia Parker of Ben’s Produce for sharing excerpts of a letter to Farm It Forward recipients on June 7, the first day they received their community shared agriculture (CSA) shares of healthy, locally grown produce. Ben Shields and Patricia Parker of Ben’s Produce approached AHA early this year about an idea to provide shares of locally grown, healthy produce to people in need in Wake County. Through a collaboration with AHA, New Grass Gardens, WakeMed’s Energize! program for kids at risk of type 2 diabetes and the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle (IFFS), Farm It Forward was born.

Farm It Forward will enable a small group of Energize participants to receive free shares of local fruits and veggies from Ben’s Produce and New Grass Gardens for eight weeks this summer, and also to participate in a free Cooking Matters class from IFFS so that they can learn to make educated choices about growing, cooking and eating the best food possible. This program was born out of the generosity of the farmers, support from the community and from our partners.
AHA expects to see this program grow! Stay tuned and feel free to contact Michele McKinley at AHA if you would like to support Farm It Forward.
Since Ben and I have been farming, we’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of so many people we’ve met along the way. When we try to do something in return for those, many of them express that they already feel like we’ve been generous enough. It never really occurred to me that what we do for a living and for fun is something that other people would find rewarding. When folks come out to the farm, they get wholesome, nutritious food, knowledge about farming, a chance to get away from the city and enjoy a little company and sunshine. Truly, those things are beyond monetary value.
So, Ben and I have been thinking for quite some time that we would really like to put out there what we’re receiving. We can’t hold in all of the positivity that we’re getting – we just don’t have enough room for it between the two of us. That’s why we approached the folks at Advocates for Health in Action with a proposal. That proposal has turned into Farm It Forward. Who knew you could get things done just by saying you want to do it and then going out there and doing it? I mean really. It sounds simple, but not a whole lot of people are able to take that first step, and the rest of the steps don’t come so easily either. Somehow, though, we’ve managed to build a program that includes so many amazing people, representing so many great programs in the area. Sometimes I almost don’t believe this is really happening! Most of all, none of us could do this without you.
It takes a lot of courage, persistence, and effort to face a task or a big goal and then work toward it. And the more obstacles we have in life for achieving those tasks, the harder it is. I am truly inspired by you! So much so, that I am vowing to change my own eating habits and increase my levels of physical activity. As a PhD student and teacher, I spend a lot of time sitting in front of the computer. As a farmer, I actually also spend a lot of time in front of the computer (working on recipe cards, returning emails, writing newsletters, getting informed, etc.)
I also spend a lot of time outside working. Even though it’s physical labor and hard work, the kind of work I do doesn’t really get my heart rate going. It’s fairly slow and steady. Anyway, having what are basically two full-time jobs (one academic and one as a farmer) can be a little stressful – and when I’m stressed, I like to eat – and not good food either. In fact, since we’ve lived in Raleigh (it’s been three years), I’ve gained 40 pounds (and the majority of that weight certainly hasn’t been muscle!). The extra fat is not good for my health – and neither is my retreat to empty calories when I’m feeling a little stressed.
So, in line with the program, and what we’re doing here, I want to join you in your efforts to change your relationship with food to one that is healthy – one that is nourishing for the mind and the body. I want to thank you for being the inspiration and the catalyst that I need to live a happier and healthier life. I hope that we can embark on this journey together and that it will make the task at hand easier – and even fun! Change won’t come easily, but with this strong network of support and positivity, I know it’s possible! (Photos: shares of food ready for the cooking class and to go home with Farm It Forward recipients; bottom, AHA and NC Cooperative Extenson Intern Meghan Malka and Ben Shields loading produce for the program.)
Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
 – James Baldwin