Olivia Sanders, Dig In! Field Manager
Heirloom corn– with its dented kernels and browning, wormy tip, it doesn’t look like it belongs in the same world as the shiny, uniform corn in the supermarket. And in some ways, it lives in a different world entirely. Heirloom foods are historical breeds that have been saved and refined for generations, many of them passing through families to a time before European colonization. They represent the diversity and the stories that were present on our dinner plates before commercial breeds we now see in the grocery store became ubiquitous. While our heirloom field corn might not look pretty to many of us, to some of our neighbors it looks just right. It may look just like the grain they grew up shucking, hanging in barns, and taking to the grist mill. This corn has passed through so many hands and carries the intergenerational story of Appalachian agriculture.
We planted our heirloom variety “Goose corn” kernels in circular mounds in June, guarding the sprouts with row cover until they grew too big to fit in a crow’s mouth. After that, we stood back and watched them grow. When the volunteers would arrive for our weekly work together day, the most common greeting was “Would you look at the corn!”
When we harvested the ears in mid-October, they sparked even more conversation. The dense, long ears that were white or red doesn’t look like typical summer barbeque sweet corn. That’s because Goose corn is a type of “dent” corn (also called “field” corn) that is traditionally dried and ground into cornmeal. This means that you harvest it once the kernels have small dents in each one, revealing that they are mature and losing moisture. After we harvested the corn, we hung it in our barn to dry. During the winter we’ll scrape the kernels off their cobs, winnow it, and grind it into meal, carrying on the story of so many Appalachian farmers before us. And like them, we’ll also save about a third of the seed to plant out next year.
The story of this Goose corn extends far beyond our few short months spent with it. We received the seeds from our neighbor Jim Veteto, who directs the nonprofit Appalachian Institute for Mountain Studies (AIMS), a group that works to save heirloom varieties and keep them in production. The seeds for our unique variety of Goose Corn came from Bald Mountain in the northwest corner of Yancey county, where they have been selected and planted by several generations of Yancey County settlers. Jim explained to us that for seeds to stay viable and genetically diverse, they need to be grown out every year or two. This allows them to keep growing and adapting to the conditions that vary from year to year.
By planting these seeds and saving them for future generations, Dig In! is grateful to continue the agricultural traditions of our region. We think heirloom foods represent an important part of our history that can live on through our work and create a more resilient, diverse food system. We’d like to give a big thanks to all the farmers before us who worked with this land to bring us regionally adapted varieties, to AIMS and Jim Veteto for making these seeds available to us, and to everyone who supports our work in this county!
First, second, and third frosts have now settled on the garden, and we feel the transition to winter blowing down the valley. Summer crops have been frost bitten and hauled to the compost bin. The garden is putting on its winter layers of mulch and cover crops. We’ll continue to harvest our few crops that don’t mind the chilly weather, but mostly our garden and gardeners will soon rest for the season.
As things settle down, we can’t help but reflect and be amazed at what has been accomplished in this first year of growing at Blankenship Creek. The pictures above were taken in early March, July, and late October, 2017 (from top to bottom); they reveal how our gardeners have moved mountains this season, transforming a bare pasture to a thriving community garden. This has been such an incredible journey to share with you all. The generous folks in this community have continued to support our work in so many ways: spending time at the garden, donating tools and supplies, attending our fundraisers, and so much more. We are so grateful to grow with you all.
During this time of rest we will reflect, plan, and prepare for the upcoming growing season. Keep abreast of these activities on this blog and our Facebook page. We hope you have a restful and joyful winter.
Olivia (Field Manager) and Kathleen (ED & Garden Manager)
Our new garden site has transformed over the course of a few short months. Thanks to everyone’s hard work, we have a brand new community garden!
Posted by Olivia Sanders, Dig In! Field Manager
What a whirlwind season it has been at the farm! From the foggy mornings of March to these warm summer days, so many people working at Dig In! have been consistently, carefully crafting gardens and a farm from scratch. We’re quite proud of the transformation the earth we’ve cultivated has undergone in just a few months, and we want to share the story with you.
Last autumn, many of you took part in the transition of the garden on Bolens Creek to Blankenship Creek. In a matter of a few weeks, we picked every tool and material we could take with us–unfortunately we had to leave the soil– and brought them to our new home off of Prices Creek Road. We transplanted perennials, planted garlic, tucked tools away in our new barn, and waited patiently for the ground to freeze and thaw again. We held planning meetings through the cold of winter with our volunteers, local farmers, and permaculturists to dream about what the new farm would look like.
In early spring, we stepped onto the new ground with big dreams from our winter planning sessions. Looking at the five acres of blank pasture felt both inspiring and terrifying–where would we begin? The brown rectangle of tilled soil we saw didn’t exactly look like a community garden.
But slowly, the garden has taken shape. Week by week, our volunteer gardeners have painted their creative ideas over the blank slate. Soil was flipped into double dug, bio-intensive beds. Cardboard was layered into “lasagna” sheet mulching. Pocket-sized pollinator gardens popped up in corners. Daily we are surprised by some aspect of the garden’s new look. Each person leaves their mark in their own way. The garden has become an amazing collage of the community’s work, which in totality no one person can take credit for.
Now, we’re in the swing of high summer with nearly everything planted, weeded, mulched, and growing strong. Harvesting our first flush of ripe tomatoes last week was a joyful milestone–I can’t think of a better reward for hard work than a ripe, heirloom tomato. A farm’s work is never done, but I am relieved at how established the new garden feels thanks to our everyone’s dedicated work. Just a couple months ago, I couldn’t have imagined the beauty and productivity you all have created.
Dig In! Community Garden is grateful to grow with everyone in this community. Everyone’s hard work creates a community garden where people can grow food, knowledge, friendships, and food security for Yancey County. Thank you to every person who has been a part of our growth and transition!
Join us in the gardens as we work together on Tuesday evenings 5 p.m. until sundown and Thursday mornings 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
In the hustle and bustle of establishing a new garden this blog post was written but not shared. Our Field Manager, Olivia Sanders captures the anticipation of growing a new garden in a post she wrote in May, 2017. She’ll soon share our progress after many days working together in the gardens and farm we’ve cultivated since she penned this blog post. Thanks to all who keep us growing with your hands, hearts, treasure, and kind words of encouragement.
Olivia Sanders, Dig In! Field Manager
Spring is here and perhaps none of us are more delighted than the farmer. Shaking ourselves out of winter coats and revving the tractor from its slumber, we growers are ready to test out all of our wild, cabin-fever-inspired plans and start checking tasks off the list. And Dig In!’s growers are heeding the call– we have finally broken ground on our new site at Blankenship Creek Road! Flipping over the sod last week to find the rich, brown (rocky) potential of our new garden site has brought us much excitement, and we want to share it with you.
The Dig In! Garden is now located at 744 Blankenship Rd off of Prices Creek in Yancey County. Directions can be found on our website under “Connect.”
Melina Casados joins the Dig In! team as our summer intern sponsored by CTNC. She’s helping us to grow and share food, and is working on social media and communication campaigns for Dig In!
Dig In! was one of 16 organizations in North Carolina selected to host an intern through the Conservation Trust of North Carolina’s Diversity in Conservation Internship Program, which is partially funded by the AmeriCorps program. We received an overwhelming response from students from across the state wishing to increase their skills in growing food, creating just food systems, and learning within a hands-on model through this summer internship. Melina Casados rose to the top of those candidates and we welcomed her to the Dig In! team on June 2nd. Hailing from Lexington, NC, Melina is completing her final year at Elon University as a creative writing major. She is engaged in the world around her while excelling in her studies. This includes volunteerism with Campus Kitchen, an organization that grows a garden and provides food to food pantries near Elon; Melina also hosts a radio show on the college’s station. Her commitment to eating a vegan diet draws Melina to social, ecological, and health causes that include spending time at an animal rescue. Since arriving at Dig In!, Melina has worked diligently in the field to help us with everything and anything. She’s initiated a photography project, as well as a volunteer spotlight project that will be shared at the end of her time with us. Melina is bilingual in Spanish, a skill she’s used to create Spanish printed material for our programs and events.
Thanks to all who have helped us host Melina, including High Cove Community in Bakersville where she rents a room, and our volunteers who have welcomed and included her in the community. Be on the lookout for the many contributions Melina is making to Dig In!, including photography shared on our Facebook page.
Written by Olivia Sanders, Dig In! Assistant Manager
When you imagine a gardener’s work, you probably don’t think of clipboards or databases. Recordkeeping will probably slip to the bottom of your priorities list if you’re gardening for the same reasons I am — to be outside, work with your hands, or be physically active. However, taking notes can be extremely rewarding as you track the progress of your plants. Think of it as another type of cultivation in the garden: sowing seeds of observation allows you to “harvest” new farming knowledge.
Dig In! exists as an educational model for sustainable farming systems, and keeping records is one of those systems. We invite you to see our process and its outcomes for 2016, and we welcome your feedback and commentary. Attached to this post are three documents that describe our observations from this year and offer insights for future improvements:
|Garden Journal||The Garden Journal is a breakdown of our knowledge “harvests” in the categories of insect management, cover crops and mulches, irrigation, and weeding.|
|Crop Overview||The Crop Overview shows how long it took each crop to grow, including dates they were planted and harvested.|
|Harvest Tracker||The Harvest Tracker (the most valued of all databases at Dig In!) tracks the total weight of the vegetables we produced. (skip to the bottom)|
If you can’t read those documents, some highlights of our knowledge “harvests” include:
- Onions can reduce pest pressure from cabbage moths
- Potato beetles caused the spread of disease in our potato crop
- It took our bulbing onions about four months to mature
- We produced a total of 6,500 pounds of food this year!
These documents all started with simple note-taking on the farm. We wrote down all the tasks we did each day and basic observations about weather, plant growth, and insect pressure. These little bits of information seemed frivolous to write down at the time (trust me), but when we sat down in the winter to consolidate the data, patterns began to emerge. The data began to show us the full picture of the farm, and helped us connect problems with their causes. All these notes will help us become better gardeners next year, and they were pretty easy to create!
Recordkeeping practices can help home gardeners as well. If you want cabbage and carrots for coleslaw in time for your big Fourth of July cookout, you can look at last year’s notes to see how long it took those things to mature. Or if the squash bugs got to your summer squash (like us this year), you could try planting them a week earlier than you did before. However you want to use your records, I suggest just diving in to explore what they can show you. Every garden has a story to tell if we listen!
And what did the Dig In! Garden’s story say this year? Together we can produce healthy food for all! Last year, Dig In! Yancey Community Garden produced over 6,500 pounds of food for our neighbors. And as always, a very sincere thank you to all of our dedicated volunteers, donors, and community partners who make our work possible. We are looking forward to another abundant year of growth with you in 2017!