Category: Farm News

New Year, New Website!

Welcome to the new Abbey Fields website! Though it’s been tempting to slump down into hibernation as daylight-hours wane and bright summery harvests give over to a thick blanket of winter cover crops, we’ve been trying to stay busy.

Common wisdom has it that farmers ought to spend the bulk of their time engaged in a balance of three tasks: Planting, Harvesting, and Marketing. The idea being that we don’t get paid to weed or fix equipment or untangle drip-tape. It’s pretty easy to make the connection between planting/harvesting and financial success, but marketing’s role is perhaps a little less obvious.

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Our hope is that our time spent developing an attractive and user-friendly website will give potential members and customers a clear picture of what we at Abbey Fields believe in, and the quality of our work. We’ve incorporated the CSA sign-up form directly into the new site, to simplify things for our members, and we’ve added a list of Frequently Asked Questions about community supported agriculture for those that might be new to the idea.

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So have a look around, and let us know what you think!

CSA Shares

Abbey Fields offers 27 weeks of produce, May 2nd through November 7th. Pick-up your weekly Abbey Fields bounty at 1400 Washington Ave, Knoxville (behind Standard Knitting Mill).

Full Share $725: Payment plan breaks it down to two payments of $287.50 after deposit, one due at first pick-up, the other due July 1st. (Suggested for family of four or two vegetarians.)

Click here to sign up now.

Click here to ask questions.

Open House October 25th, and such…

It’s fall…..whew.  It’s rained for pretty much the last week straight, and it has been amazing. The ground is swollen and satisfied and I have had my fill of pleasant coffee shop experiences. The fall crops are huge and pretty, except, sadly, for the collard greens that fell to the havoc of the harlequin beetle. Our customer year is winding down (finished October 29th) and I feel very good about our first year in cultivation. Before I get too deep in reflection, I need to put a plug in for our open house happening October 25th. Come anytime between 10 am and 1pm. We’ll have coffee from K-Brew, cider for the kiddos, local pastries around a fire and string picking by the Check Engine Band. We’ll also have a very simple self guided walking tour that will take you through our plans for the next few years. It’s going to be fun way to finish the season and I’m looking forward to celebrating with everyone.
Abbey Field Final

 

 

Mad props to Elias Attea, not only for his awesome hair, but also for this sweet flier.

 

 

 

 

Beets and carrots. Maybe my two favorite things of all time, and they are in fine form here at the Abbey Fields. This morning I was harvesting carrots for our Saturday morning pick-up, delicately grazing the base section of the carrot tops, trying to find the more mature plants for distribution. There are no words to describe the satisfaction of finding the perfect one, pulling a meaty vegetable from beneath the ground, holding it up to the morning sun and knowing that carrots do not get any better than this. 001

And beets, well, they’re just pretty, at every stage, from seedling to table. A friend of mine used beet water to color easter eggs, he said it was amazing, and worked better than any of the dyes that could have been bought. I love it when food is beautiful.

So everything but the fall plot has been mowed down and tilled over for the season. This next week we’ll spread leaf mulch and manure and then begin building the beds to our Spring lot. The former summer lot we’ll cover crop with a rye grass and allow to lie fallow until sometime next year. The thing about working from season to season is that the days seem so long but the weeks and months fly by. I remember thinking in April, if we could just get to May and have actual veggies to hand out I’d be over the moon. October, fall, football, cool weather, that all seemed like a dream world from another planet, as well as an indescribably impossible timeline to imagine. But somehow, we’ve had veggies every week, enough veggies, sometimes even a bounty of veggies. It has been so much fun to do this, to watch everything we plant grow a little better than what was planted the previous season. As winter approaches and we sit down to evaluate our plan for next year and all the new challenges we hope to take on, I can’t help but go back. To the wooded, trash filled lot. To the bobcat buckets of rubble scooped from the cold ground and put into piles along the perimeter. To the brambles and bold kill deer who set up their nest in the middle of our barren lot in March. Remembering all the encouragement, and smiling at those who doubted what this soil could do. I am so thankful for where we are, and am humbled at the great responsibility to continue this place onto something better.

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Love and peace,

-b

 

P.S. For those share holders that are wondering what the heck to do with all of the greens, I found this recipe in the special Thanksgiving addition of Southern Living (unashamed:). It goes like this:

 

Wild rice and greens casserole:

(we prefer chopped kale in this casserole, but use your favorite green. For heartier greens like collards, cook them five minutes longer in Step 1. If you want to prepare the dish ahead, cover and chill dup to three days before baking. Uncover and bake just before serving.)

1/2 lb fresh kale or other
hearty greens, trimmed
and coarsley chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

4 1/2 tsp olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

4 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 cup 2% reduced fat milk

1 cup reduced sodium chicken broth

3 cups cooked wild rice

1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes

1 cup grated Gruyere cheese, divided*

vegetable cooking spray

1/2 cup chopped almonds

1. Preheat oven to 375*. Cook kale in 1 cup boiling salted water in a Dutch oven over high heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes; drain.

2. Cook onion in hot oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat, stirring often, 20 minutes or until golden. Add garlic, thyme, and nutmeg, and cook 1 minute. Stir in flour and cooked kale. Gradually stir in milk and broth, and cook, stirring often, 4 minutes or until thickened. Stir in rice, tomatoes, and 1/2 cup cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Transfer mixture to a lightly greased (with cooking spray) 2 1/2 qt. baking dish. Sprinkle almonds and remaining 1/2 cup cheese over mixture.

4. Bake at 375* for 18 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned.

* Swiss cheese maybe substituted.

 

 

Sweet Summer

It’s been an odd summer for East Tennessee, wet and cool, our tomatoes took their sweet time changing hues.  Summer has kept us busy with bounty and for that I am grateful. The season that I thought would be the toughest in regards to irrigation and labor has actually been a surprising ease compared to spring.

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There is the experience factor in that every season we get under our hats teaches us better ways to work and plan. We started constructing the fall lot a few weeks ago, turning in our short summer cover crop of sorghum and cowpea and gracing the beds with our little mustard plants and carrot seeds. The radishes have sprouted and the turnips went in a few days ago. The greenhouse is full with eager plant youth and my morale is boosted in regards to the cool season crops again. It’s such a fun time of year. We started pulling pumpkins from the fields a few weeks ago, gathering enough to hand out when the time is right with our indian popcorn. 007  We also started a new project using the woody vegetation that was present on the property before we started cultivation. The term is called Huglekulture, and is essentially a fancy way of composting wood in a productive manner. The idea is to take a wood pile, cover it with dirt, and as the wood breaks down it also acts as a sponge to absorb water and slowly  irrigate your surface plants that you have planted on top of the pile. So our pile looked like this:

 

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and now that we’ve turned it and added dirt and manure, it looks a little something like this:

 

 

 

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This year I think we’ll plant some flowers and native grasses to make a pretty natural boundary from the road. It was amazing to see how much it had already broken down since the land clearing last February.

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compost magic
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Ben, and his machete
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Lindsey, weeding potatoes
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Sunflowers for the labor day project
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Cynthia!
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Okra inter-planted with winter squash, not necessarily on purpose, but it’s working out:)

 

It’s been good times at Abbey Fields with the work folks, and our members have also been awesome, it’s great to be able to hand them a heavy bag of summer produce each week.  Thanks to the community for all of the support as we continue to clean up the lot and plan for next year.

Be well all,

-b

 



An update from across the tracks

What “soil remediation” really means…

Holy Matrimony!

 

10169221_10203945460347218_8560321564304534743_n   It was beautiful, the rain ceasing for a brief few hours to allow Erik and Hannah Morris to be wed under a brilliant sky of broken clouds and sunshine. A simple set-up, a tattered, multi-colored, vine laden brick wall that contrasted the sodden earth, bright straw paths leading the way to straw bale seating. I think everyone doubted a little their aspirations to get married at a first year, work in progress, urban farm just a few feet away from a highly trafficked railroad, perhaps justifiably so. But I think the couple saw something beautiful about a baby garden, perhaps a parallel to a baby marriage, where there’s room, and an absolute need to grow into the full aspirations of what’s to come. I hope in a few years they’ll take these same pictures wandering on foot paths through groves of fruit trees, talking about how crazy they were to get married in a field with only flecks of green against the brown. And they can say how far this little field has come, as well as how far they’ve come in their new journey together. All the best to the Morris’, so happy they could share their great day here.

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So we had our first veggie distribution last Saturday (surprise!). We hadn’t planned on starting for another week or so but our friend Matt Callo over at Pond Gap Elementary Community Garden called me with an abundance of produce and no one to buy it (check it out: http://www.wbir.com/story/news/local/2014/05/12/new-community-garden-provides-food-for-school/9025221/). It was a simple spread, radish, romaine and snap peas, but the perfect salad combo for a May afternoon. It was wonderful to meet shareholders I had only communicated with through email or telephone and to show folks what their investment has done so far in reconciling a blighted piece of property. Soon we will be harvesting from our own grounds (although some of the snap peas distributed Saturday came from Abbey Fields!) and that will be fun and tremendous, but it’s always great to partner with our area agrarians as well. IMG_20140513_102352_101

And now for what soil remediation really means…

But to preface, (circle of honesty):

I am a “fad farmer”. A farmer who came to terms with what would be vocationally satisfying after spending loads of money on an unrelated and painfully vague degree at a liberal arts university (thanks anyway, dad). A farmer not birthed into this line of work, but instead persuaded by the host of documentaries, books and inspiring projects happening around the world. Wendell Berry was the last straw.

And of course fad farming allows you the pedestal in which to boast about why this is the best way to spend our lives. There’s the nutritional aspects, of course, and then you get deeper into the communal and neighborly aspects of it all, and then perhaps finish it off with the idea of holistic living, focusing on the healing and fulfilling aspects of nature and a hard days work. Terrifically convincing, and delightfully true. My hopes getting into this project rest heavily on the ideas of renewing a place, taking what was vacant and neglected and turning it into something vibrant and alive.

However, the nitty-gritty reality of this poetry means working with nutrient deficient, rocky, weed filled soils that have no considerations of your timeline. Soil remediation really means that you will acquire bloody knuckles when you plant lettuce and blistered palms when you till your tomato beds. It means you’ll wipe away a tear of joy when you see your stalky sunflower babies bursting through the soil, and kick the dust around your turnip tops, knowing full and well they’re not supposed to be that color.

It means wine on rainy days and too much coffee on all the others.

And while it’s frustrating, I stop short of cursing the ground. Because I know it’s all part of it, this amazing responsibility of taking care of something. Even if a vegetable is not harvested from our fields this year (which I promise shareholders, there will be!), the effort is not lost, our input of plants and amendments rolling over into the next season; our winter cover crop taking it all up to prepare a more fertile piece of ground in the years to come. I have learned an amazing amount this Spring, and am so thankful for all the support from The Abbey Fields shareholders, volunteers and well-wishers.

And to expand the scope of faces you’re familiar with at the farm, I’m going to take each blog post to feature one of our work shares. These people are amazing. I have called on them in a moments notice to work in the sleet to cover plants, asked them to cut down barbed wire laden fencing, to plant thousands of onions, and to mulch a sixth of an acre using only a wheelbarrow and a pitch fork. They show up without me asking, and encourage me by staying until the job is done.

So, Meet John

Or Johnny.

Or, onion patch Johnny. IMG_20140405_110956_569

A former professor in Wakefield NC, wrote me a letter in the beginning wanting to work and learn so that he might be able to start a garden for the poor in his own community. John is technically no longer a “work share” because he decided to buy his, wanting to give his working share status to another who wanted the opportunity, but he still puts in more hours than anyone, sometimes myself included. He’s witty, chivalrous, and dependable, and I’m thankful for his wisdom and care for others.

We’ll have distribution again tomorrow evening, this time to meet the second batch of shareholders. I believe we’ll be able to harvest our lettuce, kale and chard, and I hope to get some strawberries to the table from Care of the Earth CSA (apologies to our Saturday share folks who weren’t able to partake in this delightful treat). Stay tuned for the next community work day.

Best,

-b

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What’s with the birds?

I do love rainy days. This season especially I count on them to get caught up on some needed “correspondence” time. Responding to emails, communicating with share holders, and blogging are on the always to do list; the list that usually gets pushed to rainy days. However, I always forget that rainy days are also great days to nap, or bake muffins, or watch Netflix with the family, and suddenly my ambition is lost to a soft pillow, or numerous Wonder Years episodes. So today I’m trying my hardest to make this work. I’m sitting at my beautiful, antique desk, in a hard chair, next to a well lit window, with a cup of premium roast in my camping mug.

Let’s blog.

So we’ll start with Liz:

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Liz is a canadian goose, lost, apparently. I spotted her and her partner Marv on the roof of the Standard Knitting Mill about a week and half ago. They were humorously out of place against the broken windows and industrial facade; perhaps they were resting on their way to West Knoxville, or Canada? But by the next day they had built their nest, and Liz hasn’t moved since. They will now belong in the archives of other “city birds” I’ve encountered since working on this project. City birds, I’ve found, are tough, curious, bold. They don’t fly away from crumbs when you walk by, they perch on steel cables above swift traffic. They never seem frantic or surprised, they have no where to be other than right there, peering sideways at you. The birds at the field, they’re no different. They walk behind me, picking worms as I dig holes for new plants, they may also be responsible for eating the cover crop seed that has yet to sprout on our fall field. But they do keep me company, and I’d miss the chatter if they weren’t around. Sweet Liz, stoic as a statue, unmoved by the wind and rain in her unlikely nesting place, on an open metal roof, above a dirty creek. Surely I would think this place could offer her some quiet corner, some peaceful shelter to raise her little family this spring, but I suppose she knows better than I on such matters.

 

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It has been a frantic last few weeks covering and uncovering plants, studiously studying the weather forecast to see how much longer old man winter would hang on. To quote a friend of mine: “March came in like a lion, and out like catholic guilt”. The cold did manage to nip a few of our young leafy greens, but most things have weathered well. A word of advice: if you ever need to feel really good about yourself as a gardener/farmer, just grow peas. Peas will make it through anything, they grow quickly, and make a beautiful back drop when trellised. Their taproot is great for breaking up compacted soils and they hardly ever need to be watered. Peas have seen me through some tough times.

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Tom Thumb lettuce, my favorite to grow.

But, this weeks forecast looks AWESOME and so it is time to plant, plant, plant. I have a tremendous amount of root bound seedlings ready to be planted and an almost empty field waiting for some color. Potatoes will hopefully be planted this week as well, along with another succession of some direct seeded crops.IMG_20140330_151150_801

We’ve begun to seed a bunch of our summer crops. Our first batch of tomatoes acquired a few of their grown up leaves this weekend. So the greenhouse, literally, smells of summer.

East Tennessee is truly magical this time of year. Roadsides become beds of wildflowers and blue stem grasses, and the hills gleam with pink and red from newly formed buds. Daffodils grace every available urban-scape and even abandoned alley ways become enchanted with ivy and low lying branches. Soon enough the lighting bugs will find their place again along the creek and folks will be occupying their front porches for conversation and good times. You have to have winter to really feel like you’ve earned these walkabouts to spring, this year especially, they’ll be all the sweeter.

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To conclude this blog post I’ll end with a poem a friend showed me a few years ago, when Abbey Fields was just another conversation on the front porch of aspirations. It is, of course, by the beloved Wendell Berry, and has been a source of inspiration for me along the way.

 

The Wild

In the empty lot
a place not natural but wild,
among the trash of human absence, the slough and shamble of the city’s seasons,
a few old locusts bloom.
A few wood birds fly and sing in the new foliage.
Warblers and tanagers
birds as wild as leaves.
In a million each one would be rare, new to the eyes.
A man cannot make a habit of such color, such flight and singing,
But they are the habit of this wasted place.
They are its remembrance
of what it is.

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Oh Spring

 

It is wonderful, this time of year. Especially after our last winter, and while folks still say we’re not out of the woods in regards to weather (things like lightning in February means blizzard in March), I’m done holding my breath. I’m ready to trust the daffodils and the little wrens nesting in our birdhouse.

Things are moving along at the farm. The seeds that we direct seeded a little under two weeks ago have sprouted and next week we look forward to moving some of the transplants from our very crowded greenhouse and planting them, IN THE GROUND! Last week I cover cropped a portion of the farm in white dutch clover in order to add nutrients and of course, to feed our bees, which will arrive on the farm in April.

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Painting bee hives
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Very crowded greenhouse

 

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow from 9-12 is our March community work day. We hope to clean off some of the vines from the lower walls as well as start the prep for our future flower beds. Of course, this translates into a lot of rock moving and raking, which maybe feels a whole lot like our other work days. Still, the sun will be shining and you’ll be in good company.

I wanted to attach a link that a volunteer sent to me. It’s a wonderfully insightful read and is also a great description of how Abbey Fields operates. So for those of you who have ever looked at our little farm lot with a head tilt and a “huh.” Just know we’re not the first of our kind:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/12/dining/farm-to-table-living-takes-root.html?_r=0

004                                         Take care,
-b