It seems like just yesterday Elliot and I were landless Farmers searching for a place to call home, traveling across small towns, over mountain passes, and in abandoned lots lost to economic progression and modern industry. It seems like just yesterday because, in fact, it pretty much was. Finally, Sun Dog Farm has settled on a settling spot and it couldn’t have happened at a better time. Acquiring land for the purpose of small, diversified farming isn’t easy, especially for young people who have a limited credit history and ideas a little outside of the box. We’ve littered the Georgia countryside with our presence and just as being hopeful was beginning to hurt, a modest home with eleven acres of pasture, growing space, a pond, and woods marched right into our hearts.
This was not our own discovery and we owe it all to the incredible community of fellow farmers who have done so much to help us push forward with our endeavors. Tate Tewksbury of Tewksbury Farms (Good Groceries) added us to his extensive list of good deeds and shortly after discussing our dilemmas with him, he came up with the perfect property right down the road. The property itself is something magical with so many opportunities hidden here and there, untouched and yet to be discovered. The fact that we will be right down the road from fellow farmers with big hearts and lots of experience is just icing on the cake. There is nothing that makes working the land feel more important than a group of supportive people who sweat through the hottest months alongside you to give to a community something it doesn’t know it needs, but desperately does.
Given the pervasiveness of our Media and Advertising, it can be somewhat thankless work producing food for people who only see the value of items based on their price tags. We’ve coached our society to rely on the economy to make decisions for us, even trusting companies to look after our physical well being and they have pleased us with mass produced items at a fraction of the cost. The immediate pay off of this phenomenon has felt very good, but we are finding more and more the ultimate dangers of over-efficiency and the limited spending we’ve done on food. It is impossible for a small farm utilizing good land stewardship and animal husbandry to compete with the international selection of cheaply grown produce at the grocery store. Even worse still, we’ve filled our grocery stores with boxes, jars, and jugs of tasty, food-like substances that not only provide limited nutritional benefit, but even harm those who consume them. So what makes it worth it? How can those who have reclaimed control of their food choices push forward in a world of over indulgence? For Elliot and I, farming is not a strategy constructed simply for economic gain, it is everything, it is our lifestyle.
This new stretch of landscape located in the heart of Morgan County is our newest reinvention and one step closer to self sufficiency and the shared benefits of growing real food. While we have come across our fair share of misinformed, uninformed, and uninterested customers, it is always uplifting to share the fruit of our labors with those who truly know and or are excited about learning how to support food that matters. This new property comes with its own hurtles to jump such as fencing that needs mending, an empty house that needs filled with grown up furniture, rent to be paid monthly, a barn structure to be built, a pond covered in algae due to a nitrogen imbalance, and establishing something that does not yet exist; yet when I stroll across the fields or sit on the dock, my heart feels full. It is easy to get caught up in the frustrations and questions of the economic balance of your own “business”, but feeling empowered and taking care of yourself, your family, and your community with your own two hands makes all of those concerns seem so unimportant.
So here we are, back at the beginning all over again. A new terrain to map out, new wildlife neighbors to enjoy and support, and an ever growing list of projects to start. We’re exhausted but feeling the best we’ve felt in weeks. We’re thankful for the customers who buy from us every week even during this time of economic uncertainty. Our CSA program is going through the construction phases and we should be advertising options soon for the Spring growing season. Now that Sun Dog Farm has a beautiful place to call home this fall, our hearts are at peace and our minds are free to explore. We may never actually grow up, but we will continue to grow in love and in soil.
It’s the first of September and I have officially lived in Georgia for a year! I survived the face melting heat with limited permanent damage. I have successfully picked up some useful Southern slang, such as “Y’all”, “I’m fixin’ to” and “Let’s have a mess of greens!” I can’t put a number on the amount of times those sayings have gotten me through the thick of it. I have met some amazing individuals who have already enriched my life so much and continue to inspire me everyday. I’ve adopted a strong passion for eating Okra and Field Peas, I have become more social (sort of?), I do not buy beer on Sundays, and I even find myself being overly polite to strangers (who knew!) I think I’m starting to fit in with the local crowd..
Let’s not kid ourselves too much here. I’m still a cantankerous Yankee with a bad attitude and no amount of Southern Hospitality can fix what cold weather and broody intellectuals have instilled in me from birth. Let’s just say the sunny, sweaty South has certainly taken the edge off! Besides, how could anyone disagree with the beautiful, everlasting fall that is about to be upon us? The 60 degree mornings mixed with the 70 to 80 degree, breezy afternoons are enough to make me fall in love all over again.
Fall finds the farm in a flurry of activity as we seed, transplant, and hoe our way into Autumn Crops. Our animals are starting to get itchy feet as the breeding season is soon approaching. Our youngest chickens are exploring their maternal selves and practicing nesting whilst our eldest chickens prepare for a good molt. The sunshine is still abundant and our Okra, Eggplants, Peppers, and a few other summer delights hang on for the long haul. Our root vegetables recently seeded are coming up furiously, so much so that we will likely have turnip greens at our Peachtree Road Farmers Market on Saturday morning! Fall brings a whole different life to the Southern Landscape. The world seems to go from being tall, colorful, and exotic back to green, lush, and dense. While I will miss Tomatoes, Peppers and Beans, I have to say it feels good to see carrot tops and beet leaves back in the garden. It also feels good to have a boatload of dried chilies from the garden to decorate our up and coming collard greens.
I encourage everyone to continue their gardening and farmers market shopping through the Autumn as the Georgia climate provides happily for a Fall Harvest. I cannot stress enough the importance of eating a local, organic, “whole food” diet. I am not speaking about the grocery store here, I’m talking raw fruits, vegetables and herbs that you cook up fresh, just harvested and full of nutrients. Elliot and I have been attempting to eat less meat, but with the availability of good, local meat to us, it is very difficult. Meat is an excellent source of protein and fat soluble vitamins, but too much is no good for your belly and no good for the planet. I’ve been hearing a lot of people expressing concern of the fat and cholesterol content of meat and eggs and want to remind y’all that there are good and bad kinds of fat. Generally the fat from an animal that has been corn fed and purposely, quickly fattened or forced into unhealthy egg production contains the bad cholesterol that can make you unhealthy. Animals that have had access to pastures or other natural forages and live a more natural, happy life have fat that contains good cholesterol, and all the fat soluble nutrients they ate from the fresh greens and browse. It is all very simple if you consider it. If something is unhealthy, and you eat it, you will get limited benefit from it. We’re finding more and more that it can even make you sick.
Want to be safe from unhealthy, industrial foods? Good meat and eggs from pastured animals in moderation, fresh whole foods everyday, and some physical activity will change your life. There are so many different diets out there that are supposed to cure all ailments and so many new “must have” super foods that trying to be healthy can be somewhat confusing. Anything that advertises the added health benefits on its box is generally compensating for something. Plus, it’s in a box! This fall I challenge all of you to stomp over to a Farmers Market and pick up something you don’t know how to cook. Flutter through a cookbook and choose your own adventure! Give your kids the best back to school present you can muster, Mustards! Or Kale! Nothing helps a growing mind and spirit like a home cooked meal, tasting of love and earth.