Harlow Ridge Farm {Local Farmer Interview}

Happy Labor Day weekend everyone!

Farmer Friday is back again with another interview with a farmer in Hanover County, Virginia. I grew up in Hanover so I’m biased but it is one of the most beautiful places on Earth as far as I’m concerned! It’s the perfect place to visit, live, or even operate a farm. Today we’re talking with Chris Stem of Harlow Ridge Farm in Montpelier which is on the Western side of Hanover.


 

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Catherine: So tell us about your farm and how you got started here.

Chris: My parents bought this property back in 2002 and we started with just two horses. My dad and I rode Western Pleasure. My whole life I had this dream of having a dairy farm. I never thought to myself, “That’s a lot of work!” Even as a kid, I always wanted a farm. We lived in Short Pump and I got a goat. And so I was a farmer in my mind! My parents moved out here before I went to college and I went and got my degree in Large Animal Science and I specialized in Reproduction.

Catherine: Oh that’s awesome! You started with a great foundation for farming. When did you decide to turn your hobby into a business?

Chris: I guess it was a little over a year ago [2015] we had always had ‘fun’ animals and I said that we need to do something that maybe actually can help sustain what we do. Whether it was financially or even just for something locally sourced. So we started with chickens and then I finally got my dairy cow. But she ended up being sterile. So she’s now a pet. Maggie lives with the horses and enjoys herself. We got into the pigs which is kind of our big thing right now. We do some dairy goats, the eggs and a small bit of produce. And that’s what brings us to where we are today.

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Maggie, their dairy cow turned pet due to sterility.

Catherine: Wonderful! So you mostly do pork right now?

Chris: For the most part, everything is pork. We’re going to have beef in the fall. I’ve been really focusing a lot on the hogs, the breeds we want to continue breeding or using for our product. That’s our main thing right now.

Catherine: Are all of the animals on this farm here?

Chris: Everything is here right now, but I have 4 weaned piglets that will be here Friday. My big thing is that I don’t ever want to have something that we can’t manage or that just doesn’t make sense to have. We don’t slaughter any pig unless we have the need for the meat. We don’t stockpile. I try to make it very systematic if I can, but I’m not sure if that always works out.

Catherine: Makes sense! Where can someone buy your products?

Chris: The Manakin Farmer’s Market [Goochland] on Saturday mornings and the Hanover Vegetable Farm. People can also come directly to the farm or we can deliver products. My roommate from college owns Palmyra Farms and they make cheese so we carry their cheeses to sell also. If we have excess produce from our garden we’ll bring it.

Catherine: I love to hear about farmers working together! What do you feed your animals?

Chris: Everyone is free range here. All of our feed is non-GMO, locally ground from Henpecked Farm in Beaverdam.

P1060252Catherine: Why is maintaining organic practices or avoiding GMO’s important to you?

Chris: We’re not certified organic by any means but we keep things non-GMO/all natural/free range/pasture raised because it’s important to us. We do this for health reasons of course but then we also have happy animals. There’s something, I think, to be said about knowing where your food came from, knowing that it’s healthy, knowing that it’s natural, is kind of a cool thing. Especially the free range and pasture raised animals, because they have more space, it’s more economical. I’ve been in the swine, chicken and dairy facilities and they are so commercialized that it takes away from farming. I never thought I’d be this way, I never thought this non-GMO thing would be a big deal. There are a lot of studies that contradict each other and there’s not much information that is solid and says one way or another, but, you never know, one day there could be.

Catherine: I hope one day something comes out more concrete. Because as many studies as I can find against GMO’s, there are just that many for GMO’s out there. Unfortunately.

P1060202Chris: Exactly.

Catherine: So what’s different about Harlow Ridge? Why should someone buy from you?

Chris: You know where your food comes from, you can come out and see how the animals are cared for. We truly offer, in my opinion, a good product. It tastes good, it’s good for you, its locally sourced. We enjoy people coming out to see the farm too. I think there’s a lot of misconception that food comes from a grocery store or milk comes from a container. But it really comes from a farm, that’s where it starts. My mom is a teacher and she brings her class out here every year. So they get to see the animals. Obviously they don’t go into depth about slaughtering but they get to see that this still exists. We pride ourselves on the fact that we only kill what we can sell. We’re going to sell out of it. If we have to wait two or three weeks or a month, we’d rather do that to offer a good product to somebody than to kill, kill, kill and stockpile a product. We let the animals fatten at their own speed. We don’t push them to fatten for the market sooner.

P1060249Catherine: Definitely a tactic that is working well for you guys!

Chris: And we love visitors! We want people to come out. I love going to other farms too. I go to every farm I can locally and buy from them still. Just because I enjoy that. It’s just supporting the community and supporting each other. We all go to Kroger and Whole Foods, I would never say, ‘Don’t go to those,’ but if you can support the local farmers, do so! You get a better product in the end.

Catherine: Absolutely! What is your favorite or most rewarding aspect of farming?

Chris: My favorite is the work. I truly like coming out here. I’ve been in Law Enforcement my entire adult life and it’s really nice to wake up in the morning and do something new. It’s peaceful. I love seeing something that I start growing all the way to the finish and being able to say that this is our product, this is what we can provide you. I think it’s so rewarding to have the community that supports us. It’s been the coolest thing to have people reach out to us and say, ‘Hey we need this, can we get this from you?’ It’s been really neat to know that there really are people that support it. I’m not saying we’re the best or that we’re better than anybody else but people can trust us and we have a really good product. We are a good family who just want to be part of our community.

Catherine: What is your least favorite or most challenging aspect of farming?P1060228

Chris: The most challenging right now is feed prices, the cost of the care of the farm and the animals. And you never know what you’re going to get. We raise a hog up, butcher them, get them back and it’s fattier than we anticipated. That unknown can be a challenge. Not getting the perfect product back at the end can be disappointing but that’s part of this type of work. You just don’t know what you’re going to get. We try to develop and grow what we think is going to be the best. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Catherine: Sounds about right!

Chris: There’s always this idea that there’s no money in farming and that you can’t be successful. That depends on how you measure success and how you measure money.

Catherine: If you could start over, what would you do differently?

Chris: I would design my barn differently and start earlier. I don’t know that there’s a lot I’d want to differently. I have no regrets so far, it’s been really fun!

P1060257Catherine: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start their own homestead or even a farm for profit?

Chris: The biggest thing is; do your research and educate yourself as much as you can before you dive into it. The practical learning of it is the most beneficial but having the base knowledge before getting into it is really good. Really do the research on the animal you want, the breed, feed costs. And there’s this idea that you have to have 100 acres to have a farm. You can have a successful side business or homestead on an acre if you want to. See what you have and figure out what you can successfully sustain on your property, whatever it may be. Also talk to other people who do what you want to do, the ones who have been doing it for years. Most of my ideas are not new! They’ve come from other farmers that I’ve learned from.

Catherine: Sounds like we’re on the right track, which is good to know! Is there anything else you want people to know about Harlow Ridge?

Chris: We just want people to support their local community, their local farmers. So many people still don’t even know that the Farmer’s Market exists. And we love visitors so come visit!

Catherine: Thank you so much for talking with us and sharing all about Harlow Ridge Farm!

Chris: You’re welcome! Thanks for coming out!

 

P1060195Harlow Ridge Farm is located in the heart of Montpelier, Virginia within Hanover County, just North of Richmond. Owner Chris Stem has a unique method of farming that allows for the freshest and best products, specializing in pork. The Richmond Times Dispatch did an article about them in March of 2016, you can check it out HERE. Be sure to follow Harlow Ridge on Facebook for the latest news and go visit them at the farm or at the market!

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for joining us for another Local Farmer Interview and be sure to come back on the first Friday of the month for a new interview! We’re always on the lookout for more local farms to talk with so if you are a farmer or know of one within about 2 hours of the Richmond, Virginia area, please contact me at CatherinePageWood at gmail dot com.

 

Local Farmer Interviews

  1. Pink House Farm – Louisa, Virginia
  2. Dragonfly Farms – Beaverdam, Virginia
  3. delli Carpini Farm – Beaverdam, Virginia
  4. Phantom Hill Farm – Louisa, Virginia
  5. Harlow Ridge Farm – Montpelier, Virginia

 

Till next time,

Catherine

Phantom Hill Farm {Local Farmer Interview}

Welcome back to another Farmer Friday here at Happily Ever Crafter! Today we’re finally debuting Phantom Hill Farm of Louisa, Virginia.

Kathryn and Chris are the young, vibrant couple behind Phantom Hill, bringing some amazing and delicious produce to the Louisa County as well as the City of Charlottesville. Fun fact! Kathryn and I are practically related! Though we didn’t realize it until we started talking. Three of my cousins are also her cousins! You’ve got to love living in a small, rural community! Kathryn, Chris, my husband Brian and myself (Catherine) were all present for the interview.

 

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Catherine: So what made you guys decide to get start farming?

Kathryn: We graduated from Virginia Tech which is where we met and we moved to Washington D.C. and basically just hated city life. We were just on YouTube watching videos and daydreaming of homesteading and then my parents told us that they had land here and we came out and started a little garden. We found out that we were really good at growing salad greens. We just wanted to connect to our food, know where it came from and know that it’s organic.

Chris: We do everything in organic methodology but we can’t be certified organic because of certain technicalities like the compostable plastic mulch, even though it’s made from non-GMO corn. We feel comfortable with it and we feel it’s worth not having to dispose of normal black plastic. We do have the challenge of communication that to our customers and still getting the same price point. We have the same basic costs as any other organic farm, which is substantially higher than conventional. But we’re fortunate enough in the Charlottesville area [where a lot of our products are sold], there’s a lot of knowledge. A lot of people actually do know and do care. So we still get pretty decent pricing there, which is good.

Brian: So you do most of your selling in the Charlottesville area?

Chris: All of our wholesaleP1050657 goes in through Charlottesville.

Kathryn: Right now we’re only selling directly at the Mineral Farmer’s Market.

Chris: We only do the one farmer’s market and we decided not to do the Charlottesville market because we wanted to stay in our local community’s market instead.

Catherine: Who do you wholesale to?

Chris: We wholesale through the Local Food Hub and they’re really great to work with. They’re a nonprofit and through them we’re able to get our greens even into county schools.

Catherine: That’s so great! Public school lunches need every bit of help they can get!

Catherine: Is this your full time job or do you have day jobs as well?

Kathryn: This is full time for us now.

Chris: As of last March [2015] it is full time. We’ve been doing this about three years and last year was the first year that we really tried to make this the only source of income.

Catherine: That’s wonderful!P1050688

Kathryn: We’re really lucky because it’s my parent’s land and so we’re allowed to do whatever we want on this piece so we’re super fortunate for that.

Chris: That’s a huge bonus. We just had to learn, we really had no idea what we were doing in the beginning. To turn it into a business has been a whole new experience. It goes way beyond growing vegetables for fun. And the business side of it. But it’s been awesome.

Catherine: So you grow a lot of lettuce and greens, as well as other produce?

Chris: Lots of baby greens like kale, spinach, lettuce, arugula. We rotate through other vegetable crops as well.

Kathryn: We experiment a lot! We’ll eventually experiment with livestock on a small scale or fruit but we’re not going to dive into it yet.

Chris: We also grow mushrooms!

P1050595Catherine: How do you generally deal with pests?

Chris: Mostly row covers work well. We use an exclusion method first and picking seed from reputable sources. Having good plant genetics is obviously good. Generally having very health plants to begin with helps a lot. And we do a lot of crop rotation.

Kathryn: If it gets to that point, dish soap and water works, diatomaceous earth is also one we use. We don’t use any organic pesticides or anything like that.

Catherine: Yes I love diatomaceous earth!

Brian: How many acres do you have here?

Chris: 64 total but we only farm this one acre so far. It’s a lot just for two people though with the high intensity growing we do and we haven’t even expanded to the full capacity of the acre.

Catherine: You guys grow so much for an area that *seems* so small when you think of just one acre. But you manage it and utilize the space very well. A lot of people think they don’t have enough land or space for a garden but you can make even small spaces work for you!

Chris: I think if you put it in a sense of comparing to a corn or soybean crop, per acre you only have one crop happening per season. Here on our acre we probably are flipping these beds at least four times a year so our small one acre farm is essentially the equivalent of a four acre mixed vegetable farm. We grow literally tons of produce here.

Catherine: Where can customers buy your produce?

Chris: Mineral FP1050604armer’s Market on Saturday mornings, we sell to some local restaurants, we also supply other CSA’s with our produce and we are in our first year of our own CSA. We wholesale to the Local Food Hub which gets our produce into a lot of other places like restaurants and schools that we ordinarily wouldn’t be able to get into.

Catherine: What restaurants use your produce?

Kathryn: Obrigado in Mineral, Tavola and a few others in Charlottesville and others through Food Hub. Meredith’s CSA buys from us as well.

Catherine: Why is it important to you to farm organically and avoid GMO’s?

Chris: Obviously there’s some philosophical debate there, you can’t necessarily say that GMO’s are really all that bad because there’s a lot of scientific evidence through the FDA that they are safe. They go through a lot of testing but I think when it comes down to it at the end of the day, it’s like a Pandora’s Box effect. Once you release that out into nature and these are artificial genes that are now out there, there’s definitely a dilemma there. Health, of course. Having BT [Bacillus thuringiensis], even though it’s a natural thing, preloaded into food that you can’t wash off, is a dilemma there are well.

Kathryn: Plus it’s just wrong to mess with nature like that. We rely on bees and other critters to help us out and then we poison them for the convenience of having a good crop. It’s wrong.

Chris: You can’t really fathom the amount of damage you’re doing to the soil-food web. There’s all these microorganisms and everything that follows that. Soil is this amazing Mecca of life, there’s more life in the soil than above it. There’s inadvertent damage going on.

P1050644Kathryn: It can happen quickly too. You put one bad application of something on your soil and you destroy all that’s taken years to build. The soil does so much for us, transferring nutrients and water and so much life. We have so many mushrooms that pop up and when we transplant we see lots of earthworms everywhere. It’s really cool!

Catherine: I always love finding lots of worms! It’s reassuring to see them and know that the soil is healthy.

Chris: I think it ultimately comes down to a respect of nature. Agriculture is where civilization and the wild collide.

Catherine: What would you say is your favorite or most rewarding aspect of farming?

Chris: My favorite? That’s so hard! It would have to be a combination of working for ourselves and getting to be outdoors as a job. I think there are so many different facets of farming and agriculture beyond just planting. I’ve had to learn about so many different fields of science so it’s never boring.

Kathryn: I think the plants themselves, watching them from seed up to harvest is so rewarding. We plant everything by hand so knowing we’ve touched each one and helped it grow is amazing.

Chris: I would also say when our customers are really happy and they compliment us on our produce, it’s really rewarding. And of course harvesting. Harvesting is my favorite part! Picking stuff is fun!P1050603

Catherine: I would have to agree!

Catherine: Conversely, what is your least favorite or most challenging aspect of farming?

Kathryn: When you do all that you can, and it’s not enough.

Chris: The unpredictable fluctuations that affect your life in a very personal way. You don’t necessarily get to clock out and go home after a bad day and still get a paycheck. When we have our bad day at work, we’re not getting a paycheck. That can obviously be pretty stressful. We’ve learned to have multiple back up plans.

Catherine: If you could start over, what would you do differently?

Chris: I would probably have started with more money in the bank and spent it better. Though I don’t think that’s possible so I’d just do what we’re doing now because we learned from all those bad investments.

Kathryn: Focus on really high profit crops. More mushrooms and of course the salad greens.

P1050654Chris: Probably planted a lot more perennial crops right away. And build more high tunnels.

Catherine: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start their own farm?

Kathryn: Start with perennials that will definitely make you money. Grow low maintenance, easy crops as well. And read the book called The Lean Farm.

Chris: Don’t go too big too fast. Don’t skimp on building your soil either. Maintain a lot of good record keeping. And sometimes you have to put the book down and just go out there and do it.

Kathryn: Be resilient!

Catherine: Is there anything else you’d want readers and potential customers to know?

Kathryn: In case it hasn’t been obvious, we love what we do. We love waking up and this is what we think about. We go to bed thinking about it! We can’t ever get away from it because we live here but we really love it and we want people to know that. Our heart and soul is completely invested in this.

P1050694Chris: We strive to produce really high quality produce, we don’t want to put out low quality because we work so hard for it.

Catherine: That’s so great to hear! It’s been so fun talking with you guys! Thank you so much for showing us your farm and letting us interview you!

Chris and Kathryn: You’re welcome!



 

P1050674 Phantom Hill Farm is located in Louisa, Virginia on 64 acres, one of which they farm intensively with a passion and expertise for lettuces and greens. Chris and Kathryn put their all into what they do and it shows! Be sure to check them out at the Mineral Farmers Market and follow them on Facebook! You can also check out their website to learn more!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for joining us for another Local Farmer Interview and come back on the first Friday of the month for a new interview! And we’re always looking for more local farms to talk with so if you are a farmer or know of one within about 2 hours of the Richmond, Virginia area, please contact me at CatherinePageWood at gmail dot com.

 

Local Farmer Interviews

  1. Pink House Farm – Louisa, Virginia
  2. Dragonfly Farms – Beaverdam, Virginia
  3. delli Carpini Farm – Beaverdam, Virginia
  4. Phantom Hill Farm – Louisa, Virginia
  5. Harlow Ridge Farm – Montpelier, Virginia

 

Till next time,

Catherine

delli Carpini Farm {Local Farmer Interview}

Now for the third installment of our Local Farmer Interview series! I can’t stress enough how much fun this has been to talk with and learn from these amazing local farmers!

Today we hear from Dominic Carpin, the owner and farmer behind delli Carpini Farm in rural Beaverdam, Virginia. Dominic, myself (Catherine), my husband Brian, and Dominc’s farm dog Meatball were all present for the interview. The interview was in early Spring and we had just gotten a late frost for our area. The farm is in full swing now!

 


 

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Catherine: To start us off, where did the name delli Carpini come from?

Dominic: I did some family research and found out that it is my original Italian surname. When my relatives came to America through Ellis Island, they had their name stripped from delli Carpini to simply Carpin.

Catherine: That’s such a cool story! A shame that they changed your family name though. Did you have a background in farming?

Dominic: Well I have been farming on some level since I was in my twenties. When I was young and my band all lived together in Oregon Hill I had a huge garden. That’s where it started. In my thirties it just made sense as a tie in with my landscape business. I was living on two and a half acres selling to places like Good Foods Grocery and this other little store on Cary Street.

Catherine: What made you decide to start this farm?

Dominic: I was an organic farmer in my 30’s, just on a half acre and I did it for a while but then got out of it. I got my third layoff in 8 years from Capital One which is what made me decide to get back into it. I’m an empty nester and knew I didn’t want to go back to that [corporate] world and figured I’d follow my bliss thing instead.

Catherine: How long have you been farming as a business?

Dominic: It will be two years in May.

delli Carpini Farm in Beaverdam, Virginia | Happily Ever Crafter - Local Farmer Interview

What a real farm looks like. Not perfect but full of healthy soil, beneficial plants and insects and without harmful chemicals killing everything in site.

Catherine: How long have you been farming on this property here?

Dominic: Since May of last year [2015].

Catherine: So you’re still in the beginning, experimental phase, which is good!

Brian: I was going to say, I love how you talk about it as this massive experiment.

Dominic: It is one of the things I like the most about it, the experimentation. When I started, I was a wide, raised bed person.

Catherine: They have their benefits too!

Dominic: What I found was that I couldn’t manage it on a scale large enough to make money. I started off with only 1500sqft in Goochland. Then a buddy gave me a half acre in Montpelier. I couldn’t manage the wide, raised beds. There was too much hand weeding required. I was trying to do mass planting on a triangular matrix like I used to do. I was intercropping in a matrix. It got so out of hand that I couldn’t handle it. Then this old farmer down in Beaverdam said to me that the only tractor you’ll ever need is a Farmall Super A. And I bought that so now I’m an old fashioned row cropper, because I’ve got so much land.

Catherine: What’s your farming process?

Dominic: I plant by the phases of the moon. The theory is that by doing certain things on certain days, I’ll have more success. It even affects weeds and pests’ life cycle.

Catherine: That answers my question about how you control weeds and pests!

Yarrow is a perennial flowering plant that attracts beneficial insects on delli Carpini Farm in Beaverdam, Virginia | Happily Ever Crafter - Local Farmer Interview

Yarrow is a perennial flowering plant that attracts beneficial insects.

Dominic: Well that’s one way, I also do farmscaping with the beneficial insect plants. I even do companion planting. For example, if you plant carrots with onions, the carrot rust flies and black onion flies get thrown off. It’s all organic here. I don’t use any spays. The farmscaping is dotting around these beneficials [plants] to encourage the insects to come in and have an ecosystem. I also rotate my crops from Legume to Leaf to Root then Fruit. I’m not no-till but I consider it low-till. I disced it in the fall, I put the cover crop in and then I try to get by with cultivating it with the tractor and not using a disc or a plow. I think it’s going to work but it’s going to take a few passes.

Dominic: I’m going to try to do more restaurant accounts this year. I have five currently. I’m doing a small CSA as well.

Catherine: So you have the CSA that you’re keeping small, farmers markets and five restaurant accounts? What are the markets and restaurants where people can buy your produce?

Dominic: Ashland Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, Goochland Fairgrounds on Tuesday’s and the Montpelier Center [For Arts and Education] on Thursday’s are the Markets. The restaurants are the Iron Horse Restaurant and the Caboose Wine and Cheese in Ashland and then Dinamo and Northside Grille in Richmond. Recently the Blonde Butcher Baker in Goochland began featuring my produce too!

Catherine: You definitely have your plate full, but that’s good!

Checking on the French heirloom black turnip Noir du Pardilhain on delli Carpini Farm. | Happily Ever Crafter - Local Farmer Interview

Checking on the French heirloom black turnip Noir du Pardilhain.

Dominic: Harvest is the only thing that gets me, labor-wise so I will probably get some help with that. If you time it right, everything isn’t all coming it at once.

Catherine: That’s one thing I haven’t learned quite yet, timing everything well.

Dominic: I use an Excel spreadsheet and I have formulas built in to calculate harvest dates and all.

Catherine: That’s pretty impressive! Very technical. So you’ve shown us an experimental no-till area, and I see a few piles of manure, is that your primary method of fertilizing?

Dominic: I have alpaca manure that I get from Sandy Hook, I also get chicken litter from a Russian chicken farmer in Bumpass. I will side dress it, top dress it or broadcast it onto my fields before I cultivate. It just depends. I also buy rock powders, blood meal, green sand, rock phosphate, and ash.

Catherine: Why is it important to you to maintain organic practices and only use non-GMO, heirloom varieties?

Hungarian Pink Winter Lettuce and a farmer's boots at delli Carpini Farm in Beaverdam, Virginia | Happily Ever Crafter - Local Farmer Interview

Hungarian Pink Winter Lettuce and a farmer’s boots.

Dominic: Well, one concern about the GMOs is that it will eventually make its way into the heirloom genetic structure and then it will ruin everything. The other thing is that I think it’s really bizarre that they put animal genes in vegetables. It’s proven through history that when you tamper with nature like that, it causes trouble. Who knows what the repercussions could be. They’re starting to think that GMO grains are what are causing the gluten issues. When a company like Monsanto owns the seed supply, they’re all patented and you can’t save their seeds. You’re basically married to them and have to buy their seed.

Catherine: It’s awful!

Dominic: There are also indications that it’s affecting the bee population and I don’t like the idea of food crops being resistant to RoundUp so they can be sprayed with it. I don’t like RoundUp, I don’t think it’s as safe as everyone thinks it is. All in all this stuff can be pretty scary.

Catherine: I agree!

Trays upon trays of starts getting ready for planting in the field at delli Carpini Farm in Beaverdam, Virginia | Happily Ever Crafter - Local Farmer Interview

Trays upon trays of starts getting ready for planting in the field.

Dominic: Someone once told me that seed saving is a waste of time because it’s a minimal expense but I don’t agree.

Catherine: I think you’re right!

Dominic: I can do select varieties of all the heirlooms since that’s what I use. I think heirlooms have really incredible flavor. I think they compete well overall and they’re proven.

Catherine: What is your favorite or most rewarding part of farming?

Dominic: My favorite, well, that’s tough, but I think probably the satisfaction of the passion of my customers. They’re really passionate about clean food. When I bring in something in that maybe no one else is growing and they get really excited about it and everyone wants it, and I know that it’s about as pure and clean as a food can be, that’s probably one of the biggest things. And also the fact that I get to be outside in nature all the time is a big part of it. You can see it, the view here is so inspirational.

Catherine: You can get much better than that! You can look around and see all your hard work coming to fruition.

Dominic: When seedlings start to pop up, the rows fill out and when the fruit begins to form, it’s great!

Catherine: I love that too, it’s so amazing to watch plants grow from tiny seeds into something that is going to feed us myself, my family and even the community.

Meatball the farm dog is affectionate but is a formidable predator for farm pests on delli Carpini Farm. | Happily Ever Crafter - Local Farmer Interview

Meatball the farm dog is affectionate but is a formidable predator for farm pests.

Dominic: I’ve got to give Meatball some credit too, he is the most amazing farm dog. He’s killed a couple of groundhogs. He had a bad encounter with a skunk but he showed it who’s boss. But he patrols this place like crazy. I give him credit for keeping the deer out of here too. He’ll even try to herd those cattle over there too.

Catherine: What is your least favorite or most challenging aspect of farming?

Dominic: I would say it’s the harvesting of certain things, it can be so tedious, like beans. I would say, sometimes the planting, like onions.

Catherine: If you could start over, what would you do differently?

Dominic: I probably would have planting more of a smaller variety and I would have gotten a tractor to do row cropping sooner. For me, row cropping is the way to go.

Catherine: What advice would you give to somebody who wanted to start their own farm? Whether as a business or a homestead.

Over-wintered garlic shooting up. | Happily Ever Crafter - Local Farmer Interview

Over-wintered garlic shooting up.

Dominic: You should always have a market for any crop that you want to grow before you plant it. Securing your markets is really important. I would say, start off small. The other thing is that you’ve got to figure our as much economy of effort as possible. I’ve slowly but surely refined my production system, but it’s taken me two years, and I’m still working on it. I keep an inventory of my seed inventory which saved me a lot of money in the spring. Seed-saving is also pretty smart. I’d also say, don’t be afraid to use equipment if you can.

Catherine: Is there anything else we didn’t cover that you want people to know about your farm?

Dominic: I focus on Italian and French heirlooms. I also do Eastern European, Asian, Meso-American and Mexican heirlooms and of course American heirlooms. A lot of people don’t do that. We just need your support as much as possible. Support your local farmer!

Catherine: I agree 100%! Thank you so much for talking with us and sharing all about your experiences and about delli Carpini!

Dominic: You’re welcome! It’s been fun!

P1050578-crop

Be sure to go visit delli Carpini Farm on Facebook and follow him on Instagram to see the beautiful variety of heirloom produce that Dominc grows on his farm! Dominic is passionate about what he does and he is committed to growing heirloom crops as safely as possible and bringing the freshest, tastiest produce to you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local Farmer Interviews

  1. Pink House Farm – Louisa, Virginia
  2. Dragonfly Farms – Beaverdam, Virginia
  3. delli Carpini Farm – Beaverdam, Virginia
  4. Phantom Hill Farm – Louisa, Virginia

 

If you own a farm or know of any farms within about 2 hours of Richmond, Virginia, I’d love to hear new suggestions for local farmers to interview! You can contact me by email via CatherinePageWood at gmail dot com.

Till next time,

Catherine

Dragonfly Farms {Local Farmer Interview}

Today marks the second local farmer interview in this new series! If you’d like to read the first interview with Pink House Farm, click HERE.

This second interview was with Bruce and Dr. Katherine Johnson of Dragonfly Farms in Beaverdam, Virginia. Katherine is a local equine veterinarian and she keeps a close eye on the health of the farm. For those of you unfamiliar with my blog, my name is Catherine and my husband is Brian. All four of us are included in this interview. Enjoy!

 

Bruce Johnson of Dragonfly Farms in Beaverdam, Virginia | Happily Ever Crafter - Local Farmer Interview

Bruce showing us around the greenhouse.

Katherine Johnson of Dragonfly Farms in Beaverdam, Virginia | Happily Ever Crafter - Local Farmer Interview

Bruce’s lovely wife, Katherine with a young goat buck.

Catherine: So tell us about the farm and what you guys do here.

Bruce: My wife and I bought this farm, it’s 54 acres, in 2007. She is a horse vet so we knew we wanted to board horses. I came from a landscape and nursery background. So I thought I’d either start a greenhouse or nursery, something like that. Those were sort of our original plans. I had an interest in grasslands and cattle but didn’t have any cattle experience. This was a 100 year old beef farm when we bought it. We bought it directly from the owners and then did a side deal and bought some cattle from him.

Catherine: Were they the same breed you have now?

Bruce: Yes, they were the Belted Galloways. I had wanted to do grass-fed beef and had been looking at different breeds, and that was one of them.

Belted Galloway heifer of Dragonfly Farms in Louisa, Virginia | Happily Ever Crafter - Farmer Interview

Belted Galloway heifer relaxing in the grass.

Catherine: That worked out well!

Bruce: Yeah! So we had cattle here and there was a lot of barbed wire, just a regular cattle farm. We started taking down the barbed wire and putting up board fencing and boarding horses. We probably had 6 or 8 cows here as the herd grew, then calves and a bull. As the horse boarding grew I knew we’d need to find more land for the cattle. I was reading about things and learning that leasing land is pretty affordable. It’s been a challenge to find good land to rent with a secure lease. We’ve lost key properties to corn.

Catherine: Was it more profitable for the landowners?

Bruce: Yes. One guy was renting me his 20 acres of grass but then the price of corn skyrocketed and so he killed the grass and turned it to corn. So it’s been a challenge to find good land to rent.

Catherine: How many cows do you have now?

Bruce: We have a little over a hundred now, including cows and calves.

Steer 80C at Dragonfly Farms in Beaverdam, Virginia | Happily Ever Crafter - Local Farmer Interview

A Black Angus yearling in the sunset.

Catherine: And that’s after starting with what, seven or eight?

Bruce: Just four! We started with just the four. We rent 400 acres total on four different farms. One of the farms is where we keep our sheep and goats. They’ll be lambing this Spring. We also have some cows set for Spring calving. The Fall calving herd is in Louisa. We breed the cows, wean the calves then raise them as yearlings and graze them up until between 20 and 30 months, depending on the animal.

Catherine: That’s a lot longer than commercial operations, right?

Bruce: Yes, they can be going to slaughter at 16 months. Some people don’t properly finish the animal and may take the grass fed beef to the butcher too soon and then it’s not very good, the steaks won’t be marbled. We go almost twice as long with ours. We’re doing some Angus/Belted Galloway crosses and some purebred Angus as well.

Catherine: What are the benefits of raising the Belties as opposed to other breeds?

Belted Galloway, Black Angus and crosses mingle and munch on the lush grasses at Dragonfly Farms in Louisa, Virginia | Happily Ever Crafter - Farmer Interview

Belted Galloway, Black Angus and crosses mingle and munch on the lush grasses.

Bruce: They’re good mothers, they don’t have a lot of birthing problems. They’re hardy and keep their weight well even on mediocre forage. So they’re easy keepers, which is real important. But of course there are always better animals within the breed so genetics plays a big roll.

Catherine: I think that’s one thing a lot of people don’t realize is that there is so much more than just buying some cows, putting them in a field, letting them eat and then butchering them. There is so much more to it. A responsible farmer like you is focusing on genetics.

Bruce: There are a lot of different things going on. The soil, the pasture, the grasses, the timing. There are a lot of different styles of grazing cattle with different names like Management Intensive Grazing or MOB grazing. Our style is a planned, managed, grazing style. A lot of times I’ll move the cattle every day. It just depends on the time of year, amount of cattle, what the farm and land is doing

Dragonfly Farms in Beaverdam, Virginia is a beautiful, serene place for lay up and retirement boarding | Happily Ever Crafter - Local Farmer Interview

A few of the horses being boarded at Dragonfly Farms enjoying the sunshine in the pasture across from a beautiful pond.

Catherine: What animals do you have here on this property?

Bruce: Mostly horses but also donkeys.

Catherine: So this is the boarding facility with the retirement and lay-up boarding as well?

Bruce: Yes.

Catherine: You also have goats and lambs on another property? How did you get started with them?

Katherine: We started with a fainting goat herd for fun, just pets. They were the hardiest creatures, just so tough. Since then we’ve gotten more meat breeds like Boer and Kiko and crossed them with a Fainting goat buck, but the meat breeds are just terrible mothers and seem to be really parasite ridden. So we’ll go back to anything we purchase being Fainting.

Catherine: That’s a shame that they ended up being more work than it was worth for you guys.

Momma and brand new baby at Dragonfly Farms in Beaverdam, Virginia | Happily Ever Crafter

Momma and brand new baby

Katherine: Yeah, it is more work. The sheep are funny though, it’s like they look for a way to die. Bruce said that he wanted to get into sheep and I told him, “I want no part of that.” He went and bought some and brought them home and unloaded them and one of them ran head first into our fence post and knocked itself unconscious!

(All of us laughed at this point!)

Catherine: What in the world?

Katherine: I thought it had killed itself!

Catherine: How many lambs and goats do you have?

Katherine: We have 50 ewes to lamb. We did AI (Artificial Insemination) the more adult ewes with St. Croix semen from Virginia State as part of a research project. We expected those lambs to be kind of small because the St. Croix breed is a little bit small. But they’re huge! They came out big! They look great.

Catherine: Well that sounds like it will work out better for you guys if they’re bigger.

Katherine: Our sheep are being great moms, we have 37 on the ground and two bottle babies at home which isn’t too bad for that ratio. (Fun fact: She gained two more bottle baby goats during the interview! Momma wasn’t coming to claim them and they had been left all alone.)

Catherine: Will you be able to put the bottle babies back out with the herd or will they go on to be someone’s pets?

Katherine: In years past they’ve gone on to be pets.

Catherine: Have you found there’s a decent demand for lamb meat?

Lambs resting at Dragonfly Farms in Beaverdam, Virginia | Happily Ever Crafter

Sweet little lambs.

Katherine: Yeah! We butcher in late November, we get it back two weeks later and we’re sold out by the end of December.

Catherine: Wow!

Katherine: Most of it is pre-sold. This year is the first year we let people buy live lambs. We take it to the butcher and they can have it cut however they wanted.

Catherine: Where can people go to buy your plants, produce and meat?

Bruce: The Ashland Farmers Market, Ashland Feed Store, Montpelier Feed and Seed and another store in Louisa called For the Love of Local.

Brian: Have you done farm work in the past?

Bruce: No, I always did outdoor work, though. My first work was greenhouse work and then I worked for a couple of nurseries, then I did landscaping. I worked for myself for years doing landscape instillations.

Catherine: So I guess when you found this place it just seemed natural to get into farming.

Bruce: Yeah, I really liked landscaping but I was burnt out on being a contractor and finding the next job and taking care of all of those details. It’s a challenge to stay busy.

Catherine: What would you say is your favorite or most rewarding aspect of farming?

Bruce: Absolutely being outdoors, being in touch with what’s going on, the seasons and the weather. Working with the animals too. And of course the good food, providing good food for people in the community is important. Doing things right that we feel is helping the earth. Personally, just being outside and being in the dirt.

Catherine: I agree! Some days I can’t get out into the garden fast enough!

Bruce: I think something else I really enjoy about the work are the challenges. I like problem solving and learning. There’s no instruction manual or set way that you need to do this. So I can figure out what grass to grow, where to move the cattle, where to put the water and how to set up the fences and then when everything breaks then I can figure out how to put it back together!

Sheep herd grazing in the sun in beautiful Beaverdam, Virginia at Dragonfly Farms | Happily Ever Crafter

The sheep herd

Catherine: Yeah it’s not ‘if’ it breaks but ‘when’ it breaks!

Bruce: Yup! I like keeping my brain working. I didn’t grow up with cattle. I grew up in the City of Richmond and then lived in Ashland when I was in high school. No cattle in that upbringing! I’ve enjoyed learning a lot, going to a lot of workshops, reading and just trying to pay attention to what’s going on and learn a lot that way.

Katherine: I think for me, it’s just the lifestyle. Working inside would suck my soul! I love to be outside and I like being able to have my kids with me for a lot of what I’m doing. I like to feed them good food that I know is really safe that we’ve produced. I feel really fulfilled when I can put a whole meal on the table that came from the farm.

Catherine: On the opposite end of that question, what would you say is your least favorite or most challenging aspect of farming?

Brian: Well he already said he liked problem solving so the most challenging might actually be fun for him!

Bruce: In some ways, yes. There’s definitely the issue of raising animals to kill for food but I’ve come to peace with that. I can take the cattle to the butcher and I’m comfortable knowing we’re doing the right thing. The finances are a part of it that’s not really talked about in this line of business. It’s hard! Even with $7/lb ground beef and $22/lb filets, we don’t make a lot of money per steer. Compared to all of the other costs that are in it. The greenhouse work has a few thousand dollars in it with the seeds, the soil, the trays. I’ll get all that back this spring and it should be a little bit more. But if I really say, ‘How much am I paying myself?’ If I sat inside and did something else and paid someone $10, $12, $15 an hour to do this, which is what they sure should make, would we sell enough plants to cover our costs, their salary and would I have any money left over? It’s doable. I’m not an accountant or an economist but making the numbers work is definitely a challenge.

Little sprouts growing in the Dragonfly Farms greenhouse in Beaverdam, Virginia | Happily Ever Crafter - Local Farmer Interview

Some of the many sprouts growing in the greenhouse.

Catherine: It’s definitely a lot! There’s so much to factor in and it’s not as simple and quantifiable as a 9-to-5 desk job. Farm work is all day, every day!

Bruce: Exactly. And I don’t want to sound doom-or-gloom about it because we do make some money and we are paying our bills but it’s a challenge. I think a lot of people want to get into the business of small, non-conventional farming, again it’s doable, but it’s tough.

Katherine: I think the most challenging is finding enough land to do what we want, it seems like that shouldn’t be a limitation. And the financial aspect. Physically taking care of the financial aspect is my least favorite! Being able to be big enough that we can support ourselves is a full time job and it should be able to pay like a full time job it feels like because we work hard and do a good job at it. But, it seems like the small farm that everyone wants is not profitable. You have to be at least a medium sized farm. We’re making it work by adding more things. So we’re going to do goat and lamb, grow microgreens, and board horses.

Catherine: That’s something I think about too. My degree is in Business Management and so I try to think ahead and plan as best as I can. We’d love to have a farm one day but we planned to start small and support ourselves first, then expand to support our families and then as we find our niche in farming, we can turn it into a business. Hopefully if we go about it that way, we don’t get in over our heads. We’ll see!

Interview in the greenhouse of Dragonfly Farms in Beaverdam, Virginia | Happily Ever Crafter - Local Farmer Interview

Bruce and I during the interview. It was cold outside but warm inside the greenhouse!

Catherine: What sets Dragonfly Farms apart from other farms? Why should someone choose your products over another?

Bruce: One thing is that it is local. Local is a worthwhile thing to promote. It’s not California beef or Georgia beef or even Mexican beef and it’s grass fed. You don’t have the freight of hauling the beef either. We’re helping the environment right here, where we raise it. The beef is local flavors. Terroir is the word for ‘local flavor.’ Wine people talk about which valley a wine came from, and it’s the same thing here.

Catherine: What else would you want someone to know if they just drove down the road and saw your sign, not knowing what you do? Is there anything else you’d want to add? Although we’ve covered most everything since we’ve been talking for almost two hours!

Lots of beautiful sprouts popping up in Dragonfly Farms greenhouse in Beaverdam, Virginia | Happily Ever Crafter - Local Farmer Interview

Sprouts coming up!

Bruce: Well, we’re honest and open and aim for quality. We price it as fair for the customer and for ourselves as we can. To me that’s all normal business stuff, it should be that way!

Katherine: We have an open-door policy here, people can come any time and see how the animals are treated. Everybody is always really impressed. I’ve never had anyone leave and say, “No, we’re not going to get our beef from you.” Everyone always decides it’s a good thing to do.

Catherine: Absolutely!

Bruce: I think we’re doing a good thing, else I wouldn’t be doing it!

Catherine: Well, that sums up my questions for you, thank you so much for talking with us and sharing about your farm!

Bruce: You’re welcome!

 

Dragonfly Farms - Beaverdam, Virginia | Happily Ever CrafterYou can learn more about Dragonfly Farms from their website but also be sure to go ‘Like’ their Facebook page and ‘Follow’ their awesome Instagram profile! We loved talking with Bruce and Katherine, learning from their experiences, hearing about their operation and of course seeing the little lambs! If you’re in the market for grass fed beef or lamb, definitely go check them out. They also have retirement and layup boarding for horses and grow plant seedlings for sale in the Spring. You’ll know when your shop their products, you’re getting something that has been grown or raised with care, ethically processed and is supporting the local economy.

Local Farmer Interviews

  1. Pink House Farm – Louisa, Virginia
  2. Dragonfly Farms – Beaverdam, Virginia
  3. delli Carpini Farm – Beaverdam, Virginia
  4. Phantom Hill Farm – Louisa, Virginia

 

If you own a farm or know of any farms within about 2 hours of Richmond, Virginia, I’d love to hear new suggestions for local farmers to interview! You can contact me by email via CatherinePageWood at gmail dot com.

Till next time,

Catherine

MetalRacks Essential Oil Racks {Review + GIVEAWAY! (closed) }

 

Amazing essential oil storage! Metal Essential Oil Racks {Review + GIVEAWAY!} | Happily Ever Crafter

 

How do you organize your essential oils? Mine just sat on top of a shelf that used to be in the bathroom but in our new house (with a tiny master bathroom) is on the same shelf on the dresser in our bedroom. There are multiple problems with that shelf. One being that it’s not level so as we walk back and forth in front of the dresser, the oil bottles slowly, gently shake, rattle, and roll towards the center which leads to them bumping into each other making little clanking sounds that can be annoying. Another issue is that they’re not hiding from the sunlight. The best place for your essential oils is in a cool, dark place. Inside of a cabinet is usually perfect.

I had seen plenty of different oil storage solutions but none of them fit my picky conditions of being pretty, unobtrusive, easy to use and functional. Not to mention affordable! Have you priced oil storage solutions lately? Sheesh! But just recently I found out from a friend about a local couple who makes these awesome metal storage racks! They only live about two hours from me which I think is so cool! These racks are really great!

 

Amazing essential oil storage! Metal Essential Oil Racks {Review + GIVEAWAY!} | Happily Ever Crafter

 

The taller one in the back fits 12 roller-ball bottles, the middle one holds 8 -15ml bottles and the bottom one holds 10 -5ml bottles.

 

Amazing essential oil storage! Metal Essential Oil Racks {Review + GIVEAWAY!} | Happily Ever Crafter

 

These babies are sleek and stylish and they even include hardware to mount them!

 

Amazing essential oil storage! Metal Essential Oil Racks {Review + GIVEAWAY!} | Happily Ever Crafter

 

We chose to mount our racks in a kitchen cabinet where we store our supplements, teas and other similar items. We spaced the top one so high because we thought it would bump the shelf but it turns out it would’ve been fine. Live and learn!

 

Amazing essential oil storage! Metal Essential Oil Racks {Review + GIVEAWAY!} | Happily Ever Crafter

 

Check this out…not only is the storage great for having your oils laid out, but you can see every label! No more picking each one up individually to read the label!

 

Amazing essential oil storage! Metal Essential Oil Racks {Review + GIVEAWAY!} | Happily Ever Crafter

Looks like I need to invest in more roller bottles!

 

I seriously love these racks. They are sleek, functional, pretty, and affordable! This is the first real option I’ve found for adequately storing my oils. Not to mention, they’re a local, small business! What’s not to love here?

 

Amazing essential oil storage! Metal Essential Oil Racks {Review + GIVEAWAY!} | Happily Ever Crafter

 

Peaceful Creek Farm creates these unique metal racks in their shop in beautiful Staunton, Virginia. You can order your own racks from their Etsy page, MetalRacks. They have other styles and even some in white so definitely go check them out! Their prices are fabulous too.

 

Amazing essential oil storage! Metal Essential Oil Racks {Review + GIVEAWAY!} | Happily Ever Crafter

Don’t judge me.

 

Now that my essential oils are organized…I supposed I should work on the rest of this cabinet! Yikes. I’m such an organized person so this cabinet drives me crazy. My food photography props are stacked a little precariously and my supplements are out of control! Thanks to ShiftCon organic blogger conference sponsors for most of those teas and supplements!
Fellow crunchy friends, no worries on that Lipton box…I just use it as storage! 😉

If you want to know more about MetalRacks, visit them on Facebook or their Etsy page!

 

Now, how about a chance to WIN your very own MetalRacks?? Check out the Rafflecopter widget below and best of luck!! We’re giving away TWO single row MetalRacks (like in the pictures above) -OR- their NEW Desktop Oil Stand (like the one below)!

UPDATE: The giveaway is now closed and our winner was Shannon W.! Thank you so much to everyone who entered!

36
a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you’d like to enhance your life with essential oils, I’d love to talk with you about it! You can e-mail me directly at CatherinePageWood at gmail dot com or if you’re ready to buy some of your very own high quality essential oils, click HERE!

 

Till next time,

Catherine

 

Disclaimer: I was provided a set of MetalRacks to review but this post is 100% of my honest opinions on the products. Honesty and Integrity are very important to me. 

101 Easy Homemade Products {Book review + GIVEAWAY! (Closed)}

Spring is officially here and the flowers are blooming outside! It’s the perfect time to order your copy of Jan Berry’s brand-spankin’ new book, 101 Easy Homemade Products for your Skin, Health and Home! If you don’t know already, Jan Berry is the beautiful and talented Nerdy Farm Wife!

 

101 Easy Homemade Products for your Skin, Health and Home by Jan Berry - released March 29, 2016

101 Easy Homemade Products

 

Her new book is chock full of amazing recipes that are easy enough that anyone can make them. The recipes all involve ingredients that are straight from nature and generally accessible in your local area. Did you know that dandelions are not the horrendous weed that everyone makes them out to be? Instead it is a powerful herb that can be used in so many different things from teas to toners!

 

Daisy Vanilla Lip Balm from 101 Easy Homemade Products by Jan Berry

Daisy Vanilla Lip Balm

 

Whether you grow your own garden full of herbs, you enjoy foraging for wild herbs or you’d rather just order from an online source, the recipes in this book are so valuable and can help you do everything from clean your house to easing painful muscles. All from nature!

Most of the herbs and flowers she has in the book are very common such as lavender, thyme, daisy and rose but she also uses some that have expanded my herb and flower knowledge like hollyhock and dianthus. Did you know you can use peonies, sunflowers and even pine needles for scrubs, lotions, hair treatments and cleaners? I do now!

 

Orange Pine Floor Cleaner from 101 Easy Homemade Products by Jan Berry

Orange Pine Floor Cleaner

 

The book officially launches on March 29th, 2016 and you can order the paperback version or the Kindle version from Amazon. You can also find it at Barnes & Nobles, Book-a-million and wherever books are sold.

If you want WIN your very own copy, enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below! There are multiple chances to win. Good luck!

UPDATE April 5, 2016: Congratulations to TRACI B. for winning her very own copy of the book!!! Thanks again to everyone who entered! The book is available for purchase at all major book retailers and online so go get your copy today!

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Jan was generous enough to gift a copy of her book to me for review but everything in this post is my own opinion and the 100% God’s honest truth! There’s no room for liars around here! This post also contains affiliate links that help support this blog but don’t cost you anything extra on your purchase.

 

Till next time,

Catherine

Pink House Farm {Local Farmer Interview}

Today I wanted to debut a wonderful new series that has been a joy and labor of love (have you ever transcribed audio? Whew!) for me. I had this idea for doing interviews with local farmers in my community and when I shared the idea with my husband, he was on board, encouraging me all the way. Together we work on these interviews to share with you, my beautiful readers and our amazing community.

The inaugural interview was with Clyde and Sue Harkrader of Pink House Farm in Louisa, Virginia and they were a delight to speak with! They are a sweet, knowledgeable and wise couple. I could go on but I will let them speak for themselves!

For anyone who does not know, my name is Catherine and my husband is Brian. The interview includes both of us and the Harkrader’s.

Clyde and Sue Harkrader of Pink House Farm in Louisa, Virginia

Clyde and Sue Harkrader of Pink House Farm in Louisa, Virginia

Catherine: So, tell us a little about Pink House Farm!

Clyde: Well, this is my grandparents’ place, and we moved here when they died in the 90’s and we weren’t farming it really direct to consumer. I actually started doing barbecue for people, parties, things like that. Then I decided, hey, I’m doing enough of them, maybe I should start raising my own pigs. So we started with pigs and then we realized there was a market for the pigs and the pork as well. And this was about the time when farmers markets and direct sales had started to catch on so we got involved with that. We started with pigs and then included the chickens and just this past year we really started with vegetables and beef too. The beef cattle graze on the back acreage, we have a total of 450 acres. We’re producing for the farmers markets, we sell to a couple of restaurants and a grocery store and then we have people come here to the farm and buy from us. We have what we call our “Farm Share.” It’s sort of like a membership, you pay a fee and join and once you join, you can come every week and shop from what we have. There’s no maximum or minimum, it’s just like walking into a country grocery store. Everything we have is naturally, locally produced and fresh. Either we produce it or it’s from another small farmer. I work with other small farmers around if I know that they’re doing a really good job raising something then we’ll buy it and sell it for them.

Catherine: Oh wow, that’s a really good idea! Then you don’t have to grow all the varieties and every type of produce or meat.

Clyde: One thing I’ve realized is that you really can’t do everything. At least you can’t do everything well, every time. Sometimes your tomatoes aren’t going to do well, but someone else’s did. Your cucumbers maybe got bugs in them and someone else’s didn’t. As long as I know that they’re growing naturally, organically. And that helps them out too because some of them are really too small to do what we’re doing. We’re on a micro scale but some folks are not big enough to do that but they do a really good job growing a particular thing.

Catherine: I think that’s how things should be done these days. Move away from the grocery store. I mean really, to know who your farmer is and where your food came from and kind of eliminate the grocery store as the middle-man.

Clyde: The biggest difficulty is distribution it seems to me with the small farm. You drive all the way out here, and you get pork chops, then you drive 10 miles the other way and get beef, and somewhere else for vegetables. It’s hard to have time to do all that, even if you really want to. So what we’re trying to do is make it so that you can come here and really buy all your groceries, as long as you’re willing to eat local and seasonal. We don’t have lemons and olive oil and coffee but we do have fresh, local food including vegetables year round. That’s the advantage for our customers is that they can buy all their groceries if they want to.

Catherine: That’s great! How many farm share customers do you have right now?

Clyde: About 30.

Catherine: And you say you’re small scale! That sounds pretty big to me! That’s a lot of people every week and a lot of food.

Bernadette the bird dog, 11 years old and playful as a puppy! Every farm needs a farm dog!

Bernadette the bird dog, 11 years old and playful as a puppy! Every farm needs a farm dog!

Clyde: So our typical week we have beef, pork, chicken and 6 or 8 different kinds of vegetables and honey and we have herbs and teas from local folks too.

Brian: Is this what you guys are doing full time?

Clyde: Almost full time. I have one day at the office still. I’m a lawyer by training. I’ve been a lawyer for 30 years.

Catherine: That’s quite a transition from lawyer to farmer!

Clyde: I get really tired of the contentiousness of the practice of law, litigation, people fighting over stuff. More and more it just seems to me like there are a lot of sharp people involved in the law but so much of the time they’re just wasting their time. It began to feel like a real waste of my gifts and my time.

Brian: What was your main driving force for you leaving the law profession and getting into farming?

Clyde: The more we did of this, the more I loved it. The more I did of that [law], the more I didn’t. I had gradually become disenchanted with that and like I had said, I felt like it was a waste of gifts. I sort of imagined the epitaph on my tombstone saying, ‘He was a competent divorce lawyer.’ That didn’t seem like much of a life’s work. Again, I was seeing really brilliant people, some really sharp minds spending all of their time fighting with other people over stuff. ‘That chair is my chair, that chair is your chair.’ Is that going to be your life’s work? Even on a very high level and people are paying you good money to do it, it just feels like a waste. Your time, your gifts, your talents. I didn’t want to be doing it anymore. The more we did of this, the more I loved it. Working with the animals, I love being outside, I love growing plants. It wasn’t a difficult decision, the difficulty was finding a way to actually make a living doing it. That’s the real trick.

Catherine: If you love something and are good at it, you make it work. And clearly you guys are making it work very well!

Clyde Harkrader of Pink House Farm in Louisa, Virginia

Clyde Harkrader of Pink House Farm in Louisa, Virginia

Catherine: You did mention earlier that when you work with other farms, you like to make sure that they institute more natural and organic practices. So what are your thoughts on GMO’s and organic practices in general?

Clyde: Very opposed to GMO’s. First of all, I don’t see that they provide any advantages to farmers or consumers. If you’re eating it, why do you want to be eating a GMO? As far as the consumer is concerned, there’s no advantage. There may be risks, we really don’t know what these things do to you yet. We didn’t know what DDT did to you until after the fact too and a lot of other things the same way. There are organic pesticides that work, approved for organic use and now have been found to cause real problems and are off the list. But at one point they were ‘organic.’

I’m opposed to GMO but also just the organic label doesn’t do much for me and I don’t think it does much for the consumer either. There are a lot of pesticides that are approved for organic use that I wouldn’t want to eat. The thing that used to be touted was, ‘We need this to feed the world,’ but none of the GMO crops have really increased the yield in them. Really the only thing it allows you to do is to spray RoundUp on the crop. Initially the glyphosate (which is the active ingredient in RoundUp), was said to be inert but now they’re finding out lots of problems. It stays in the ground forever. And that’s the whole point of using GMO corn and soybean, which are the biggest ones, the real advantage is that you can spray herbicides that are now found to cause lots of problems. So for the consumer, there’s no advantage to them and probably a real danger.

For the farmer there’s less and less advantage. It used to be that it saved you from doing all the tillage, the cultivating. But now plants have developed resistance to glyphosate so now they’re doing seminars on how to mix these special cocktails of herbicides with glyphosate and 2-4d and other things you can put together and spray on your plants so they work more effectively. The whole point was to kill the weeds and now they’re not even doing that. So the solution is to keep spraying more and more chemicals! How about we just don’t have genetically modified food? That way we don’t have the danger to the consumers since they’re not providing any real advantages to the farmer either.

Catherine: I agree. But, but, I don’t want my apple to turn brown! I don’t care what it had to be done to it, just as long as it doesn’t turn brown! (Sarcasm!)

Catherine: So how do you manage pests and disease, since you don’t use chemicals?

Clyde: We try to do as much as we can through timing of planting. There are lots of different ways. For example, flea beetles that eat up eggplants are more active in May than they are later in June, so if you wait till later to put your eggplants in the ground, you’re going to have less damage from the flea beetles. They are certain varieties that are more disease-resistant as well so you look for those. They have lots of materials now like insect nesting and row covers that will help protect against frost but also keep bugs out. We’re moving to starting to grow a lot of things underneath row covers. They let in light and water but keep out the bugs. It’s a garden blanket.

Four Devon yearlings meandering through the pasture on a beautiful August day in Louisa, Virginia at Pink House Farm.

Four Devon yearlings meandering through the pasture.

Catherine: How do you fertilize your crops?

Clyde: We use a lot of compost. Animal manures are the best natural fertilizers so we use a lot of that. Every time we harvest a crop, we incorporate more compost into the top 2” of soil and we’ll also add limestone.

Catherine: Are your livestock fully grass fed or do you supplement with grain?

Clyde: The beef cattle are entirely grass fed and then hay in the winter time which is just stored grass. Chickens and pigs are omnivores so they have to have something besides grass. They can’t process the cellulose in grasses the way cows can with their four stomachs. So we feed them a combination including non-GMO corn. We’ve gotten big enough at this point that we can go to a farmer and ask him to grow 30 acres of non-GMO corn and we’ll buy it from him. Corn prices are low enough so that farmers are looking for ways to make more money on their corn crop. Then we combine it with a protein like soybean but we have the same GMO issue there so we buy a soybean by-product called okara which is a by-product of making tofu. It’s from a local commune called Twin Oaks. One of their main products is organic tofu. They grind up the organic soybeans, add water and enzymes and then they take off sort of a milk that’s been congealed to make the tofu. What’s left behind is the more fibrous part of the bean which is very high protein and looks like mozzarella cheese. So we feed that to the pigs. And the pigs love it!

Tamworth hogs enjoying the sunshine at Pink House Farm in Louisa, Virginia.

Tamworth hogs enjoying the sunshine.

Brian: What did you start with here on the farm?

Clyde: We started with the pigs.

Brian: What would you say to someone who wanted to get started in farming? Or maybe even specifically pigs?

Clyde: Pigs aren’t the easiest thing to start with. People tend to either really like pigs or not like them. They tend to be destructive, they don’t just graze across the ground. They root things up and tear things up. They’re big and strong. You think about little piglets but they can get up to 700-800lbs and they’re almost the size of a cow. It’s not the easiest animal, but I really like pigs. We do a lot of barbeque anyways so it was a natural fit. Chickens are probably a whole lot easier place to start. You’ve got a smaller animal, you can have meat, you can have eggs, you get manure. They’re producing manure if you want to get into vegetable gardening. So I’d say you’d probably want to start with chickens.

Catherine: It’s the gateway farm animal!

Clyde: If you’re starting with pigs, I’d start with raising some feeder pigs. Buy some and raise them up for slaughter rather than trying to start with a breeding pair. It’s like going from checkers to three-dimensional chess! Of course that’s what I recommend but it’s not what I did! I knew I wanted to breed and raise pigs so I jumped in and got a boar straight away. But it does increase the difficulty level. Because you have to keep him separate, feed him separate.

Catherine: And he probably doesn’t want to be separate!

Clyde: And he doesn’t want to be separate!

One of the Tamworth hogs that Pink House Farm raises for meat. They've got a great temperament and their meat is amazing!

One of the Tamworth hogs that Pink House Farm raises for meat. They’ve got a great temperament and their meat is amazing!

Catherine: If you could go back and do it differently, is there anything you would have done differently?

Clyde: It worked for us. I was doing a lot of barbequing. I wanted pigs, I needed pigs, it worked for me. If I were just starting out with a blank slate I would recommend starting with something easier like chickens.

Sue: He was really fortunate too. He had a good working relationship with another pig farmer. She sold him a boar that turned out to be a wonderful board. At 800-900lbs, he would walk up to you and scratch his head on your leg and then roll over for a belly rub. He was the most gentle, easy going, wonderful animal. We were fortunate that she was good to us that way. So we started off on a good note.

Catherine: What breed of pigs do you have?

Clyde: We have Tamworth. They are great and really hardy. They’re supposed to be the closest domesticated pig to the wild boar. They’re not the easiest to keep because they’re quick, agile, curious and smart too. They do not like to be confined. They have really great meat, good for anything. It’s a very red meat. Pastured-raised Tamworth meat is red and looks more like a steak.

Brian: So you guys have a store here on your property?

Clyde: Our kitchen! Right now it’s our kitchen. The greenhouse we’re putting up is just down the road on the corner of Route 33 and Windy Knight Road.

Pink House Farm's brand new greenhouse in Louisa, Virginia | Happily Ever Crafter - Local Farmer Interview

Their brand new greenhouse off of Route 33 in Louisa

Catherine: Oh wow I didn’t realize that was yours! We passed it on the way and I commented to Brian about it!

Clyde: Hopefully within the next year there will also be a store building there with the greenhouse. We will also have some gardens there as well.

Catherine: That’s exciting! Do you own or lease that land?

Clyde: It belongs to a friend of ours. He and I work together on a lot of stuff.

Catherine: That’s another thing I love is when farmers are working together, bringing that sense of community back.

Clyde: It’s really one of the keys to succeed as a small farmer. We’re all so independent, we live in such an independent culture where everybody’s supposed to be a ‘rugged individual’ and go your own way. Especially for this micro, small business, it’s so hard to do it on your own. It seems like sometimes no one wants to cooperate. Just like we do it on a small scale here, we want to do the same thing at the store building. If I can support you and buy eggplants and strawberries from you, that’s going to benefit all of my customers, which benefits me, which is going to benefit you. I think that’s the way it needs to work. You can’t do it all yourself. Supporting and helping other people is not a bad thing, it’s a good thing! I think it oughta work that way.

Catherine: It’s not Food Lion vs Martin’s, it’s neighbors working together!

Clyde: Exactly. That’s what I tell people. It’s not me as a small farmer against you as a small farmer. It’s us against the big chain grocery stores, that’s our competition. Getting people to change the paradigm and buy food from their neighbor.

Sue: It’s like my favorite t-shirt that I’ve see. In big letters “WHO’S YOUR FARMER?” And it reminds you, know where your food comes from, know who is taking care of it and what his principles are and you’ll know what you’re eating and what you’re putting in your body. We just don’t even think about what we’re putting in there.

Catherine: Yeah, it’s just “food: grocery store.” That’s the train of thought.

Sue: It doesn’t really matter how that animal was treated or what it was treated with or what it ingested or what you’re ingesting! That’s what you’re taking in to your body! And people also just don’t realize that it tastes good! Not only is it better for you but it tastes good!

Catherine: It does! It’s not even a comparison! But then you get to the grocery store and see, “Oh well this one is only $3 a pound! And I don’t have but $25 today.” So it makes it hard sometimes but you just have to make that conscious choice and make it a part of your habit when you go to the store.

Sue: We have young families who do the farm share with us and they’re trying to feed their families on a budget, but they’re trying to feed them good food. So they budget what they’re getting and they don’t always eat meat with a meal or they eat smaller portions of meat to the vegetables.

Catherine: So people can buy your products from your house through the farm share, they can buy them on your website, are there any stores that people can go to for your products?

Clyde: If someone is interested in the farm share, they can come twice to shop around and check it out before committing to the membership. Anyone can come by to shop for the meats. Harvest Market in Spotsylvania Courthouse carries our pork and chicken. The Caboose Wine and Cheese restaurant in Ashland buys bacon and pork from us. We’re also at the Mineral Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.

Their first tractor, a 1959 Super Eight Farmall that has made their farm work much easier at Pink House Farm, although they still enjoy using good ol' fashioned hand tools for much of their work.

Their first tractor, a 1959 Super A Farmall that has made their work much easier at Pink House Farm, although they still enjoy using good ol’ fashioned hand tools for much of their work.

Catherine: What is your favorite or most rewarding aspect of farming?

Sue: A simple favorite is walking out in the morning to let the chickens out and seeing the sunrise. I get to be close to nature, close to God and seeing the beauty of creation in this environment. To be such an intricate part of it and take care of it. I think that’s at the essence for me.

Clyde: We’re so close to creation. They say ‘There are no atheists in foxholes’ but I think it’s really hard to be an atheist farmer. Because you’re there all the time with amazing sights of creation. Whether it’s piglets being born or a seed sprouting. So many things that we deal with are miracles that we don’t understand and scientists don’t even fully understand and farmers work with just as a matter of course in trust because the sun always comes up and plants grow. You’re faced with that every day, every morning when you walk out to the chickens and see the sunrise. You’re living so close to creation that it’s hard to forget. So that is amazing.

Catherine: What would you say is your least favorite or most challenging aspect of farming?

Clyde: Beyond the obvious that the ground is infested with thorn and thistle and you earn your living by the sweat of your brow. So much of our food culture over the last 50 years or so has been going exactly the opposite direction [from what we do] so sometimes it’s not like trying to turn your car around but trying to stop a train. And you’re holding on for dear life. As relatively large as the local food movement has become compared to what it was 20 years ago, it’s still a very small fraction of what Americans are consuming. Once you understand how the system really works and what most people are actually eating, you just feel really bad for them. You want to educate them and provide a better quality food for them. It’s frustrating that you can’t. You’re always engaged in an apologetic for good food. That can get tiring. People get disconnected from the source of their food and they get disconnected from the source of everything, from the source of creation. If you don’t know where your food comes from then you don’t know who gave you food in the first place. So what we’re trying to do is reconnect people with that. That’s a huge challenge.

Sue: Educating people is challenging. People are becoming more educated and getting more outraged at the lines they’re being fed and the food they’re being fed and they’re saying ‘No’ to it. So you see more and more, across the generations too. They’re saying no to processed foods and grocery stores, they’re becoming educated.

Catherine: Although there is that movement towards healthy living, McDonald’s is still serving a billion burgers a day! A lot of people still stuck in that mindset of, ‘Well, I’ve only got $5, I have to go to McDonald’s or Burger King because that’s all I can afford right now.’ But they just don’t know any better yet.

Clyde: Think about how much nutrition is in a dozen eggs. We sell a dozen eggs for $4. Some think that’s expensive. But how much nutrition is in a dozen eggs? If you’ve got a dozen eggs and a pound of ground beef, which we sell for $6, you’ve spent $10 for 4 people to have all the protein they need. How much are you going to get at McDonald’s for $10? When you look at the nutritional value of what you’re getting, it only makes sense.

Sue: I saw a sign that was disturbing at a fast food restaurant that said “New, all natural hamburger.” And I thought, so this restaurant has been around for years, what were they serving BEFORE?

Clyde: The good thing is that they’re trying to imitate what we’re doing. I love the quote, “First they’ll ignore you, then they will mock you, then will attack you and then you will win.” So we’re somewhere in the middle of that process, between mocking and attacking.

Catherine: Absolutely! We’ll just keep pushing forward through it all!

Well, you’ve answered all of my questions! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us! We’ve had a great time talking with you and learning from you! You are both awesome!

Pink House Farm in beautiful, scenic Louisa, Virginia!

Pink House Farm in beautiful, scenic Louisa, Virginia!

Clyde and Sue: You’re welcome! We’ve enjoyed it too! We’re Pink House Farm, where all our animals are

red!

And for anyone who is wondering, it’s called Pink House Farm because when Clyde’s grandparents owned it, it was all pink. Growing up, he and his family would all call it the Pink House and it stuck, despite the paint color changing over time.

 

 

Clyde and Sue Harkrader of Pink House Farm in Louisa, Virginia

You can learn more about Pink House Farm from their website or their Facebook page! We had a great time with Clyde and Sue on a beautiful August afternoon, a rare day with low humidity here in Virginia. We talked, laughed, got to know each other and played with their farm dog Bernadette (pictured above). I highly recommend you check them out online and if you’re local, reach out to them and plan a farm visit! They have so many great products and you can rest assured knowing it was all grown, raised and harvested ethically and sustainably.

 

 

Stayed tuned for more local farmer interviews! This is already my favorite project yet!

 

Local Farmer Interviews

  1. Pink House Farm – Louisa, Virginia
  2. Dragonfly Farms – Beaverdam, Virginia
  3. delli Carpini Farm – Beaverdam, Virginia
  4. Phantom Hill Farm – Louisa, Virginia

 

Till next time,

Catherine

 

Pallet Garden Update

You may remember my past post about how to make your own pallet garden. Well, now that we’ve moved and since trashed the pallet garden for a real garden, (and about two years have passed) I should really work on that update for you all…


It was a relatively simple project that was a lot of fun to put together! Free pallets, some dirt, weed cloth and a staple gun makes a townhouse-patio-friendly garden space.


 


In it’s prime, the pallet garden did OK but it never did great. I blame the lack of sunlight and the not-so-great soil I bought at Ollie’s. On the far left is a few green beans, the scraggly stuff in the middle is kale from the Lynchburg Farmer’s Market and on the right is lettuce that I grew from seeds.


I was proud of that lettuce! It never did much more than this, though.


Tired, sad little lettuce.


We were constantly fighting these little green caterpillars that loved my kale. We only managed to harvest some once or twice. Four of the kale plants actually survived the move back to Richmond and went another year before finally giving up at the end of a hot summer last year.


And as you can see the pallet garden became more of a plant stand than anything else. Check out my pineapple plant on the bottom left of the picture! Too bad it eventually croaked too :(


My strawberry’s runners went right for the pallet garden!
Overall I loved the pallet garden, but I think I’d do it differently if I did it again. I’d use better soil to start with and be sure to incorporate other types of organic material to build the soil. I’d also put it in a location that gets better sun. But, I did the best I could with our small space! I didn’t grow much but it was better than nothing!
Have you ever made a pallet garden? How did it turn out? How do you garden in small spaces?
Till next time,
Catherine

Don’t Listen to the Lies

Don’t listen to the lies.

I mean it.

Don’t listen to them.

Don’t let them in your head.

Don’t let them take over.

 

Specifically, the lies in your life that tell you there’s nothing you can do. I refuse to accept that. I think we should all refuse to accept that lie.

“I’m sorry. You have cancer. There’s nothing you can do.”

“You’ll never go to college, it’s too expensive.”

“Children aren’t in your future, your body is working against you/adoption is too expensive.”

“You can’t get out. You’ll be here forever.”

“Fat runs in our family. Just deal with it.”

If you want something bad enough, you can do it. You can achieve it. You can get there. You can break down barriers. You can prove them wrong. When there’s a will, there’s a way.

You are your inspiration, you are your solution, you are your motivation. Don't believe the lies.| Happily Ever Crafter

 

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You are strong enough to take control over your life. You are smart enough to get where you want to go, to learn what you want to learn, to do what you want to do. If you have the motivation and the stubbornness to persevere, you can do anything. Embrace positive change in your life.

If you are diagnosed with any sort of disease, don’t accept that there is nothing you can do and that you will just be on medication for the rest of your life. Don’t sit back and let the disease become your identity. Go to different doctors, go to the library, do research, try alternatives, change your diet. Whatever you do, don’t give up and don’t give in.

If you have a dream to go to college to become a lawyer but money is tight, then apply for grants and loans, start at community college, work weekends. Do whatever it takes to achieve your dream. Don’t let the lies creep in that tell you that you’re not good enough and that you can’t do it. Because, you can.

 

I  can do it. Don't listen to the lies. | Happily Ever Crafter

 

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YOU are in control over YOUR life. Don’t listen to the lies.

 

How will you encourage positive change in your life today?

 

Till next time,

Catherine

Do’s and Don’ts for the Beginner Gardener

Gardening has always been something that has interested me and this year, 2014, I was finally able to dive in to it. Head first. Into shallow water…er…soil. Hard, red, clay-filled soil. Oh, sweet, Virginia.

 

Becoming a gardener takes a lot of trial and error but you can learn from my rookie mistakes!

 

Here are a few of the things I learned during my first year attempting to grow a huge fruit and veggie garden.

 

DO lots and lots of research. Find blogs, pick up magazines, read books, talk to friends, family, neighbors and local farmers. Learn as much as you can! Find out what works and what doesn’t in your area. Learn your garden hardiness zone and don’t forget it…you’ll need that little number when you’re picking seeds! Writing it all down helps too, which leads me right into the second “Do.”

Green beans and dirty bean boots

Green beans and dirty bean boots

 

 

DO be organized. Create a garden notebook or binder to keep all of your information in. You’ll make mistakes (sorry, it’s true!) but if you keep track of what you did, when you did it and how you did it, you’ll learn what works best for you and your land.

 

DO go organic as much as possible. Buy organic seeds and avoid using chemicals in your garden. You’re going to be eating the produce you grow so you want it to be as “clean” as possible! Personally, my favorite seeds are from Seeds of the Month Club! They’re Made in the USA and GMO-free!

My very first Seeds of the Month Club seeds!

My very first Seeds of the Month Club seeds!

 

DO build your soil. Leave the tiller under the tarp and begin layering things like wood chips, manure, leaves, grass clippings, hay, etc. It will take some time, but your garden will improve exponentially over the years if you build your soil! Check out Back to Eden for more info about properly building your soil

A truck-full of horse manure, shavings, and hay to build our garden soil! 

DO be prepared to handle your harvest. Prepare a plan for what you’ll do with your harvest bounty. Do you want to can  the extras, freeze them, give them to friends and family? Be ready before picking time so you’re not overwhelmed with 50lbs of tomatoes all at once.

Dehydrating an abundance of cherry tomatoes.

Dehydrating an abundance of cherry tomatoes.

And now for the DON’Ts..

DON’T stop gardening just because it begins to get colder. There are so many different crops you can grow in every season! Did you know you can even grow carrots in the cold weather? Cool, right?  You can also use the cold weather to prep your soil and plan for the upcoming season. Cover your crops as needed to insulate them over the winter.

DON’T expect the garden to just magically do what you want. It’s going to take time, preparation, learning, and of course a lot of trial-and-error. Each new year will be better than the previous one as you get better and better.

DON’T get in over your head. Start small and work your way up. Don’t plant 50 extra tomato plants just because they were free. Purely a hypothetical example of course…

50+/- free tomato plants from a local nursery

50+/- free tomato plants from a local nursery

DON’T give up! Keep trying until you get it right. You’re brand new at this but eventually you’ll get the hang of it.

One more “DO!”

DO enjoy it. Enjoy every minute of it. Enjoy the heck out of it. Have fun, get your hands dirty, smile, soak up the sun on your back, listen to the birds and revel in the beauty of nature and then come back inside at the end of the day exhausted but happy. You’re a gardener. Remember that.

Some sort of green bee on a flower in the garden.

Some sort of green bee on a flower in the garden.

Mouse melon harvest.

Mouse melon harvest.

What are some things you’ve learned as a gardener? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

Till next time,

Catherine