Meeting our New Ag Community

One of the main reasons that we moved from California to Maryland was land access. After a decade of farming in California, I could not get secure long term land access on leased land. The prospect of purchasing farmland in the Bay Area of California was just not a sustainable business option for us.

 

After extensive research we decided that the Eastern Shore of Maryland could provide us with what California could not; affordable cost of living, and support to establish and grow an agricultural business.

 

Since arriving in “the land of pleasant living” we have definitely experienced the affordable cost of living. Here you don’t need three jobs to survive; a person can actually live on wages from one full time job. We are still looking for farmland (if you have any leads let me know)! But what has surprised me the most is how welcoming and supportive the agricultural community has been.

 

From local food non-profits, to government agricultural resources, to individuals; everyone I have reached out to has taken the time to offer advice, information and guidance, to me a stranger in these parts. I have been amazed at how many people have taken time out of their busy schedules to meet with me over a cup of coffee so I could pick their brains on starting a farm here.

 

I’m impressed with the University of Maryland Extension’s programing. Recently I attended their Food for Profit entrepreneurship training program. This day-long training went through the ins and outs of starting a food business, legal regulations, food safety, labeling, and more. They did a great job of breaking down the complex paperwork involved in bringing a food product to market. It gave me the motivation to actually want to create a value-added farm product.

I have also found there to be a ton of agricultural conferences, summits, and seminars within a two hour drive of where I live. Just last week I spent the day at the Delmarva Soil Summit put on by Future Harvest an awesome non-profit providing loads of educational programing for farmers. This summit covered not only the importance of soil health but how to improve your soil and how to monitor its health. What impressed me more than the great information and resources I was gaining that day, was the diversity of the attendees. In their first ever Soil Summit they had brought together large commodity growers, direct market farmers, students, service providers, and even home gardeners.

There is still lots I need to do before I start farming again next year, but the community support I have received thus far is incredibly encouraging and reinforces the excitement that we have in making the Eastern Shore of Maryland our home.

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Recipes for September

It’s that time of great agricultural abundance, autumn. A time when I normally have loads of pumpkins, winter squash, and I’m still eating my own farm grown tomatoes. But not this year. Since I’m on a sabbatical from farming, I have to shop for vegetables like most people. In search of the freshest seasonal produce I head to the nearest farmers’ market, which happens to be the Easton Farmers Market, an easy walk from my apartment.

Fall is such a fun time to visit the market with warm weather produce still coming in strong and cooler season delights starting to roll in. You can find almost anything you want at a September market. I grabbed some cherry tomatoes, habaneros, okra, kale, sweet potatoes, summer squash and a cucumber.

With the arrival of fall we have started to have some cooler weather … well, cool enough that I actually felt like using my oven. So with my farmers’ market bounty I whipped up a tasty side dish, Autumn Veggie Cobbler (recipe below), to go with dinner.

Even though I don’t have a farm this year, I’m still enjoying some fruits of my labor … well previous labor. Chilly weather starts me craving hearty dishes filled with the dried beans and corn that I stored from 2017. So I whipped up some black-eyed peas (recipe below) to go along with my farmers’ market findings.

 

Autumn Veggie Cobbler
Serves 4

1 TBS sunflower oil
1 cup yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 celery stalk, diced (including leaves)
4 cups sweet potatoes, peeled, cubed
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
1 cup okra, sliced
2 large kale leaves, chopped
1 cup of cherry tomatoes, chopped (or 1 medium tomato)
½ habanero, seeds removed, minced (or ½ tsp chili flakes)
1 ½ cups vegetable stock

In a large skillet heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, and celery; sauteing for 2 minutes or until the onions begin to brown. Stir in sweet potatoes, salt, and black pepper. After about 5 minutes or once the potatoes start to sweat add okra and kale. Cook for another 5 minutes stir occasionally so the vegetables do not stick.  Then stir in tomatoes, habanero, and stock. Bring everything to a rapid boil, then take off the heat and pour into a 8×8 baking pan and set aside.

Make drop biscuits* in a medium mixing bowl, start by combining dry ingredients

1 ¾ all-purpose flour
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp cream of tartar

Then cut in ⅓ cup of butter. Once the mixture resemble peas, stir in ¾ cup of milk and ½ cup of La Croix (yup I used lime La Croix cause it’s what I had, but you could also just use plain club soda). Be mindful not to over mix, a lumpy batter is okay. Using a large spoon, drop spoonfuls of biscuit batter right on top of your vegetable mixture until you have used up all the batter.

Then bake uncovered in a preheated 450 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until the biscuits are fully cooked and slightly brown on top.

*Full disclosure: I intended to make baking powder biscuits but found my cupboard lacked baking powder and baking soda pretty late into making the recipe. So I improvised with cream of tartar and a can of La Croix.

Simple Black-Eyed Peas
Serves 4

2 cups dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and rinsed
1 TBS sunflower oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
5 cups water
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
⅛ tsp chili powder
1 TBS mild hot sauce
½ tsp black pepper
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges

In a large pot heat oil over med-high heat. Then saute onion, celery, and garlic for about 5 minutes or until onions begin to brown. Next add water, black-eyed peas, tomato, oregano, salt, chili powder, hot sauce, and black pepper mixing until well combined. Cover slightly and simmer until black-eyed peas are completely tender about 1 ½ hours, adding more water if necessary to keep black-eyed peas covered.

Serve over rice and squeeze a wedge of lime over top each bowl.

 

Getting Settled

After a whirlwind move we are finally settling in to our new apartment in Easton, MD. We moved in just over a month ago but its been hard to catch my breath, let alone get into a normal routine. We have been doing lots:

The shipping container arrived with nothing broke and everything stayed exactly where we had put it, we should have won an award for our excellent packing skills. There is no space for my farm equipment at our place so my father has graciously allowed me to temporarily store all things farm related at his workshop.

Setting up the apartment and getting the various odds and ends that we need has taken the most energy. I do not enjoy finding a place for everything, I wish it was like in the movies where you open the box and your things just float on over to their rightful place. Unpacking box after box is in progress, we still have to unpack office stuff and wall decor plus my record collection continues to be confined to wine boxes.

 

With all the unpacking and moving-in paperwork we have not forgotten the fun part, checking out the local sights. Boat rides on the bay, exploring the many tiny towns, tasting the local food, and visiting the Atlantic ocean. It has been great to have my parents as tour guides, cause I don’t know where anything is.

Choptank riverboat

Farm fair

Soft shell crabs

Brigantine beach

Also being away from the east coast for over a decade there are certain things we forgot how much we missed like thunderstorms (seriously we sat on the porch and watched it like it was movie), lightning bugs (they make you believe in fairies), green grass in the summertime (water falls from the sky here), warm nights (no need to wear layers) and of course the option to put Old Bay on everything (Maryland restaurant tables have 3 shakers; salt, pepper, and old bay)

Soft shell calms aka longnecks

So over all everything has been going really well moving into Maryland. I’m just ready to know where everything is and to finish unpacking the last of our boxes.

Packed Up and Ready to Go

We have downsized, gotten rid of stuff, and consolidated as much as we could. Of course it is surprising how many possessions we actually have.

Everything has been packed and too our surprise the moving container had empty space leftover … to think we could have kept more stuff! But as many people told me, it is so refreshing to part with items we are no longer using. It allows you to have a clean slate for your next adventure.

I’m excited and invigorated for the change, it doesn’t feel like a struggle or even stressful it just feels natural, like a change in the seasons.

We have said our goodbyes to Sonoma, but I never look at goodbyes as final, just until we meet again. We will soon begin our journey across the country by train. You can follow along via instagram!

 

Downsizing

This month I have been busy downsizing and getting rid of stuff. I’m amazed at how much stuff both at the farm and in the house, I have accumulated over the past dozen years. I mean I’m not surprise I come from a long line of pack rats (just one side of the family tree not both 😉) As I have been going through my possessions and unearthing things I didn’t even know I had, I was surprise by how quickly I realize that I didn’t need it or even want it anymore. I kinda thought it might be emotional or traumatic but it was so easy to decide that an object was ready to move on.

Beginning of the second day of our garage sale. Now most of this stuff is long gone.

Now I’m no minimalist, I’m still keeping a bunch of stuff. But early on in the downsizing process I had decide that I would only keep things with sentimental value or in regards to the farm, tools and supplies that I had regularly used within the last two years. There has been a few tricky items where it has been tough to decide, do we keep them or do we let them go, the deciding factor is how much of the limited 830 cubic feet of space will that tricky item take up? We are using one moving container to go cross country and everything that wants to enjoy a Maryland lifestyle has gotta fit in that container.

Since I like to research concepts to figure out the “best” way to do something. I spent quite some time on youtube watching video after video of packing tips. With this newly acquired knowledge, I’ve been packing up breakables in lots and lots of packing paper. As well as securely boxing up winter clothes and shoes. We still have about 4 weeks until our actual move day so right now the focus is on packing up stuff we definitely won’t need anytime soon.

Nothing is left at my farm and the house is pretty empty too. It feels like a throwback to college days cause I’m using milk crates as side tables and a few wine boxes as a nightstand. My garage has become the staging ground for the big move with a tape outline of the container space, which is slowly filling with boxes and farm equipment.

 

New Adventure

Over 12 years ago I moved to California with hopes of following my passion for local food systems and working in the field of agriculture. I started off creating edible gardens for restaurants and private estates. I hung around farmers markets to meet producers and fellow local food lovers. When the opportunity to lease land appeared, I jumped at the chance to start my very own farm. Through 10 seasons and many different parcels of land, I honed my farming skills to bring tasty organic produce and seedlings to my community. Through hard work and a bit of luck I was able to achieve my goal of becoming active in the sustainable agricultural scene in the Bay area.

Over the years my passion for agriculture has continued to grow and my dream of becoming a lifelong farmer has never wavered. Farming is a business and when you look at your farm operation as a business you realize how important stability is to your continued success. Without financial sustainability, no farm is truly sustainable.

I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I can have a secure farming future. I came to the realization that I can’t continue to farm in California on leased property and as a farmer I can’t afford to own land here. This July I will be moving back east to Maryland, where I have the ability to purchase farmland.  I will begin farming again in 2019 on the Eastern Shore.

It is bittersweet to leave the west coast where I refined my farming skills and where I have met so many wonderful people (including my husband). But I am excited to return to my home state to start a new farm and continue my agriculture adventure!

I will continue to make blog posts along the way and share my new discoveries so keep reading and keep in touch. If you are more of a picture person, follow my adventure on instagram.

Spring Work

Spring is here … or maybe summer I’m actually wearing shorts as I type this, hello 80 degree weather. This spring my workload looks a little different. I’m not sweating it out in the greenhouse but staring it out, at the computer screen.

I have been developing client’s 2018 crop plans, which involves meeting with them to discuss their vision for their farm or garden as well as determining their must haves, when it comes to produce harvest. After the meeting I spend time with spreadsheets calculating their seed and plant need, I figure out their seed and transplant order, then create their planting schedule, and draw up their crop map. All of this gives each of my clients a detailed plan of what to buy, how to prepare, when to plant, and an estimated date for their first harvest of each of their crops.

I have also completed my taxes … yay. Like most people preparing one’s taxes is a drag. But this year it went a lot quicker because I did I really good job of keeping up on my bookkeeping during the 2017 growing season. And I don’t naturally think “Oh, lets enter invoices instead of watching another episode of <insert favorite TV show>”. So to make sure I recorded my sales, expenses, and deductions in a timely manner, I created a daily habits tracker which included bookkeeping. When I completed the task I rewarded myself with a sticker … that’s right a sticker! Hey, what works to motivate preschoolers also works for 30-somethings.

With spring weather comes the urge for spring cleaning. I have sorted through my seed bins removing expired seeds and cataloging the remaining packets. I have been purging random farm supplies that I have been keeping for years even though I have not used them years. I have even taken the time to try to organize my office getting rid of old papers and filing others away, so I can actually find them when I need them. Even though I’m not busy mowing and tilling my field, there is something about spring that just motivates you to get ready and prepare for the coming year.

Get Outside

Since I’m not farming this year I have realized that I’m spending a lot of time inside. Working on the computer, reading books, organizing farm supplies, and other random indoor activities. This sedentary work is not new I have always spent plenty of time indoors during February. But the difference this year is I don’t have the farm work to force me to go outside. This might seem like a no-brainer but I just didn’t realize that without my normal farm work, I would not be automatically getting fresh air and exercise.

reflection pond

Quarryhill Botanical Garden

My close friends know I don’t consider myself an “outdoorsy person” never doing an activity that requires physical effort unless the farm required it, I would never join a gym or make time to go exercise. But between all the computer work and this ridiculously sunny warm weather we have been having, my body has been aching to get outside and move around. So recently I started listening to the demands of my body and making time to go outside for long walks and even a few hikes. I’m still not gonna join a gym but I have begun to schedule exercise into my week.

sonoma valley

Overlooking Sonoma Valley

Another Season is Done

Now that it’s the end of the season it seems like eons ago that I was getting the field ready for the beginning of the growing season. Even though it was just 10 months ago that I was starting tomato seeds in the greenhouse and about 7 months ago that I was planting popcorn kernels in the field. Now everything has been mowed down or has been killed by the frost.

Tomato field past its prime

The growing season is always a whirlwind but it still has an undeniable rhyme. With the arrival of spring the daylight grows, egging you on to become more active and get outside to work. The heat of summer pushes everything to grow big and lush including your energy level. Fall shows up colorful but exhausted, encouraging you to slow down. Then winter with its cold short days shoos you inside to stay cozy and inspires you to reflect. Even though I may fight these seasonal urges at first, I quickly give in because it is exactly what my body is demanding my mind to do.

Popcorn field through the seasons

So as winter approaches, it’s officially 10 days away, I have started to review the growing season, celebrating my achievements and figuring out how to better address the challenges.