Farm It Forward

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 and or contact Ben and Patricia at, (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
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