Saturday, May 1, 2010

Cafe 305 Field Trips!

Today I present Episode One of Café 305 Field Trips—a series of photo/video/text reports on visits to cool places where cool people do cool things so we can cook and eat cool food! I’m following my own curiosity here, and talking to my friends and neighbors about what they do to bring us food. I’m kicking things off with Christin and Dave from Federal Point Farms, and I’ve already got a few more up my sleeve. ( Thanks, for the tour, guys! Gee. Hopefully they'll read this...)

Ironically, two of the people who most inspire me to cook also happen to be people who are way too busy to cook themselves, most of the time. Christin Deener and Dave Higgins own Federal Point Farms, and spend almost all their time growing food they don’t have time to prepare and consume. Several local restaurants and countless cooking customers of the downtown Farmers Market in Wilmington are happy to do it for them, though.

Christin and Dave started Federal Point Farm in 2008. They rented land that had long been a blueberry farm and cleared it and got it crop-ready. Here’s a big pile of burned roots and junk they had to yank out of there when they tilled it. Good lord.

This is what my herb bed looks like right now, minus the chicken coop made out of an old pontoon boat.

We met Dave and Christin through a mutual absentee friend. She was all, “Tell Christin and Dave I said hi when you go down to the Farmer’s Market!” and we were all, “OK!” so we did, and damned if they didn’t turn out to be super-nice people. Who are doing something that I’m obviously uber-interested in.

Aren’t they cute? Christin is holding an imaginary pitchfork. Humor her. She spends a lot of time in the sun.

We had them over here to the Cafe and fed them a couple of times, and it worked! (It’s KIND of like paying people to be your friends, but cash doesn’t exchange hands.) Anyway, I think they like us now. At least enough that when I asked if I could come out to the farm and have them drag me around and show me the works and then blog about it, they said “sure.”

They raised chickens for a couple of years, but that didn’t go well. There were apparently some chicken massacres and they went from 25 to 6 over time. I’m not pointing fingers, but I suspect foxes may have been involved. Anyway, they decided against chickens for the time being. I do love chickens, though, so here’s a gratuitous poultry shot. Turkey babies, actually. There’s a guy at the farm who is raising ducks, chickens and turkeys. He opened the door to let me get a picture of something besides wire. GAAAHH! I can’t stand how adorable they are!


Hands-on farming fascinates me. In that “Oh-my-god-I-can’t-believe-you-work-this-hard” kind of way. I’m mystified by the whole process of how to grow things, what to plant, when to water, when to feed it, what is eating it, and how I killed it. My own garden is kind of a survival-of-the-fittest experiment, and interestingly, that’s kind of Christin and Dave’s method, too. (Except they’re exponentially more successful. They don’t have a farm full of cherry laurels and smilax vine. Maybe I could crochet baskets out of that stuff. Or tanks.) They have judiciously decided to go the non-chemical route, which means that sometimes things don’t make it. They had squash borer take down a second squash crop last year, for example. And they just let it go – not much to do about it besides douse it in pesticide, and they weren’t willing to do that. Christin mostly just smooshes bugs by hand when she comes across them.

Here’s Christin, scouting for insects in her Harris-Teeter hat. She was stoked they had them back in stock. They’re cheap, and they get used hard. (Dave says they get sat upon frequently.)
They do all the work. There’s some equipment, but they do an awful (and I do mean awful) lot by hand. It’s hard, filthy work, and it’s hard on your hands. And as Christin points out, she doesn’t wear gloves. (I think it’s because she really digs smooshing bugs.)


They do have some equipment, including this pretty sweet little ride.
Christin said they’ve now moved up to farming with 1940s technology.

It’s spring right now, so what grows best is the cooler-weather stuff including lots of lettuces. Harvesting lettuce is done by hand, and is incredibly time-consuming, then it has to be made ready for consumption. Now, if you are producing Artisan-brand lettuce, you apparently just pick the head out of the ground, roll it around so it’s coated with even MORE sand, and cram it into a plastic box, grit and all. But Dave and Christin are kinder to us than that, and they have a pretty hittin’ process for prepping the lettuce.


Now THAT’S a salad-spinner, people. It works, too. I can attest to the fact that when I get their greens, I wash them and there’s no residue in the bottom of my salad spinner. Which doesn’t work nearly as well as that old washer. Of course, once it’s washed and spun dry, it still has to be combined into a nice mix (they don’t just jam a head of romaine in a bin – they have some really cool greens that they make into a thoughtful salad) and put into bags. Yes, bagged. I’m telling you, they work all the time.

Best. Scarecrow. EVER.

I asked Christin to give a rundown of a ‘typical’ day, which was a job in and of itself. She said no days are really “typical”. They all vary widely by day and of course, by the time of year depending on what crops they have. But here’s an example of the two days leading up to the last Farmer’s Market.

Since it’s Spring, and they’re selling a lot of lettuces, they spend mornings all week harvesting lettuce. Like her gorgeous flower arrangements (she really does have quite an eye for that) the lettuces need to be harvested in the morning, pretty early, before it gets too hot. Otherwise, it withers in the heat, kind of like me. I don't think it whines quite as much, though. Dave cleans while she harvests, washing and spinning the lettuce, and cleaning off radishes, daikon, turnips, etc. They start around 7:00 AM or 7:30 and harvest until noonish. Then Christin makes any deliveries they have to restaurants. After her deliveries, it’s back to the farm for forming beds, amending soil, weeding, and watering. They have a drip-feed system for the actual beds, but they grow everything from seed, so there are flats and flats of plants at the farm and over at their greenhouse, a mile away, that need frequent watering. The day I interviewed Christin, we (Pootie and I) arrived at 2:00, annoyed her until 4:00, and they still managed to poke 1100 tomato plants into the ground after we left.

The greenhouse. And lots and lots of baby plants. And Pootie's reflection.

Friday is their busiest day, preparing for the Farmer’s Market Saturday morning. The Friday she was describing to us involved the morning greens harvest and cleaning, then they labeled plants.(If it’s cool enough, they pack the van with the plants. In the later summer months, they have to unload them, then get up that much earlier on Saturday and repack them, so the heat of the truck doesn’t kill them.) They started bagging the greens next – in this case until midnight. (No, they didn’t eat dinner.) Then Christin did flower arrangements and signage, and got to bed about 2:00 or 2:30 AM.

Next morning they were up before 6:00 to finish loading up the van.
The van. Kind of Rock Star Road Trip looking, isn't it?

They have to be in the parking lot of Thalian Hall at 7:00 in their place. They live in Carolina Beach, so they have to allow for at least half an hour of drive time. Then all the farmers for the market parade downtown and get into their places on Water Street. The market opens at 8:00. They sell and sell until 1:00, then Christin counts out, they pack up, and parade out. Then they go out to lunch and stare at each other and are comatose for a while.

Sunday morning, they’re back up at and at it, amending soil, watering things, planting, and weeding. No, they don’t take a day off. Along with all the farm work, there’s the bookkeeping, accounting, and other business they have to take care of.
Little bit of farm filth is good for the soul.

It’s all dirty, hot, sweaty work, but Christin and Dave love it. (Mostly.) I asked Christin what her least favorite part of farming was and she said it was the unpredictability. She spends a lot of time putting out fires (sometimes taking the form of watering wilted seedlings) and handling things that come up and sometimes it feels like she’s spinning her wheels. There are a lot of things she want to get done that she can’t because something else needs to be handled right NOW.

Then I asked her what her favorite part of farming was, while she happened to be watering seedlings in the greenhouse. She said “This. I love taking care of all the baby plants when they’re little and well-behaved.” Judging by the perky, lush green of all those flats, I’d say the babies seem to be responding well to the attention.


Anonymous said...

I bought some lettuce plants from Christen at the Plant Sale on Metts not long ago, and they're all doing quite well. I've actually gathered and eaten some. That's even better than buying them at the Farmer's Market, although I love that too.

Andie Reid said...

Christin said that another one of her favorite things is selling plants to people at the market and talking about how to grow them. She loves for other people to dig the gardening aspect as much as she does.

Michaela said...

Wow Andie,
Christen & Dave are my new heroes! I am ashamed over my complaints of a 'hard week' (usually meaning that things don't go my way:)
We are lucky to live in very green-market friendly Seattle and thanks for helping me to appreciate the efforts of our local farmers who work hard so that we can eat well!
And yes, that is the BEST scarecrow. Ever.