Saturday, May 19, 2012

Randall Cove Farm

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                                   "Dog-sheep"                                    Holly, Sean, and Mary Adore
  The route to Randall Cove Farm took us back through Boone, NC, and to a dumpster diver's dream. For those of you not familiar with dumpster diving, it is simply finding food that is not quite good enough to sell (bruised, dented, almost passed the expiration date, etc) behind local grocery stores. Even picky dumpster divers like ourselves are still able to find a plethora of perfectly delicious culinary options. We enjoy supplementing our diet with dumpster diving, it is satisfying to save food from going to waste, and get free food. 
     On our previous pass through Boone we had checked the dumpster of a local grocery at John's suggestion, and had found a cornucopia of produce and other tasty treats. We excitedly checked it again, but were disappointed to find it recently emptied. In order to cure our melancholy we decided to check another grocery store on our way out of town. By random chance we were met with the dumpster haul of the century. Loose on the bottom of an otherwise empty dumpster were dozens of still-frozen quarts of Breyer's ice cream, probably deposited minutes earlier. The tubs were a little banged up, but still maintained their integrity. Holly exclaimed expletives of joy and held the bag while Randy grabbed three of the tubs. The urge to grab as many tubs as possible was only tempered by our blatant lack of refrigeration possibilities, since we still had hours to go. As we made our exit two employees came out of the back door, any earlier and we would have been caught with our hand in the cookie jar, so to speak.

Bantam hen and chick
       To solve the problem of our rapidly melting ice cream, we filled a backpack with gas station ice, packed two of the quarts in with it, and leisurely ate the remaining quart of mint chocolate chip on the ride down.
Our GPS took us perhaps the most direct, but also the most treacherous route possible. Our poor little overloaded Volkswagon had to go up and over Glade mountain (the highest point in the Ellicott Rock Wilderness). Although the ride down wasn't quite "out of control," it certainly took a few years off the life of the brakes.
     Randall Cove is in Sandy Mush, a rural community nestled in the mountains outside of Leicester ("Lester"), NC. It was by far the most out-of-the-way farm that we've been to so far. Sandy Mush is made up of countless different "coves" (valleys between two ridges), most of them named after and still inhabited by the same families that first settled them. Many coves contained numerous "hollers," which are simply the small valleys formed when two large hills meet. Randall Cove Farm fills a holler within Randall Cove, a cove no longer inhabited by its namesake family. On the road in we passed falling down farms with peacocks, carved wooden creatures flanking a bridge, and had to pull over to let an old farmer on a tractor pass.
Kaitlyn feeding the goats
     After our slow, cautious, bumpy ride in, we were greeted by an overwhelmingly large and diverse animal population including chickens, turkeys, guineas, ducks, geese, sheep, dogs, goats, cows, horses, and hogs. We were also greeted by Mary Adore, Jared, Manny, and Kaitlyn. Mary Adore is the co-owner of the farm along with Linda, and has infinite patience with animals. Jared is the farm foreman, is incredibly well-versed in all things agricultural, and is completely ready to live independent of the unsustainable modern lifestyle. He is also an excellent cook. Kaitlyn is a fellow intern, who had been wanting to do an environmental internship for a long time, and she is planning on staying at Randall Cove through December. Manny is another intern who is also traveling from farm to farm. He has been doing it for three years now, and typically stays at farms longer than we do.
The "snood" in the unicorn position
  We got a brief tour of the farm, and were told about its various income-generating aspects. The agritourism consisted of trail rides, cabin rentals, and a gem mine, as well as farm tours. This was the first farm where we were camping, so after getting acquainted with the farm we set up our tent. Then Randy helped Manny, Kaitlyn and Jared plant squash at twilight while Holly rested. We built a fire, and Jared made yummy roasted beef hearts for all of us for dinner.
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     Over the next two weeks we worked on various projects, working towards Jared's vision of a more self-reliant and financially viable farm. Every morning and evening we helped with chores, and since there were so many animals it took awhile to get everyone fed, watered, and taken care of. Holly helped Manny milk the Jersey cows, and occasionally some of the goats, and Randy helped Kaitlyn feed and water. Since the farm was in the mountains, we spent a lot of our time tossing rocks to clear pasture and garden space. This finally paid off when we were able to fence off three hog pastures for the heirloom Red Wattle hogs they are breeding. Red Wattle hogs are a critically endangered breed with super delicious pork. We also cleared pasture for "Rabbit Central," where rabbits will soon be kept. In addition to clearing rocks, we also erected deer fence around existing gardens, which was as much for the poultry as for the deer.
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Chicken killin'
The guineas contemplating mortality
     The chicken situation was a bit tragic when we arrived; the balance   between roosters and hens was skewed, and all of the poor hens had bare backs from being mounted so often. We commonly saw two or three roosters fighting over one hen, or simply mounting her in succession. Something needed to be done, so one night while they were drowsy we grabbed a bunch of roosters, most of them bantams, and isolated them. The next day Joe came over to help with the slaughter, and in a few hours we killed, plucked, and gutted sixteen roosters.  The bantams were so little that it was hard to clean them, because we couldn't get a whole hand inside. After that the hens enjoyed a more peaceful existence, and we enjoyed roasted chicken.
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Jared inspects the newest kids
     In addition to all of the killing, there were also quite a few births. Before we arrived one of the cows, one of the hogs, and numerous sheep, goats, and chickens had given birth, so there were plenty of babies running around. While we were there four barn cats birthed about sixteen kittens, two goats kidded four kids, and a couple of chickens hatched out some guinea chicks (this is a common practice since guineas are notoriously bad mamas). 
Guinea chicks are so cute; what happens?
      Although there were countless different barnyard animals around, they all got along great. The cats and dogs didn't bother the poultry, even though there were baby chicks running around. The animals were so comfortable in fact, that some had cases of mistaken identity. There was a goat who thought it was a sheep, and a sheep who thought it was a dog. The "dog-sheep" lounged on the driveway and ate dog food with the other dogs, refusing to hang out with the other sheep and their bland grasses. This close animal camaraderie also led to inter-species policing. When there was still a bunch of roosters around, the guineas and turkeys would break up the cockfights which occurred regularly.
The farrier shoes a horse
     They sold the raw milk from their cows and goats, though in North Carolina you can only legally sell raw milk "for animal consumption only" because of the ridiculous bureaucracy. But, there must have been many happy milk-fed animals out there, because they sold all that they had, and decided to buy more cows. While we were there they bought three more Jersey milk cow, one of whom was milking, and by this time next year there will be five milking cows instead of two. A few days after they got the cows and we moved them to pasture, which was a bit of an ordeal. We had to herd them up to the upper pasture, but with five of us nudging them along they got there without too much trouble. 
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Proud mama
     Due to the abundance of milk, we were also able to learn cheesemaking. Joe's wife Caroline came over one afternoon and taught us how to make yummy goat feta, which mostly involved a lot of sitting around waiting for milk to be the right temperature. Mary Adore is a mozzarella master, and from her we learned the process for mozzarella and queso blanco.
     In addition to all of his other knowledge, Jared is also an excellent mycologist, and we went on a few forays with him. He has inoculated countless logs with oyster, shitake, and chicken of the woods, and already has restaurants waiting to buy whatever mushrooms he can grow or find.
Since it's still that time of year, we also did plenty of planting, including planting potatoes in the middle of the night by the light of the full moon. The full moon is a good time to plant root crops, and we all had a lot of fun gardening at midnight.
     Sean was a Connecticut transplant who helped out on the farm. He was hired to work the gem mine, but often helped out with whatever needed to be done. He and his wife have an impressive farm of their own that we were able to see when we visited one evening. We enjoyed a lovely evening of farm talk and popcorn, and hope some day to play that game of Scrabble.
    Dwayne and Kerry also worked on the farm, they were in charge of keeping the horses in order and leading trail rides. One morning we were fortunate enough to tag along on one of the rides, and got a few trail miles under our belts. 
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Holly's market face

   Every Friday and Saturday the farm went to the Leicester tailgate market, where we sold everything from mushroom logs to llama poop. The cow poop tea was a great seller. This was the first farm where we got to sell at market, and we enjoyed interacting with the locals, as well as the free samples from other vendors. mmmm...cake.
     We hung out with Jared, Kaitlyn, and Manny quite a bit since we ate all of our meals together (mostly consisting of sausage and goat cheese) and spent all of our free time in the same place. Jared had a camper where we ate and hung out, taking advantage of the electricity and running water. One night we all went up to the guest cabins where we luxuriated in one of the hot tubs, soaking away our farming aches.
Manny strikes an angel pose with Kaitlyn
local restaurants. A passerby mentioned a local, organic cafe that sounded good, and we asked how to get there. The directions were epic, including turning right at the drummer and passing by the giant iron. Unfortunately, it was already closed, but directly across from a great little Indian joint. After scrumptious fare we headed to the Arcade, where Kaitlyn and Holly got their dance fix while Randy and Manny frustratingly threw quarters at Tron. A few stops later we were tuckered out and headed back to the farm. 

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Old Season Farm

WWOOF usa north carolinaOld Season Farm is a 17 acre start-up farm in West Jefferson, NC. Kristen and David have have had the land for about two years, and have already come a long way towards establishing a diverse farm. They have a variety of fruit and nut trees, chickens, and sheep that they rotationally graze in the orchard. Their focus is hazelnuts, a nut usually grown in the Northwest, but they are experimenting with different blight-resistant varieties, and so far their trees are doing great. The  market here is quite promising, and eager potential buyers are lining up.
"dubaduba" means "spin this coaster please"
Kristen and David are a young couple who also met on a farm, and are looking forward to being able to devote more time to farming. Currently they both work and are raising their one-year-old son, Teddy. Teddy's curiosity and wonder of the natural world around him were contagious, and we enjoyed his energy. One of his favorite games was spin-the-coaster, which he assumed was Randy's purpose in life, and we all had fun playing together. We were their first WWOOFers, and they were really excited to have the extra help. We were excited because this was the first time we'd been the first WWOOFers, and it felt like we were ambassadors of the program.
WWOOF usa north carolinaWe were drawn to the farm because of David and Kristen's use of agricultural ecosystems to improve the farmland and lessen the workload. They utilize electronet fencing to confine the sheep to the grassiest areas of the orchard, moving them every week or so after they've done a great lawn-mowing job. A flock of chickens helps keep pests down in the orchard, and soon a hive of bees will help with the pollination.
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Mid-sheet mulching; bark mulch pathways will be added
We helped get the garden ready for planting by sheet mulching. First Randy scythed the grass down to a manageable height (a job he was excited to try his hand at). Next we put down manure, then covered the new garden area with tons of cardboard, and then covered the cardboard with lots of old moldy hay and mulch. The cardboard kills the weeds, and as it breaks down provides the perfect habitat for worms. Sheet mulching improves the soil, and after an initial investment of labor, greatly reduces the amount of work needed to maintain a weed-free garden.
The whole family had had the stomach flu the week before we arrived, and Holly caught a mild strain of it. Kristen insisted she stay in bed all day (which Holly really appreciated) and after a day of rest and plenty of supplements, the bug was nipped it in the bud. 
Heads to be bid on
Pimp my Amish ride
Elizabeth and John back at Walnut Hollow Farm had told us about an Amish auction in Abingdon, VA, that had a festive atmosphere and great deals on horse-powered farm implements. We had kept it in mind, and decided to go on our day off. It was a beautiful drive through the winding mountain roads. Upon arrival, we perused the many booths, some offering the country-fair staples of funnel cakes (fried dough) and hot dogs, while others were uniquely agricultural, selling saddles and shovels. We lingered at the cowboy boot booth so Holly could continue her long-standing search for the elusive (and cheap) perfect boot. Then we made our way to the auction building. Inside were hundreds of people and several wagon loads of random equipment; everything from mouse traps to flax wheels to chaps to lawn ornaments. There were three auctions happening simultaneously; the rapid auctioneer songs emerged from the loudspeakers, reverberating off the steel walls, and coming back to form a cacophony of commerce. The atmosphere was both overwhelming and exciting, and we were eager to join in the experience. Randy got a buyer number, and we squeezed onto the bleachers around the auction with the most interesting-looking loot, waiting for the right item to appear. We finally threw our hat in the ring for a set of heavy duty carabiners. The dollar amounts changed fast and furiously, and being newcomers we had a hard time following the bids. Thanks to the skilled bid assistants we vaguely knew what was going on without being able to hear.We won the six carabiners for incredibly cheap, and excitedly repeated the process for a few other items. Just when we thought we getting the hang of auctions, and getting some great deals, a worrisome phrase made it through the din. "Five times the money" preceded the bidding of a set of bridles, and it gradually dawned on us that everything that sold in multiples was "____ times the money," including what we had bought. At first Holly just thought it meant we were getting more for our money, but then we realized it actually meant the final bid was multiplied by the number of items. Instead of spending the nine dollars we thought we had, we actually owed the Amish $51.It was a costly rookie mistake that ended with us paying our dues and then retreating back to our car with our tails between our legs.
Barn quilts at the Farmer's Market
The next day, Kristen took us to the West Jefferson Farmer's market. It was our first farmer's market of the year and we were so excited! We were there to buy, not sell, since there wasn't much up in the garden, but it was still invigorating to see all of the vendors and wares. While Kristen bought a fish for our dinner and bartered for an apple tree, we wandered around enjoying samples of pastured meat, baked goods, and goat cheese. Hidden amongst the goat cheese were a couple bars of goat cheese fudge, that we obviously had to buy. It was the perfect treat after a feast of lemon garlic trout, greens, and sweet potatoes.
old season farm north carolina WWOOF usaLater that afternoon we got started on our final project: building a kiwi/grape trellis. David harvested black locust trees from their woods for the posts, and Kristen and Teddy helped us put the pieces together. Although we weren't able to quite finish our second kiwi trellis of the trip, the bulk was completed and had a beautiful natural look that the fruit-laden vines will complement.
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Tying a sheer lash
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Goat getting a pedicure
On our last day we helped clip the sheep's hooves, which involved some skillful wrangling, to get them all into a stall, and some elbow grease to get them into a manageable position. While the sheep were not eager for their turn, they were curious about what was happening to their flockmates. With one of us guarding the door, two holding the sheep, and one clipping the toenails, we finished the job relatively quickly.
All too quickly our time at Old Season Farm was over. We only stayed nine days, which is the shortest stay yet (by one day). We were glad to help out Kristen and David, who spoiled us with their appreciation. We always enjoy the various projects, but once again we we wished we could see eventual fruits of our labor. Maybe soon we'll get to enjoy the fruits of other WWOOFers garden work.
Our lovely room

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Kristen's delicious oatmeal pie!

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