Dogwood Farms will be transitioning to a smaller location early next year.  We will continue with our laying hens, but will not be raising pigs and turkeys.  We have a long list of pursuits in mind at our new location that includes vegetables, herbs, fruit trees, and ducks.  The new Dogwood Farms will be a much smaller version of our original dream, but the farm will continue, and the projects will happen over many years.  Our commitment to eating local, humanely raised meat continues.  Thank goodness there are local farms that can provide that for us, especially Cozi Farms in Saxapahaw, which is truly committed to sustainable farming.

In this time of change, we are winding down at home and enjoying the fruits of our labors.  The kids and I are preparing the menu for our holiday dinner, itsturkey toms centerpiece one of our heritage Narragansett turkeys.   I started preparing this dinner in April when I set up a brooder for my turkey poults in the greenhouse.   Many months of feeding, heating, housing, and even chasing these turkeys puts my dinner prep at about 210 hours.   The cost for this dinner is a multiple that I don’t wish to repeat, but one can imagine considering organic feed costs, a new turkey shelter, and electric fencing.  Compare that with driving 10 minutes to the market to purchase a turkey for comparatively almost nothing and one would say I was insane.   Yet, looking back over the last year, I can’t think of any other project that taught me so much.

When I started farming I knew there would be a widening of awareness in raising and growing our own food, but I didn’t realize to what extent.  There was a connection with the animals that made me search deep for my intentions about what I eat, why and how.  There was a realization of what it takes to eat truly clean, nutritious food  that provides a fair living for many people along the way, from soil to table.  Farming, even on this small scale, demanded of me spontaneous creativity, patience, and overcoming squeamishness.  May that continue in our new location and throughout our lives, albeit, on a smaller scale and a slower pace.

Happy 2014!

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Think Inside the Box

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Our three flocks of baby birds – chickens, turkeys, and guinea hens – are now free to roam the farm.   Raising baby birds has taken more time than I expected this spring.  Feeding, monitoring temperatures, and refreshing bedding kept me … Continue reading

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Its a Dirty Job

We’ve been spending substantial time talking and thinking dirty.

Healthy soils underneathOur ability to succeed depends substantially on our soils. Poor soils means weak pastures and herds that won’t thrive. There’s a whole world of soils science out there, in fact Holly took a class last year on the subject which has been very helpful to us. Our soils test reports are unsurprising for the southeast: pH is a little low, humic matter is lower than we wish, everything else looks passable. The pastures we have appear healthy and vibrant, but they are untested by grazers as yet.

As with all things, we reach back to our principles and check for guidance there. Low-to-no input, solar-based farming: sunshine and rain come in, delicious food goes out.

Its a delicate dance. The truly no-input method would be to regrow a forest on the land and wait several decades for the soil to rebuild. As much as we’re enjoying the cyclicality of farm life, those cycles are a little too long for us. So as a booster shot for the pH, upon which much of the rest of soil vitality depends, we will lime in the short term. That is all we hope to import; the rest of the work will be done by animals. Turkeys and chickens depositing “hot” nitrogen, and ruminants recycling grass and forage in to fertilizer.

Watching how each of our pasture areas responds will be fascinating. We’ve got some existing pasture, some land that was cleared poorly and stripped of topsoil, and some land that today is scrub forest. Each has their own characteristics and will require different management and care-taking to bring to full health.

Joel Salatin says he’s a grass farmer. I bet his dad was a dirt farmer.

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Winter’s Regenerative Powers

One of the ideas we respect and enjoSeasonalityy about farming is seasonality. With our very first annual cycle still underway, we’ve caught a glimpse of what we hope to learn much more about. The earth is spherical; most things move in waves; straight lines are hard to find in nature. By contrast, the linear mindset that pervades much of our material and spiritual existence today is fundamentally orthogonal to the natural world upon which all life is based and within which all life is hosted. Reconnecting with the elemental reality of the world around us brings many realizations and great joy.

Our animals tend not to stir before light. In winter this means shorter days, a natural cycle that recognizes the fact that less calories are available to us all during shorter colder months, so more sleep makes sense as part of an overall lower energy existence in harmony with the lower solar profile that drives all life. By contrast, a linear approach has us drawing a straight line through the curve: get to work at 8am whether that means getting dressed and eating breakfast in the dark or not. Disconnection from the natural world is unhealthy physically and spiritually. It is hard on body and soul.

Specifically at Dogwood Farms we are doing less production work (pigs are processed and being sold, pastures are dormant), and more planning and maintenance. What animals to get for 2013 (more on this in a future post)? Considering and planning what infrastructure to build or repair, tools to sharpen, land use planning… wonderfully cyclical and regenerative tasks that allow time to reflect, to consider, to evaluate. There’s a time to act, and a time to regroup and assess and plan. Winter on a farm is that rarest of opportunity, created by the most basic of circumstances, something that has come once a year for eternity and hopefully always will.

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End of Season

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At Dogwood Farms we have come full circle on our first season and feel good about the results. We have cleared out 3 acres of overgrown pasture. Gone are huge swaths of invasives, vines, and weeds, exposing what appears to be … Continue reading

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Haycorns in the 100 acre wood! Jason found the first one. It was on the driveway. He was excited, as are we.

Dogwood Farms First Acorns

We’re fortunate to have a dozen enormous white oak trees in our yard. About a week ago they started dropping big, delicious (if you’re a pig) acorns.

The white oaks are not in a place where you want pigs (four legged rototillers) roaming around, so in what is now a peaceful daily ritual we gather the acorns and unite them with the pigs.

Much of the wonder of Spanish jamon iberico (pata negra) experience is due to an abundance of acorn in the diet from the oak forest. Our pigs are a Duroc/Hampshire cross, not Iberian, but we’re expecting great results nonetheless.

The pigs are now well north of 200lbs. We have no way to weigh them but they’re visibly substantially larger than me (185lbs). As our girls fatten and flavor themselves on acorns and a fresh forest paddock, we look ahead to finding the right abbatoir and to finding purchasers for the product that is not yet committed.

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Way to Bee Free, Honey

When we came here to Dogwood Farms I took a beekeeping class with Orange County Beekeepers (great people). Bees are amazing creatures. They began appearing on earth roughly 100 million years ago (dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago), which means they have been pollinating the planet since flowering plants came in to existence.

The class also taught me that with my time constraints, beekeeping was unlikely to fit in. As luck would have it, a neighbor connected us to Marty at Just Bee NC. Marty places beehives around various local areas to collect the ultra-local tastes they produce. He uses Italian bees, with a slight Russian cross for varroa mite resistance.

Colorful helpers

Having Marty’s bees on our land brings many benefits. We’re supporting the local entrepreneurial and food communities while pollinating our pastures and flowering plants (berries, trees, legumes). I’m not sure how many bees we have but I suspect its around 100,000 at this point.

Its been great to connect with Marty and support his business while benefiting our own. And some day we can enjoy some of the ultra-local taste of our own micro-region here in southern Orange County.

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