Monday, December 19, 2011

Touring the farms...

Billy Carter's Wren's Abruzzi Rye
Hofner's Thoroughbred Barley
Fred Miller TAM 303 hard wheat seedling

Billy Carter's grain bin

Kenny Haines and his field of Turkey wheat

We are scratching our heads (me, the contractor, the electrician) as to why we still do not have our CO. Evidently our electrical inspection (on friday) was red tagged because the panel was not labeled the way the inspector wanted it labeled (yes, it was labeled, and yes, our electrician has done plenty of commercial work before our job). I am confident we will extricate ourselves from the talons of the city inspectors soon and grain will be made into flour... in the meanwhile, an UPDATE ON THE FARMS:
I spent a good bit of last week traveling around North Carolina visiting our growers. My first stop was on the far northeastern end of the state-- Tyner, NC-- to Looking Back Farms, Inc. I have mentioned Looking Back a number of times in blog posts-- Ben and Kenny Haines, a father and son team. Kenny Haines sits on Carolina Ground, L3C's Board of Directors, so he is the farmer that I speak with often. He has mentioned more than once that I need to come out and ride around in the tractor and/or combine to really get a feel for what is going on on their farm. And so, moments after parking my car on the edge of one of their fields, I was up in the tractor cab with Kenny, and while he dragged a land planer on the field he was preparing for planting our NuEast seed, we talked. One item in need of further discussion (beyond our oft phone conversations) is pricing. A major impetus for launching this project has been to establish fair pricing based on real value removed from the pressures of the global commodities market. This past harvest, the prices we paid for grain were much higher than anticipated but this was partly due to the small lots of various varieties of grain we had planted. My plan for this year has been to streamline the process by having fewer varieties planted and on larger plots of land. For 2012 harvest, the Haines are growing for us a little over twenty acres of Turkey wheat and another twenty of NuEast (as opposed to last year when they grew a bit of Turkey, a bit of NuEast, a bit of Wrens Abruzzi rye, a bit of Appalachian White, etc.) Although I am confident that we will find sustainable pricing, while riding around in the tractor, Kenny discussed with me costs that the farm must incur that they have no control over. He pointed to a small metal blade on his land planer that they needed to replace-- it cost close to a thousand dollars just for that small piece of metal. And they are still strapped to the cost of fuel for their tractor and combine. The rise in the price of steel meant that they were only able to put in two grain bins with their newly acquired grain and seed cleaning equipment instead of the four bins they had originally planned for. I know we are heading in the right direction by working to close the gap between our farmers and bakers and brewers, but the idea of completely hedging ourselves from global economic pressures is sadly not so simple. But the Haines are in it for the long haul and they are constantly working to improve their farming systems for greater efficiency and productivity. They have around 350 acres of certified organic land in production and they recently set up grain and seed cleaning infrastructure that is also certified organic. They are poised to sell grain by the truckload-- 55,000 lb bulk or cleaned in 1-ton totes, or cleaned and bagged in 50# bags. The cleaning equipment works for various grains, pulses, and beans. On my visit I spied a couple 1-ton totes of cow peas-- beautiful-- on route to Anson Mills, in Columbia, SC.With their grain and seed cleaning set up, they are now both grain farmer and seed dealer-- of certified organic (grain and cover crop) seed to boot.
The next farm on my tour was Fred Miller's Hill Top Farms in Willow Springs, just outside of Raleigh. I first met Fred a couple years ago in the Sam's parking lot off I-40 on the edge of Raleigh, to procure 500# of Arapaho wheat that he had grown. This is Fred's tenth season farming, and grains are something he is slowly integrating into his farming system. This year he has both hard wheat-- TAM 303 and barley-- six-row Thoroughbred-- in the ground. Fred's is a diverse farm which includes high tunnels and gardens, chickens, goats, horses, a CSA and a farm stand. Across the road is where his grain is planted.
My next farm was in the Sandhills, in Eagle Springs, to Carter's Farm. Billy Carter showed me the close to twenty acres of Wrens Abruzzi rye he is growing for us and the 150 acres of TAM 303 he has in the ground that is likely heading to Lindley Mills, although it is not all spoken for and I am hoping we will be milling some of this as well.
Next stop was outside of Charlotte-- Gastonia-- to Job White's farm. Job is a young farmer just starting out. I am sure I have mentioned in previous posts that last year he planted ten acres of Turkey wheat but sadly had no way to harvest. Arranging with neighboring farms for combining can be iffy at best. He bush hogged the wheat but then called and said it reseeded itself. He asked me if he should just let it grow or plow it under and replant. I called Chris Reberg- Horton at NCSU and Thom Leonard (who has a lot to do with bringing Turkey back into production) and Kenny Haines for their advice and they all echoed the same sentiment-- let it grow! So he did. And btw, he is looking for a small combine-- ideally a PTO-driven all-crop combine-- if anyone had a lead, please let us know.
On my way from Gastonia to my final stop in Mt Ulla, I drove through Morresville where right on the very edge of town, across the street from the fire dept, towers Bay State Milling. I got out and took some pictures. The air smelled like flour.
Next and final stop-- the western piedmont-- Mt Ulla, to the Hofner's famer. The Hofner's are members of the Organic Valley Co-op and they grew five acres of Appalachian White for us last year. We were hoping for twenty acres of TAM 303 from them this year, but sadly the ground had been too wet and as of last week, they had not been able to plant. Buddy said he thinks they still have til X-mas to get their seed in the ground, but he didnt seem too hopeful. Though he had a beautiful field of barley growing that they planted back in October for the Riverbend Malt House.
Upon leaving the Hofner's I drove to the end of their Kerr Mill Road to visit the Kerr Mill, which is now a state park. see pix above...

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