The Farm

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Eight months is a long time. The apprentices are gone, scattered to both coasts, leaving behind one lone flip-flop, lying forgotten on the driveway. The sheep and a bunch of the birds have been butchered and packed away in the freezer for winter meals–our friend Judith Weinstock cooked three of the stewing hens in a delicious soup a couple of days ago for our weekly Wise Acres dinner. (You can see more about these dinners and Wise Acres at our May 10 post “Dinner for 40”)

We are moving into what one of our icons, Eliot Coleman, refers to as “the Persephone days.” In Greek myth, Persephone was the lovely daughter of Demeter and Zeus, spirited away to the underworld by Hades while picking flowers, not to re-emerge until spring. In her absence, the earth became a dark and barren place. Her return brought back sunshine and new life.

Rebecca chose Persephone for her farm’s name nearly two decades ago, an especially apt  name for a farm operated by two women. In addition to the sign hanging by the gate, one of the first things visitors see as they round the bend at the top of the driveway is a mural of the Persephone myth on the side of the washing shed. It was drawn several years ago by Thom, an Israeli woman who stopped off here for a couple of months during a world tour of visiting farms as part the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WOOF) program.

Thom's mural

We’ve been especially fond  of Thom’s work and never more so than at this time of year, when the days grow dark and the mid-afternoon shadows of the now-leafless maples stretch across the pastures. It reminds us of the other half of the myth–the spring part–when things will come back to life again.

For now though, Louisa and Rebecca putter around the gardens tidying up loose ends, spreading mulches of fallen leaves on the garlic and leeks and digging up the remaining potatoes and onions for the winter CSA. We’ll be shoveling out the chicken run soon to make way for the new flock of laying hens and making sure there is enough gas to keep the generator going if the winter storms everyone is predicting, arrive.

It’s quieter these days down by the gate with the geese and hens gone and the swallows off somewhere in Central America. Some of the turkeys are still around and they let loose with a chorus of gobbles when provoked–it is always amusing to see perfect strangers outside the fence gobbling away to get the chorus started. But they tend to hang back especially since the pre-Thanksgiving culling of the flock.

We miss Mongo too. We watched him drive off in the back seat of the van our apprentice Mondrian and her friend Terry are driving back to the east coast for a couple of months r&r. We kind of got to like him, although he never really figured out the whole manners thing. His departure couldn’t come soon enough for the cats, Selmo and Oberon, who never did get along with that dog and are now slowly reclaming their territory down in the yurt meadow. 

Greg and Caitlin, two more of our apprenti, are headed for Vashon Island to spend next season farming  at Island Meadow Farm with Chandler Briggs, yet another former apprentice. And Joel, our fourth apprentice, will be heading for New Mexico for the holidays, but he too plans to come back this way for some kind of work that will likely involve animals. 

All in all, Persephone Days probably won’t be that dark this year, with apprentices, new and old, nearby and everyone settling in for some lazier days. We’ll still check in with a post fairly often to keep things current but we’re taking it slower too.

Persephone has moved on to her winter home but she’ll be back for the new season. And so will we.

Persephone

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Wearing our other hat, we have posted a story on Crosscut.com about what appears to be a nascent trend–large suburban developers trying microfarms as a new amenity to lure in homebuyers, instead of the traditional golf course development. The focus is on Olympic Resources, which plans to develop about 1,000 acres of land around the historic little village of Port Gamble, in our home county of Kitsap. The piece went up on Crosscut on Wed., March 17. Take a look .

Here’s the bet we are making on this: Over the next few years, fuel costs will go up, and up. And that will lead to higher food prices at the supermarket, where oranges are trucked in from Florida and sit next to Kiwis flown in from New Zealand. Our prices will go up too, but much less since we drive our produce just 16 miles from the farm to the Bainbridge Farmers Market once a week. Of course, we’ll also pay more for gas for our rototiller and other farm machines, but we don’t do much tractor farming here and our fuel use is fairly small.

At the same time, we have most of our 13 acres in ag-tax status, which means we can carry the land at relatively low cost for some time–provided we don’t sell it off to developers. Plus, we farm organically, which means we don’t have to shell out more cash for oil-based pesticides and herbicides like many big farms do.

You can see where this is headed, right? Over time–and we think, not too much time–our produce will cost relatively less than those oranges, kiwis and other long-distance veggies and fruits on the supermarket shelf. Plus it will be safer (no feedlots near our spinach) and it will certainly be fresher.

Makes sense to us. How about you?

Now back to our usual programming. If you are still interested in turkeys, and who wouldn’t be given our previous post on Chocolate, our randy Tom, take a look at Louisa’s instructions on how to breed and raise heritage turkeys on the Persephonefarm.com site. We’ll have more about the Persephone turkeys here, later in The Season.

Persephone

As the late Cosmo editor, Helen Gurley Brown, used to say, “Sex sells.”

And here you are, reading, right?

Louisa named our new Tom turkey “Chocolate”. She found him on Craigslist and he arrived at Persephone Farm last week looking big, brown and very randy.

Chocolate is a strutter, all right. He did a lot of huffing and puffing when we put him into the turkey yard, pretty much ignoring his audience of Louisa, Rebecca and Mondrian. Then he headed straight for the five lonely turkey hens.

Those hens hadn’t seen a male turkey since Thanksgiving, and they were ready for some serious action. They preened and clustered around Chocolate, rubbed his neck with their necks and cast coy turkey glances in his direction. Then they lined up—one, two, three, four, five—squatted down, and that was the end of any coyness. Chocolate hopped to it, and after a few minutes he was one tired Tom.

Watching something like that can be, um, distracting. We never did get a chance to run back to the farmhouse and grab a camera. (Chocolate’s turkey orgy would certainly have been good for a couple of hundred thousand YouTube views.) We’ll just have to leave it your imagination, and Mondrian’s description.

Observing turkeys doing what turkeys do speaks volumes about the sexual drive that seems to be rampant around here these days. From Louisa’s turkey yard, to the swallows in the barn rafters, to the 50 new chicks that we just installed in our homemade brooder in the barn bathroom, there’s a whole lot of shaking going on. Dylan Thomas, the wonderful Welsh poet, called this mysterious power, “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower”.

We don’t spend much time these days quoting Welsh poets around Persephone Farm—or watching turkeys at play either, for that matter. The to-do list of startup chores Rebecca posts each morning in the packing shed gets longer every day and time is precious. But sometimes at this early point in the season it seems like the whole place is a little like Spring Break in Ft. Lauderdale.

Take the greenhouse. It would be hard to imagine a less sexy spot—nothing but pea shoots and tomato plants sitting in pots, right? Ah, but if you look closely you’ll see that same force at work in there.

From cotyledons in greenhouse flats, to Chocolate in the turkey pen, the farm is alive with an awful lot of prurient activity at this time of year. We love to have people come visit Persephone Farm, especially with their kids, so we can show them around and explain where their food comes from and how things work in the natural world. But perhaps at this time of year we ought to put a note on our sign at the front gate: “Warning, this farm is x-rated.”

Persephone

When we started discussing the idea of writing a blog about a season on Persephone Farm, a few years back, we were still on the cusp of the local food movement. The term “locavore” wasn’t on anyone’s tongue and microfarms like ours were off the industry’s radar. We had 25 laying hens and our Saturday veggie sales at the Bainbridge Island farmers market sometimes were skimpy enough that we ate the leftovers through the following week. By June, when our CSA began, we were still scratching for subscribers. We did select a terrific pair of young interns that year—out of a handful of serious applicants.

How times change. The opening-day lineup of our loyal market customers grows longer each year, recession or no. Our farm’s livestock inventory is now 130 White Leghorn and Golden Sexlink chickens, five heritage turkeys and five sheep. We’ll be expanding again this year—and that doesn’t include Cleo, our resident pea hen, or the farm cats, Selmo and Oberon. Our CSA subscriber list is filling up fast and it is only March, and we picked this year’s four new interns came from more than 100 applicants. The last time I Googled “locavore”, there were 452,000 entries.

With all this going on, we figured it was time to get to it and invite people to come along as this year’s farm’s season unfolds. So here we are with a brand new blog. We plan to keep everyone up to date on what’s happening on our little farm—the good, the bad and the really, really dirty. You will get a chance to see what it is like to start from scratch—quite literally from scratch as we dig the furrows that hold the seeds, that grow the plants, that become the meals for the hundreds of people we feed each season.

Tom Posey friend of Persephone

You’ll get to know everyone around here, from the newest arrival, Mongo,  an exuberant mixed-breed husky/shepherd, who arrived last week with one of our interns and promptly chased Cleo onto the chicken-coop roof, seriously wounding her pride and barnyard status, to Tom Posey, one of our CSA subscribers, who showed up years ago to pick up his first box of produce on a Wednesday afternoon, and has come back every Wednesday since then to help out, getting dirty and sweaty along with everyone else. Tom even brings beer to share when we are done for the day.

We’ll introduce you to the farmers, Rebecca and Louisa, and to our interns, Greg, Caitlan, Joel and and Mondrian. We’ll show you around the place—the lavender patch down near the gate, Louisa’s orchard, where the plum trees are already in bloom and the apples are starting to bud out. You can visit the gardens where we grow 53 kinds of veggies and watch as we harvest salad greens so delicate they have to be picked at dawn, before the sun gets at them. If you stick around you can watch while we pluck a chicken and sample the new tomato crop. We’ll introduce you to our neighbors, Wise Acres Community, who include some world-class chefs and musicians, and with whom we share a meal every Monday evening. You can sit in on our garlic-harvest party in July, watch our apple pressing in October, and help choose this year’s farm entry for the annual Bainbridge Island zucchini race.

Along the way, we’ll spend some time chatting about more serious things like the economics and politics of food—subjects that are reshaping what we grow, where we buy it, how we eat it, and how it is changing our lives. Turns out, microfarming like we’ve been doing here for the last two decades, has suddenly become the hottest part of agriculture—the world is catching up and we’re right in the middle of…you got it…a trend. Don’t just take my word for it, ask Michelle Obama or click on the Farmville website, where 72 million vicarious farmers checked in last month.

So welcome to “The Season.” Be prepared to get some virtual dirt under your fingernails. It should be an interesting and exciting year for us all. We’re glad you are here, hope you’ll stick around and tell more people about us.

Persephone