Tag Archives: Sustainable Farming

Crazy about carrots…

Our first spring carrot harvest has arrived. The strawberries are ripe and delicious again this week, and a massive kohlrabi awaits our CSA patrons.



This week you will find the following items in the CSA box:




Kohlrabi (Don’t forget to grab one)




Bulb Fennel

Napa cabbage

Strawberries (Don’t forget to get a quart)

Garlic Scapes










What’s Happening on the Farm

It seems this winter has been very warm.  So warm, in fact, that I have been a little skeptical whether or not everyone’s fruit trees will set fruit , or if my broccoli will button from a late freeze.  So warm, in fact, that I decided to try a little early outdoor planting of some heartier spring crops like spinach and snap peas to get a head start on the year in my own garden.  More on that later.

The Student Farm at CCCC is currently less busy on harvesting, as there isn’t a whole lot to harvest this time of year, and more busy preparing for spring planting.


Hoop House A is bustin’ with greens! Spinach, Collards, and Swiss Chard make a delicious braising combo.

Hoop House A is busting with greens, and the kale is starting to bolt from the heat, believe it or not!  That’s okay, kale flowers are one of my favorite snacks.  You really should try some this year if you never have.  They also attract beneficial insects like pollinators and predatory wasps that kill those nasty aphids.


Beautiful, colorful salad mix in Hoop House South

Hoop House South is growing some beautiful salad mix coming up that is almost ready to harvest.


Peas trellised and planted; irrigation installed

In Block One, where the winter brassica crops (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.) were planted, are now prepared, bare beds full of potential, and in one of those beds we have peas planted and trellised.  Down on Block 7 the students have been diligent preparing the potato beds.

In the propagation greenhouse, the new brassica transplants for the big spring planting are not quite ready to set out just yet, and need a couple weeks longer.  They are currently spending some of the day outside in the cold frame on warm days to get them hardened off.


Advanced Crop Production Teacher Cheryl McNeil instructing on the finer techniques of using bed-building hoes



Baby broccoli in the Propagation Greenhouse

There are plans in the works for some new polycarbonate sheeting on the propagation greenhouse to replace the dull sheets that were installed 18 years ago.  Along with fresh plastic will be a few other innovations to improve ventilation, to be announced in a future entry.

Like I stated before, and as you’ve probably noticed, it’s been unseasonably warm this winter.  It doesn’t look like we’ll really get a winter, since Sir Walter Wally saw his shadow. In my own garden in Hillsborough, I decided to bet against the cold ahead of Ol’ Wally and plant a 30-foot row of peas as well as some spinach in mid January.  I know, you probably think I’m crazy.  Don’t worry, I think so, too.  And sometimes, crazy can pay off.  Sometimes, taking a risk can lead to big rewards.  And for me, at least this time, it looks like I might come out on top.  Not trying to, “count my chickens,” but I’ve already got sugar snap peas peaking 2″-3″ out of the ground, and my spinach is over an inch tall, with some true leaves.   I’ve only covered them one night in the three weeks they’ve been in the ground.  Is there really something to this climate change thing, or is it just freak weather?   I’m thinking the former.


Spinach seedlings in my garden right now, planted mid January


Sugar snaps already 3 inches tall


For further reading on climate change, check out what NASA has to say about it, if you believe them:


-Josh Calhoun, Advanced Crop Production Class


What’s happening on the farm



Bring on the salad!

This is a busy time on the farm.  We are already preparing for the spring season even though we seem to be in the depths of winter.  The fields still have a few overwintered brassicas that we are getting a harvest off of, but one of our hoop houses has already transitioned to spring crops with the early alliums and some salad mix already popping up.  Meanwhile our greenhouse has already started to fill up with trays of spring seed germinating and sprouting ahead of outdoor spring planting.  Last week we seeded trays with a variety of brassicas including broccoli, kale, and cabbage.


Our new Poultry Palace

There are several other winter projects coming to fruition right now as well.  These would include new (to us anyway) gravel around the greenhouse, storage shed, and wash stations, a new and improved mobile chicken coop that is nearly finished, and a hugelkultur bed that is almost ready to transition from cover crops to cash crops.

In years past this time might have been a quiet time of rest and reflection for the piedmont farmer, but increased competition at markets has changed all that.  The increasing number of small vegetable farmers has created an arms race of season extension.  With the first and last crop to market commanding a premium price it seems that nearly every successful small farmer is continuously pushing the envelope to get his crop in earlier than the farmer down the road.  Likewise we’re all trying to extend our harvest later and later such that our fall crops are being harvested into the spring.

There are a couple of factors facilitating this escalating competition.  Seed companies are developing new varieties that are more heat and cold tolerant all the time, and this increasing diversity is one factor that helps us stay competitive.  Another is the increasing availability of season extension and new and innovative techniques that allow crops to survive extremes of temperature that would’ve ended their production a decade ago.  Yet even with these new varieties and practices farmers today are facing more and more challenges from unpredictable weather, high fuel costs, and drought or extreme rain events.  As the effects of global climate change continue to manifest in new and different ways the farmers that succeed will be those that stay curious, adapt quickly, know their markets really well, and invest in flexible infrastructure that help to buffer their crop against the outlier weather that is becoming the norm.  So the next time you pick up a bunch of kale in January or a clamshell full of cherry tomatoes in April take a moment to reflect on the skill, expertise, and experience that made that minor miracle possible.


Beds prepped and ready for trellised peas





What’s Happening!?… on the Farm..

Recently we received a  pair of guests on the farm. “Una” and “Little Bit” are two Tamworth pigs who came to visit the student farm at the end of August to help remove an old nemesis of the farm, “Johnson Grass”. In the last few weeks, Una and Little Bit have done an excellent job removing the grass from one tenth of an acre on the farm. Now that they have successfully completed their job, they will be leaving the farm this weekend. We would like to thank Una and Little Bit for a job well done as well as our own Linda Bradford and her son Sean for facilitating the visit. Check out the before and after pics!

That’s not all going on this week on the farm, we are awaiting the arrival of six new Delaware pullets as new members to the flock, our cool weather crops have been put into the ground and are well on their way to becoming beautiful adult plants, and we are expecting strawberry plants anytime so that they may be planted next week . Lots of things going on down on the farm. Remember to support local farmers by buying local!


Bread and Milk

The last few weeks have presented some challenging weather for farmers in this area.  We weathered the storms with no damage to our farm, but all of the moisture can prevent us from working the soil, adding amendments, and early planting to get a jump on the season.  Not to worry though, while everyone was hunkered down eating milk sandwiches our farm manager and brilliant students have been plugging away on plenty of things.  When weather is not ideal to be in the field we are able to catch up on some basic farm maintenance and organization, something that we don’t have a lot of time for when the season really gets going.  We have a greenhouse full of transplants that are getting ready to go into the ground and have been able to plant some peas and carrots.

This is an exciting time of the year for us as we watch our farm begin to take on some character.  I am sure that many of you are looking forward to our amazing CSA boxes, which are not too far away in the near future.  We will keep you up to date on when that will begin.  We are also looking forward to another flock of Crevecoeur chicks from the Livestock Conservancy!  These wild looking creatures have plenty of feathers on their heads and if you follow the blog you may remember a post and some photos last year about these “punk rock chickens”.

So buckle up!!  The season is about to take off!!


What’s New on CCCC’s Student Farm, by Cindy Flowers

What’s New on CCCC’s Student Farm? 



What’s new on the farm? STUDENTS! School is back in session for the fall term and the ag classes are filled with new and returning students ready to farm. What is there to harvest right now? Well it looks like peppers, okra and amaranth! Most people know what to do with peppers and okra (obviously okra is best when fried and stewed will do in some occasions) but then we are left with Amaranth.  

Amaranth originates from Mayan and Aztec cultures so why would we grow it in Pittsboro? Well, the grain is considered a superfood by today’s standards so that’s a good reason butIMG_9887 how is it growing in NC? According to heirloom-organics.com amaranth is easy to grow. The plants need about 140 days in well drained soil, full sun and a warm climate. Sounds like Pittsboro. No wonder they are doing well!

Soon these plants will be harvested and my question was “how?” since the grain is so tiny. Heirloom-organics.com’s guide says the best way to harvest is to “bend the plants over a bucket and rub the seed heads between your hands.” We will have to see how the CCCC student farmers do with this technique!

Now what to do with this tiny grain after harvest?  Thekitchn.com gives us many options. You can eat it as breakfast porridge, popped in a skillet then used to top soups, or as a protein breading (like a healthy oven-fried chicken), combined with other grains or added to soups for a hearty thickness. The green leaves of the plant are even edible! This super food is great for the vegetarian or omnivore alike because of its high levels of protein, fiber, iron, and calcium. For more amaranth tips and recipes check out this article from kitchn.com.

One other fun fact about amaranth is that it is high in the amino acid methionine which is crucial to prevent feather eating in your new flock! So let those peeps clean the harvested rows!

In non-crop related news, CCCC has once again joined up with the Livestock Conservancy to foster and breed aIMG_2108 flock of rare chickens called Crevecoeur. This is a critically endangered, dual-purpose breed originating from France. Its name, Creve-Coeur, literarily translates to “broken heart.” Aww! According to the Livestock Conservancy’s breed description, IMG_5943the Crevecoeur is black with a crest and beard (think Animal from the Muppets as a black bird), lays medium to large eggs and can deal with confinement well, which in my opinion makes this bird a great option for backyard poultry enthusiasts. Let’s hope CCCC gets a 100% hatch rate for the good of the neighborhood!


I leave you with Ricardo, the main man on the farm.

All images are courtesy of Jason Morin

Luffas, Cats & Turkeys


Luffa growing ealier this year

On a rainy day before the students take their Thanksgiving break, I found Hillary on the farm transforming luffa gourds into luffa sponges. The student farm grew a beautiful crop of luffa (Luffa aegyptiaca) supported by a massive bamboo trellis. The plants yielded numerous gourds which were edible when young (check out Jason’s post on 9/10 for more on that) and develop their characteristics rough fibers when they mature on the vine. Sustainable agriculture students will be able to get a farm fresh luffa at the end of the semester. For the rest of the rainy day Hillary will focus on amending the phosphorous level in one of the hoophouses and will begin to seed radish and spinach crops in the other hoophouse.Image


Hillary and I reflected on a class trip to Caterpillar in Sanford where we took a factory tour of the very high tech plant that produces skid steers for the national and international market. They are very proud of their recent investment in an innovative assembly line, where they stream line the building of several types of skid steers. As a the company points out they are “the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment” among other things, and I got to wondering about Caterpillar’s effect on our natural resources, the safety of our people and planet, and the supposed carbon emissions limit we are running up against. If you are like me and wonder those things, you may be interested to find out that the company has a sustainable development plan which you can read online.

According to their sustainability report in 2012, I discovered that locally Caterpillar has aided two jobs training programs in our state. In Greenville, Caterpillar supported a 12 week course run by Pitt Community College to train logging-equipment operators by donating $1.25 million dollars’ worth of Caterpillar equipment. Also in Sanford, the company runs a Caterpillar Youth Apprenticeship program training high schools in welding for two years, culminating in a certificate in welding from our very own Central Carolina Community College.


Merchandize compliments of Caterpillar

In other thoughts, the North Carolina Poultry Federation website informs me that poultry is the number one agricultural industry in the state and the state ranks number two nationally in Turkey production.  I did not get to see the package my thanksgiving turkey came in, so I have little chance of tracing it back, but there is a good chance it came from one of the leading producing states (Minnesota, North Carolina, Arkansas and Missouri).

Enjoy the rest of the Thanksgiving break!



Published by Lauren Hill