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Monday, August 28, 2006

A Gathering Storm...of sorts

from Will Perkins

With the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina upon us, I remember the myriad of feelings it wrought; the excitement of distraction from work as we waited for each National Weather Service update, the busy-ness of stocking supplies, storing or tying down items that would normally be leaning in the barn, stored against the greenhouse, or underfoot in the carport, the energy rush you feel when the barometric pressure drops and the winds pick up, the camaraderie and good times experienced when all the family came together at our house to ride out the storm…then, the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach as you realize that this isn’t “someone else’s” problem and it isn’t a matter of just cleaning up a few fallen trees or waiting for the power to come back on. The storm has destroyed what was our back yard, the beaches walked in summertime, the historic city visited in the spring and fall, towns where we once lived and had friends. Also seriously damaged was our family’s sense of security, our friends’ optimism, and to a degree our way of life.

We were one of the few areas in southeast Louisiana spared any direct damage from Katrina. We housed our whole extended family for a period, along with their dogs and cats. It was raucous, noisy, and nervy, but the kids headed back to their apartments as power was restored. Thais’ sisters found places to stay as their houses were rebuilt and roads home cleared. Our daughter, who bore our first grandchild two days after the storm, stayed extra time while my son-in-law and I cleared away some of the limbs from their house, cleaned their refrigerator, and carted provisions back to their recently-purchased home is Ponchatoula, La.

Of the less obvious impacts (to those residing outside of southeast Louisiana) from Katrina (and Rita), is the economic and population growth in the area surrounding New Orleans and Lake Charles. In particular, Baton Rouge’s population grew by one-third immediately following the hurricanes, and has settled into about 20% growth after some of the evacuees returned to the storm areas or relocated elsewhere. The Zachary area, which was already in a growth spurt due to the quality of life and excellent schools, is now in overdrive, with somewhere around 2,000 to 4,000 new homes planned or under construction in addition to the 3,000 or so completed in the last couple of years. When we move to the area seven years ago, there were six stoplights and, as we liked to say, one of everything – a grocery store, dry cleaner, pizza place, hardware store (2 actually), etc. Now, we have 4 (count ‘em, four) Chinese restaurants, a Chili’s, Home Depot, two supermarkets in addition to the super-Walmart, and two new 18-hole golf courses. The city is building 2 brand new huge schools and doubling the size of the high school.

Thursday night I attended a Town Hall meeting with the developer of the golf course that, two years ago, was constructed around and behind our little farm. The developer envisions a very upscale community of 600 houses on 70-100 foot wide lots. The number of houses being built will exceed all of the houses currently served by the road that passes in front of our property. Litter, noise, pollution, and opportunity will abound. This is not what we moved out here for. As Lyle Lovett said at one of his concerts, “I used to live in the country. Now I live in town…and I haven’t moved.” We have an eight-year plan that goes like this: pay off the house, sell, move further out, and start over. Nothin’ like a little incentive.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Late Summer afternoon

SO...check out the amazing grasshopper-dude. He was hanging out in a clump of weeds in the herb beds. I ran inside to get the camera...because I had to shoo him away...because I was weeding, and well...Actually he is much, much bigger than it may appear here. I'd sayhe was about three inches long. And check out those eyes! what an incredible expression! very elegant. I had been cooped up all day, and finally just got the garden gloves and a sweat rag (important piece of equipment, the sweat rag) stuffed into my pocket, and some clippers and just headed out. I felt like taking something apart - I thought I'd cut back at least one row of basil. Easy enough, and gratifyng. But there are SO MANY BEES. The big fat bumble bees. They're not aggressive, but they do not like to be disturbed, and they are very vocal about it. I wasn't sure whether they'd go home later in the evening and leave the basil to me, or whether it's late summer and they'd just hang around 24/7. They do that sometimes. They crawl onto the back side of a leaf (or flower) and just act totally drunk. Hanging on, bleary with pollen, and oblivious to everything, including you. If you grab a flower or leaf and aren't inspecting what you're doing, you're likely to just grab a very large bee into the middle of your palm. Not a good move. I've done that. In the end, I decided to leave them alone. As you can see, there are more basil flowers than there is actual basil. Cut back severely, there will be a fall crop. I can either do that, or pull it all up and just plant more. But it's kind of beautiful and there's plenty of basil to go around. I'll probably leave some and prune some. Spring is plenty of time for brand new basil, I think. So I pulled many giant weeds and threw them out to the edge of the garden, then carefully weeded my new bed of French Marigolds. They're not the showiest game in town, but I wanted some color...besides they're edible, even though Will can't understand why anyone would want to eat one, because he's not fond of the taste. In any case, they're dependable, and once they get going, will bloom until we have a frost. So that was fun. At least one new fresh-looking row at the edge of the herb garden. It gives one courage to wade into the rest of it and hack away, trying to restore some kind of order. The heat has lost it's scary power somehow, or maybe we're just more used to it in late August and we don't care so much. But it is becoming a little easier to work outside...maybe more garden news tomorrow.

Friday, August 25, 2006

ok, everyone...remain calm

Tuesday (August 29th) is, as we know, the 1st anniversary of 'Katrina'. This is an example of an occurrence we in the south like to refer to as 'The Recent Unpleasantness'. And here we see the week ahead:
Everyone just hang in there. As we know, anything can happen, and probably will. I'd love to think about the Fall garden, and we'll probably do some work this weekend. I'll be sure to post something positive tomorrow. This is a good time to work in order to provide needed distraction. Hey - the way I figure it, maybe we'll get a whole bunch of rain and it will fill up the pond....right?

Friday, August 18, 2006

I think we can agree...

Sadly, it is time for the zinnias to go....but, hey; that's ok because if I don't yank these up, then I can't have even more zinnias! I had planned to wait until now, Friday evening, because tomorrow is Saturday and I don't care if I go out and get all nastified and tired. So I got the truck and pulled it into the yard; put on some gloves and started yanking and throwing. But not before I picked a few...but this is all I got, and that's from both sides of the fencerow. Hey, better than none. I made it a little more than halfway down the row before I hit the infamous and expected wasps. I was actually surprised it took that long. But no matter. I was exhausted anyway. Half the truckbed was full. Will had come out to see how I was coming along, and all the animals were there, becasue it was dinnertime. The CrazyCat checked the truck out: then he decided that if he was cute, maybe he'd get his food a little sooner...I was SO hoping I wouldn't have to get up in the morning and do this some more; but I'm not finished. And that's only one side of the fence. But I want Fall flowers, and this is the only way to get them. We have more 'pelletized fertilizer', otherwise kown as 'chicken ***' and if I can get this done, Will can spread some and till it in. Planting is not a deal. So easy. But this is all I have in me for one evening; so more later...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Ending and Beginning

And so it is Fall, but not really Fall. Not down here. The weather says no, but the season says yes. Here are Ibis passing over the farm today, on their way to somewhere...we call this a 'bird group'. So we can say "bird group!"and I know that's hard to see, so here is a lonely Ibis...a very large and beautiful bird. We have a lot of large and beautiful birds down here. One sign of Fall, yes - those bird groups - but there are many. Flower beds to re-plant and, as you have seen here, many battles to fight as things begin to look weary and weedy. Will was in Mississippi, and picked up a ton of chicken *****. Let us see now, he calls this 'pelletized fertilizer'. My oh my, it is fragrant. It comes in a giant plastic sack, strapped into the bed of the truck. He borrowed a cone-shaped spreader from a friend, and went through the field spewing it everywhere. Now, some may think that pictures of dirt are boring, but if you know the ground has just been plowed and spread with 'pelletized fertilizer', it is a very satisfying sight indeed. If you look at that picture very closely you can see Dude the Dog out there, in the dirt. Although it looks like he's keeping watch, he's just following us around hoping for dinner. All season we've been piling up the vegetable matter...plants pulled from rows, compost from the kitchen, etc. The compost pile looks happy. In the middle you can see two old watermelons from a couple of months ago. It takes a while for things to break down in a compost pile: We're getting ready to 'pull up some rows' to begin the fall planting: At the very beginning of this blog, in May, what we had was an overload of lettuce. That's always the first thing to come in, Spring or Fall. So the lettuce will be planted first, and of course Red Beans for Fall. The trick with red beans is always to harvest them before the late fall rains begin. There will be a folk festival here in early October, and we are responsible for growing some of the veggies the campers will partake of during that weekend. So, we had better get busy! Some things refuse to quit, like the eggplants; and then there are the late-starting but ever-increasing loofas. And, I am sorry to say, the 'black-eyed peas but who cares we are so sick of peas'. There, I said it. But that's ok. You can't be gloriously happy all the time with every garden event.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Mow Mow Mow...


Yeah. well that lasted about 4 days...time to get back out there and decide where to start, because it's time to do it all over again. And to think that in a few months we'll actually put the mower up for the 'winter'. We've been pulling stuff up and mowing and plowing. Some things I just hate to pull, but that's just a shortcoming of mine...I suppose it's related to that thinning problem I also have. As much as I love the zinnias, they have to go. I mean, you can't have MORE zinnias if you don't pull these up first. Will is bringing home a truckload of fertilizer (chicken-related) and I want the flower beds to be ready. I worked like a dog on the old Cosmos bed last week. That was a scary project. It was a jungle in there, lots of nettles (ouch) which have to be chopped. They can't be pulled, because they're full of nasty thorns. But I got it done. It will have to stay this way until the ground is prepared again. Like every other August, it's hard to believe you can (and have to) plant in this heat. If you don't it will just be too late. It works out...I have Dianthus seed I want to start, and Pansies can be put in as soon as they're available. It's not all rip and tear, however. There are a couple of things just coming ito their own. If you can stand another loofah picture, here is an update. I love these big yellow flowers. And, as you can see, things are coming along nicely. There are plenty more, but here is an example of how fast these grow: Well, I put in my early morning time before the heat. I left buckets in the field, because I meant to pick purple hull peas. I would have done that, even in the heat, but they were still full of dew, and hauling in peas when they're wet is a dangerous proposition. They will mold before you can shell them. I'll just wait until later today. If it doesn't rain, they'll be dry by this afternoon, and I can wait until the relative cool in the evening. Or, if things look stormy, maybe I can get to them before it rains. Oh, and this is cool; we had a very nice family come up here from way south Louisiana a couple of weekends ago. They wanted to know when the limas were ready, and they'll be coming back for them maybe Saturday. We're going to trade veggies for fresh crabs. We're really excited about this. I must say, living in Louisiana does have it's advantages.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Head's Up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Time for the Perseids Meteor Showers! Best night, fortunately, August 12th. Recommended snacks and beverages; boiled peanuts and wine; take a nap during the day, because the best meteors are way after midnight. In the Northern hemisphere, here's a map... I am posting this non-gardening event, because it is not to be missed! We've watched these meteor showers every year for probably 30 years or so. Invite your friends. Find a dark spot away from town. Bring the bug spray (read the labels - find the least objectionable) and a blanket. Works best if you have (1) a pickup truck (2) a picnic table, or (c) a reclining lawn chair. Also good...when someone goes inside to the bathroom, everyone should say WOW! DID YOU SEE THAT ONE? ha.

About Our CSA

We are entering the sixth season of our CSA (Community Support Agriculture). What began as an experiment for the creative marketing of our produce has developed into a fulfilling experience for us and our members, one that we so look forward to each year. What you will find below is an explanation of how we operate the CSA, the cost, length of season, expected commitment, etc. We ask that you read it carefully before responding. We have dedicated members that stay on year after year, but for a number of folks, it is challenging to come out every Saturday for nine weeks running and to have time to participate. For those who love the quality of the vegetables, herbs, and flowers – and who like the experience of planting, harvesting, and interacting with others who have the same likes, it is a very rewarding experience. Please read on…

What is Community Supported Agriculture? (CSA)

Community supported agriculture is a movement that got its start in this country in the mid-1980’s, driven by a desire by neighborhood groups to re-connect with local growers and producers. The CSA movement is enjoying increasing popularity and availability with each passing year. The goal of CSA is to involve the vegetable-eating-public more intimately with “their” farm. Why do I use “their” in that description? Because in CSA, members buy a share of the farm which, in effect, provides them an ownership stake in the vegetables produced. In that respect, the farmer and consumer become partners. There are many benefits from this relationship to the farmer and consumer alike. For the farmer, it provides a guarantee of sales so he can plant to supply his contract. It also minimizes the time required to market the produce, freeing him up for what he does best, which is…farm. For the consumer, it guarantees a steady supply of farm fresh produce for a fixed price, encouraging healthy eating, and promoting a sense of participation and community around the farm that has been long lost in the age of industrial agriculture. For both the farmer and consumer, it promotes a bond based on trust and mutual interest. For those interested in information on CSA and farms that have set up these systems, the web has worlds of information available with a simple word search.

Why did Port Hudson Organics decided to become Port Hudson CSA?

For most of you who have spent any time visiting our farm and talking with us, you are aware that Thais and I both work full time, maintaining our little farm, bee hives, yard, and other farm-related activities in our “spare” time. This means that virtually every waking hour that we are not at work you would find us in the field or manning the produce tent (or carport). As we expanded our farm-related enterprises to areas such as biodiesel, berries and bee hives, the farm demands finally exceeded our available time. So in 2009, in order to continue our farm sustainability effort and reduce our time commitment (primarily the time spent selling), we tried a concept that is becoming increasingly popular across the country in the “Eat fresh, Eat local” movement, that is, the CSA farm. In the spring of 2009, we enrolled (what ended up to be) 25 CSA member families, and were blown-away by the success of the venture. Member enthusiasm, assistance, and clear appreciation for the unsurpassed quality of our produce resulted in an excellent experience for everyone involved. Since then, we have expanded our enrollment to approximately 40 member families, which is a comfortable carrying capacity of our one acre garden. At this point in our lives, with regular jobs and other commitments, we have no plans to expand further.

What kind of vegetables are grown and how are they distributed?

We grow a wide variety of Spring and Summer vegetables (generally about 20 different varieties). At any time during the season, you can expect around 12-15 different offerings, and 6-8 culinary herbs. We also grow cut flowers, usually zinnias and sunflowers. Each week members will receive a selection list by email. Members then make 7 selections of vegetables and 2 selections of herbs from the list. Members can check off their first and second preferences and we will make every effort to supply the members with their selected items. In cases where we are short on a particular item, say, yellow squash, we will substitute another available vegetable (for example, zucchini) from member’s second choice selection if at all possible. Members are free to make notes on their list if there is a particular vegetable they do not want (for example, zucchini) and we will try to honor their request. The amounts (pounds or numbers) of vegetables or herbs per selection were based on an approximation of equal value based on the prices we have charged for these items in the past. And as last year’s members know, the amounts of produce on the list are the minimum amount you will receive. Often, when there is a surplus beyond what has been selected, we will throw in some “lagniappe”. Members should note that there are a couple of exceptions on the selection list: a bouquet of flowers, when available, counts as two selections from the herb list; similarly, watermelon, when available, counts as two selections from the vegetable list. Each week, a basket with all of your produce and herbs will be made up with your list attached. Blank lists will be available for you to fill out for the following week, as the mix of produce and herbs change with the weather.

Can I select more than one of a particular item?

Yes, if you want 6 pounds of tomatoes one week, you can simply put the number “3” next to the selection “2 lbs. tomatoes” on your sheet and pick four other vegetable selections to make a total of seven selections. If we have enough tomatoes to satisfy your request, we will provide that amount. If we are short, we will attempt to at least provide you with one selection of tomatoes and make up the rest of your basket with other choices. We will let members know each week which vegetables we expect to have in abundance. For example, due to space considerations, we have limited plantings of corn and each planting is generally available for only one Saturday, so we will be encouraging members to select as much corn as they can from the list on the weeks that corn becomes available (we try to send out weekly emails on the state of the farm). Of course, members will also be given preference for the purchase of additional vegetables if, for example, you want to freeze a bushel of corn when it comes in and there is surplus available.

How will the CSA Baskets be distributed?

Members choose to come to the farm either Friday evening or Saturday morning each week during the season. Once you arrive, you can choose from a variety of garden activities in progress and lend a hand. This can range from planting and/or picking vegetables; washing, weighing, and bundling produce; cutting and arranging flowers; cutting and separating herbs to order; helping to pack baskets with weekly selections; sitting under a tree with other members and stripping beans off of plants. Occasionally there is a bigger project at hand, such as erecting the cucumber fence or helping to mulch rows with hay. There will be weeks when you are not able to help due to your schedule, but we find that most of our members help out almost every week. The process takes about an hour, and when you leave you bring your weekly basket with you. Many find this outdoor activity in the garden a respite from their work week in an office!

Members are asked to pick up their CSA baskets each Saturday by 10:00 AM. This is probably the biggest commitment you will make as part of the CSA. We understand that it may be difficult to come every Saturday for 9 weeks, but there are a couple of strategies you can employ to make this easier. (1) you can buddy-up with one or more members in your area and go on alternate Saturdays, each delivering or holding the other’s basket for pick up at their house; (2) you can send a family member or close friend; or (3) you can come Friday afternoon to help with the harvest and bring your basket home with you then (we had a lot of members take this option, as we do a lot of harvesting on Friday in advance of the Saturday bedlam).

What if you have a crop failure or natural disaster?

A CSA is a partnership between the farmer and the consumer, and within this partnership is an understanding of shared risk. That said, we do not expect members to bear the full cost of a catastrophic failure, nor have we ever experienced a completely failed season. Should the worst happen, members will be reimbursed a portion of their investment and we will do all in our power to make it right with members through a combination of refunds and discounts on following seasons.

What time commitment is asked as part of the CSA?

CSAs, by definition, include member support. Each week, literally hundreds of pounds of produce must be harvested, hundreds of bunches of herbs must be clipped and tied, and dozens of flower bouquets must be picked. Without member support, this is logistically impossible for part time farmers. Hence, we ask members to commit to help in some fashion (picking, sorting, filling orders, etc) according to their abilities every other weekend or so (we are not rigid on this). We have found that members enjoy becoming involved in the process. Learning about how food is grown and harvested is an uplifting and educational experience. After all, that is why we do it. And it is an integral part of CSA farms across the country. We are assuming that you found us because you appreciate this connection, and we hope that you can find the small amount of time to required to experience that connection.

What is the cost?

Cost of the CSA membership is $350. This covers 9 weeks of farm fresh vegetables, herbs, and flowers of your choice. This comes out to about $38 per week, probably more than you would pay at the grocery store for conventionally-grown produce, but less than you would pay for organic produce at Whole Foods. The quality of the produce, however, cannot be approached by any supermarket, and the experience is priceless. Also, membership in the CSA includes a pint of our farm honey when it becomes available.

In Summary

So that about covers it. If you want to experience first hand the pleasures of seeing, smelling, picking and eating truly wholesome food, please respond quickly to this email. We would appreciate some information on you and your family, and why you want to join the CSA. We will let you know within a few days, and will ask for payment at that time. We ask that you understand that we have about twice as many families on the waiting list as we have openings. However, if you do not make in into the CSA this year, we will give you first shot at joining next year if you are still interested.

Thank you so much for your interest in our little farm. We hope to see you this spring.

Will & Thais Perkins

Port Hudson Organics CSA