February – the month of LOVE!

The farmhouse next door is empty.  The garden is resting…no drama this morning.

What have I learned in the past months?  That no one truly loves and respects your dream like you do.  Expectations that you can “share” your dreams with someone other than your closest partner in life are an illusion and not well thought out.

When you try to share your dream, it is as though you don’t have enough confidence in your own dream and so you get someone else involved to make it theirs too thinking they can help it come true…but they have different priorities and different dreams…so any chances that their dreams will mesh up exactly with yours are few and far between.  Hence your dream begins to morph away from what you were seeing and all of a sudden it is no longer your dream.

I have lived with the idea for a while now that this farm could provide me an outlet for some amount of dollars and that I could retire and put all my energies toward that outlet.  I put so much pressure on the idea that this farm needed to be something more than my fun, my love, my peace, my release and my castle, that I have missed what is here for ME.  I have spent great energy toward trying to turn this into an enterprise and seen disappointment after disappointment.

Creativity, Community, Healthy…I no longer am cultivating a dream that these ideas will make me money.  All of a sudden, the pressure is gone, the valve released…today is a new day, I will enjoy all that it brings.  I will share what I have in the best way possible without regard to dollars, mine or anyone else’s!  In a way, that is a retirement of sorts…the responsibility for this farm to make money is gone.  That really was someone else’s dream.  All I need is what I need to survive…to be sustained…to live every day in love with my life.

My February resolution is to participate more in the community, to be as healthy as I can, and to allow my mind to stop ginnin’ long enough to start to see things in a more creative light.  I will quit pushing for control of an answer and let go and let God.

I can’t wait to see what that brings.

Enjoy this wonderful month, because as we draw near to the end of it, we will be closer to spring…new plants in the garden, flowers on the fruit trees, the green of spring and the warmth of the sun.

Creativity, Community and Healthy…

FHF_appleA new direction, a fresh start!

Thank you my daughter for inspiring me yet again…creativity, community and healthy…all VERY important to us here at Freedom Harvest Farms.  So now, we alter our directions from a focus just on food, farm and animals to a broader view of sharing in the form of creativity, community and health…whether ours or someone that shares with us.  Swapping, bartering, meetings, events, classes, sewing, knitting, education, massage therapy, just a few of the ideas that I am milling around in my head.  Maybe some resale, maybe some supplements, maybe some hard to find organic gardening items on this side of town.  I will be talking to and searching for yoga instructors, massage therapists, people who need what we have and need a starting point.  I will be thinking, planning, researching, and considering how this farm can better > more interactively contribute to the community, allow for creativity and be healthy…

I hope you will join us on the next phase of our life and our love.  This little piece of property is meant for greater things. We will no longer serve only to provide a garden and fresh eggs, but to make a difference in this community…to offer healthy opportunities for creative outlets, people who need space, earth and purpose.  I hope you will join with us!

On fans…

Speaking of the 50’s…in those days everyone didn’t have a Better Homes & Gardens house. Oh, there were some upscale items in a house but it was not unsightly to have a fan in your house especially considering everyone didn’t have central air in those days. So as we evolved to central air, granite counter tops and gourmet kitchens where Whataburgers and Lean Cuisines are served, the fans went the way of the T-Rex.

I love fans…Fans conjure up the memories of napping on a quilt in my great-grandmother’s house…who can resist a nap with the quiet hum of a fan? especially when you are 5. There were huge fans in the school rooms when I was in elementary…but then again, the windows were open, no screens and 6-12 insect repellent was on the school supply list. Sitting in front of the fan in the classroom meant you couldn’t hear as well, but you were cool and no bugs!   The barber shops had those black iron fans on stands…Well, let’s just say it was not only common but completely acceptable to have a fan in your house in the 50’s!

I have fans in my house…ceiling fans in every room…never sleep without one…we use fans on our deck and I have an oscillating fan that runs every day in my office. Did you know you can run an air conditioning unit on 78 the entire day if you just run a fan…

I don’t know maybe I’ll start a new trend…cause “fans are cool”!

The ’50s never looked so good…

Today I made Fiesta Rice Salad for our lunch.

I substituted leftover basmati rice, finished up the last of our fresh tomatoes, picked bell peppers and a jalapeno from my bushes.  As I cleaned up my kitchen, I mused about the ability to fix a dish, eat it and clean it up on my lunch hour.  I am blessed that I work from home.  That musing led me to think about the Corpus Christi Downtown Farmers Market this afternoon and what I might want for the next week.

So, in reality, if you are a regular visitor to the Farmers Markets in town, then surely you realize that the best use of all those wonderful fresh veggies and other items bought there is to plan your menus for the coming week.  If you plan your menus for the coming week, then you will cook and eat more at home.  Less calories, better nutrition, BEST family times.

Along with my musings about the Farmers Markets, I drifted to the days of Donna Reed, pearls and shirtwaist dresses…we harken back to the day when going to the “market” (not the grocery store) was a daily occurrence because you wouldn’t dream of feeding your family a “tv dinner”, no freezer goods for you!  You bought the meat and produce you planned to cook for the evening meal and tomorrow’s lunch…no way would you feed your family that frozen “tv dinner”…that would be the talk of the neighborhood.   “Those poor children, their mother never cooks for them.”  Ha!

My daughter and I have had this conversation many times about the circular nature of generations.  When my children were small, I commuted nearly an hour each day to and from work downtown in a large city.  Supper was rarely a happy family event…chicken nuggets? YES!  In my youth, I believed that the most important thing for my family was to make money so my children would never feel left out.  There were so many convenience foods hitting the market at that time…breastfeeding was for hippies and the disposable diapers were the greatest things since sliced bread.  Hamburger Helper, a staple for young mothers, to throw something together before everyone fell into their beds at night.  Now, my daughter is an advocate for whole foods, cooking at home, being with her children…and I don’t think those grandchildren ever feel left out.

I’m not really sorry for the paths I took…I am a little sorry that I didn’t have someone to encourage me to breastfeed…I think I really missed the boat on that one…but I’m not sorry that I worked, it was the right decision for me and family.  Yet today, I am very proud of how much my daughter afforded her children when they were young and needed her undivided attention by not committing to the stressful full time jobs to “make things easy”.   Given the musings, about work and stay-at-home, I think I like the idea of planning a menu, buying fresh and local, and sitting at the table, if not with my best friend, my husband, then with my family around enjoying good food and company.

So, if you aren’t a regular at the Farmers Markets, then I encourage you to consider how it might change your home life…young family, empty nesters, singles…it’s all good.  You don’t have to don the heels and shirtwaist dress for your vacuuming chores…but maybe, just maybe, those ladies in the 50s didn’t have it so bad.  To me, they never looked so good.

Corpus Christi Downtown Farmers Market is now a reality…

Last night was the third time for the Wednesday evening downtown Farmers Market. It wafts softly in thoughts and feelings today as the experience encompasses a direct link to the people of Corpus Christi.

The producers and vendors bring what they have and share ideas with the people as they pass through. There is very little discussion about prices and no evidence of negotiating. This isn’t your neighborhood flea market, instead it’s a community event. The newbies express shock at the encounter: “Why this is really cool!” as they saunter by… The experienced group files by and says “I want some of this again”… There’s no doubt there’s something for everyone at the market.

Last night was a culmination of perfection…great weather, new people, previous people, products available from 5-7 instead of everything being gone at 5:10 p.m. People were laughing and not hurrying…the music was soft and comfortable…definitely an easy vibe and relaxing…

This, is where we want to be…a market that has products for someone that gets there at 5 and for someone that gets there at 6:45 p.m. A market that provides relaxation, socialization and value…how to grow, how to cook, where to find, recipes, creativity, smiles, laughter and some fun.

What you need to know about the CC Downtown Farmers Market is to keep participating, keep coming, keep communicating and sharing. This is the lifeline for events such as these.

See you next week? if not, then Come when you can!

So You Wanna Downtown Farmers’ Market?

So You Wanna Downtown Farmers’ Market?

Come to the innaugural Downtown Farmers’ Market:  Tango Tea Room located at 505 S. Water St., Wednesday, March 21st from 5-7pm. 

For as long as we can remember there has been a desire for and talk about a farmers’ market in downtown Corpus Christi. We’re sure you’ve heard the same kind of chatter: “Wouldn’t it be great if SOMEONE would start a farmers’ market downtown?”

So you wanna Downtown Farmers Market? Let’s see if we can create one.

Getting produce to consumers is just as important to a direct sales farm business as producing the crop, but it can be a tricky situation. The farmer has to successfully balance distribution costs and customer convenience. There are more consumers out there than we could provide for at this time, but let’s face it: the “convenience society” we live can be a hurdle to a direct sales farmer. I want what you have, but it would be so much easier if it came to me; or if it was all in one place just around the corner from my house.

In an effort to provide additional opportunities for producers to connect with consumers, Freedom Harvest Farms, along with a few other local producers and downtown business owners, are taking the leap.

Our first official Downtown Farmers’ Market will be at Tango Tea Room located at 505 S. Water St., Wednesday, March 21st from 5-7pm.  We currently have a few vegetable and egg producers, a goat cheese producer, a soap producer, a few local artists and the list continues to grow at a too-fast-to-count rate.

We hope that this event will help to kick start what will surely grow in to another great downtown experience for our community.

Here is the vendor list as of this mailing, alphabetically by category:

PRODUCE

EcoSage
Lisa McCracken

Freedom Harvest Farms
Aislynn Campbell

From The Garden
Danny Weaver

Lorberau Farms
Janie Lorberau

Terra Madre
Jaime Bustos

ART

Amybowersart
Amy Bowers

Are you a vendor who’d like to be on this list?
Email: aislynn@freedomharvestfarms.com

I turned the corner and it was Spring! Time for a little Spring organization.

The week I returned from the Texas Organic Farmer’s and Gardeners (TOFGA) conference became an exercise in chaos with an overgrown garden, an explosion of greenhouse plants to be re-potted, children out of school for intersession and general catch up. A farmer’s life doesn’t take a week off for conferences! Now that things are starting to get back in to place, I am ready to share what I brought back from TOFGA that really effects how the farm will move forward into the Spring planting season and harvest. Here are a few quick points that I will touch on in detail in the next few weeks.

1. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA, a term you’ll hear a lot) is the best way for us to begin a formal distribution program. This season’s produce is coming in like gangbusters; who gets to purchase the majority of it? Those involved in our CSA program. Please check out our CSA page for more details. This will help create a working budget for the garden, ensure that no produce goes to waste and that quality, fresh produce is distributed to as many people as we can on a weekly basis.

2. The need for and management of our volunteer resources. A community supported family farm like Freedom Harvest Farms is going to produce best when supported by hardworking community members that support and love the idea. We look forward to working with each of you as you take the opportunity to support something that you’re passionate about, get some great experience and some much needed sun, fresh air and excercise. Over the coming weeks we will be developing a system for regular volunteers and interns. It begins by signing up for our Farm Report, a weekly newsletter that will list volunteer opportunities for volunteerism. Click here to sign up.

3. The definite desire of communities for educational opportunities on local farms. Some of the ideas that were suggested at TOFGA included: summer camps, cooking classes, field trips, farm tours and garden and farming classes. There is actually a new business industry developing for farms like this it is called agritourism. We look forward in the coming years to really developing this agritourism idea fully.

4. Monetary support. Of course purchasing produce is a huge monetary support, but what if you are just a huge supporter of this whole idea and want to help it grow. Many of the established farms in other areas of Texas have seen huge amounts of support from their community through not only their volunteer hours, but also through donations. One group even got a $15,000 start from supporters through kickstarter (check them out here).

We are rounding the corner and Spring is in sight. This will be our second Spring garden and the first Spring fully inhabiting the farm. We have a lot to learn and a bunch to grow, and we are very excited about the community support we have received thus far.  Thank you for all you have already done to support us!

Indeed…it is time to begin preparing vegetable gardens.

About the time that I really begin to think that we are getting progressively smarter and smarter about our food, where it comes from, and the effect chemical herbicides and pesticides have on our planet and health, I see an article written by a local “expert” in horticulture like this one: Begin Preparing Vegetable Gardens.

While happy to see our local newspaper running articles that encourage back yard production,  it is very disheartening to see this article encouraging our community members to use herbicides, specifically Round Up.  We all know Round Up. A few squirts and everything dies. You may even use it at your home now, in your sidewalk cracks or aesthetic plantings.

You see, the idea of killing unwanted grasses and weeds isn’t a bad thing and the author of this article isn’t bad for keeping weeds out of the garden. You have to. But what is the point in going to all that effort unless your final desire in gardening is to poison yourself?  Research has been found to show that Round Up is toxic to human cells especially in embryonic stage.  Why would you purposefully spray a product that has been shown to be toxic, or even questionable, anywhere near your home-grown vegetables?  The fact that in the midst of a wave  of  movement for change in our food system we are still seeing articles written by “experts” encouraging the use of these products leaves me absolutely speechless….well, not so speechless that I can’t write this blog. ;)

And that is only half the issue. In addition to the health concerns in using these products there has also been a huge uprising against Monsanto, the company that patented Round Up and followed that up with seeds genetically engineered to be resistant to Round Up.  While I’m not prepared to discuss that today, I am providing a link to some information regarding this subject. Monsanto declared worst company of 2011.

So it’s a large setback to see an “expert” encouraging a population of less informed community members to use a product that is clearly questionable.

Let’s return back to the concern in the article: we want to prepare an area in our backyard to plant a vegetable garden. In truth, if you are dealing with Bermuda grass it is quite difficult to get rid of it. When Bermuda grass is tilled into the soil it will grow again, but dealing with weeds and grass is a small price to pay to have vegetables devoid of chemicals that harm your family and environment.

There are different ways of dealing with weeds depending on the size of garden you are prepping. The goal is to kill and/or remove them. The three step process to accomplish this is suffocate, spray and remove.

Suffocating can be accomplished by covering the space with plastic, a  tarp, layered newspaper, or mulch. This can take a little time (anywhere from 3-6 weeks depending on weather) so be sure to start this process immediately. Before covering, spray grass with a 20% vinegar/water  solution. This is best accomplished on very warm days. Next, you’ll want to use a spade or sod cutter (depending on how large an area) to cut the grass off the top. Bermuda has deep-growing and persistent rhizomes so you will need to make sure all top grass is removed and then hand till with spade or rototiller (again depending on size of area).  It is important to remove any pieces of the grass that you can see. Last, cover the area with about a foot of compost/organic matter.  Plant your veggies and then mulch around your plants. You may still find that you have weeds/grass growing up through this prepped area, but if this is a permanent bed you can eventually win this battle. Be persistent with catching new growth before it spreads or seeds.

Persistence and hard work will pay off and you will feel better knowing that all your efforts help to ensure that you are not risking the health of your family with chemical herbicides.

You had no idea you even wanted to know this much about chickens!

Chickens have been in the news.  Recently, the city of Corpus Christi has discussed an ordinance for city dwellers keeping laying chickens. I have not read proposed ordinance changes, but my understanding is that chickens may be kept for the purposes of eggs only and presume number and types of animals(hens no roosters) will be limited and distance requirements.

Since temperatures are warming, and more and more locals are showing interest in keeping their own flock,I want to share a little information with you about keeping  a backyard flock.  This information is mostly just my experience with our flock but there is tons of information out there if you want more.

We have had a backyard flock for about 3 years and are on our second generation of ladies. I believe we have about 28 birds right now.

Both times we ordered our birds from the Welp Hatchery. We ordered a total of 30 each time…straight run. What exactly is a straight run?  Well that means we are ordering all of one sex (i.e. want them to be all hens)…now here’s the caveat…they don’t always get it right. Both times we have ended up with two roosters out of 30 which judging by chicks’ private parts is a pretty good mitigation of error.  We usually let our roosters mature to their teen state.  Around that time, one becomes dominate and the other becomes lunch :/. If the dominate one becomes too dominate(i.e. meaner’n all get out) then we try to find him a home with some other needy hens.  In a pen,  it’s best to just have one rooster but, be it known (yes, this question gets asked all the time) you do NOT have to have a rooster for your laying hens and eggs. For the city folks you’ll want no rooster and you don’t have to have one.

If you are only going to be keeping a few hens for a backyard flock, then you may want to check out Naylor’sTractor Supply or some other local feed store like Lone Star Country Store.  In early spring, these stores will often carry chicks and ducklings.  Another option, is to buddy up with a friend and order chicks together.

There are many different breeds to choose from. I researched the subject to determine the ones best suited for my purposes.  Our first time, I chose three types.  Two of  the best egg layers and one egg/meat bird (this just means they are fat hens that could be eaten too).  I chose the White Leghorn because they are the best white egg layers, I chose the Rhode Island Red because they are the best brown egg layers and the Buff Orpingtons because they tend to be big, fat and good layers. The next time, we skipped the White Leghorns because they are smaller birds (would never be good for meat) and also due to their smaller size they are flyers (as in right out of the chicken yard).  Instead, we selected Barred Rocks because they are great brown egg layers too and are pretty with black and white feathers. We also wanted Araucanas but they weren’t available at the time…these are very colorful birds (particularly the roosters) and the hens lay blue and green eggs.  You can see, we choose based on look, production, size and even temperament (Rhode Islands and Buff Orpingtons tend to be more domesticated while Barred Rocks and White Leghorns are more standoffish from humans). It’s important to do a little research before choosing your breeds.  There are several good books out there. We read and used Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens and Chickens: Raising a Small Scale Flock for Pleasure and Profit.  Also, hatchery websites often give you good information about different breeds.

Your chickens will be delivered in the mail.  That’s right, in the USPS…and don’t be surprised when you get that 5:30 a.m. call because they are there and PEEPING.  They will come to you in a very small box (ordering 30 we get a box that’s about a square foot). The hatcheries confine the chicks to a small space to keep them warm in transit. They are day old chicks and will come to the post office where they will promptly call you to come pick them up directly. When you get them you will need to keep them in a small box to start. The first time we started with a small cardboard box and then built a brooder box. It’s best if the brooder box is split into two sections.  One area with a heat lamp (make sure to put a barrier between the birds and the lamp) the other side should have water and feed. This is to make sure the birds will be able to get away from the heat if they get too warm.  If you notice them huddling together around the lamp and never going to the feed side then you know they are too cold. They will need bedding, water and chick feed.

Once the birds begin to put on their real feathers and begin to get too tall (or begin trying to jump or fly out) of the brooder box you know they are ready to upgrade to a pullet pen. A pullet pen is necessary to protect young hens as they mature to their full grown size. At pullet age they are still small enough to fly and small enough to be picked off by predators like hawks.

Currently our hens have a coop and a yard. This is for their protection in a backyard. We had issues early on with predators and created an aviary type setting for them. Your hens will need a roost; this is where they sleep.  They will need nesting boxes; this is where they will lay their eggs. The nesting box will need to have bedding in it; hay is what we use. The hens love to make their beds; so just throw some hay in there and they will do the rest. Leave the door to the coop open and they will come and go as they please through out the day and as the sun sets they will begin to go to roost on their own.

Hens begin to lay eggs when they are about 20-24 weeks old. They will lay about 240 eggs in their first year of laying and then this will quickly decrease in the second and even more reduction in the third year. With your first flock, you may need to place some “fake” eggs in the nesting boxes to teach the hens where the appropriate place to lay their eggs is. With a new flock you may occasionally find eggs in the yard as they are beginning to lay.  They are still learning. Give them a little time and they figure it out.

As summertime rolls around, you may see a decline in egg production.  Hens get hot like the rest of us and a little stressed by the heat.  They’ll pick back up again as the cooler weather of fall comes around.  Be sure they have easy access to clean water at all times; we use automatic waterer. Also be sure they have plenty of chicken feed, but they love your kitchen scraps and weeds and worms from your garden too.  You will see an increase or decrease of egg production, size and yellow yolks depending on how much “extras” they are getting.  We throw out scratch for the hens when we gather the eggs around the same time every day.  This motivates them to abandon the nest while we rob them, but be prepared for the hen that isn’t ready to give up her babies…Just reach in there and grab ‘em out from under her!  Of course, you might get a peck or two … be creative on how to protect yourself when you reach under her.  We keep laying hen pellets available for them to feed on demand.

So if you are considering starting your flock now is the time to get started. email aislynn@freedomharvestfarms.com with more questions! I know I didn’t cover near enough, but I gotta stop somewhere ;)

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Blight Happens

Each day at the farm, some new hurdle appears that someone has to deal with. Some examples from our recent days, the guard dog who needs a collar that won’t slip off…blue herons eating fish from the tank…too much water, not enough water, too many weeds, too many bugs…the list goes on…

Sometimes blight happens in relationships. A hurdle, wall, boundary goes up and begs to be crossed.

You have to deal straight away with the blight…attend to it but don’t let it spread and kill the entire crop. Remove the offending leaves or tubers. Leave in its place a fresh new disease-free thriving organism.

Farming is about continuing daily to get past the negatives and see the positives.  You must have great vision and unshakable faith to farm.  We get up every day to a beautiful piece of land that provides freedom from the “man” and peace to all who embrace it.  I really can’t wait until the day I can roll out my yoga mat on my screened-in porch and breathe in deeply the rewards for our daily dealings with blights.