To You and This Earth We Give Thanks. (Happy Holidays)

Most all of the leaves in the valley below Echo Mountain have let loose of their perch and collected in fiery piles that have quickly decayed into young soil.  Sun Dog Farm has been put mostly to rest as the weather has taken a turn for the frozen, with frosts as hard as 16 degrees.  Our cover crops have had a sudden guerrilla siege by foraging deer whose selection of lush summer edibles have all since gone dormant.  A quick visit to some Farmer friends down South has sent us out with t-posts and fishing line for a quick fix, and the purchase of a rifle and acquisition of a license are high on the horizon.  As we come to the close of our first growing season here in the valley, I feel the Earth's movement towards a slower, more digestive, and introspective time, when we have a moment to reflect and gather from the lessons met throughout the year.  We have poured out our hearts here on this beautiful landscape and have been rewarded handsomely with the abundance germinated from a healthy relationship with the land and community.  To say this year was successful would be true, but it is but the successful beginning of something much larger than ourselves and will take many, many years to fulfill.  Our dedication to this piece of Earth is one out of the interest of our own well being, but in acknowledgement that our own well being relies entirely on the well being of our land. This simple reality, that everything is connected and our responsibility to cherish the natural gifts of this world as if they are (and they are,) extensions of our own body, has begun to elude us as a culture.  The infiltration of virtual realities, technologically induced introversion and apathy, and the uprooting of our values for anything that can be traded for with money (with the acquisition of such never in question,) has laid waste to our watersheds, condemned numerous species to extinction, and ravaged the community centers of our human populations.  With screens in our eyes and "facts" at our fingertips, we feel unstoppable, comfortable, and limiting our imagination has become a  game whose addictive stimulation cages our peace of mind.  Our food, losing life and vitality with every unnecessary laboratory and feedlot, is not nourishing our bodies and spirits in ways that promote healthy personal exchanges and greater social communities.

Our war on the planet has no winners or victories, it can only provide for short sighted economic gains and help determine the outcome of political election.  We've spent the better part of our history convincing ourselves that we are separate, that sciences are separate, that our religious ideals and the creative natural forces within our ecosystems and solar system were separate phenomenon, things that simply occurred because they did.  Our current medical system works diligently to convince the paying customer that the organs in ones body are to be feared, that they are separate entities likely to fail.  We've lost touch with the life force that resides within us and therefore our scope has been shortened and our expectations have been limited.  How are we to connect with nature when we cannot even connect with ourselves?

When people ask me why I farm, I suppose I should say to cope.  Working 7 days a week to grow food and maintain a homestead is an incredibly difficult task that tends to ask too much of us on a regular basis.  The chores are physically demanding and the changing temperaments of the land and climate are very taxing on the mind.  After a long day we are tired and sore and after a long month our spirits are eggs in a frying pan.  And still, here I am, most every day of the year, pouring out more of myself into the land and being met with the richness of life.  My relationship with this piece of land gives me a purpose, gives me the tools I need to cope with a world that seems to be too far along towards an end I fear.  Accepting less plastic and possessions for a healthy, sustaining lifestyle leaves me the opportunity to do good by this world, to make peace with my fears in the fields and turn my doubt and insecurity into seeds sown and nurtured.  It is my greatest treasure to put my fingers into the soil and feel with my own hands that which sustains.  This joy can be found in any moment, even during the harshest conditions or when we have suffered difficult loss.  I carry these gifts of the spirit with me every day when I rise and I hope to return all of them to the farm before I lay down to sleep.

In the words of the great Wendell Berry:

"The change of mind I am talking about involves not just a change of knowledge, but also a change of attitude toward our essential ignorance, a change in our bearing in the face of mystery. The principle of ecology, if we will take it to heart, should keep us aware that our lives depend on other lives and upon processes and energies in an interlocking system that, though we can destroy it, we can neither fully understand nor fully control. And our great dangerousness is that, locked in our selfish and myopic economies, we have been willing to change or destroy far beyond our power to understand."

As we move into winter and the Holiday season of Thanks, I send to your heart of hearts, within this great struggle, this daring of symbiosis and survival, the solace and peace of a season spent in the fields among the honey bees and blooms.  I send you all the love I have collected from my growing calf and harvested from my babbling creek.  I share with you the urgency of a world in turmoil and the hope for that which sustains us all.  I encourage each of you to go outside and become a part of some beautiful and complex natural rhythm.  To nurture something whose roots extend beyond sight and whose territories are not limited by the bars of a cage or the asphalt of a city block.  I present to you my open and ever changing perspective that guides me to make small moves everyday towards the dynamic partnership between this common, shared existence and myself.

Peace be with all of you and Happy Holidays.  Thank you for sharing with us, here at Sun Dog Farm, a beautiful first season in the valley.

Trailblazers of Sustainability: Women Farmers of the Southeast

Growing up a woman in America affords you many benefits not found in other countries. Opportunities abound and the likelihood of success is tightly linked to ambition and courage. If you do well enough in school, head off to college or an apprenticeship, and take achievements seriously enough, you can often get a well paid job that will provide for you and potentially a family. These days a woman can be a Doctor, Professor, Actor, Philosopher, Scientist, Astronaut, and many other jobs that were until somewhat recently reserved for men. This is not to say that the gender barrier has been broken and that there is no room for further improvement, but great strides have been made by brave women and men alike who have defended the feminine spirit for its beauty, power, and importance on this planet at the risk of endangering themselves, their reputations, and what History would one day have to say about them. Even so, History (His-Story) has often been fuddled and repeated and generation after generation is asked to revisit issues when mass stereotypes prevail in the face of social progress. These reoccurring issues and stalemates, sexual abuse in the workplace, inequality in pay, complaints about public breastfeeding and other maternal misunderstandings, the religious subversion of women's rights, and a long list of other seemingly ridiculous trends are enough to get any tough girl down. In a world built by the words and promises of good and bad men, divided and dominated by their whims and understandings, where a woman's only hope of achieving power is to emulate masculinity, what is a good girl to do? Well, I think the answer is farm.

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While a Farmer may not be what every little girl in America pines to be when they grow up, a study done by the Organic Farming Research Foundation in 2005 found that 22% of all Organic Farms in the United States were operated by women. A similar study conducted by the Women on U.S. Farms Research Initiative at Pennsylvania State University found that women were generally less likely to employ chemical intense practices. Women were found to be more likely to utilize organic and sustainable methods for producing their crops. And where does this tendency towards more open-minded, nurturing and holistic practices come from, you ask? I'm afraid to say it comes, straight up, from being a woman.

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The Southeastern United States and the great State of Georgia in particular houses some of the most innovative and important women Farmers of our time. These champions of the fields may be as pretty as their flowers, but there is nothing frail or fragile about them. Pioneers in an industry that is just barely being recognized by our mainstream society, these women have come to do the dirty work just as well as their male counterparts and in many cases their products and professionalism serve as guiding lights for young women and men alike interested in a different, more holistic path towards success. They have come to face the adversity generated by our bent industrial food system and they've come to do it in what has for centuries in America been considered a man's line of work.

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This is certainly not an attempt to downplay the importance of the strong men in our community out every week at the farmers market dishing out the best of their harvests. You go on, be the studs that you are and keep on giving our young men an example of how hard work is still alive and thriving, shaping and guiding us towards healthier bodies and a healthier planet. Many of the great farmer women of our time share their workload with an equally bad ass male partner, but no longer due to some legal or social requirement.

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The Women Farmers of the Southeast are trailblazers for a new and enlightened view of what is important in life. Born nurturers, these women are mothers and daughters, their spirits are naturally entangled in the affairs of the wild and they are here to show us not only what it means to be an empowered female, they are here to show us a different system of values. There is no time for a woman farmer to try and be like any man or fit any standard. They openly pour their love where they lay their seeds and the fruits that grow from that effort are the sweet tastes of social change in a world in need of more lovers, dreamers, and healers.

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The most important thing a man or woman in Georgia can do today is to support these incredible figures of strength and ingenuity. To go and purchase their food and show their children that being a woman is a gift, not a sentence. By going to the farmers market or joining their CSA programs, you are playing an important role in acknowledging that women can be leaders, that their strength and courage can manifest beautiful, healthful change on this planet in a time of utmost need.

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When I see the incredible achievements of these talented women I am left inspired and encouraged. The world we live in today is wrought with challenges, but I see before me all the strength and ferocity necessary to tackle them. We are living in exciting times and it is time to acknowledge and appreciate what each of us can bring to the table. Whether your daughter wants to be a Congresswoman, a Princess, or a Farmer, she needs to know that she is an entity of great importance and value and she is supported in her pursuits. The more positive examples of woman leaders we cultivate in our communities, the better.

(For more information about any of the farmers featured, click on their images.)

Calling All Localvores: Why You Should Hug a Farmer.. Today.

This growing season has been an incredible test of the spirits and ambitions of the farmers scattered across the Southeastern United States.  The ample rain turning quickly into saturation and finally, over saturation, has limited our sunshine, brought about ideal conditions for parasites, fungi, and diseases, made certain crops flavorless, and even caused devastating floods which wash away weeks of hard labor, topsoil, and the dollar value of anything planted in the path of the surging water.  When crops sit in soil where their feet (roots) are always wet, they tend to weaken and rot at the level of the soil and below, their cell walls are filled and sometimes burst from the Turgor pressure of the excess water and the plants become overly lush, a condition that makes them easy to chew on if you are a sneaky little beetle  or invade  if you are a disease or fungus.  The consistent rainfall cuts down on the amount of time pollinators are able to do their jobs and can even kill off crucial soil biology necessary for the proper breakdown and dispersal of nutrients from the soil to the plant roots. Excess rain also limits the amount of time a farmer is able to work their soil.  If using a tractor or a draft horse, a roto-tiller or your own brute strength, a farmer has a limited window between showers where the soil is of the proper consistency to till, spade, double dig, or disk.  If soil is worked when it is too wet, the soil structure is compromised and the result is a nasty hardpan that dries and does not allow for the proper percolation of rain during the next storm.  This means that the water washes across the top of the soil, which can perpetuate erosion and leave your plants high and dry during times when rain is less frequent, in soil that is slowly losing its nutrition.  You know what loves lots of rain though?  Weeds.

On top of all of these issues, the rain also presents a problem when the farmer is attempting to market these products they are tirelessly attempting to salvage and sell.  A rainy day at the local Farmers Market not only means hours of standing out in the rain, but it also means a lower turn out of market shoppers who, like the farmers, would rather not go out early in the morning or after a long day of work and get soaked or chilled.  A lower number of market shoppers means an even lower number of sales, which subtracted along with the subtractions of crop failures can begin to deduct quite a large amount of the gross income of the operation.  This loss of income makes it more difficult to cushion the following season, generating a cycle of loss which is difficult to catch up from.

While the pain of this season can be felt every time I look out the window and see those persistent little drops, this is all a part of the beauty and the beast of a local food system.  When you look at the situation from a very broad sense, the increase in rainfall has helped eliminate the threat of drought that has had its claws in the Southeast for a number of years.  As you get closer to the mechanisms of the local farms themselves, it is obvious that our foodway is hurting and it needs your help.  Obviously as a customer, volunteer, or advocate we couldn't ask for you to slow the rains to the perfectly timed storms we all dream about at night (or can we??)  Being realistic, there is never a season without challenge and we wouldn't want it that way.  What we can ask for is for your support during this time of great stress and uncertainty.

Ever had that funny feeling in your belly like you wanted to go out and work on the farm? (It's okay, this is a safe space to admit it and others are doing it.)  July 2013 is the perfect time to act on those passionate feelings.  Get your boots out, get your rain gear on, and get yourself some mud on your brow.  Just go through your facebook feed and find that farm that seems to be feeling it the hardest and make the first move.  If you don't have the time for hands-on aid, then maybe the most important thing you can do for your local foodway right now is to buy local food.  Go to the Farmers Market of your choice and buy what you need.  Buy what you need for the week.  Plan out your meals and bring a list with you.  Go to several farmers and lay your money down for some of the best food available to you.  Buy spontaneously.  Go to the Farmers Market with no idea what you want to cook and make it up as you go.  Tell your friends to go with you.  Guilt them into it.  Take your next hot date to the Farmers Market and spice things up with some locally grown hot peppers or some sexy heirloom tomatoes.

The beauty and the beast of the local foodway is a complex relationship whose integrity we are all responsible for.  It takes every single localvore and farmer to make this magic happen and during times of hardship, we all have to contribute the very best of ourselves to see it through.  The layers of this food community are all connected and we all have a role to play in its success.  While it is my role to push through these storms, meet the challenge and become better as a farmer for my sake, for the sake of the farm ecosystem, and for the sake of my reliable customers, it is the role of the customer to meet me with flexibility and support.  The rainstorms of 2013 have been the beast this year and those who come out every weekend to the market rain or shine to support those that grow their food; there are few things on this planet more beautiful than them.  See y'all at market.

When Food Becomes Medicine

It has been a cold and rainy Spring here at Sun Dog Farm and our leisurely mountain drives around Nottley Lake have been particularly beautiful.  The high water levels mirroring the breathtaking cloudy skies strewn across the horizon have given the lush mountain peaks an extra sense of majesty.  The trees have put on what are most nearly full leaves and the blooms of cultivated and naturalized plants have filled the air with their delicate scents and features.  Life is all a buzz, yet even this morning our neatly tucked little valley faced the damaging chills of a late Spring frost.  Another frost is predicted for tomorrow morning and possibly after that the threat will diminish and the bounty of foods gathering strength from the sun and other energies will safely pursue their purpose.  Even with the unpredictable weather patterns and bouts of heavy rain, life has found its course and navigated the extremes with grace.  We harvested the first of our cultivated crops and brought them to market on Saturday and I suspect that each week will grow in volume and diversity.  After just five months on the property, Sun Dog Farm is finally shaping up to be a productive venture and thriving farm organism. 020

And here I am on a daily basis soaking in the beautiful expressions of this valley.  On a golden morning harvesting radishes, I was amazed to realize how much the farm is an extension of my own consciousness.  The cracks and crevices of my imagination burst forth the blue print for this dynamic landscape and my physical experience went about like a busy bee putting the pieces together.  While part of this process certainly seems to stem from the vision within my own consciousness, the farm is an organism unto itself.  There are moments as a farmer where you look about all of your work and feel a great sense of pride.  There are maybe just as many differing moments where you look about at all of the incredible life forces around you harnessing energies all on their own and you simply feel grateful.  I have come to realize that my role here on the farm varies, but it is certainly never "master" or the "boss."  I have found that I am but one part of the farm organism, an entity just as important as any other, but not one that could work to the exclusion of any other of the farm's necessary functioning systems and organs.

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The farm also serves as a perfect mirror of the self.  It always seems that when there are deep rooted, difficult issues within my own being to confront, the farm suffers an ailment that can only be cured through braving these tough emotions.  This process not only strengthens the vitality of the farm organism, but strengthens my own abilities and purposes on the farm and as a person living in a complex and physical realm.  Viewing the farm as a perfect mirror and as an extension of myself, myself an extension to it, is what I believe turns the vegetables from food into medicine.  This is not strictly speaking to how the farm is medicine for me, but how I can take what is grown in this precious ecosystem and share it with the vibrant food community as a nutrient dense edible with highly medicinal properties.

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When the farmer acknowledges that the farm is of their own creation, uniquely them, and filled to the brim with the love of those who work the land, the food grown under these conditions of holistic nurturing and care exhibit medicinal qualities.  The addage, "know your farmer," truly expresses the importance of purchasing food from the very people who put the seeds in the ground.  When someone loves their land and crops enough to not only put their name on the label, but to put their face behind the table at the Farmers Market, it can be made quite clear that they are doing what they love and that love is what grew the products they are offering.  That love is what ensures that the crops receive the proper nutrition required to fulfill the needs of the plants and the people who eat them and that love carries over into the farm organism as a whole.  Love is as dynamic a force as a farm is an organism and the relationship between the two is the best source of medicine available today.

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The season of abundance is upon us and there is no better time to get out and buy your food, your simple medicine, from the farmers directly through Farmers Markets, CSA programs, and other venues dedicated to the good food movement.  Just as the farmer is but one part of the farm, the customer has as much a role to play in the success of the farm and the fulfillment of its purpose.  Every dollar spent on a farm based product is a dollar that filters back through the farm organism and replenishes the needs of the system.  This process ties us all together, and I would like all of our customers and supporters to know that they too are an integrated part of the Sun Dog Farm organism.  The vitality of the farm is inextricably linked to the vitality of the venture and we are so honored to be a part of such a culturally rich and dedicated food community of families, farmers markets, and chefs alike in the city of Atlanta.  Your support manifests the medicine from our fields and ensures that our love wanders only to those who wish to cherish it.

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Hippocrates - "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food"

You Can Never Hold Back Spring

It is surprising how much the climate of the North Georgia Mountains reflects the climate I grew up with in the Northeastern US.  I often have to take a breath and calm my soul when I view all the incredible pictures of the progress of Spring from Atlanta and even further South in the Low Country.  Here we are in March, having battled days of snow, only the maple blossoms having dared to break, with nighttime temperatures in the teens, and yet there is a greenhouse full of beautiful life slowly leafing out with a persistence that is inspiring, but with a gate that lends my heart to anxiety.  We are officially located in growing zone 6 and we certainly feel it today in the valley with a temperature hovering at 37 degrees and a wind chill that encourages hot tea and lingered strolls through the greenhouse. 542718_498857433484713_593848835_n

It has been a whirlwind of activity here on the farm.  I can just barely remember what this abandoned property looked like before my machete cleared the bamboo and Elliot trimmed up the pastures with a chainsaw and bushhog.  We have filled two roll off dumpsters with the remains of what was, moldy memories telling us the story of what this farmhouse, the barns, and pastures used to hold.  The energy of that incredible story echoes through the valley on a daily basis and as we spade up the soil to plant, we can see how the direction of this farm has been fated long before we even stepped foot on the property.  While I sprinkled our first Biodynamic Preparations through the fields prepared for Spring, I felt more connected to the manifestations of energy all around me than ever before.  We have a purpose here.  Farming in this beautiful place has given us the responsibility to make it better, to treat the soil and atmosphere holistically, and to share what we grow with the community we love.

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Now that we have removed a lot of trash, reclaimed a lot of useful tools and treasures, and now that my Father and Uncle have restored running water to the farm, we feel that the Winter has finally run its course.  As we move into Spring, our efforts can be more centered on the pursuit of life.  This will include remodeling the interior of the house with fresh coats of paint, continued removal of moldy drywall, and eventually the most important and enjoyable part of the process, adding the touches that will make this farmhouse a home.  Life will carry on in the fields and wetlands, in the growing beds and bamboo jungles; arising wherever there are boundaries to create it and filling this beautiful landscape to the brim with the intertwined relationships of this incredible Universe.  My collection of Praying Mantis cocoons soon will hatch and with them all the other crawling, flying, humming, chirping, and calling creatures in this lonely valley, returning each to the hustle and bustle of yet another fruitful growing season.

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We are looking very forward to April when food will begin to grow and our farmers market will once again return us into the loving arms of the community that housed us back before we moved to the Coastal Marsh.  Sun Dog Farm will be selling at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market once again and we couldn't be more pleased.  This market is unlike any we've seen before, being the largest producer only market in Atlanta, it is filled with all the food you need and crafts and artistry enough to feed your soul.  We will also be particiating in the birth of The Homestead Atlanta, a brave new school offering classes aimed at bringing us back to our roots.  Everything from herbal medicine to mushroom cultivation, blacksmithing to wool spinning; The Homestead will remind us how powerful we are, each of us individually, and that when given the right tools, we are capable of creating beautiful things that will make our lives and the lives of those we love better.  I will be teaching a class at The Homestead on April 27th called the Basics of Biodynamics and I invite you all to join me there.  This journey has already been a test to our spirits with all the ups and downs associated with reclaiming something lost.  We look forward to sharing what we have found and our efforts with all of you for another growing season.

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"It has been said that by working the soil it is possible to do in a few years what would take nature thousands of years to accomplish.

Intensive soil cultivation and the addition of proper soil amendments can aggregate sandy soil to give it more crumb or open heavy lime marls to give them more porosity.  In both instances, when the proper soil consistency is maintained, the soil is said to have ‘heart’." -- Dennis Klocek

Hey Georgia, We're Home

The year 2013 has already been the most important for Elliot and I and that is saying a lot being 23 days in.  This year we have accepted the challenge of setting down roots in a place, ending our nomadic wanderings and committing ourselves to a region, a community, and most importantly, 12.5 acres of delicate ecosystem.  Our journey to this decision has been important, at no point during our travels through the state of Georgia would I have changed a detail.  Each new location our tired wings placed us was full to the brim with intelligent, inspiring, and loving people dedicated to their communities, the preservation of the region's heritage, and the adaptability and evolution of their foodways.  While we have often times felt guilty about ducking into a food community only to see the bloom open slightly, and ducking out once again, it has been an honor to be a part of such incredible progress in the Southeast.  Our farmer friends, food advocates, and loyal customers have been our best teachers and we hope to carry all of their lessons with us as we build our homestead and dedicate our labors to the North Georgia Mountains. IMAG1194-1-1 IMAG1201-1

As 2013 begins, we have become proud residents of Blairsville, Georgia, a town nestled into the Southern most tips of the beautiful Appalachian Mountains.  The farm is located in a valley with a single mountain in view in the back growing space.  It has an incredible stream running its length, a pole barn, old homestead, milking barn, several other outbuildings, and rampant patches of bamboo.  The farm itself has been unoccupied  by humans for about 10 years and the wear and tear of life has made its mark on most of the buildings and growing spaces.  We have already dedicated numerous hours to the farms reclamation and this will be a project that lasts for several years.  Overall the farm has very good bones, the house is injured but sturdy, the outbuildings needing only roofs, patches and some tinkering, and the farm totes some of the most incredible soil I have ever seen.

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We have negotiated a lease purchase agreement with the former owners of the property, the Biodynamic growers and educators Hugh Lovel and Shabari Bird.  This farm was formerly known as the Union Agriculture Institute and was operated as a nonprofit.  The land was farmed for 30 years by Hugh Lovel himself and was the very place where his incredible knowledge and understanding of the relationship between the universe and plants bloomed.  Right here on our new land was the muse for the book A Biodynamic Farm and this very soil was sculpted with the most intentional, restorative methods in agriculture today.  The Union Agriculture Institute was the first Biodynamic Farm in Georgia and not only served as an educational farm for interns such as Farmer D of Farmer D Organics, but also a site for conferences, a CSA, early sales to Farmers Markets in Atlanta, and so much more.  Hugh Lovel, having left the daily operations of the farm, now spends most of the year in Australia with his wife Shabari, sharing their wealth of knowledge about what Hugh has termed, Quantum Agriculture, the most holistic and comprehensive view of farming generated from the idea that no form of influence to the growth of the plant, small or large, distant or immediate, can be excluded from its overall evaluation.  That every aspect of the crop's reality creates an impact on its growth and therefore all relationships the plant has with the soil, soil biology, minerals, nutrients, atmosphere, cosmos, energy, etc. must be considered.

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This method of growing, as Biodynamics has always stressed, requires a considerable level of dedication to sustainable growing methods.  It reaches beyond organic growing and views the farm as a living, breathing organism.  Growing in this way imitates the elaborate and complex relationships replicated in any and all ecosystems on the planet.  Elliot and I have always been drawn to this farming mindset and we are beyond excited and honored to carry on the heritage of this incredible piece of land.  From building our own composts using the Biodynamic Preparations to considering the alignment of the cosmic bodies when we start and end life on our property, we can only hope to do our best and learn as we go, just as Hugh Lovel did when he first landed upon this beautiful valley.  This is an oppportunity for us not only to homestead, set roots, and grow, but to revitalize an inspired landmark nestled in the Georgia landscape.

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And Georgia, sweet Georgia, our love affair with you  has been tender and humid, often times difficult and complex, but always rewarding and it appears that we are in it for the long haul.  As we begin to turn over soil this spring, set seeds and pull weeds, we are reminded of what you have provided us.  The support systems you have unveiled and the communities you have housed.  This year especially will be one of great challenges and difficult decisions.  It will require from us a work ethic unlike any we have set forth to this day and it will break our limits and test our spirits.  We have already tasted some of this challenge and we are anxious and excited to see what we've got.  In the heat of it all, and I mean there will be heat, we know that Georgia, sweet Georgia, you have always been our home.

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A Not So Delicious Tyson Chicken Christmas Gift

November in the marsh seems to sneak away slowly, like the populations of roseate spoonbills, ibis, and warbles in September.  The trees have barely begun to lose their leaves and the temperatures remind me of a summer day in Vermont.  As we all flip to that last page in the calendar, the holiday season with its tradition and compassion, takes hold of my sleepy winter mind and brings warmth into my being. Though the marsh never truly clears out of creature inhabitants, the numbers of the local flora and fauna go from being so incredibly biodiverse that every moment churned with the quake and hum of life, to a quieter, more tranquil time whose year long inhabitants are more clearly highlighted.  The king fishers and bald eagles have taken over the hunting of the snaking waterways and the otters can be seen submerging in the rising tide or scurrying accross the land bridges.  A 6 foot resident gator has reclaimed a sunning spot on a dock in front of our home where turles spent the long summer days and attended the insect evening parties.  It has been about a month since I have spotted an armadillo, but evidence of their presence in the garden is still an occasional find.  A small group of 9 adolescent wood storks has taken refuge with a roosting group of herons, night herons, egrets, and comorants on the fishing ponds by the farm.  The citrus has been harvested, and enjoyed, the crops and weeds have slowed their pace, and our final market of the season will be this weekend.  As the season's hopes, worries, accomplishments, and disasters seem to fade into my memories, the celebration of a new coming year has filled my spirit once more. IMAG0910

And what an ending to this incredible year.  I have witnessed so many amazing individuals dedicated to small business, local economy, and the local and regional foodways of their communities.  The Forsyth Farmers Market was a season long display of the efforts and inspiration of a collection of artisans and farmers.  The elegant limbs of the live oaks and delicate tufts of spanish moss created a mirage of paradise in the blistering heat and a reason to bundle up and go outside on the coldest days of the year.  My correspondence with farmers from East Coast to West Coast has given me hope when the rain would not come and patience when the rain would not stop.  2012 was a year for all of us to be proud of, a step in the right direction for the empowerment of our food movement.  It takes a little bit of effort from each of us, and so many of the people I met this year have committed their lifestyles and everyday choices to the practices that protect our fellow human beings and the Earth we all share.  More incredible still are the individuals dedicating their free time to educating their friends, family, and communities about the benefits of eating a healthy diet and supporting those who produce the ingredients.

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Unfortunately the year did not end on a perfect or easy note for all of us who dwell in the sometimes challenging world of producing organic food.  Jeff Poppen, also known as the Barefoot Farmer, is a biodynamic farming educator and farm owner of Long Hungry Creek Farm in Boiling Springs, Tennessee.  His farm has been an organic, biodynamic farm for over 30 years and provides incredibly nutrient dense, holistically grown foods to over 200 csa members.  His growing methods reflect an elevated understanding of the systems at play within the complex ecosystems of his beautiful farm.  His exploration into Biodynamics has given him the advantage of using the natural world as the most significant tool for nurturing his diversified crops.  Experiences on his farm and knowledge he has shared has incubated the hatching of several farmers who have radiated out of Boiling Springs and set down roots in the surrounding communities.  The Barefoot Farmer has written two books, starred in the very popular and informative television series, Volunteer Gardener, written hundreds of articles about growing food in the Macon County Chronicle, and has made a lasting impact on the Tennessee landscape and Southern growing scene. Unfortunately for this seasoned farmer and educator, 2012 brought about a terrible cross examination of what we as small farmers and local farm supporters are up against.

Mostly complete in September of this year, two industrial chicken houses were built within 450 feet of Jeff Poppen's home and precious acres of biodynamically maintained farmland.  The chicken houses were constructed without regard to the only source of water the farm has available to it and the County Legislature violated their laws prohibiting the building of chicken houses and other industrial food producing buildings within a restricted distance of public areas, residences, and businesses.  The construction of the houses was a bully move made by elected officials who have a limited understanding of the importance of nuturing local, small scale agriculture for the sake of the community.  The decision was one born out of fear for change and the intolerance that we can generally link with ignorance or indifference.  This farm boasted the title of the oldest organic farm in Tenneessee and as we close this year, Jeff Poppen is forced to give up his farm and relocate away from the toxic manufacture of caged livestock.  This devistating move on the part of Tyson Chicken subsidiaries is a haunting living portrait of the real and not so glamorous difference between organic and conventionally produced foods.

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This tragic step backwords from the forward moving ideals of agricultural change in Tennessee and the nation as a whole is a keen reminder of what is at stake in this modern world.  Moving into 2013, we should remember the triumphs and the hardships we have all faced and shared with one another, accepting and learning from both victories and defeats.  The holidays give us an excuse to try and reconnect to one another and show compassion for those in our lives and those we may only interact with indirectly, through our own rippling actions and the actions of others.  This time of year reminds us that we are all in this together and the more effort and positivity we put into this place we call home, the more we will be able to care for one another.  An abundant garden is grown where people not only come together to share in the meal,  but also the harvest, and that spirit must continue to spark new life into our foodways everywhere.  The Barefoot Farmer may have lost an iconic, celebration of a farm that served as a daily dose of inspiration and encouragement to all of us who choose to explore a better understanding of the complexities of this planet, but we shall not let him lose the support and appreciation of all of us who know the importance of his work in the Southeastern United States and his role in changing the national perspectives on growing food and living a healthful, mindful life.

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"For the first time in the 40 years I’ve lived here, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Agribusiness has been destroying agriculture in many places for many years and I am not alone in this predicament. Actually, we are all in it together.  I look forward to continue working for a just and sane agriculture, where people matter. I’ll probably move back after they’re gone." - Jeff Poppen

Conventional vs. Organic? Oh Come On, We Are Better Than This

It has been a slow trot towards cooler weather here on the farm and we've been wearing the art of the simple life on our brows and mud stained knees.  Our fall transplants have finally made their homes in the mucky, marsh soil and seeds are germinating in sporadic dotted rows.  Many of the summer time crops are coming to an end as the Okra expands and lengthens, shadowing the landscape around it with trunks as much as 4 and 5 inches thick.  In order to harvest from these Okra trees, we must bend the plant and take several steps to the side to reach the pods at the very top before releasing this dangerous catapult back into the air.  Sugar cane swishes this way and that in the sea breezes and our newest batch of noodle beans has begun to set their colorful, spaghetti like fruits.  Cucumbers, Summer Squash, Bush Beans, Flowers, and Field Peas are making a triumphant second go at it as delicious fall crops like Broccoli, Cauliflower, Kale, Radishes, Beets, Carrots, Chois, Lettuce, Turnips, Scallions, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Mustards, Collards, and a list of other delicious items we have been nostalgic for since the summer heat sizzled the Spring time crops away return in abundance.  It is still hot here on the farm, though we've experienced the occasional crisp morning and a few days that appeared to wander together into the lower temperatures as a reminder of what is to come.  We've been savoring the first tastes of Fall greens and our meal times are transforming from the exotic, delicate colors of Summer back once again to the deep, earth tones of cool weather and hardy crops. I believe I was sitting at the kitchen table in my parent's house in Pennsylvania on a short visit the day some news reporter with sculpted hair, a low neckline, and chicklet teeth boasted the claim, "Is Organic Food worth the extra cash?  A new study on Conventional versus Organic products may surprise you...."  She went on, of course, to very shallowly explain that this study conducted by the expert researchers working under the banner of  Annals of Internal Medicine discovered that the nutrient densities of Conventionally grown produce were as substantial as those found in Organically grown foods after doing a two-year study and focusing on a few indicators of health in human beings.  Following that viewing, the news story seemed to pop up everywhere in my life, every mainstream journalist with a soap box to stand on was spreading the controversy wildly, taking aim at Organic Agriculture as if it had tricked everyone,  as if one study completed by a few individuals was enough to overthrow the guilt associated with not giving a damn about anything but the couple bucks we figured we'd save from buying our summer squash from mexico.  The news story became a blanket we could throw over our shoulders, sheltering us once again from having to concern ourselves with the annoying task of stewarding our planet and taking extra measures to care for our bodies.

The worst part of the whole controversy wasn't necessarily the argument itself.  Plenty of passionate, informed rebuttals exploded from the individuals who had educated themselves on the issues associated with the study.  Besides, in all honesty, making the assumption that pouring toxic chemicals over food you are going to consume and replacing the natural soil nutrient cycling, replicated in any ecosystem on planet Earth, with crude, concentrated elixirs of the most necessary nutrients is better than food grown utilizing natural forces with a focus on generating a holistic product born from a living soil is to make an assumption that commerce means more than health, life, and the planet on which we live.  Ever since our ancestors landed on the shores of North America, our nation has had access to an abundance of natural resources.  This gift errupted into a party that we've been having ever since, the richness of this beautiful nation providing for the economic, industrial, and societal growth we now hold so dear today.  We have come to love our comforts, our products, our way of life and to think that any of that has to change brings us remorse.  It isn't necessarily all our fault, industry in America has produced enough money to control what we can and cannot do, what we can and cannot believe and this goes straight to our inability to contradict the motives of the products we now rely on.  We have been labeled unpatriotic when questioning the growth of industry into the last uncontaminated realms of our world and to help us cope with losing our voices, we've been handed computers that fit into our pockets and a constant stream of media to replace the need to use our minds.

So I say to the argument, Conventional versus Organic? Oh come on, we are better than this.  We are better than this and I have seen it.  The State of Georgia has a history of utilizing production methods that haven't always had the land or its people in mind.  Though Georgia has, from time to time, held onto close minded nuances in the agricultural spectrum, life in the South is starting to bloom.  Farmers Markets have exploded and succeeded in all of the major cities from Atlanta to Savannah.  Beautiful, spirited people have dedicated their lives to farming sustainably in the South, preserving the best of the Southern heritage through the incredible foodways this agricultural state has maintained throughout the years.  Chefs, Farmers Market Managers, Farmers, Customers, Creatives, Food Purveyors, and enlightened souls from the Northern Mountains all the way down to the Swampy Deep South have all played a major role in dispelling the concept that Organic food is a luxury saved for the rich.  Organic food is a necessity designed for us all.  The impacts of growing food with thought to the health of the consumer and the health of the environment go far beyond any two-year study conducted by researchers with their own story to tell.  The sustainable food movement is created, supported, and endorsed by so many because it simply makes sense.  It makes sense to feed your children the best quality food available, it makes sense to protect the natural world where everything we need to survive is derived from, it makes sense to localize the economy and support most those whom you consider neighbors and friends.

We are better than this argument, better than this delusion and so many incredible individuals in Georgia are proving this everyday.  Under our uniting banner of Georgia Organics, we can continue to make the difference that is needed.  We can continue to bring healthy foods into the lives of fellow Georgians rich and poor, and through this act of compassion and love for our neighborhoods, families, and friends, we all will move closer towards a better future.  The biggest problem with the study was that it addressed the concerns of Organic versus Conventional products on a person to person basis.  The study did not take into account how Organic, sustainable methods provide for the preservation of our natural spaces, the preservation of our precious foodways, and the preservation of our communities founded on the fundamental morals of truth, beauty, and love.

A Romance with the Seasons

It is difficult for me to string together enough words to describe the epic beauty of this evening in the Marsh.  Rolling thunderstorms made their way from whispers in the breeze to hazy, persistant downpours all over the farm and dense waterways.  Flocks of immature white ibis, egrets, and the occasional spoonbill darted from their daily wading grounds to seek shelter in the trees and grasses.  The Marsh got quiet, quiet in a way that only the rain can command of the usual chorus of insects and amphibians that dominate the airwaves.  A slight breeze, the sound of rain hitting water, and a sky that couldn't emotionally commit to being a storm or a sunset.  As the last rain drops fell, the tiny ripples from the drips were replaced by the tiny ripples of millions of insects, the chorus returned for the crescendo with one buzzing, croaking instrument sounding at a time, and the bruise colored clouds parted to reveal a sky on fire with the hues of an evening in paradise.  Perhaps I think this is paradise because we recently sowed a lot of seeds in the ground that desperately needed water.  Perhaps the alligator lazily swimming away from me thinks it is paradise as his tail cuts through the mirrored blaze. We have enjoyed incredibly timed storms here in the Low Country this Summer.  We haven't had to fire up the irrigation since May and it appears that this most recent set of showers, that which happened last evening and repeated itself this evening, have been enough to spare us once again.  It was only this week that our plants at the farm were showing their stress from lack of water and it was only this week that we discovered that our irrigation system happened to be on the fritz.  Fortunately, the rains came and we have a little more time to stress out about the prospect of The Dustbowl 2012 at Harvest Lake Farm.  During this time of notable stress, it has also been nice to acknowledge that we are finally over the Summer slump!  Every year, from one season to the next, it seems like a farmer's day is spent day dreaming about the productivity of the following season.  This never being in the present moment is certainly a life long journey.

What this can mean for someone who farms in what feels like the Jungle is that you spend your days loving and hating the life giving, sometimes oppressive heat and humidity of the Summer months.  In the Winter and Spring you long for it because with it comes tomatoes, squash, okra, eggplant, peppers, and all the other gifts of the Sun.  Unfortunately this gift doesn't stop there.  The Sun will happily give more and more of this gift until the heat and humidity finally oppress the very plants that were once so eager to reach for it.  The squash disappear, the beans give up, the tomatoes slowly droop and rot in a morbid, depressing display.  Soon all you have left are Eggplants, Okra, Peppers, and Peas and my goodness I love these things, but eating them everyday can be somewhat of a contributor to the whole "slump" feeling.  But wait!  There is light at the end of the tunnel.  There is hope at the end of the 30th eggplant dish you've served up.  At some point you get to start preparing for Fall.

And Fall!  What a time to obsessively look forward to.  Let's face it, down here in the very bottom of the melting pot, (where many of us live everyday, melting,) the Fall is maybe one of the best times of the year to try and grow food.  All of your early summer favorites get a second shot and your Spring season is reborn and then extended into the mild Winter days.  The bugs reduce in seemingly size and numbers and the overall temperature of the farm allows for a much more comfortable, friendly operation.  Now remember, this is all being said by a farmer in the heat of the Summer.  If you ask me about Fall growing this Fall, I will likely tell you about how well that may be going but how much I am looking forward to Spring.

And so it goes.  It could be argued that this almost bipolar fascinationg with the changing of the seasons is just one more hurtle for someone trying to farm in this modern world to jump, but that can't be it.  Everything a person who has commited themselves to the landscape achieves from day to day is some form of spiritual fulfillment I have never properly learned to explain.  Being in tune with the seasons is to be open to the ongoing romance of the planet.  Love is a beautiful, dangerous thing and this world has cycles of life, death, lust, and rebirth to prove it.  The changing of the seasons teaches us how to be constant and also how to change.  Each season contributes to a maddening love and unconsolable loss, everything on Earth being created from the death of something else.  The seasons teach us that there must exist a trade off, you must give to get and sometimes when this equillibrium is disturbed at the farm, we end up giving much more than we get.  Our modern society, that has been severed from seasonality, is currently getting a lot more than it gives within the energy cycles of the planet, but it can't last forever.  At some point no amount of giving on our part will undo all the "getting" we've added up.

As I am aging, slowly and quickly all at once, I am finding that the health of our societies and the condition of our planet are two things that are too difficult for me to process.  From the newest NASA images of the Greenland ice sheet melt to the violent fiction of a man dressed in a bat suit becoming nonfiction violence in our growing world, it all seems like too much to swallow.  Meanwhile real, nonfiction bats in North America are declining in shocking numbers due to white nose syndrome; a potential loss of 6.7 Million individuals and the cause of this devastating illness is still mostly unknown.  The factory farmed humans locked inside all day, fed stimulants and stimulus can barely defend themselves against a governing body whose greed both concentrates and destroys them like logs in a woodburning stove.  We are pushing this world to the very limit for the success of so few that the dream of exponential anything seems like such a crass joke.

But what can you do when all you have is one life, one shot at romance with this unforgiving, beautiful Earth?  You court the seasons one by one, relearn the rhythm in the chaos and set some roots in the ground.  You look forward to kale while you eat your tomatoes and as the trees drop their leaves, you lovingly lay your ambitions in the field and come inside for a hot drink and a creative heart.  Not sure how all that goes down?  Don't worry, neither was I.  I probably still don't quite get it in a lot of ways and I doubt that the entirety of my life will enlighten me to all the great complexities of my relationship with this world.  All I know is that Fall is coming soon, it's time to clean out the greenhouse, throw up the shade cloth and day dream about broccoli and beets.

A New Generation

Do you remember that time we stood in line In front of those huge glass windows advertising cheap beer and wine

Waiting to pump our two door truck back into play

With a few dribbles of Dinosaur DNA

And we just stood in line, sweating the small stuff

Browsing the tabloids thinking what we'd be like

With all that cash

How much we would laugh and spend

And get everything in the world we can

And set it all in a pile in some pristine location

And life would be a permanent vacation

And nothing would make us feel more free

Than a heavy wallet for all of eternity?

Well I looked at you and you looked at me

And you laughed smiling kind of nervously

And we dropped our money on that sticky, lemonade floor

And turned and headed out that windex door

And that lady with the pepsi and the jingling car keys

Was the last human on Earth to see you or me

And we left our truck parked, sitting hungry

Propped up at the pump where it would stay rent free

We just kept walking and as we did

The lights on the houses turned on

And soon the noise from the highway was gone

And we were in some movie set neighborhood

Where we all wanted to grow up

Where kids squeel bike tires and no one is messed up

And there we were, you and me

Learning real estate geometry

That yard is the same, that makes three

But something about this set became too real

No kids in the yards

No toys on the hill

Just a strange flickering coming from inside

Where the kids all crowded around, all eyes tied

On a creature part man-part killer

Always ready

Both hands on the trigger

No time for mercy, and speaking of mercy

There they were, those kids

Eating sugar for breakfast and breakfast for dinner

In that fantasy where they're always a winner

And yet what is it that they are losing?

Both hands on the controls, fingers to plastic, wires to black holes

Their hearts beat in time with the rhythm of the hunt

Their neighborhood shook, all houses on repeat

Well you and I, we couldn't take defeat

We unplugged the wires, lead them out to the street

Each child grabbed a hand

And we walked away

From the development plans and chemical lawns

The paystub empire

And artificial food stands

We walked until we found

The end of the cloud of smells and sounds

A piece of clean land, the cleanest around

And grabbed each child, put their tired fingers in the dirt

Begged them to see with their own eyes

How a life lived inside is not a life alive

And it wasn't easy, they resisted at first

Until one by one they set roots in the Earth

Their lives returned to a time

As if we had chosen rewind

When video games were just an invention floating above our minds

Waiting in line to fall into our laps

Like can openers, pop tarts, and the daily grind

And we grew vegetables and figured we were actually free

No more smoke stacks or heart attacks from the big City

Just a new generation

And you

And me.

Ride Like the Wind, You Naturally Grown Warriors!

I don't know about you out there walking around on different parts of the Earth, but Riceboro, Georgia just got hot. We playfully spent Spring maintaining low humidity, cool breezes, and an abundance of rain and then suddenly, humidity hit, the breeze slowed, and the thickness of the Deep South settled accross the Low Country. Doesn't make you want to do much more than eat watermelons and shell Crowder Peas in the shade. We finally recovered from all the soppy marsh soil we'd been managing for the two weeks of rain, and the farmer and the farm are still a bit behind, but we all seem to be trimming up nicely. The vibrant colors of summer articulate the landscape like paintings and our Okra plants are sharing with us their brilliant blooms, a deep blood red surrounded by a hue that seems to dance on the rainbow between the colors green and yellow.

Our meals hum with intensity as we feast on Hot Peppers, Fresh Tomatoes, flavor oozing Okra, and whatever delicious meat we picked up from the farmers market on Saturday. Something about the summer makes us feel alive, like all the colors on our plates bring out all the colors in ourselves. The struggle of Summer in the South is one of a Southern Farmer's greatest lessons. Summer brings heat from the sun, lack of rain, and thick humidity resting on your shoulders. All of this love and loss, effort and strife for sliced tomatoes and delicious homemade Mexican feasts. A Farmer in the South is probably a lot like farmers all over the place, but it does seem true that anyone farming down at the bottom of our Nation has a dedication to a strong back and a good tomato sandwich.

The wilds of the internet have given me a window into the farming lives of people from all parts of this Nation and the diversity in season and the variation in seed choices is enough to bring hope to any struggling thinker. The idea that so many people are sharing the important task of bringing real food to their community is something that brings me my second wind on a Friday afternoon when there is still a list of things to do and a temperature that has more than 2 digits. Knowing that dedicated customers support these brave people fighting to make a difference in a world that is not ready to change is what motivates me to get up at 4:45 AM every Saturday and put on my best, "I swear I am in a great mood and of course I want to set up the Market Booth!" smile. Saturdays are long days, but every single person that tells me a new recipe or asks me if my food is "Organic" is a reminder that people want to be good to each other and good to this world we share.

The truth is, we've got a rocky road ahead of us. Our food administration is hell bent on protecting anyone with enough money to cushion the immediate impact of their actions. Discount factors are high among humans and trapping our poorest brothers and sisters in the nutrient desert that is convenient, cheap fast food is not an empowered system and is a laughable evolutionary miss step. Forgetting how to take care of each other is how money has made us feel powerless. We have a world here, and it can be anything at all that we want it to be, we just have to settle for a little more sun on our skins and a little less sugar and empty nutrients.

Sometimes I am overcome with worry, but tonight, tonight I am in awe of you warriors out there bringing life to our communities and kindling for our souls. I am immensely grateful for such constant inspiration from people I have met who are promoting a healthy food system through their daily actions. I feel absolutely fulfilled when I see a tired Mother bringing her beautiful children to Market every Saturday to pick out the food they will eat that week. Getting to see these young, future fate holders of our planet eat a tomato right from the table or get excited about Okra is enough to put a permanent smile on my face. As I skim through the pictures of Farms growing everything from corn to kale, from tomatoes to turnips, I am less at odds with everything. I fight less for the cynical side of my mind and root more for the power of the individual, for the strength of the masses.

And Then She Said, "Let There Be Love!"

I have been sitting here staring at this screen trying to figure out what doomsday scheme I could write about this time, something deep seeded in human evolution or otherwise manifested from the evils of our greed and really all I could think to write about today is Love.

Throughout my life I have gone through plenty of my own external and self made struggles, I have found comfort in sorrow and being solitary and I have, on the other hand, felt moments of enlightenment, positive self awareness and shed many insecurities to truly feel days from the first bursts of warmth billowing out from the sun to the cool breeze of  a new moon.  Mostly I have found the elixir of life to be laughter, exposure to the outdoors, a positive self image, hard manual labor, and devouring delicious, homegrown foods.  Surely a lot of people could benefit from this combination of physical and mental treats, but there is one other component that has become very evident to me this past month which is ever so easy to take for granted, and that is Love.

Elliot and I got married on March 31st, 2012 and my goodness what a process that turned out to be.  Trying to get the farm where it needed to be in our growing season along side this Wedding planned right in the kisser of the annual Spring growing madness made for some very extensive work weeks.  It seemed like the intensity of having a homemade wedding with the expertise of some wonderful friends here on the Island and that of some of our most beloved traveling kindred spirits and family erupted in a rain storm that started about 2 hours before the actual ceremony and ended as my father and I stood, waiting to walk down the isle.  Most times there is nothing more calming to a farmer than a rain shower after a week of dry weather and surprisingly the rain did just that on our wedding day.  It was a wash of the anxiety, the chaos, the overwhelming thoughts of celebrating and solidifying a journey that we had already begun with the recognition of our friends, family, elders, and role models.  When I stood in front of the people who loved us enough to make the journey all the way to Riceboro, Georgia, looking into the eyes of the Love of my life, at the farm where I pour my heart and soul into the soil everyday, I felt so humbled.  It reminded me how small I am in comparison to all of the incomprehensible pieces at work in our physical and spiritual realities.  I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to Love this beautiful man for the rest of my life, receiving his Love in return, united in an effort to be good to all people in our path and to nurture the small corners of the planet we choose to inhabit.

Of course the Love felt on your wedding day is not at all limited to that which is shared between you and your new spouse.  Every person I interacted with during the entire process gave so much of themselves to help create this beautiful occasion.  Even during the times when the stresses of the components were at their most crippling, my heart was full to the brim with support, advice, and compassion from people who dotted timelines on every stage of my journey as a human being.  When a crowd is drawn together from the desire to celebrate the harmonizing of two hearts, it turns out to be quite the magical symphony of people indeed.

 

This one chaotic moment in time has had the added benefit of heightening my awareness of the Love shared, lost, savored, and denied throughout my day to day.  Love is no simple feeling and often comes with several ups and downs, none of which happening in any sort of predictable formation.  While it may very well be the most important function of our brains, it comes with a lot of costs and Love equates most easily to a struggling commitment over a chance happy ending of true bliss.  There are times when nothing in your life hurts more than your Love and times when other emotions such as resentment, fear, jealousy, and intolerance feel like a more appropriate fit. The true challenge in all of our lives here on Earth is letting Love prevail.  Not in some contrived sense, but in the sense that when you are able to Love others openly, your friends, family, partners, neighbors, those that have done you wrong, those that continue to do wrong, and most importantly, yourself, you will find an inner peace that cannot be achieved from any purchase, any achievement, or any social status.

To Love openly you must turn your judgements into curiosities.  You must find the inner strength to give value to yourself and your circumstances and to have the same compassion you have for others, for yourself.  It is a difficult task becoming so comfortable with who you are that you do not find the need to ridicule the physical and mental state of others.  While this is a life long journey for all of us, if we can attempt to approach more of our interactions, our communications, and internal thoughts with Love, there is a chance that humankind as a whole gets a little bit better.

One of the most special parts of the sustainable movement Elliot and I are a part of, in my opinion, is the sense of Love built upon this collection of fading traditional knowledge taken from our ancestors.  The willingness the youth of this generation has to work hard for very little reward beyond the fulfillment felt giving such incredible gifts to their communities is absolutely beautiful.  These ambassadors of sustainable farming and living are reminding all of us in this greater world the importance of putting Love into everything we do.  Love takes a lot of effort and the effort put into these old world trades reflects the Love and intention that is required to create such masterful pieces of art whether it be picked from the field, harvested from the woodlot, or crafted in the shop.  These individuals use Love to harness a work ethic required to mend cut corners and revitalized tortured landscapes.  All the while, all of this effort, this artistry, is shared willingly and joyfully with those who choose to be around it.  I'll take my Love where I can get it, and fortunately for me, my lifestyle rewards me with some of the most wholesome, abundant Love this world has to offer.  I just hope to meet it with an open heart and graceful, patient spirit.

Farming and the Ancient Spiritual Stirrings of Fear

We're nearing the end of January in the marsh and the warm, full days followed by the long, cool nights remind me of a Northern Spring.  Flocks of migrating waterfowl, including hooded mergansers, wood ducks, and grebes are collecting in the tidal canals.  The deciduous trees have dropped the last of their green and have further dramatized the elegant, spanish moss and stark, upright pines.  It is a beautiful, quieted version of the marsh, though not quite as quiet as the snow covered birches and quaking aspens I can just barely remember. The farm is probably the most alive looking place on the entire island.  Our vegetable beds shimmer and twist in the wind as the winter rye triumphantly heads for the heavens.  Patches of clover slither through the undergrowth and fill out from left to right like a delicate carpet of lace.  Rows of young onions and garlic, just as green, have ventured higher still with their long stalks thickening ever so slowly during these short, January days.  A few small rows of collards and scallions hang on for our own uses and a beautiful germination of baby spinach has popped up its first true leaves.  There are still a few lemons left to harvest and our strawberry plants are taunting us with their slow trot towards maturity.  We've cut the last of the sugar cane, put away about 250 lbs of storage roots, and the dead ferns of asparagus have been chopped and mulched to provide the young spears of 2012 with some added nutrients and protection.  The warm weather has ignited our ambitions and the greenhouse is already packed with the first favorites of Sping time crops.

I know this beautiful, mild weather should be enough to satisfy me in the present moment.  However, my racing human brain already has me fixating and fantasizing about the first squash harvest and first tomato sandwich.  I certainly remember the torture of the exotic heat and humidity of the deep South but I almost find myself longing for that as well.  I never considered myself one to desire pain and discomfort, but nostalgia has me remembering what it felt like to step out of the sun in the shade of the pines and catch a subtle, sea breeze.  The pleasures of working in the sun when it seemed so unbearable and taking the moonlit, sultry nights to enjoy the beauty lost to the heat of the day.  The wood storks, white ibis, spoonbills, many of the egrets and herons have left for their winter stomping grounds and the quieted version of the marsh has me feeling lonely.  The king fishers, bald eagles, and pileated woodpeckers should be enough to keep me full, but still I hunger for more.  I suppose cabin fever has a way of stretching its fingertips into more than just my cabin.  I suppose that maybe this year I will be even more Southern than last.

We awoke last night, several times, to the abrupt leaping of our canine companions to the windows and doors towards some outside disturbance.  Generally this involves a lethargic armadillo making its slow path around our cabin or a raccoon quickly ascending a tree.  Mostly we ignore them but do not always discourage their protective nature in the strange and random event that it could prevent us from harm.  Last night, it was a little bit different.  They jumped and snarled and ran about the house on the usual mission and then suddenly became nervous and quiet.  They came to our bedside and laid down, anxious.  Being only one tenth awake and nine tenths asleep, I rolled over and uttered something like, "Good Dog," or maybe "Finally."

My eyes were wide open seemingly before my brain had time to process the sound.  A pack of coyotes descended on the cabin with their haunting yips and yowls.  They were so close to the back of the cabin that we could hear the low, rumblings of their snarls and growls as they meandered through the forest floor.  A few would sound and silence and the loudest of the carols would quickly be replaced by heavy breathing and deep, throaty notes.  Elliot awoke in just about as much panic as I and we, all four, laid still, barely breathing, listening to the eerie sounds of the nocturnal predator.  I had no real cause for alarm, but the sound, the unpredictability of the noises, the thought that they could be stalking something with their excellent moonlit vision, it all wrapped me up in a tight bundle of nerves.  Their presence disappeared several moments after their last high pitch notes melted into the music of the night.

This certainly wasn't the first encounter we have had with coyotes.  I can remember on several occasions throughout our journey being stirred from rest by the shrill call of a pack of dogs tearing through the night.  One night when we were living in a Yurt in Northern Vermont we experienced a similar rude awakening by a fisher cat moaning in the moonlight.  All of these experiences, though we are completely out of harms way, leave us unsettled and shaken.  Our brain power has removed us from the circle of life by eliminating predation upon our species.  We've been cunning enough to eradicate the wolf, tame the bear, and make minute the threat of the wild cat and for that reason we have made more available to our own species all the resources our lands have to offer.  It is so earth shattering to us when someone is attacked by a wild animal or falls into the lion pit at the zoo.  The idea that an animal would take our lives, passionately, rocks us to the core.

But the species to species fight for survival is not an uncommon theme in the natural history of this watery paradise we inhabit.  Most creatures on this planet spend their days working towards furthering their species while narrowly evading their untimely demise at the jaws of a hungry creature.  There was even a time during our own evolutionary journey when this was a very big part of our own reality.  I recently watched the film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary based on the Chauvet caves of Southern France where the oldest pictorial creations of human kind have been preserved in an air tight cavern cracked open by the modern human world.  Within this cave are the most intense and soul-stirring images of predators and prey extinct long ago.  During this time in the human form it appears that our spiritual connection to these creatures and the land were much stronger than that of today.  The everyday encounters with these incredible beasts exploded within the human species an artistic representation of their affect on the lives and minds of the early humans.  After seeing this film, I spent several days completely consumed by the images and implications of the film.  It is only until recently that I have been able to digest the images, the abyss of time, and the journey we have made as humans to what our realities reflect today.

It has always bothered me when humans have boasted their intelligence and ingenuity over that of other species.  While our expansive use of tools and problem solving has served us better than many wild adaptations found in other forms in nature, there has always been something so very respectful about the way animals interact with one another in an ecosystem.  Something about that connectedness, that reliability plants and animals have with one another, sometimes in very exclusive ways.  This always seems to me to be a much richer form of interaction over that of humans to say chickens in chicken houses or cows in the dairy houses of today.  There is also something so seemingly enlightened about the way an animal caught by a predator seems to accept death once its fate seems sealed.  All of these beautiful displays of symbiosis can easily be chalked up to being animal, nonthinking, and obviously not as strong as humans as we enter a bottleneck of species extinction unlike many before, but this one cave in the South of France gives me hope.

Why?  Because it shows that there was a time when human beings were more associated with this united energy.  There was a time when human beings had to fight for food or become food and what did they do?  They began to paint the animals around them.  They were in spiritual awe of the world they shared with the other great predators of their time.  They showed a complex understanding of the movement, physical traits, and emotional displays of the creatures they interacted with.  Maybe they didn't understand modern day economics, or how to start an assembly line, but their understanding of their surroundings seemed absolutely profound.  This brings me hope because I know that this unbelievable connection to the plants and animals around us could not be completely severed.  We carry many similar qualities to these early humans and we have the same opportunity to reconnect to the wilds of the Earth.

I'm not saying it is time to put on the loin cloth and set up shop in your neighborhood park.  I'm just saying that if these creatures, these predators and these prey species, were so important to the early humans that it was the first images they felt spiritually compelled to recreate; that maybe they are important.  Maybe the way that animals think and behave does not come simply from their inability to be like us, their inferiority.  Maybe if we payed more attention to the wild spaces of our planet we could learn a thing or two about being present, being patient, and treating each other with respect.  Maybe at night when we hear the coyotes yipping and dancing, that bone chilling feeling we have is the soul of the forest beating on our spiritual drum.  I say we dance to that drum beat and rethink our desire to excavate all open spaces for the singularly forward movement of our own species.  It starts with curiosity.  First we have to take an interest in these places, these creatures great and small.  We can only build compassion for them if we choose to understand them.  If we fail to find them important, their spirits will be forever caught in photographs and images like those painted on a wall in a cave in a forgotten dream.

The Gift of a Poor Farmer Christmas

A modern day Christmas Carol from one poor farmer to you.  Please read in a very excited, husky holiday voice.  Happy Holidays! ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A Farmer woke in mid December with thoughts of Spring kindly remembered

Prepared with a cloak of nostalgic sunlight to block the cold winter air

But the stillness of a winters sleep-or the silent death of a morning freeze

Brought real the season of rest for which other seasons do not compare

The season in which you collect, reflect and ultimately prepare

For a Spring time lost out on the horizon, laying in wait somewhere

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She tied her boots and adjusted her socks, checked her wrist where she found no watch

And boldly stepped out into the world so calm, so cool, so fair

Sparrows and Cardinals fluttered up and down from the trees and to the ground

And through the limbs would proudly sound as if to righteously declare

That their courageous winter's stay in the marsh gave them ownership to the air

Gave them rights to the best roosting places that have recently become bare-

As their avian counterparts took flight in the fall in search of warmth somewhere

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Her farm was grey though plants grew on-root vegetables went on to sing their songs

And the greens drew sweetness straight from the breaths of wintery air

There were still enough treats to stew and roast, still enough food to slow cook and toast

As the outside world continued to reduce in color and flare

As the outside world waits patiently, quiet, still and rare

For the life giving heat of a distant star promising to soon be there

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But Hark!  She remembered the celebrations, of food and gifts and stiff libations

Bound to the Holiday Season filling the cold with warmth and care

The time we have created for the great grey anticipated

Where we're hermit-ted, locked in and slated against the introspection and despair

Of a mind whose hands are so accustomed to being busy beyond compare

When the farm she tends is in full swing with life whose fruits do bare

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But what does a poor farmer have to give to those whose love has helped her live

When life has left her down and out-self conscious and self aware

How can she repay the gifts of others from her dearest friends to her loving Mothers

All those who have thoughtful, plentiful gifts to present with care

She searches her pockets only to find a few pennies jingling there

Seemingly nothing but a bad back and the dirt under her fingernails left to share

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But what about those summer months when she gave food away to everyone

And she swore an oath to protect the land and the creatures that inhabited there

If only she could steal some of that sunlight and the starry, sultry summer nights

To stuff in the stockings of those she truly cares

Bring a little taste of nature's grace to the boisterous Holiday affair

She closed her eyes and imagined a basket full of the best of summer's wares

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She sulked away from her farm and into the woods where it was dim and dark

And sat atop an Oak Tree's arm, nature's perfected outdoor chair

With close attention she discovered that though nature seemed still and covered

That the forest felt full and frenzied and life persisted everywhere

That when the cool, still winter rests it head in nature's lair

No plant or creature turns its soul to grief, self pity and despair

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No life continued at some gate prepared and glad, no time to waste

The world itself is gift enough for the oak, the ants, the hare

No bow could add more splendor than what the natural world can already render

Everything from soil to embers-things worth more than any billionaire

Things that can be neither created, destroyed nor mechanically repaired

Things whose very manifestation leaves us breathless and unaware

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"So, perhaps that's it!" She expressed as she fled the Oak as if fledging her nest

And pondered the gifts she contributes to the incredible reality where

Where her work days are transparent and her intentions sink deep into the planet

And she feeds her fellow humans the best nature has to share

By being a steward to the rare gifts that lie in wait out there

The things we stand to lose if we live the way we choose and do not think to care

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So maybe that is what she has to give-the chance to grow and let things live

The chance to mend the soil who has always been generous and fair

A chance to show a desperate humanity that our chemicals and waste go beyond insanity

That the world outdoors is diverse, enchanting and rare

Without it our world would lack in many things we share

Everything from food to fire, clean water and fresh air

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She smiled mostly with her eyes as geese reinvented geometry in the sky

And the Holiday Spirit danced through her messy, knotted hair

The spirit that has little to do with what you can buy and what you do

And was born out of the community of living life aware

Of being true to the ones you love living here, or living there

A sense of understanding towards each other and the greater world we share

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So the gift of a poor farmer comes to you free of charge or-

At least priced something most would consider fair

We promise to nurture the ones you know as we labor our lives to grow

Food that comes to you with the utmost integrity and care

From the very soils that catch your boots and grant you access everywhere

A Christmas gift we hope to give to all of you all year.

A World Occupied, (Wall Street and Beyond.)

Here I am.  In the present.  Growing food organically, biodynamically, in the heart of a thriving marsh ecosystem in the deep, dense coastal range of South Georgia.  I rise in the early, cool mornings to the light awakenings of the birds fluttering and chattering as if the music of their songs brings the sun up across the horizon to begin another day.  The coastal breezes aren't enough to sway my body like the tops of the tall Pines.  It is too dense with tissues, blood, bones, thoughts.  Too heavy to be carried effortlessly in the breeze like the leaves of the Live Oaks and the almost lifeless, weightless fingerlings of the Spanish Moss.  The way my curls of hair catch in the whispers of the wind is about as close to flying as my human form can get.

The marsh is alive.  More so than most any place I have ever been.  I can take my clumsy morning steps towards the farm and pass several different kinds of amphibians, birds, reptiles, mammals, and a list of insects so long, it could wrap circles around the sun.  I spend much of my time outside of trying to grow food in the marsh, trying to grow a connection to it.  It is absolutely incredible to realize that all of us, all creatures on this planet, are sharing the same resources and evolving in turn to be more specific, more concentrated on this niche or that to increase our chances at survival.  It is unfortunate to realize in that same thought how our broad, sprawling evolution into most any niche has contributed to the destruction of many of these sanctuaries and the end of the road for many of these creatures.

Many times, human beings find themselves believing so much in the success and accomplishments of their own kind that they fail to acknowledge their part in the greater society of living beings on Planet Earth.  Our minds are so riddled with emotions and morality that we can sometimes get caught up in the mastery of the forms we have created.  We take science as law, medicine as health, and our own interpretations of life, history, and progress as having been written in the stars.  We find our habits to be above those of any other living creature and our desires as if they have been stewed in some melting pot of divine longings.

But lets step back a minute.  Take a step outside of ourselves, maybe above ourselves as if we were looking down at an Antler Beetle or a patch of Jewel Weed, waterside.  Here we are, this squishy, naked creature with a giant head and these hands so capable of manipulating resources.  We need food to eat, the healthier the food source, the better, and we need clean water to drink.  We need shelter from the elements, a bath (now and again,) and a place to do our "business" that isn't close to where we feed.  This all seems consistent with a lot of beings on life, even Antler Beetles.  Still not convinced?  There's more..

Violence, ingenuity, sex, territories, crime, monogamy, infidelity,  intolerance, compassion, nurturing, social order, civilization, consciousness, greed, gluttony, intelligence, understanding, communities, domestication (just to name a few.)  When we think about the modern day dramas carried out by our species, we think of them as being very human, evolved matters of the mind.  In reality these conflicts, bumps in the road, disorder, order, the beauty and the beast are all very common themes in the intricate pathways of nature.  To assume that humans are the only creatures defensive enough about the differences in race and belief structure to go to war is to assume that nothing else in nature battles for the better passage of its kind.  Every creature on this planet has the will to survive and has the intuitive knowledge that where there are more creatures like it, the likelihood of its own survival and that of its offspring heightens.

Our human ordeals are the same dramas carried out on different levels of consciousness throughout our marshes, woodlands, lakes, and oceans.  To assume that we are the only life that is so inextricably complex is to walk through the world with our eyes closed.  The beauty of our species lies not in how different it is from other creatures in nature, but in how it is actually so closely connected.

When humans are at their best, they are compassionate, considerate, artistic and capable of incredible feats of intellect and creativity.  We are strong and so incredibly aware.  It is only when we forget that our trials and tribulations are just natural order and disorder magnified by our consciousness  that we begin to do unconscious things.  The inconceivable scale of communication and the exchange of goods has us not only believing in the systems we have created wholeheartedly, but also being enslaved by them.

You do not have to view yourself as a wild beast (thought I kind of like to,) to acknowledge that you are a complicated, nowhere near perfect, ever-evolving organism in a very messy, changing world.  Our concerns and efforts are all born out of a few very powerful, basic instincts.  With our incredible hands and minds we should be able to manipulate change out of these destructive wasteful habits we have become so tied to and back into a world where our day to day dramas are more mixed and mingled with those of other species.  If we are such an animal superpower, than it should be clear to us that the elimination of most life on Earth will not contribute to the indefinite continuation of ourselves.

Change starts when things don't work.  It starts many times in anger, fear, frustration and blossoms into hope, determination, and passion.  The state of our world will remain hopeless if we don't start within ourselves.  Our current political climate, the globalization of words, products, and powers, and the capitalistic endeavors of our societies will continue to enslave our people and retain order in a system that is causing disorder in all of the natural systems in the world.  The almighty dollar has been in charge of our happiness, health, intentions, and judgments for far too long.  It is time for us to take responsibility for ourselves, acknowledge that we are just animals trying to survive and that survival would be much easier if we considered our relationships to the natural world and to each other.

Occupy Wall Street and the other occupations sprouting up in this country and beyond are beacons of hope in a world distressed and devalued.  If we can figure out how to treat ourselves better, to put love where money has placed indifference and hatred, there may be a time when strong human communities reunite with the woods and waterways they've been severed from.  The best you can do today is to support the 99% whether in protest or in priorities.  If we all lived our lives outside of the economic guidelines of this country, we would be a force so powerful that stealing our money would be last on Wall Street's morning "to do" list.

"I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction. Yet true happiness comes from a sense of peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved through the cultivation of altruism, of love and compassion, and elimination of ignorance, selfishness, and greed." -- His Holiness the Dalai Lama

"I Just Don't Have a Green Thumb."

Sun Dog Farm is living true to its name as the Sun has been out everyday for what feels like months.  We haven't had a decent rain and many of our Spring time crops are showing signs of stress.  We are fortunate to have a deep well that has given us hope and kept our plants alive through the arid 90 degree weather.  Our chickens have done well enough laying eggs everyday and our other livestock have made the best of it by staying under the shade of trees and in areas of cool, dense brush.  The Summer crops seem to grow a foot a day; Tomatoes already whispering words like trellising and blooms.  Our Eggplants look as if they are war veterans with Flea Beetle holes like gun wounds creating leaves of delicate lace. Timid Squash plants have nervously set their first fruits as their rivals, the Squash bugs, have begun to lay their eggs upon the Squash greens.  The battle for food in the summer heat has just begun and we can only be hopeful for a spell of rain and the balancing acts of Nature's grace.

All of this slaving away in the field during the immense heat and aridity has brought me to thinking about what it takes to grow food for yourself and others.  We've put in hours that far surpass the average 9-5 job and yet we awake in the early morning with smiles on our faces, a little bit of anxiety to keep the ambition alive, and the desire to do good work and heal people utilizing the natural world, everyday.  The concept of a "green thumb" is troubling to me.  I have spoken with several people recently about how they just "don't have a green thumb" and I can assure you that it has nothing to do with your thumb (besides the evolutionary advantage of having a thumb, that is.)  Having a "green thumb" is an oversimplified explanation for a connection to the natural systems of the planet.  By stating that you do not have a "green thumb" you are simply saying that you do not understand or are removed from what it takes to make a living organism thrive.  There are varying levels of difficulty when it comes to making plants and animals survive that have been domesticated by the human species.  While I do understand how our modern civilization has removed many of us from the ever important task of nurturing life, I do not take "I don't have a green thumb" as a reasonable excuse for being oblivious to the role that our natural world plays in our everyday survival.

First we must examine the plants and animals we eat.  These creatures have been bred to produce high levels of fats, sugars, starches, proteins, and other necessary nutrients we crave and grow on.  They have been manipulated by our hands and have grown to produce more of the beneficial structures we now rely on to gain weight, utilized energy, and reproduce.  This is somewhat of a double edged sword for both the human species and the animals themselves.  Our manipulation has assured their species survival, but it has also eliminated their instincts and other attributes that allow them to survive on their own.  That makes tomato plants, cows, chickens, watermelons, goats, lettuce, and other plants and animals very vulnerable to our abuse and misuse.  Having a family milking cow or a small grass based dairy is the most respectful example of the human to animal symbiotic relationship while the factory farm dairies in the United States and beyond are examples of how easily these relationships can lead to abuse and exploitation.

Second we must review our role as stewards of this planet.  It is not our fault or the fault of any other organism on Earth that we have evolved such that our frail bodies have been time and time again protected by the ingenuity of our brains, allowing us to reach such great numbers.  Having been placed in that position, it is our responsibility to regulate the actions of our culture and the needs of our societies.  We have created a reality so vast and consuming that many of us do not even recognize how the natural world plays a role in our everyday lives beyond the lifestyle Soap Operas we all operate in; human centric and based on the idea of commerce.  Having a "green thumb" is left to the hippies, the idealists, and the outdoorsmen (and women) who, for reasons beyond even their own comprehension, open up ornamental nurseries, hike the Appalachian Trail, plant school gardens, or start working for close to nothing raising food for themselves and their community.  I believe that the desire to grow is a part of our intuition, it is the realization that human beings were once delicately placed in the balance with all organisms working together, not  in competition, to share this place we call home.

The modern age of convenience has robbed many of us of the ability, the work ethic, and the passion to take care of ourselves using the most basic of human instincts.  We've taken the lessons you learned from your grandparents about cooking food and growing vegetables and handed you Poptarts and an Excell spreadsheet.  We've compartmentalized your day so that you value only parts of your life as yours and accept that much of your life belongs to others to fulfill endeavors that are not your own.  This has been normalized, advertised, and explained to anyone who will listen as being the "American Dream" that will lead you to happiness, peace and prosperity.  But what does this really lead us to?  It leads us to a hierarchy that ensures that the "Haves" will easily and efficiently keep control of the "Have Nots" while swiftly overusing and wasting our natural resources

So what do we do?  What can we do in a system that is so slated against those of us who have a dime in our pockets and a full time job meant to support ourselves and those that we care for?  We have to find it within us to explore the instincts hidden deep within our bodies and souls.  We must not accept that we just "don't have a green thumb" and become more in sync with the rhythm of life that surrounds us and keeps us afloat.  We must plant gardens and watch them fail season after season before our questions and prayers are answered and our first perfect Tomato is enjoyed, as is, with a touch of salt.  We must enroll our students in the school of Universal-Reality where they realize that even at their smallest size, their bodies and minds can affect the greatest change.  We must take this age of convenience and feel bored, mentally exhausted, and thirst for the satisfaction of a hard day's work that serves as the best weight control tool, making us look better, feel healthier, and all the while steering us away from having to wear spandex in a room full of other humans rhythmically lifting and tugging on weights made of synthetics.  Your body was meant to do things, it has evolved to be strong and accomplished, to be beautiful every day and it is a sad waste of your precious figure to be glued to a desk with a screen, a Snickers Bar, and a bad attitude.

Change is not easy or quick, but the most positive aspect of it, is that it is happening all of the time.  We are moving towards a sustainable future and so many of us understand the benefits that lie within ourselves and in the hidden geometry and complexity of nature and it is only a matter of time before real change can be seen within Atlanta and the United States as a whole.  The more Urban Gardens that fill vacant lawns and parking lots, the more farmers that fill the rural horizons of Georgia, the closer we come to embracing our "green thumbs," our instincts, and our natural ability to nurture and take care of our resources and each other.  All is not lost and we are very close to a future that may allow us to leave this landscape in better shape than we found it for the children we raise and the lives they will one day lead without our guidance.  It is time to take value from the dollar bill, the clothing store, and the appliance outlet,  and apply it to the green things in our lives that are at risk of disappearing all together.  It is time to take this movement from a trend and turn it into a real way of living life.  It is time to support all farmers and growers who respect your health and the health of their land, everywhere.  You and I both may have little money, but we are powerful.  We have the perfect set of thumbs for the job and we can make change.  If we work together and recognize the biological world as kin, we can make things in our hearts, our forests, and in our gardens, grow as one.

Transplanting Flats and Agri-Bats

Well Georgia, you have officially made me a wimp to cold weather.  I knew it was happening long before I admitted it, but at last here we are.  It is about 50 degrees outside and I am huddled inside, bundled up complete with soft slippers and my geek gear (sweatpants and a Star Wars t-shirt I bought for 2 dollars at Goodwill a year ago.)  My cold blooded Yankee past is starting to mix with the warm sugary ways of the South and I find myself very confused and concerned for the rest of the Country when I hear about temperatures in the 20's and snow on the ground.  I don't know that it is such a bad thing, adaptation is natural and maybe all this time spent in the humidity and sunlight is making me more of a native species.  In any case, the farm is misty and magical this chilly, spring day.  It feels like all the spirits are whispering; our bright jackets and mud boots set off by the gray sky allow me to imagine I've been transplanted into the U.K.  We awoke, back in Georgia, around 5:30 this morning to bolts of lightening so menacing and close to the homestead that it felt as though Zeus himself was trying to light us all on fire.  Fortunately for us, his firework display left little but puddles in our crops and some pretty frazzled goats.

The progress of Sun Dog Farm is somewhat incredible when viewing the pictures of the property before tines churned up the Earth and seedlings explored their way towards the sun.  The greenhouse we built from scratch has successfully raised hundreds of transplants, some now making their home in the deep, drip tape irrigated beds.  With little help from me, Elliot has put up an impressive deer fence that will protect our young growth from the devastating appetites of our four legged friends.  We've successfully converted a former chicken tractor into a mobile goat shelter and completed construction on our new, improved chicken mansion that is currently providing us with gorgeous eggs everyday and providing our chickens with high class shelter and fresh green grass.  Our direct seeded crops are starting to put on true leaves and we anticipate our newly established transplants to blow up after this quenching rain.  We've already spent long, hard hours out in the field building a farm and getting things growing this Spring and it finally feels like we've got this show on the road.

So what's next?  Well, we'll be selling our produce once again at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market every Saturday starting on April 9th.  We look forward to seeing all of those friendly, familiar faces of folks excited and inspired by food farmed with love.   Our first CSA drop off will occur May 4th and we're anxious to share with our members the delicious results of their contributions to our farm.  We've got a lot to do between now and then and I look forward to many exhausting days met by beautiful dreams brewed from hard work and stars.  I've seen one or two fireflies at night and the host of migratory bird species have returned, all reminding me that before I know it the land will be lush and the heat will be on.  The beautiful chorus of frogs from the pond and the buzzing and clicking of returned insects has brought even the nighttime back to life.  We know that the return of warm weather not only brings about growth for our crops in the ground, but also the growth and life cycles of so many creatures, both helpful and harmful, and it is once again time to challenge ourselves to find balance in all of it.

We've been lucky enough to spend some evenings by our pond as the bats stir from their roosts and take to the night's sky.  Discernible from birds by their flight patterns and wing strokes, they can be found bobbing and weaving through the air, their wings fluttering seemingly frantically as they scan the pond and fields for food.  They are an incredible companion to us here at the farm, consuming a third of their own body weight in insects every night.  This can be as much as 3000 mosquitoes in just one nighttime prowl.  Helping control our mosquitoes is a wonderful advantage to having a bat population in our ecosystem, but bats also eat many other insects such as beetles, moths, leafhoppers,  flies, gnats, and grasshoppers.  Many of these creatures themselves, or the larval stages of their life cycle, feed on our crops.  Helping support our bat population by growing food without the use of pesticides and leaving dead trees to stand as roosts helps us keep our pests in check.  What you learn when you start working with the cycles of nature is that the complete elimination of one problem does not cause resolution.  Generally in order to protect your plants from the harm of predators, you must view the problem holistically.  Many times this means balance in soil nutrients, balance in water and sunlight, and balance in pests and beneficial organisms.

While we delight in the presence of our unique furry fliers, the bat population of the United States is undergoing hardship that is not at all delightful.  More than a million bats have succumbed to an unusual illness now named White Nose Syndrome.  This illness, caused by a fungus, has been confirmed in 14 states and has affected nine known bat species.  When a bat catches White Nose Syndrome, a white fungus forms around the mouth and nose of the bat during hibernation.  This initial symptom leads to emaciation and ultimately starvation.  Theories suggest that the illness works in two ways.  First, the fungus initiates within the bat an immuno-response as the bat's body attempts to fight off the fungus, which in turn forces the bat to metabolize more of its stored fats.  Second, the fungus may actually increase the amount of time that the bats are awake during times they are typically hibernating which can also lead to unnecessary metabolizing of food reserves within the body.  Generally this leads to bats consuming all of their stored nutrients before their hibernation period is over and they starve before they have a chance to wake up.   Other factors that have been said to exaggerate the harmful nature of the illness are, global warming which has changed the temperature in caves across the United States interrupting normal hibernation patterns, and the increased spraying of pesticides including Malathion which has also been said to affect the metabolic rates of bats.

With the United States bat population in serious decline, it is time to start asking ourselves what we can do to aid this important creature and nurture the population back to health.  While we have already lost to extinction a host of exotic creatures you may have never heard of before, losing something as commonplace and symbolic as bats would not only be dangerous for the balance of our everyday insect pests and prey, it would also be shameful.  It is time to rid ourselves of our ridiculous fears of this "scary" bedtime creature and embrace them in our own backyards and farms.  If you don't have a woodlot with scattered dead trees containing loose bark and holes, put up a Bat House mounted on your own house or on a pole in your yard.  Try to landscape your vegetable and flower gardens and lawns without the aid of synthetic fertilizers and chemical pest control.  Read about them and appreciate them; go out in the evening hours and marvel at their moonlit flights.  Just like all other life here on this planet there is a connection, a way to help this creature that will always in some way, also help us.

"I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright." - Henry David Thoreau

The Last Passenger Pigeon

I was recently reading a short literary work by Gene Stratton-Porter (1863-1924) entitled "The Last Passenger Pigeon" and it, of course, took my mind to so many deep and horrifying places of thought that  I woke in the middle of the night with the need to write.  The piece examines the world she grew up in, where people were still settling this country, burning down old growth forest here and there, everyday, cutting their paths through the endless woods.  She remembers when water was abundant and quail were so many that her parents would often let them collect quail eggs and eat them as a treat.  She remembered the Passenger Pigeons, sometimes in such incredible flocks that their sheer numbers had been known to break limbs from trees when roosting at night.  The New World was still so pristine that only those who truly knew the landscape and felt the symptoms of the forest could tell that it was starting to change.  Even then her father had noted that natural waterways were drying up and quail numbers had begun to diminish and there were people concerned for the imbalance human progress was starting to create.

Gene Stratton-Porter saw two of the last Passenger Pigeons in 1910 in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoological Gardens (the last Passenger Pigeon known to exist died in 1914.)  I could feel through her words what it must have felt like to look into their eyes knowing that they were the last and we were solely to blame.  The birds, a male and a female, never took to mating in captivity and both died shortly before their 30th year on Earth.  They probably did not "know" they were the last, in the way that humans with their analytical minds "know" things, but I do believe it is possible that their instincts instilled in them a sense of urgency that was at least uncomfortable.  Being an animal myself, it always bothers me when other humans state that animals cannot think.  While they may not be able to think in the same way our own brains function, it does not preclude their thinking at all.  We all evolved from the same soup and nerves firing, reaction to stimuli, need for the consumption of energy, and the desire for social interaction are things that much of us here, who are left on this planet, share.

It unfortunately makes a lot of sense that the Passenger Pigeon has gone extinct along with a long list of other creatures who lived in competition with the human species.  Their numbers were so great that one stop at a farmer's house and the entirety of the crop was diminished to stalks and bird droppings.  This being devastating when you were growing more of one crop than another and maybe not just for yourself but for others who intended on purchasing or trading for the good.  People on Earth during the time of the Passenger Pigeon outlived it, they found balance in the masses of birds and adjusted their practices to ensure their own survival.  As the human population has broadened and inhabited most every region on the planet, we have brought about a bottleneck of extinction.  Creatures are not only killed by our methods on the ground, in their own habitats, they are killed by the by products of our development which go on to affect biological communities far from the source of  the disturbance.  In the early 1900's this was just a whisper of a problem, not acknowledged and not directly affecting the human species itself, thereby making it invisible.

Our over specialization and relinquishment of survival skills has not only made us incredibly vulnerable as a species on this planet to the failure of our own creations, it has enabled us to better manipulate our environment for our own needs.  There are people in our society given the time and resources to study subjects to their very core and determine how we can use more, crudely eliminate competition with nature, and manufacture products with and without true purpose.  These products, the vastness of our population, and the institutions of management we have created over them, have us all tied up with little time to evaluate the condition of the ground we stand on.  With almost no one personally growing food for themselves or their communities, our food system has reached such a grandiose scale that our only methods of controlling it have started to corrode the very soils and waterways we need to grow the food we eat.  Our reliance on human manufactured foodstuffs not in tune with nature has brought about a host of illnesses and diseases trying to fight off the imbalance of our species, but we have adapted in turn to stave them off.

This is not simply about me being a free-loving "hippie" or simply about my sorrow over the loss of  beauty of the creatures that inhabit this complex planet.  The fact that Europe no longer has a Wolf or that Iran, Turkey, Tajikistan, China, and Afghanistan no longer live in fear and respect of the Caspian Tiger means nothing today in comparison to the faulty educational systems, the poor communities suffering injustices, and the over all modern human condition that is as complex and difficult as the environmental one.  But at what point does it become imperative that we pay attention?  Maybe losing the Polar Bears, the Blue Whales, migrating birds, the fisheries of the oceans, and the amphibians of the rain forest and your own backyard are not that important in a crude sense, but every being on this planet has been manifested from the energy transfers that have taken place here for millions of years.  This fabric of life has created all of the current environmental conditions that have enabled us to thrive.  As our chemicals and concrete spread their withering fingertips into the last existing natural spaces, we stand to lose the balancing forces that have been holding it all together.  Without trees, bees, bats, and heirloom vegetation, we also stand to lose even the crudest of necessities we get from our natural world to continue our own survival.

Our ambition to recognize our biological community, to work within the cycles of the sun and moon and all forces that have sculpted all else here on planet Earth, and our respect and admiration of the commonplace bird or snake here at Sun Dog Farm does not simply come from a whimsical desire to "love freely."  While I do know that my personal affections for the wilderness may root deep within me as love, it is that instinctual urgency I believe I feel.  We here at the farm are not free from blame; much of our day to day action contributes to the continued elimination of the world around us.  We are slaves to the economic and political systems of our species and we all must do what we can with the time we have to free ourselves and the planet from the clutches of waste.  I write these words today not because I do not recognize how incredibly consuming the stresses and problems of our modern world present to all of us each day.  I write these words because the situation is not at last out of our hands.

Instead of watching television at night, go outside, even in the winter, and examine this world around you.  There are still plenty of organisms who can thrive within human disturbance and gracefully inhabit urban spaces.  Buy local, naturally grown foods not only because you have been taught they are healthier for you, but because you can acknowledge that they are healthier for all life.  Do not write off even the most meaningless or irritating living being as it has its place here on Earth and giving it the respect it deserves would lead you down a path more rewarding than knowing the coolest new band or the latest gossip about some wasteful celebrity.  Show animals to your children.  Teach them about how mosquitoes feed so many different species and that worms complete the incredible task of transforming life back into usable nutrients.  Try and create systems in your day to day that eliminate the need for over consumption.  Cultivate a sense of community and love those in your life as they are because love, understanding, personal action and patience are the only useful tools of change.

"In all civilizations man has cut down and consumed, but seldom restored or replanted, the forests.  In biblical times Palestine was lovely in foliage of palm, and the purpling grapes hung upon her lovely hillsides and gleamed in her fertile valleys like gems in the diadems of her princes.  But man, thoughtless of the future, careless of posterity, destroyed and replaced not; so, where the olive and the pomegranate and the vine once held up their luscious fruit for the sun to kiss, all now is infertility, desolation, desert, and solitude.  The orient is dead to civilization, dead to commerce, dead to intellectual development.  The orient died of treelessness."

- J Sterling Morton (Founder of Arbor Day)

Join Us at the Farm to Table!

Every night I close my eyes and dream.  I dream of events from the day carelessly mixed with memories and elaborate confusions.  Every night time is spent lost in my mind where all of my worries, excitements, insecurities, anxieties, and fantasies go to tea together.  The only thing consistent about them, or the passing of them, is that when I wake in the morning, Sun Dog Farm is one day closer to Spring.

Being one day closer to Spring, everyday, is a little intimidating and mostly exciting all at the same time.  Our greenhouse has finally been dressed and newly sown seeds are pulsing with life in seedling trays, gently moving upward towards the nourishing rays of the sun.  The smell of soil, humidity, and a sharpie always cause us to reminisce of every Spring we've spent organizing energy and nurturing these tiny, miraculous life forms.  Some seeds are so similar and yet as they grow the diversity of their genetics turns the greenhouse into a miniature rain forest of so many different leaves and stems.  The tags denoting their varieties emerge from the greenery like poems, "Vulcan, Early Jersey Wakefield, Champion, Giant of Italy, Henderson's Charleston, Vates, Dinosaur, Skyphos, Black Seeded Simpson, De Cicco," and on and on and oh, it is just the beginning.

As I sip my tea, scratch my head, and type, I can hear rain falling with some urgency outside.  Rain has been a common companion here at the farm as of late and we can't say that we're too distraught about it.  The risen water table will hopefully contribute to a nice, lush Spring and help give our vegetables the life giving water they need to carry on into the hot, unforgivable days of Summer.  It has been; however, too wet to wander out into our growing space and begin sculpting the landscape into segments and rows in preparation for transplants and seeds.  Organization has been key in this newest operation of ours and Elliot and I have spent our fair share sitting in front of Microsoft Excell trying to figure out how we had deleted an entire column of crops or why half of the spreadsheet had become bold.  It is all a part of the process, every bit, and there is nothing more empowering than making something from scratch.

To be empowered.  My daily commutes to and from the City of Atlanta for my off season job have given me a unique perspective on modern human development.  I drive from way out of town, in the boonies where Sun Dog Farm makes its home.  I drive over landscape that quickly transforms from rolling hills and clusters of forest still hanging on into the strip malls and fast food chains that spill over the edge of Atlanta as its population over boils.  I get closer still to the perimeter and more lanes are added to the road, more elaborate concrete has been poured for on and off ramps, overpasses, and a sturdy median.  As I breach the perimeter I am finally at the belly, Downtown where the money is, or in a lot of cases was, and the flannel shirts and baseball caps quickly mutate into flashy suits, designer glasses, and a sales pitch.  It would all be too much for me (I would be thrilled to never look at a billboard again,) except that I get to do it all in reverse on my trip home.

And what of this city life?  I have never done well in a city setting; the weight of human reality always in my eyes and ears sends me into some serious fits of zombie.  Everywhere you look, there is something to be sold or bought, a mostly naked woman here, a familiar celebrity posing with their favorite milk shake there, the most crude and hollow examples of our civilization on display guiding us and our youth further down the road.  It is complicated and complex, constantly changing, yet so much remaining dangerously the same.  Atlanta is just a city like others, facing the same problems, overcoming similar obstacles, but there is this one thing that keeps bringing me back.  It would be easy for me to write off the entire city of Atlanta, except for one thing: Food.

Food has always been the great peace maker in my life. Now the uniting forces of food are swiftly taking over small sections of the city where empowered and beautiful minds gather to go outside of the boundaries of modern culture and economy and stretch the limits of a "normal" city life. Rashid Nuri at Truly Living Well Urban Natural Farm, Joe Reynolds at Love is Love Farm at Gaia Gardens, Oakhurst Community Garden Project, Dunwoody Community Garden, and the increasing numbers of Farmers Markets and other growing spaces around the city are contributing greatly to awareness and the access of those in the city to healthy, sustainable food. I urge you to run to these places immediately and get involved!  Restaurants have also become savvy to the desire of their customers for thoughtful food and the importance of supporting those who grow it. Some of our favorite and, in our opinion, most influential Chefs in the food movement include; Steven Satterfield of Miller Union, Joshua Hopkins of Abbitoir, Todd Mussman of Muss and Turner's, Kevin Ouzts of Spotted Trotter, Thomas McKeown of the Grand Hyatt, and arguably the most revolutionary of the bunch, Chef Linton and Gina Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene, Holeman and Finch, H&F Bread Co, and H&F Bottle Shop. These individuals have spent their lives sculpting not only incredible foods, but incredible food pathways. As a food conscious human of Atlanta, I urge you to put down the taco bell, save up your pennies, and support these businesses because they have made it their business to support people like us.

"The greatest delight the fields and woods minister is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable.  I am not alone and unacknowledged.  They nod to me and I to them." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

We're all in 2011 Together

World!  It is 2011!  It is 2011 and there is so much to do, so much good to replace bad, so much healing of humans, wildlife, ecosystems, and communities.  There is an ever evolving list of things to become more conscious of as we move into a future less connected to the land.  It is 2011 and we are losing important habitats all over the world at an alarming rate, changing the world in ways we don't even realize will eventually change us.  We are relying more and more on technological advances in medicine to keep up with our unhealthy lifestyles.  We are less attuned to the natural forces of our planet and more of our time is spent inside focusing on realities that are entirely human inventions.  The distractions of this modern age of people do well enough keeping our brains constantly stimulated, always something to worry about, always some way to progress, reach success.  It gives us very little opportunity to search within ourselves for what truly brings us peace.  When the forces of our economy and practices of waste are added up, it seems like a desperate time, but this is the year.  This is the year to start over, to rethink the ideas sprouting from "how" and start asking ourselves "why?"

This year, the first official year of Sun Dog Farm, will be one of great hardship and tiny battles won.  With every person who grabs a CSA share or purchases Kohlrabi at the Farmers Market, a person, a couple, an entire family may be fed clean food whose roots dug deep into a landscape nurtured and replenished.  The hearts and minds of our nation are currently being redesigned as more individuals are becoming aware of our devastating food system.  More people want to feed their children the best of what's around.  More people bring their own bags to the supermarket or even teach themselves the skills to avoid utilizing the supermarket or drug store.  The year 2011 should be embraced by all as the year to reclaim our world from the clutches of wasteful consumerism, malicious advertising, and fear mongering and start moving into an age of self reliance, community, and grace.

All of this change requires an immense amount of patience.  Humans beings do not purposely cause harm to each other and their world around them, for the most part.  Much of the change we have to muster within ourselves needs to be spread to others through vigorous education and empowerment.  We are only as strong as our weakest links and we must do our part in picking up those who have fallen into despair due to the excess of others.  This is made ever more complicated with the value system put in place by the highest rungs of the economic food chain.  We need to take the time to educate individuals (without expecting an economic return) as to what is really important and necessary in a lifetime and guide all of us toward a more simple, responsible lifestyle.  It won't be easy or fun and there will be failure  and an awful lot of resistance along the way, but it will be the sort of challenge whose rewards are so sweet, they will slowly enrich the quality of all life on Planet Earth.

As for Sun Dog Farm, 2011 has already held several wins and losses.  The epic ice storm that closed down the City of Atlanta for a week locked us within our little homestead on the farm and made for some pretty mentally exhausting planning and plotting.  All the time spent nestled in the belly of our property gave us the opportunity to continue to explore our own self sufficiency and the weaknesses we feel we have as stewards of this landscape.  Big plans hatched, re-hatched, erased, and blossomed into ideas that will either lead us to victory or teach us some serious lessons.  The snow and ice keeping us from straying too far out of our county gave us the time to enjoy and learn from those in our wonderful community.  The ice has prevented us from planting onions, turned our goats and sheep into ice skaters, and caused our chickens to eat some serious feed.  Our lack of current income made it impossible for us to cover our greenhouse with plastic just before the ice hit, saving us from having to manage or replace plastic during the storm.  I don't know that there is a real balance to it all, but there certainly is an enchanting rhythm to aligning your life with that of the natural world.

Times have been pretty tough at the farm as our anxiousness for spring grows and our vegetable plot gently hibernates.  Driving home from Tagyerit Farm, owned and operated by the wonderful Michael and Mary Elizabeth Shoptaw (and their adorable son,) I distinctly remember feeling that inner peace that we all seem to be endlessly searching for.  Something about being around so many good people who love all life on Earth and have made it their personal goal to defend and support it connects all the dots in my soul.  The sun was setting over the white glazed pastures, brilliant pink reflecting from horizon to footstep.  I remember squeezing Elliot's hand and recalling the amazing number of Meadowlarks I had seen earlier in the day.  It's not perfect this life of ours, but my goodness is it beautiful.

"I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe." - His Holiness the Dalai Lama