Thursday, April 30, 2009

Life as we know it

Hi Friends,

Yesterday marked the opening the Memphis Botanic Garden Farmers Market. It was a busy and eventful day. I heard many visitors stating it was their first visit to this afternoon market. There was plenty of spring produce out there. I saw mustard & turnip greens, collards, radishes, spring onions, baby garlic, swiss chard, dried peas, mizuna, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, strawberries, lettuce mixes, edible flowers, beet greens, honey, granola, plenty of jams, jellies, breads, pies, and shaved ice. Oh, and the flowers, peonies, bachelors button, iris, poppies, verbascum, blooming sage, and the potted plants/transplants were amazing as well. If you get hungry on Wednesday afternoons, do something nice for your state of mind and general health. The MBG is astonishingly beautiful, the produce is incredibly fresh & nutritious, and with that atmosphere it's sure to be the perfect way to wind down the afternoon. The Memphis Botanic Garden Farmers Market will be open May - the end of October, every Wednesday 2- 6 pm - rain or shine! Come on out, you'll be hooked.

Today is wet on the farm. We got a nice rain yesterday which certainly pleased the vegetation round here. Just checked on our fennel and kohlrabi and its lookin good. Most of the day we will work on transplanting in the greenhouse. We still have thousands of tomato transplants to work up and herbs, cut flowers, the list goes on. I love to check the babies (that's what I call my seedlings) each morning. Every day they grow at little more, spreading there leaves, putting on tendrils, or a stem rising, whatever the plant, its thrilling to watch them all grow to maturity. Keith and I get very attatched to our plants. I don't know if I've shared this with you guys but Keith will walk out to the tomato field to tell his tomatoes goodnight, every night throughout the growing season. They're always on his mind, even during the winter I can ask Keith, "What are you thinking about?", and he will reply, "Tomatoes." He is always thinking. Very crafty that man.

Tomorrow marks a special day for me. For the last 2 years I have had the pleasure of being a board member for the ASU Regional Farmers Market, which is located in Jonesboro, Arkansas, my hometown. Our board has been working very hard to promote and grow our little market on a shoestring budget, no doubt, and tomorrow marks the day of our ground breaking ceremony for the construction of a facility that will house our market!!! Yippee!!! For the last 4 years, we the vendors, have been lining up under the shade of trees in the middle of a cow pasture. It's really beautiful, don't get me wrong, but we wanted a building that protect all visitors from the weather, serve as a meeting place for various organizations, house a commercial kitchen we could rent out to bakers etc, have public restrooms, stage for live music, and hopefully one day, be home to a year round market!!! On top of all that, the facility itself will be a "green" building built from hay bales! How cool is that!?! We have been blessed with grant dollars and the support from our regional and state politicians. Hopefully we will have a our new home ready by next spring.

Monday, May 4, we have 56 kindergartners from Memphis coming to Whitton Farms for a field trip! We are absolutely thrilled to have these youngsters out to the farm to look at our spring crops, tour the greenhouses, hunt for mushrooms, and check on the chickens. They will even do a transplanting session with yours truly, and then have a nice picnic in the pecan orchard. Hopefully we can spark a "growing" interest in these little minds!

That's all I've got for today. Gotta get back to the endless, yet fulfilling cycle of farming.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hi Friends!

Hope you guys have had a fantastic week in you respective homes. We are trucking right along here at Whitton Farms. Yesterday consisted of lots of seed sowing & scattering. The tomato transplanting is gaining steam with hundreds of the little guys being gently placed into the soil ready to stretch their legs, I mean roots. (I'm thining of myself on that one).

I believe our cover crops and crop rotation plan is going to work out well for us this year. Using more green manure (plant based manure) over animal manure, we believe, is the way to go for our farming operation. Thank goodness we are farming on ground that horses roamed for nearly 50 years. So we are blessed to have very rich and fertile soil to work with, but you never want to take it for granted. That's why we cover crop, and use composted leaf mulch in our fields to be tilled back into the earth. It decomposes ever so nicely. When transplanting its like working with buttah!
We do have aged horse manure & goat manure in our stables. We use it in the hothouses, and in specific fields, when preparing beds late in the fall, but we refrain from collecting manure from other sources, unless thoroughly checked. You never really know what you are getting, in regard how long it was aged, etc. If you like using animal manure in your gardens, a little goes a long way. Don't over fertilize, you can burn up your plants! We learned that lesson- the hard way a few years ago.
Whatever gardening practices you prefer, I am extremely thankful that you are out there experimenting, growing, and enjoying what the earth has so elegantly provided for us all, nature.

Over the course of the winter and spring Keith has been reading several books about farming in the early 1800's and the techniques that were used during those times. Long before synthetic fertilizers and herbicides were used in agriculture, there were a handful of specialty crop farmers who did an incredible job of documenting their organic farming practices. Crop planning/rotation all the way down to good farming philosophies, these books hold a wealth of information. This type of farming is truly a dying art, and we are working hard to bring it back in our region of the state. It's all about educating yourself. We won't ever claim to be experts in this field, because farming always throws a curve ball that you didn't see coming. We simply try to do the best we can out here on the farm each & every day. Thank goodness we have a lifetime to figure all this out.

In case you guys didn't know, we have bee hives on our property. Peace Bee Farms, out of Proctor, Arkansas, is owned and operated by Richard & Rita Underhill. They are two of the sweetest people you would ever want to meet. They keep bees the Amish way and use absolutely no synthetic materials when working with their bees. Richard is the president of the Tennessee Beekeepers Association and also keeps bees at the Memphis Botanic Garden. We truly feel blessed to have their hives out here at the farm. What started out as a simple experiment bloomed into something much more. Last year was a phenomenal year for both farming operations, and wouldn't you guess that Peace Bee collected hundreds and hundreds of pounds of delicious honey from the hives located here! It was so exciting to witness the bees pollinating our crops throughout the growing season. This week if you come by the Memphis Botanic Garden on Wednesday from 2:00 - 6:00 pm you can meet the Underhills yourself!

Last but not least! Tomorrow is an exciting day at the Memphis Botanic Gardens! The market opens! Lots of great vendors will be out there like Jones Orchard - yummy fruit & breads, Flora at Bluebird Farms- expect the unusual from Van the man - he's got lots of interesting and tasty crops, Tim's Family Farm - nice young couple farming Ripley tomatoes & other goodies, Downing Hollow Farm - good, high quality, specialty crops, Groovy Foods - the best granola in the Delta, Paul Little's Sedums - the plants you can't keep your hands off of, Gardens Oy Vey - they specialize in naughty native plants, Peace Bee Farms - need I say more? and lastly - Whitton Farms - lots of awesome flowers, heirloom transplants, and spring produce. Hope you guys take the opportunity to support as many local farmers & artisans as you possibly can. Encourage your friends to come out and experience the fun.

Recipe of the Week!

Curried Honey Sweet Potato Soup
- Makes 8 cups -

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 medium-sized cloves garlic, peeled
6 cups (48 oz.) chicken or vegetable stock
1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 medium russet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
2 teaspoons salt
6 Tablespoons local honey, divided
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 to 3 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, optional

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a soup pot. Add onion and sauté until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Add stock, potatoes and salt. Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.Puree mixture in batches, put soup back over low heat and add 5 Tablespoons of the honey, bell pepper, curry powder, pepper and ginger. Bring to a simmer, taste and adjust seasonings.Microwave remaining 1 Tablespoon honey for 5 seconds on High. Serve soup drizzled with a little warm honey and sprinkled with chopped cilantro. Serves 4 to 6.

Hope you eat local and visit the farmers market in the near future, like tomorrow!


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bringing in the new...

Hello all,
Well, the opening of the Memphis Farmers Market is just two weeks away and we can feel the pressure of the growing season mounting. It's a good feeling, not a bad one. Just so much to do these days. Our potatoes, leeks, onions, greens, lettuces, mushrooms, kale, snap peas, radishes, beets, carrots, turnips, and herbs are all doing fantastic. We've been getting just enough rain to keep everything moist but not drenched! Keith and I have been transplanting maniacs and have thousands of tomato transplants to set out within the next couple of weeks. Can't wait to get those guys in the ground, then we know the real growing season has commenced.

Flowers have been a top priority for me more this year than ever before. I've already got sunflowers, daffodils, tulips, safflower, phlox, gladiolas, lisanthus, delphinium, snapdragons, flowering kale, purple coneflower, bachelor buttons, rudbeckias, and host of other beauties up in the flower fields. Some of them are only a few inches tall, but I am much further ahead in the my planning and planting this year - whew! I so am excited to envision what we will have to offer all our of cut flower enthusiasts.

Just this past week our farm interns started work out here at Whitton Farms. We have four possibly 5 interns this year. Two of them are my brother and his wife, Mark & Amy Arnold. They both left their jobs in the coporate world to learn the trade of growing wholesome, clean food right here in the Delta. I know its gonna be a journey for us all, you know it is when family is involved, but I have extreme confidence in their abilities and dedication to the art of farming.
One of our interns, Charlie, is pretty incredible. He's been a commercial fisherman, turtle hunter, chicken caretaker, carpenter, etc... You name it he can do it and we feel blessed to have him here working with us, especially since we are entering into the field of chickens, and possibly ... crawfish! More about that later, like in a couple months.
Finally last but certainly not least, is our main farmhand, Caleb. Caleb has been with us for 3 years now, and is currently a college student. We got Caleb, at the age of 16, while he was still in high school and he has been an absolute joy to work with over the years. He truly recognizes the determination and importance of local food, and has worked extremely hard here at Whitton Farms to help our dreams of owning a sustainable farm come true. As a farmer, if you don't have a dedicated staff on a farm, your operation is in jeopardy. You're employees can make or break any business operation. We owe much of our success not only to our family, customers, and "Mother Earth", but also very much of it belongs to our former and present staff. So if you come to the farm for a visit, please show them the courtesy of thanking them for all of their hard work. This field is indeed, an extreme sport, if you're running it right!

Trees... about a month ago Keith, Caleb & myself planted just over 1000 hardwood trees on the farm. I can't remember if I told you guys this or not. Man, what a job, but we are firm believers in replenishing the area with the trees that were cleared in this region many, many years ago. Many of our neighbors in the community of Whitton have joined in the effort, a few long before we ever had the idea to do so. It's nice to live a small town where neighbors can recognize what's right for the Earth and take the initiative to do something about it. A few of the trees I planted are Vitex Trees. Most are only 1 ft tall, but they are fast growers, have beautiful blue blooms similar to butterfly bush, and are major butterfly attractors. In about 5 years, they will really make the statement out here on the farm that I'm looking for.

Oh we're in a couple magazines this month, Edible Memphis, and Jonesboro Occasions. Just found out that a local artist will be visiting the farm in the near future to begin painting a series of Whitton Farms, so that's pretty cool. Be on the look out for dates for our Spring Farm to Plate Dinner out here on the farm. Some of the proceeds from the event will go to one of our favorite non-profits, and rest to the farm. Hope you can join us for the farm-filled-fun. Okay, I'm a dork for saying that! Anyway hope you can make it at some point, to the farm this growing season.

Well, I know this message is all over the place, but I wanted to get back in touch with you guys and let you know what we've been up to. Got lots of baby flower transplants to work on the greenhouse right now, so I must depart. Hope all is well in your world and come see us at the Memphis Farmers Market April 18, 7:00 - 1 :00 pm. Peace Ya'll! Have a rockin' week!

Just keepin it real in Whitton, ya'll