Author Archives: octopusgardennc

First Week of Market!

It’s been a big week on the farm! Saturday May 3, Octopus Garden participated in our first farmer’s market, as a part of the Watauga County Farmer’s Market in Boone, and Sunday May 4, I presented at a dinner put on by Supporting Economic Alternatives in the Mountains(see http://www.seamnc.org/) to gain funding to build a germination chamber for my farm.

We also had our Maverick Family in town! Bill and Alice Brooke both made the trip up here and we spent a wonderful weekend sharing food and gardening wisdom and getting to know each other better. They visited the FIG Farm on Friday night and I also got to meet Christoph, a family friend and ASU faculty member who spent many years at the farm when it was the Sustainable Development farm. It was wonderful to meet him and hear his insights on the land and its history and use. It feels really good to have this community behind me with so much knowledge and so much love and support.

The first market was a success! Kathleen and I are sharing a market space, and this past week I sold bedding plants, as well as some bouquets I had made up of a brassica wildflower growing out at FIG. So much fun to be there and interacting with my customers! Growing food for others is what makes farming so wonderful!

At the SEAM dinner, my project received the most votes and I received the top funding award. It was a very exciting night filled with good food and music, and I felt privileged to share it with so many great friends, and to share the winnings with two other amazing entrepreneurs. With my portion of the proceeds, I will build a germination chamber in the coming weeks and probably a cold frame or two for FIG as well.

 

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Christoph and I, and little Sango

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Kathleen and I look at some collards and kale I planted with lettuce between the rows

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checking out sprouting radish babies

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L-R: Me, Kathleen, Grady, Christoph, Bill! FIG Team past and present is an impressive group!

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me and my onions

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Bill visits us at the Farmer’s Market!

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Alice Brooke and Bill after buying from Octopus Garden and Waxwing Farm!

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My market stand. Chilly morning!

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Speaking at the SEAM dinner

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What an attentive crowd!

 

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Planting Potatoes

This weekend, all of the FIG Farmers got together to work on a potato planting project out at the farm. On an acre piece of land, we agreed to farm both potatoes and summer squash as a group. With about three weeks until our accepted last frost date (up here on the mountain everyone says after Mother’s Day is frost free), we can finally plant our potatoes!

When planting potatoes, you start with what are called “seed potatoes.” The potato part of a potato plant is a tuber, which actually means it is an underground branch that is used by the plant to store food. Ever left a potato sitting too long and it started to sprout? Each place where the potato sprouts, or each eye of the potato, is actually a bud from which a new plant can be propogated. If your seed potatoes have sprouted, you should not remove the sprouts before planting. Our farming mentor Matt actually told me this gives your plants a week head start on growth!

A sprouted seed potato is actually an underground branch!

A sprouted seed potato is actually an underground branch!

You can either plant a whole potato as a seed, or cut it into pieces, so long as each piece has one or two eyes at least on it. Don’t cut your potato into too small of pieces, but I will cut them into as many as six pieces.

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If you are cutting your seed potatoes, make sure each piece has at least one eye on it. A sprouted potato starts a week ahead when it is planted!

Matt disked and tilled the field several times in preparation for our planting of the potatoes, and then on Saturday, he created rows with furrows down the middle of each in which we could place the potatoes.

Matt doing tractor work to prepare the field for planting, Lee begins planting her potatoes.

Matt doing tractor work to prepare the field for planting, Lee begins planting her potatoes.

 

If the potato is cut, make sure that the cut side makes good contact with the soil and that the eyes are facing toward the sky. If you are planting whole potatoes, you can just drop them in! The spacing should be about a foot apart. I planted Kennebecs, a white potato, Red Pontiacs, which have a red skin, and a variety of specialty fingerlings. The Kennebecs and Pontiacs I cut up, but the fingerlings I just left whole. The fingerlings do better when they are not cut.

Potatoes dropped in the furrows

Potatoes dropped in the furrows

After all the seed potatoes were planted, Matt came back through with the disk and covered and closed the furrows. Plants should sprout in two to three weeks. With all the wet weather we are having this week, I am hoping our seed potatoes will be happy and on their way to growing productive plants!

 

Weekly Run Down: February, Meeting People and Settling In

Hello and welcome to the final week of fundraising! DONATE HERE: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/octopus-garden-nc-a-project-with-f-i-g-farm/x/6158660

My first week here in Valle Crucis was filled with snow, and last week followed it with a flurry of activity.

There were many opportunities to make connections with others in my community. I attended an event put on by Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture (BRWIA) at a local farm starting a hazelnut orchard, that included a tour and a meal afterward. I met several area farmers and also people from local organizations that support and offer educational opportunities for farmers, like Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP), the Watauga County Extension agent, Richard Boylan, and spent time with my good friends from BRWIA.

On Thursday all of us who will be involved in farming the piece of land at the FIG Farm met together for the first time! It was kind of a chilly day and we had several small children in tow, but we walked the property and everyone chose where they will be planting this spring. We also brainstormed some ideas of how we can share in that space with each other in collective efforts to improve the space and also make it more profitable for all of us, as well as ways we can involve our community. Though we all have separate plots, we plan to farm a back acre together in crops that require quite a bit of room, potatoes this spring and early summer, followed by winter squash.

We also hope to sell at a roadside stand on the property and are thinking of a fall fundraiser with bands and a farm to table meal. We have considered keeping a couple pigs at FIG to raise through the season and slaughter for that meal. The other two women who will be farming at FIG are very interesting, Lee, who has been farming for several years and specializes in cut flowers, and Rashell, who is a yoga teacher and herbalist and hopes to start an herbal CSA this year and also have experiential opportunities at the farm, especially for children. Both of their expertise will be great to glean from, since I am trying do some cut flowers and herbs in addition to vegetables. Our mentor, Matt, farms in the same valley and will be helping us with the potato and squash project and will be a resource and presence through out the season.

On Saturday I was at the Appalachian Enterprise Center at 8 am for an all day event with other area entrepreneurs, learning about how to move our business forward, what our local resources are, and workshopping each other’s ideas and sharing ideas for overcoming specific obstacles. I had a great time at the event and it was wonderful to connect with other area entrepreneurs, though most of them are doing things very different from me. I realized that the root of many of our ideas was an interest in local businesses as a way to bolster community and promote sustainability. I am excited to work with this group of people into the future, and I am very interested in trying to brainstorm ways that we can collaborate and support each other because many of us have a similar mission.

Other than that, I’ve been getting to know the area better; learning the short cuts for driving from A to B, eating at restaurants, visiting coffee shops, discovering new hikes, getting my library card, and meeting new friends. Since Boone is a small town, it has felt relatively easy to become familiar with people and places, though I know there is much more to learn, and I’m looking forward to it! I love being here so far!

I also found out that I was accepted to the Watauga County Farmer’s Market! So I will selling all season, starting May 3, at the Watauga Market in Boone. I am thrilled to be a part of such a wonderful market and looking forward to the season so much!

Octopus Garden NC asks for your help this season!

This is the video for my Indiegogo campaign that I launched today, to help me cover the financial burden of the start up costs in this first season of production! Please visit the site and spread the word to others! Sharing my campaign both personally and online is the best help I can get right now! Please consider donating as well, there is really no amount too small!
THANK YOU!
http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/octopus-garden-nc-a-small-farm-project/x/6158660

Meet the Farmer

I was introduced to small-scale sustainable agriculture in high school, when my parents joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program through a vegetable farm in Chatham County. We started receiving a CSA box every week, receiving vegetables like fennel and bok choy, making seasonal eating an exotic adventure. I became interested in this type of farming after we visited the homestead and farm that we were supporting; their way of life was logical to me as a young environmentalist and attractive to me as a person with a love for natural beauty and simplicity. Moving to Chapel Hill to attend UNC soon after threw me into the heart of North Carolina’s strong local food movement, and the summer after my freshman year, I worked on a local vegetable farm and spent my Saturdays selling their produce at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market. That farm was Maple Spring Gardens, owned by Ken Dawson, one of the visionaries and pioneers for the local and organic movement in North Carolina, among many others who sold at that market.

Cleaning up the shed at the Small Farm Unit, Center for Environmental Farming Systems

Cleaning up the shed at the Small Farm Unit, Center for Environmental Farming Systems

Fast forward six years, to the day after my twenty-fifth birthday, as I crunched through the snow at the Farm Incubator and Grower (FIG) Farm in Valle Crucis, NC, where I would begin my journey as an independent grower in the 2014 season. I will be renting ½ acre on this site in the picturesque valley of crosses, so named because of the convergence of three streams in the shape of the cross. I am currently doing soil tests, ordering seeds, applying to Farmer’s Markets, and planning my season, while also wrapping up at the Small Farm in Goldsboro, where I’ve been apprenticing with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems this winter. In one week (February 1) I will be launching a campaign on Indiegogo to help fund my expenses for the season. In two weeks (February 8), I will be caravanning with my parents from Raleigh to move my belongings to my new home on the Maverick Farms homestead in Banner Elk.

As I worked my way through college, graduating with an Environmental Studies degree, I considered many career paths, but my love of and fascination with sustainable farming both as a career and a lifestyle has remained constant. I have worked for three organic vegetable farms since graduating from college in 2011. My experiences have not always been fun; in fact, when I am thinking about farm tasks I have to remind myself to think of certain jobs as “challenging” rather than “jobs I don’t like to do.” There is a lot of hard work involved in vegetable farming, and quite a bit of creativity is required when faced with obstacles. There is very cold weather and very hot weather, and farm work continues in both of these. There are extreme weather events like the deluge of last summer in North Carolina that cost many farmers crop losses. There are hours of hand weeding and harvesting and more time spent on your knees or squatting than in any other profession I know of. But there is also the quiet moment at 7 AM when it is just you, the sun rising, your field, and the whole blessed world waking up. There is the reward of eating produce grown from your own hands, sometimes in quantities far beyond what you had hoped. There is the pride that comes with sharing this gift with others in your community, knowing that you are nurturing their bodies with healthy food, and safeguarding the health of our water and air, to which we are all inextricably linked.

Sledge hammering in posts for our hoop house!

Sledge hammering in posts for our hoop house!

I am so excited to be stepping into this moment in my life, and sharing it with the local food community of Watauga County! Over the past few months, I have made several trips to the area and also attended several large farming conferences around North Carolina. The people that I have met from the High Country have made me feel energized to be involved with the food movement in this area, and so privileged to be a part of this community. As I embark on this journey, I will share my story on this blog, and on Facebook and twitter. It’s important to me to share what I am learning and experiencing with everyone that I can, in hopes you can glean from it some knowledge, entertainment, and inspiration.

Thank you to those who are making this opportunity possible for me: Maverick Farms for starting this incubator project, and Matt Cooper, the farming mentor for this project. Stay tuned for more!

-Caroline Hampton