Being the hummingbird

This weekend Eight Owls Farmstead hosted its first ever permaculture design course, taught by Patricia Allison and Matthew Kip. Eighteen excited students and two incredible teachers came together to expand the skill sets and knowledge in our community. At the tail end of the experience – six folks that currently reside on Panther Mountain sat down to watch the documentary, Dirt, which is one of my very favorites. Even though I had seen it twice before, this part of the film spoke to me in such huge ways after the experience I witnessed this weekend.

I got a little teary eyed last night, realizing that twenty hummingbirds had just flown out of our nest and back to their own. I watched this weekend as folks I think so much of as individuals spent time together connecting and expanding their knowledge. I watched as they flew away–hopefully with beaks that are just a little bigger than they were on Friday and the faith in my heart that we all will be able to carry more water with less flaps of our wings.

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            “Education is the most powerful weapon for changing the world.”
                                                  – Nelson Mandela

We are doing the best we can–that’s what I see in the amazing folks that are taking and teaching this permaculture series at our farm this spring. We are doing  our best to shape our little corner of the world and make it look like a different sort of place. We are being the hummingbird and doing our best in our classrooms, via our non-profits or scrappy little organic farms, and in how we are raising our families and selves up to new heights. We are showing the younger humans in our life how important it is to just…. try. That we, this planet’s people, have to be the ones to connect and make change–because it was quite likely us and our mistakes that put it in peril. That our planet is important enough to fight for, even when you feel so small in the grand scheme of things. Even when you feel like you are only able to carry a drop of water to toss on a very big fire.

This weekend I saw a group of people with so much heart, courage and faith in making change–it was quite awe-inspiring for this completely exhausted by event prep farmer. This morning, after a solid night of sleep–I realize the magnitude of what this will mean for our cool little county. I realize just how powerful this group of people are and how much change they could make.

Most of all, I realize that while one hummingbird can only carry one drop of water–a whole fleet of birds willing to fly and carry water, could actually put out the fire. This weekend renewed my faith and gave me new steam to push forward in this fight it feels like we are in to protect our planet and feed its people the right kinds of food. I pray that this is but one tiny wing beat in the direction of inspiring that change we all wish to see in the world.

-the farmer

the power of peas

This is the sixth spring that I have depended on the fact that pushing a seed into the earth will yield me food later. Each year I decide to step outside and sow the hard work required to grow vegetables in the coming year.  Although much work has already been done before February 15th in the form of making garden beds and compost, spreading the latter, cover cropping, and amending the soil–that always feels like the date that tests me. It’s the day I have to go out in the bleak of winter and have the faith that if I work hard, food will grow. Even in year six, it’s always so hard to believe–for the formerly fat lady who was told that food came from the grocery store, not from the ground. But… I go out anyway. I stepped out on February 15th 2016 and pushed five rows of peas under snow covered ground.

Snow peas in the kitchen garden 2/15/2016

Even though it is totally not worth the time, I start checking on them on February 16th, every day. Then March 1 comes and it’s time to put a ton more energy and time into sowing the carrots, spinach, other greens and to start a second round of seedlings…. even though the peas haven’t popped yet. By early March–I’m always having this intense back and forth inner monologue between total faith they will burst through the surface and certain doom that my plants will never, ever, ever, ever grow.

It was just so hard to wrap my mind around at first–not just all of the many garden skills I needed to learn, but also just plain ol’ getting connected to where my food came from. What it looked like in its rawest form, where it lived and how it was grown or raised. All the work that was required to get it on my plate… from seed to storage and everything in between. What it means to be the one to grow it. To take on growing it if I can. To know what I should be willing to pay a more experienced organic farmer than I to buy it, if I can’t. (Thanks Pitch Pine Farm for all the delicious cabbage last year, it was so great I should have also given you a tip!! historically, I still don’t grow it well. And that’s okay, seeing yours lets me know I will one day!!)

Then, last week–just like my heart knew they would… them peas popped up, strong, green, and with the promise of spring.

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kitchen a frame lasagna bed 3/8/2016

For the sixth year, I stood there in total amazement as I looked around and realized that almost every seed I sowed out in my new zone one kitchen gardens was now a baby plant. I was surrounded! In a good way! Bright green wee little plants danced in the warm air we experienced this week, full of promise. Promise of spring salads, the freezer getting filled with new cooking greens, and the awesome new apprentices can start to incorporate a whole new selection of veggies into their delicious curries soon.
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So many folks reach out to us and ask where to start with a garden…or ask, aren’t we going to have a class on that?! Maybe one day when we have way more experience–but for now I only have two options for ‘em…. come out and volunteer for vegetables and we are happy to let them pick our brains while they sow some seeds. Or…I tell ‘em they can do like we did–go stick a nonGMO squash seed in some no spray soil and just see what happens. Sure, there ends up being a lot more to it than that–but for us, that was a great place to start and is exactly what we did six springs ago. Every year you dig a little deeper and learn a little more…. but that is always right where is starts. Seed, meet soil. Farmer, add water, care and a hopeful heart. You’ll both grow, I can promise you that.

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the seeds seem to love my spiral straw bale kitchen garden beds, they all blew up this week! 3/14/2016

My friends, in this farmer’s humble opinion, we are in for a tumultuous and incredibly tense time ahead between now and November. In my awesome home state of North Carolina–I expect that will really ramp up today as we step in to cast our ballots for what we believe in (well, except for those of us who were so busy farming they thought they had to do it already last week or would run out of time to). I already made my choice last week, so I won’t have to vote for anything else but vegetables for the next six months. Obviously–I participate where need be, but prefer plant talk to political speak. However, my hopeful heart feels the weight of what might be to come with our people–I worry we will forget ourselves, go up against each other and hurt one another.

But, I tell you what I’ve never cussed someone out over… and that’s carrots. I’ve never had the inclination to slap someone over how they sowed spinach. In fact, coming together over helping each other get better at growing cabbage or figuring out how to ferment it seems to have the opposite effect in my experience! It don’t matter what side of the row you are on when you are working in the garden–you just dig it… together. At least on our farm, the garden seems to be a place where community can be created and connections between folks can grow. That’s the real power of them peas–is making their people grow into better, more connected, capable, community minded humans. And for this farmer, that’s what I want to focus on. Creating a space, for that to take place. Being an example of what can happen to your body and your self care when you choose to grow more of your own food. And holding hope in my heart that it inspires some more folks in my community to sow some seeds of their own, and see what will grow. So…

Beginning in a mere four days–nineteen amazing folks from Transylvania County and two rockstar permaculture experiential educators will be out here every other weekend until June. Patricia Allison (Medicine Wheel Collective at Earthaven Eco-Village) and Matthew Kip (The Foraging Family) with special guest natural building teacher Kelley Adair (Natural by Design) will be increasing our skill sets as they teach the nineteen of us how to create and implement a permaculture design that maximizes the output, capability, and impact of this 9.87 acres that makes up Eight Owls Farmstead. We are doing it so that we can provide more and easier to manage with just us two organically grown education, experiences, products and food. The Forager and I have spent the last three and a half years doing the dirty work and heavy lifting–tearing down the broken pieces of this foreclosure turned farm, clearing the land and building the soil we would need to grow many a vegetable. We did it because we want to make a difference in our own lives and community a lot more than we wanted to make a dollar, although granted–hopefully selling some produce this year will do a little of the latter too! I simply cannot wait to see what grows in our nest in 2016. We sure hope you are excited to see what grows too, and give us a hoot to come out, visit for awhile and talk vegetables.

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If you haven’t been to the farm in awhile, or have never been at all–give us a call! (828-884-OWLS) We reopened on March 1st and do homestead tours on a donation basis (5/per person suggested donation) on Friday mornings and Saturday afternoons (You do have to have an appointment to visit the farm! Unauthorized visitors will be fed to the herding pup!) If Panther Mountain feels too far out or too steep for you to scale, never fear–we will traverse the 8.8 miles down 64 to get to the Transylvania Farmers Market and will come to you every other weekend starting in late April. We sure would love to see you there.

Sowing the seeds to grow a community

Man, them folks at the Organic Growers School sure know how to put on a show! This farmer was asked to be the permaculture moderator for the spring harvest conference yesterday. I tell you what, it sure amended the soil that resides in my soul to see so many WNC folks excited to be there learning about how they can take steps to being self-reliant and live a more organically grown life. It was awe-inspiring to see the flow of folks yesterday, just grinning from ear to ear–absorbing knowledge from instructors who know how to spray it on like soaker hoses with their impassioned attitudes and breadth of knowledge in all things farm and food.

This was the first event of theirs I’d ever been to–we always had something going on in the last couple years that I knew they existed. I simply cannot imagine ever missing another one. I think I could literally take every track of classes they offer and not run out for a decade! Homesteading, farming, food preservation, permaculture, mushrooms, cooking, poultry, sustainability, soils, livestock, gardening, herbs, community food, and more I’m sure I am missing! See, there – already I have a baker’s dozen of years ahead of me of OGS classes. 😉

I saw so many familiar faces yesterday, visitors to our farm and members of our little town down in Transylvania County. I talked to new folks that had come from all over. I spoke publicly and calmly in front of over 100 people when I introduced Patricia Allison’s Permaculture 101 workshop–and for the first time ever, instead of feeling like I was going to throw up, completely freak out, and have a heart attack… I just pulled out the regular ol’ farmer… and I’m pretty sure I made them laugh. Twice.  I know if the 300 pound lady I was five years ago couldn’t have, but the 163 pound farmer I am now did, whether I was ready or not. (Yeah, sure – I teach, but I do that with small groups for a reason!! I had no idea so many folks would be there when I agreed to this thing!)

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Patricia Allison is majorly one of my sheroes, I’m so darn proud we are hosting her permaculture design certification series here at eight owls this spring–It starts in a mere SIX DAYS!!!! Whoa. Anyway, this pic is from 3.12.2016…. in HIG221. Not ZEIS 123. 😉

I feel like them folks at OGS have a real green thumb that likely comes in handy as they sow seeds to grow a community. What a fantastic way to provide actually affordable, attainable education to motivated to learn folks. I simply cannot imagine the work it takes to pull off…. but I sure would put money on betting something beautiful will grow. A community might just have gotten a little bigger, more connected and skilled this weekend. If we are looking at it with the right set of intentions in our hearts, then we won’t compete with each other in any way–we will just create change by returning to our hometowns and start sowing seeds of our own. And lets face it, the world needs to change in huge ways and fast–and if that is going to happen, a lot of us are going to have to participate in that conversation and embrace and lift up everyone else that is as well.

And now…. I hear the rain, finally falling on the farm house roof this morning–them seeds I’ve been sowing out here with my amazing forager of a wife and excited owl-pprentices are getting that well deserved soaking that no water hose can replicate. For this still feeling very new to this life five years in farmer, it may as well be silver coins. Because I now know two things… experience has taught me them plants will stand a little taller for it. And Mr. Chuck Marsh told us in Transforming communal landscapes with permaculture workshop yesterday (pic below) – motivated folks can make a living small scale organic farming…and for experiential educators like us that work with young people–we just have to teach them youngins’ how so they are slinging something of a higher caliber than a McNugget or an M-16. And I believe him. I’m so looking forward to being part of showing the ones that show up here the little bit we’ve learned over the years. Can YOU imagine what it would look like if the right seeds get sown in this community of amazing folks we have here and they are organically grown?

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-the farmer

This farmer lady has to take today off if she is to have one in the next two, so I won’t be there for round two–but there is still a whole other day of exciting stuff ahead, so head over to UNCA if you can and fill your head with knowledge! 😉

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When the girls and I went on immersion to Earthaven Eco-Village in the fall, we coined the term “We got Zeved” while we where there–as depth and speed of that man’s brain sure is something for any student to behold. Anyway, I got Zeved again yesterday in his Forest Garden and Farming workshop–how have I not heard of SOCHAN??!! Omg I’m going to be SO into sochan, I can feel it–and I’m like 90% sure we already have it on our land.

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This was AWESOME! To hear Laura Ruby, Zev Friedman and Justin Holt talk about being permaculture educators and how to get hands on with students!

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Two very well behaved and permie minded pups were in the front row of Patricia’s permaculture workshop, adorable they were!

 

 

Getting raised on a farm

I get asked loads of questions from the folks that come here to do a farm tour or immerse themselves on the farm for a few days–but certain questions…. always seem to have the repeat button pressed. Usually about halfway through my hour long farm tour and talk about how we got started–folks begin to unconsciously shake their head back and forth and ask more questions. The first one almost always is, “So… did you get raised on a farm?” It is always asked incredulously–as if they simply cannot believe we would have come up with living this way on our own. We must have been born into it somehow or we wouldn’t have chosen this. My answer over the years has been, “Well, my grandparents had a large scale cotton, soybean, and tobacco farm–and I spent a good amount of time with them as a kid. As much as I loved them and it–it was conventional and observing large scale farming didn’t really help me much with homesteading organically or starting to go off the grid. Well, other than already being used to the dirt. Now that being said, almost every woman in my family was a teacher and almost every man was farmer–so I do feel like it was in my blood to be a farm based educator here. And my wife never lived on a farm at all… this was all my nutty idea in the beginning! But we are both North Carolina born and bred, through and through so at least we feel like we understand the land.” To that, their heads start to shake double time until the tour is about done.

Well, after yesterday–I think I’ll have to amend my answer. I came home from a very emotional day at school and rolled back onto the farm. Not wanting to talk to anyone, I figured I would busy myself for a few minutes checking messages and emails. I picked up the receiver to find the world’s sweetest voicemail on the farm’s phone–from a woman in our community that I just love to absolute bits. I’m going to need way more than a 20 second hug to make up for the depth of emotion I reached over a message I sure needed to hear. See, sad students, that I know I made that way by me telling them I was departing–had me majorly teary eyed and second guessing myself big time when I returned to the farm yesterday.

She spoke of a podcast she had heard, about getting raised on a farm and it made her think about us and what we are doing. She said that she heard a woman say, “Sure, I got raised on a farm–but really, the farm raised me.” She told us how awesome it was of what we were doing, how much we were helping the community with all the things we do here, and…. she told us, she is so proud of what we are doing and to call us her friends. Whoa.

Way to knock my muck boots off there lady!! I listened to it twice and then a third time as she said, “Think about all you are raising there. Sure, you are raising vegetables and animals–but you are also raising relationships and skills for our community. And… you are raising yourself–to new heights.”

It’s so true. I got raised on a farm and it sure raised me–Eight Owls Farmstead. I found out who I was here and who I could be. I have learned more here than I ever did in college or graduate school. Sure, I shrunk here… but I grew here too! 😉 I became a stronger woman on this farm, hoeing rows of confidence and capability that get a little longer every year–as I listen to other people less and myself more. I dug into the dirt and watched my anxieties about life and myself start to fall away. Many of the things I’d been told, got disproven here too–things folks told me when I was a kid that girls couldn’t… wouldn’t… shouldn’t do. I’ve watched myself grow up here, into the kind of human I’d always wanted to be but didn’t know how to be. I’ve watched my marriage grow, strong and tall like late summer corn. At least for us, farming together sure does send tap roots way on down into your heart and makes the two of you truly come together as one. You may fuss from time to time about where to plant them trees you just bought-–but in the end, you will agree and it will get done one way or ‘nother. Sure we raise animals and grow vegetables here–but I also watch youngins grow here too. Excited eighth graders betting each other on if seeds will grow on straw bales and running wheelbarrows filled with compost up the mountain; adorable young couples with strong backs and big homestead dreams; women who may have a little extra weight or a lot of extra anxieties; hosting female educators teaching a new subject matter for the first time–I’m so incredibly blessed I get sit back and watch all these things grow. And let me tell you, it sure is a sight to behold… seeing just how much can grow on this farm if I just give it some space to and water a little with something as simple as my positive attitude and never ending optimism about what people are capable of doing and being.

That’s what I farm here, it is what I do and who I am. I am The Farmer who raises organically grown education, experiences, products and food at Eight Owls Farmstead. And I do it, because I got raised right here on this farm–and if someone like the person I used to be can grow so tall and strong here…. anyone can.

-The Farmer

A big ol’ thanks to our community and the folks that support us so – we couldn’t do any of this as well as we do without your support, wonderful words and kind hearts. YOU make us proud to call Transylvania County the only place we would ever want to call home! If you want to arrange a visit to the nest–email me!

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Taking the bets of them eighth graders I mentioned – will the straw bale we seeded last Thursday grow? We don’t know – but will soon! (the turtle class bets as they stand – three say yes, but not well. one says no)

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We are hosting a couple of WWOOFers that are here immersing themselves in farm life for eight days. Riley and Kelsey are the only ones we have agreed to host this spring–as we are pretty busy this season on our own. But, I can’t tell you how grateful we are to have met such amazing young folks and have them visit our farm. We are just crazy about the two of them, the big adventure they are on, and how deep their dreams and desires to exist the the world in a different way run.

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Even though the Forager tells me all the time I’m wrong… I spend a lot of time thinking I must not do a very good job hosting these young folks–because I so rarely hear from them all after they go…but see their presence on the farm every single day in the energy they left behind. I know, I know… I’m well aware them youngins got WAY too big a job ahead of them anyways–changing the world we live in and all!! I know it is hard to squeeze in time to squeeze in time to pen a couple of owls a letter and find a stamp! 😉 Then of course, I always I forget that they show me when they are here. By building places for hot showers or gardens to grow, muscles, and mindsets. And I must be doing something right, these awesome young folks asked to cook us dinner last night! These two visited India last year–Kelsey had loads to say about how intense it was to be a woman, farm, and live in India that I’d never even thought of before and they learned how to make some seriously unbelievable chicken curry!!!

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The full time farmer

The part of our story that folks always scratch their heads over is how we picked up going on six years ago and just… walked away. In a matter of just six weeks we walked away from the city, from successful jobs, from a big house and three cars. From fancy to farm life in the time it took to rent a tiny house on sixteen acres and a small uHaul, pack it up with only what we actually needed and sell everything else. Those of you that know me or read this regularly know why–this formerly 300 pound very depressed lady was simply just fed up with how she was living her life and had big dreams of being a farmer. And she was so incredibly well supported by the addition of someone in her life with big, wild, woodsy dreams of their own that it didn’t seem too insane to just….. try it and see what happened. Don’t get me wrong, I was terrified to give up the career and life that I had gotten so well educated and worked so hard to attend. But, I didn’t feel like I had another option–I needed to change my life by majorly adjusting my eating and exercise habits or I was going to be in real serious trouble, and I needed to give myself no choice but to do so by designing a life that simply required it. So, we hit the road, headed to a tiny mountain town and I just dove in to the dirt.

Here I sit, five years and seven months later and a hundred and forty pounds lighter–I feel like it all shook out okay. We are on 9.87 acres that we own and I can finally say now halfway through year four on it–that while we are never going to be millionaires doing what we do… we are running a successful, donation based business on that land. And anyways…we are rich in food, health, happiness and life experiences–and that is all that we really wanted in the first place. I have a lot of things to thank for all that, but a huge one was that I landed a part time teaching job in the art department of our tiny mountain town’s local college five years and four months ago. I’ve taught college or close to college age students graphic design for eleven years now. I’ve learned, shared knowledge and space alongside college students on this educational farm for three. We talk about everything under the sun out here–sustainability, permaculture, art, writing, nature, relationships, diet, cooking and food preservation, foraging, primitive living, and existing in the world in a different way. We talk through bad pasts, bad choices, emotional issues and anxieties, what is hard about being a woman in this world and on a farm, we share things that happened to the two of us in the past that were incredibly hard and shaped who we are as adults. And those that are interested, can also hear from me about graphic design and how I try to use it for good over evil.  College students drive here from all over the country to spend a couple days or a couple of months and there is simply nothing I love better than sharing that time.

I started to realize that two years ago when we had some of the most special young folks I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting arrive on the farm in 2014. In 2015 when more batches of awesome young people turned up–I realized just how hard it was getting to continue to split my focus between subject matters and students seeking totally different things. Talking to young folks in town about how to really make money with your marketing and talking to young folks on the farm about how to live your life with less–just plain ol’ got harder every semester.  For the last few years I’ve found every creative overlap I can to combine the two halves of this one educator. Advertising campaigns for non-profits, organic farms, and eco-villages in our community. Sustainability subject matters for PSA designs. Social media graphics for scrappy little educational homesteads. How to do good things with graphic design and how to be as sustainable in your output as you can be with it. But as good as all of that felt and as much as I love the tar out of my students–it never kept me from feeling like I only got to be really, truly checked in here on the homestead in my head and my heart in two months of the year, May and June. The rest of the year I was either also teaching in town, or counting down the days knowing that I would be again very soon. This school year found this farmer very ready to choose–the one thing it was she wanted to do. To stop splitting my focus and really dig into what I love to do. Five years after one big leap, I’m finding myself ready to leap again…. so, I made my choice. To be the full time Farmer.

I don’t know if I will ever teach graphic design in a classroom again, I try so hard these days to not say I won’t do ________ again–when I know how quickly time and experience can change my opinions on things. But I do know that I will not be teaching it in the 2016-17 school year where I have been for the last five years and I’ve let them know that too.

I’m sure there will be some head scratching over this one too–but I’m ready to take another leap and see how this feels. To finally see my most deeply rooted dream of being on the farm six days a week come true. To share how intensely my love runs for the way we live with folks that are excited to come out and hear about it. To sow salad greens with young gentlemen and talk about how we feel about our bodies and what we should eat (salads!)…. and what we should maybe eat less of (sweets and wheats!). To share space, organically feed college students and make sure they know–we ain’t experts in any of this stuff, but that we will share what we do know and have tried… and can give you the wifi password to google what we don’t know jack about. To host female instructor’s homesteading workshops, writing and art events, and just plain ol’ give the girls a space to learn to swing a hammer, hoe a row, or work off a little weight. To visit more camps, schools, and non-profits and share my fired up attitude for all things farming and organic food.

So, in six weeks I get to find out what it feels like–to the Farmer full time. I get to dig in a little deeper to what I can do, who I really am, and what I’m really capable of. Here’s hoping… it shakes out okay!

-the Farmer

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A few pics from today (3/4/2016) with the turtle class from Mountain Sun Community School. I spent the morning working with two awesome young folks who are here immersing themselves in farm life for the week and followed it up with doing some digging with a few turtles – we are getting in done ’round here today!

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Riley, Kelsey and the turtles made short work of that trench!

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Thanks for another fun day on the farm y’all!