Farm, Life

Room to Grow

22 May, 2016

I have learned a lot of important garden and farming lessons in the past few months and so many of them are metaphors for very important life lessons.

I planted three different types of sugar snap peas at the beginning of this journey. In one raised bed I planted a hundred seeds of two types, intermingled in a row. Snap peas need something to grow on, a type of trellis, so we put up some big branches because we thought the bark would allow the snaps to easily grab and grow along them.

pea trial

In the second raised bed, a week later, I planted only 50 seeds of one type of snap pea, except this time they were planted further apart, on either side of a A frame made of bamboo stalks. The bamboo was slicker so we put string every 6 inches going up, so that the peas could grab on to that if nothing else.

a frame

These pictures show the results so clearly. In my first attempt, the peas have created a low bush. Those shoots and leaves that cannot get enough sun are yellowed and withering. I was able to get some really delicious peas off these plants for the CSA last week but the plants have not recuperated from the harvest.

In the second attempt the pea plants are healthy and green. I had to spend extra time helping those plants (training them) up onto the A frame but the result is that they are healthy. As an added bonus I don’t have to bend down and search when I am harvesting because these sweet peas are at eye level.

a frame peas

Most people tell you to plant close together and then thin the plants so that the most healthy ones remain, spaced further apart. It’s hard to thin though, when you are trying to save space and grow more food. I had also read that you can plant many things closer together in order to reduce weed pressure, without harming the plants. Now I know that thinning is a very important part of my farm, especially for plants like peas and beans, because they need room to grow, to reach for the sunshine, and to spread out a bit. How true this is for us humans too.

peas and tipi

<3 Jessa


Feelings of Inadequacy

21 May, 2016

I listen to a podcast regularly that is put out by a small farm in upstate New York. I have been listening from the beginning so even though I’m well over a hundred episodes in I’m still not caught up. Recently (in my listening, not in their posting) they said “just because you can garden doesn’t mean you can run a CSA, although it does give you a leg up”. HOW TRUE.

family gardening

Sometimes I know exactly why I did this, jump in head first into farming and providing food for people. It’s definitely the best way to learn, as I am taking to heart and thoughtfully considering every single decision that I make. It is also the best way to make sure I am held accountable, so that I am working just as hard at this (harder) than I have worked at every full time job I’ve held. Beyond that I truly thought i was capable. I did so much research, so much planning. I wrote a detailed business plan and set up excel spreadsheets of what to plant when.


And then sometimes it is hard for me to feel capable and I chide myself for not realizing how different growing things in North Carolina is than Florida. I still belong to some Florida gardening Facebook groups and they have been eating well for months. I was so confident that what I planted would be big and ready by now. I should be serving broccoli and peas and squash and cabbage and beets, in my head. But weeks of rain and clouds, temperamental temperatures, and soil made almost entirely from clay have really slowed things down – if not halted some things all together. Of 80 rutabaga seeds I got 4 small roots. Of 50 chard there are 12 beautiful, delicious survivors. Of countless flats of lettuce I have 40 plants of varying ages. It’s so frustrating and it’s so difficult not to blame myself or to think that maybe I am not a farmer.

This is normal right? When success comes a little later than you hoped it’s normal to feel a little inadequate? Especially when you feel like people are counting on you, whether or not that is true.

mama watering

I have gotten some really good feedback and my CSA members are so sweet. They are already incredibly supportive, even the tribe members I had never met before and I am incredibly grateful to them. They got small shares last week but this week is even worse, so I just hope they’ll stick with me. I see hope in this garden, a tiny zucchini here and some almost tomato flowers there. Plus it’s supposed to be hot and sunny this week -finally- and I planted another 100 chard and several new flats of lettuce, winter squash, and greens. At some point some of them have to survive. Until then, I will – and I will keep reminding myself that I’m a farmer until I become good at it.

<3 Jessa

Farm, Life

Let’s Talk About Eggs

15 May, 2016

When I was younger I never thought much about eggs. I didn’t even really like them that much. Then I saw and tasted farmer’s market eggs. And at a different time Wayne, my hubs with the culinary school background, made me good eggs. Apparently all I had ever had were overcooked sad eggs but now I knew happy, delicious eggs. So if you don’t know and you don’t care to know – stop reading. Otherwise, here are some basics on egg labeling and what those labels mean.

Those Cheap Eggs

The deal with those cheap eggs at the grocery store is that they are usually the bottom of the barrel with the worst taste, the worst animal welfare rating, and *arguably* the least amount of nutrition. All eggs come from chickens but these chickens often spend their entire lives in a cage no larger than a sheet of notebook paper. Sometimes the cages don’t have true bottoms so the chickens little feet become deformed trying to stand on wire. Often they are “de-beaked” which means their beaks are trimmed in such a way that they can’t peck at one another, because they are so close and so stressed that they get aggressive. The animals don’t get any exercise, they don’t get to do any of their normal chicken things, and they are pretty sick – so they use a lot of antibiotics. If you want to see what this looks like google “battery cage chicken”.

Cage Free

This is two steps forward and one step back. Usually this means the hens don’t live in cages but in some cases it just means more hens live in bigger cages. Even if they aren’t in cages they live in big barns with no access to the outdoors, and this is where it gets confusing. There are not a ton of regulations so sometimes, these are small-ish farms with a reasonable number of hens in a reasonably sized barn. The hens have space to roam and dust bathe (chickens get clean in dust – it’s weird and looks like they are seizing) and be alone and scratch and stuff. In most places, though, it’s a lot of chickens in a big barn. So many that they don’t have much more space per chicken than a battery cage and it’s even more stressful because the chickens low on the totem pole (chickens have a thing called a “pecking order” where the big dawgs bully the little guys) cannot get away from the others. There is so much poop that they use big fans to try to pull the ammonia out, but often the chickens have respiratory problems.

Free Range

In the worst case it’s the exact same situation as above but the chickens have access to a small concrete pad that is screened in to protect from predators. In the better cases these are farms that give their chickens supervised access to a nice big fenced in area anytime the weather is ok and there aren’t predators actively lurking. The difference is pretty huge and you don’t know what you’re getting unless you can research the farm that raised them.


pastured hens

egg yolks

This is what most people think of as free range. Chickens have access to huge amounts of pasture and can roam basically wherever they want. This is what our chickens enjoy – but there are drawbacks. Almost half of our original flock has been taken by predators and I’m positive one of the Reds hides all of her eggs from me. Our eggs have dark yellow to bright orange yolks because these hens eat a hugely varied diet of greens and bugs and sometimes frogs and mice. (Forreal,theyeatmice) (seetheleftyolkinthepicture).

So now you know. I would encourage you to buy as far up the chain as you can afford. Pastured eggs sell for $6-$7/dozen in my grocery store but the quality is far different than the $1.50/dozen eggs. And many farmers sell cheaper than that (ours are $5/dozen) because they cut out any marketing and distribution costs by selling directly to you. I hope that helps!

<3 Jessa

PS Egg color is dependent on breed. Brown eggs are not any better than white eggs except that most sad eggs are all white because sad egg people use leghorn hens. Our eggs are pink and blue and brownish and cream but their insides are all exactly the same.


PPS *I put a disclaimer on the nutritional claim because even though I think that’s probably true based on the way the yolks look and the way I feel after eating them, I have not seen any real scientific evidence to back that up. The only articles I’ve read are from fru-fru organic hippie websites and it’s good to be skeptical.


Take Your Vitamins

12 May, 2016

One year, when I was brand new to gardening, I planted broccoli that never created florets. It grew these huge gorgeous jungle leaves and never did anything else. I was so disappointed because broccoli takes up quite a bit of space in a small background garden and it’s, well duh, super delicious. So I googled “Can I eat broccoli leaves” and my whole world changed. Turns out the tops of a ton of popular veggies are not just edible, but delicious. Broccoli greens are now one of my favorite leafy green and I am forever experimenting with the often unused bits of other veggies.

How I like to use my greens:

  • The easiest way to take your vitamins is to saute your greens, legit no matter what kind they are. Heat up some oil or butter in a skillet, add some garlic and onion until they are soft, add the greens. Sometimes I’ll add a little veggie broth and I know meat eaters who like to add in bacon. D-licious.
  • Toss some greens into whatever soup or pasta you are making just a few minutes before it’s done. That leaves time for the greens to wilt without becoming mushy and gross. I especially love greens in chicken noodle soup and butter/parmesan covered noodles.
  • Make this amazing soup! What you need:
    • 3 tablespoons butter
    • 1/2 of a large onion, diced
    • 3 small white potatoes
    • 4 cups of whatever green you want to use – I’ve tried radish greens and carrot greens but I can’t wait to try it with my precious broccoli greens.
    • 4 cups of veggie or chicken broth
    • 1/3 cup of heavy cream
    • red pepper flakes, salt, pepper to taste
    • Green onion for garnish
      • Heat up your butter in a large saucepan.
      • Toss in your onion and stir it up so that it’s coated in butter. Cook until it’s tender and a little translucent.
      • Mix in the potatoes and your greens. Immediately pour in your choice of broth.
      • Bring to a boil and then continue simmering for 30 minutes. Turn off heat to allow to cool.
      • Use a food processer to course blend. We aren’t looking for a campbell’s tomato soup consistency, we want some texture.
      • Return to the saucepan, mix in your heavy cream. Salt and pepper to taste. Add in some red pepper flakes to taste.
      • Garnish with chopped fresh green onion. It adds a delicious fresh flavor and a little bit of an extra texture.

Let me know what you think or if you make any tweaks!

<3 Jessa

Farm, Life

Life Hack – Save Your Veggie Scraps

29 Apr, 2016

Our home has very little food waste. We aren’t special and we don’t eat disgusting old food (usually – although I am way more likely to do it than Wayne is) but we do have several ways to divert what would normally go in the trash. One way is by feeding our kitchen scraps to the chickens, who LOVE it. They will eat all the insides out of a banana peel or watermelon rind, and if I cut the squash ends or pepper centers up enough they go to town. Then, the peel or the rind or anything moldy or super gross goes directly to the worms.

In addition to our normal outdoor compost pile we have a vermicomposting bin in our garage where red wiggler worms turn kitchen scraps and paper – yesisaidpaper into super terrific nutrient rich soil, while putting off some liquid fertilizer I can use on veggie plants.

But before any of that, I reuse a ton of our veggie scraps in a new meal! And you totally should too because you’ll be making easy, free, nutrient rich food for your family. I keep a tupperware in my freezer that I throw all sorts of veggie scraps in but especially: carrot ends, onion pieces and peels, celery ends (that white part you don’t want to eat and the leafy parts), and kale stems (we eat a lot of kale in this house). The only veggies I can think of that you wouldn’t want to keep in there are garlic bits (because it would overwhelm the flavor) and potatoes (because starchiness). Then, whenever my tupperware are full, I pull them out to make veggie broth and/or soup.

I use at least two 5 cup tupperwares in one batch, sometimes three or four – but that isn’t really important. I just wait a really long time because I’m lazy and use a huge pot.

Big Veggie Pot

Ignore the awful wallpaper and super old oven. That’s just what our kitchen looks like right now. One day we will have fancy upgraded kitchen but that day is not today. Here are your super easy instructions.

  • Put all of your veggies in your pot and put twice as much water in the pot. You don’t have to worry too much about this but generally make sure your vegetables are covered and then some. Make sure, for flavor purposes, that there is at least some carrot, celery, and onion. Sometimes my scrap bins do not have celery so I add a fresh stalk in.
  • Cover with a lid and bring to a boil.
  • Lower the heat to medium and simmer for – well, as long as you want. An hour is fine – I often lower the heat when I go to bed and let it run all night long. You should try it to see which flavors you like best.
  • Put your new broth through a fine mesh strainer and into your container to store!

Veggie Scraps for Broth

*Note that if you are planning to freeze your broth in any glass container you want to let your broth cool, put it into the container, put that container in the fridge to cool more, and THEN put it in the freezer. Otherwise your mason jars will crack and the world will be sad.

Since I do make a ton at a time I usually freeze about half of my broth and make a vegetable soup the next day. Vegetable broth is terrific for all sorts of things. You can deglaze a pan, use it to make rice instead of water for a more flavorful dish, or make a delicious soup. And then I give the dregs to the chickens and worms. 🙂


<3 Jessa


Crooked Beak Peep

28 Apr, 2016

In March we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of baby chicks at our local supply and feed store, Barnes. I debated ordering them straight from a hatchery and did a bunch of research but there were complicated minimums (a certain number of each bird type plus a certain number of total birds to keep themselves warm while shipping) plus a schedule because certain breeds hatch at different times. It was complicated so I decided to patronize the local feed store instead.

March 21st comes around and Cassie and I show up at Barnes all super excited with our little prepared box in hand… and no babies. We called every day and it wasn’t until Friday March 25th that they finally said the babies had come, but they were in “really bad shape”. Those little baby birds had been packed up the same day they were born, which is usually fine because they are born with about 3 days worth of fuel in their little umbilical cord spots. And then they got stuck on a train for 4 extra days. They were hot and tired and, honestly, dropping like flies.

Needless to say, I’m going to do my absolute best not to get any birds from far away hatcheries ever again. Local hatches and getting my own ladies to sit on fertilized eggs for me. It’s just another skill I am going to have to learn. Plus, when I was looking at hatchery chicks I realized a few of them offer debeaking for 5 cents per bird! WHAT?

When that fist week was over we ended up with 18 happy, healthy peeping fuzzballs. Oh man they were so cute. Then we realized that one of the yellow puffballs (which Cassie and Ben had preemptively named Peep and Cadbury) had a funny beak. Poor Peep’s beak has gotten worse and worse over the past few weeks.

We have done a lot of research about this and apparently it’s not incredibly uncommon. Some people say it’s genetic and almost every says to immediately cull the chick (culling = a nice way to say kill). One by one Ben, then Wayne, and then Cassie were on board but I was still holding out hope that she would thrive and adapt until yesterday. Yesterday I put the babies in the dog crate for the first time and let them hang out outside (in the shade). I also gave them their first treats, some leftover zucchini and stale bread crumbs. Poor little Peep couldn’t pick up a single thing, and it was really obvious how much smaller and skinnier she is than the rest of the chickens, who are all growing really quickly. It’s really sad, but today Ben culled her.

And this is the hard part of farming. Sometimes your chickens turn up in your front yard with their bellies eaten out of them by some unknown predator and you stay awake at night wondering how you can better protect them. Sometimes you have to murder cull your favorite little teeny chicken out of kindness because she is starting to basically starve as she gets older and her beak gets worse. It’s heartbreaking. But it is the cost of being more connected to your food. I get so much joy from these little birds, and so much delicious sustenance. I get to see how real food is made, give these animals a happy (if sometimes short) life, and experience the difference that makes in the taste and nutrition of food. That is worth a little heartbreak to me.


Peep Planting

Peep and Dolce

<3 Jessa


General Update-y Stuff

15 Apr, 2016

Well, I did it. Item # 24 on my 30 before 30 list was “Quit my office job” and I did it. 4 weeks ago was my last day as an Academic Advisor at Wake Tech Community College and since then I have been farming full time and trying to get healthy (with varying levels of success). I legit miss these people.

wake tech

I have to say, it was incredibly stressful to ultimately quit – but also really exciting. Which is basically how I feel all the time regarding starting a small business. It is the most exciting and most difficult thing I think I’ve ever done. About once a week I freak out that I don’t have enough plants started or they aren’t growing quickly enough or – basically just choose anything I could be stressed over. The rest of the week is spent working hard – incredibly hard. I struggle with the tractor – she and I are still getting to know one another. I create (again, with varying levels of success) hundreds of soil blocks. I sit hunched in the dirt planting potato and onion starts. Also I’m super fashionable lately…

My hands look 10 years older than I am but I have a tan and I’ve lost 7 lbs. A farmer’s tan, specifically. Wayne made fun of me the other day because he saw my arms next to my bare belly and the difference was striking. Also, incredibly, I haven’t had hives in almost two weeks after a round of steroids the doctors gave me. I feel… normalhealthylikei’mnotgoingcrazy. It’s amazing. The steroids are meant to tamp down and reset your immune system, which it did. As a result I got a really bad head cold and lost a whole week of farming. It was all I could do to water the things I had planted and clean a little around the house which made me feel extra bad and lazy, but what are you gonna do right? This was only 6 weeks after my last bout with the cold and it seems insane that I am sick every month so I am doing research on immune boosters and trying to eat lots of good whole foods.  If you have advice, send it my way.

In extraordinary and terrific news my very first round of CSA shares are 3/4 sold! I opened them to signups only 2 weeks ago and already 15 of the 20 shares are gone. I feel so lucky to have support from so many different outlets and 15 people excited to become members of my tribe. I hope to spoil them but it is going to be my top priority not to disappoint them. That means planting all the things and planning for a few surprises. I may go overboard this first go-round but hopefully no one is disappointed by MOAR VEGGIES.

raised bed

More to come. It’s been a while, so I wanted to do a quick update since my world is completely different than it was last time I wrote. Tune in for pictures of tiny chickens and yummy veggies and life. And thank you – for all of your support and well wishes and positivity. I feel so lucky.

<3 Jessa



New habits

23 Feb, 2016

Things are starting to warm up here in North Carolina. I actually wore shorts outside this weekend to try to get a little sun on these Casper white gams of mine and shaved my legs without immediately getting spiky again. Ladies, you feel me, right?

Spring and warmth always feels like a beginning and since I am going to have a ton going on this Spring I suppose my mind and heart are starting to plan for it NOW, as the sun heats up the earth a little bit at a time. In that mindset I am trying to cultivate a few new habits that can make my life more pleasant and intentional.

Be Loving

I’ll admit it – I’m sometimes guilty of being judgmental and sarcastic. When you look a mess on social media I have, in the past, gotten petty. “Is she pregnant already?” “Wasn’t he just talking about his engagement two minutes ago?” Yep, PETTY. For the past month I have been trying to catch myself and immediately correct my thoughts. When I see someone who looks beautiful or who accomplished something I immediately praise them. When I see someone hurting I offer my words of support or a reminder that they are not alone.

This has legit caused a huge change in my mind and heart. Not only am I praising other people but I am praising myself. When I am scared that I will fail at farming I remind myself, just like I am reminding other people, that we are strong. Support and kindness are becoming my very first impulses rather than hate and judgment. I am practicing love and fostering self love.


I’ve been using a bullet journal (with varying levels of success) for a month and a half now and it has allowed me to stop planning and planning and planning for a unspecified future. Instead, I focus on today and the immediate future while keeping long term plans in the background. It’s a lot harder to be stressed about these huge long term goals when I have small, achievable, short term goals that I can accomplish and feel GOOD about.

Since Wayne has started working in the office again we have hard some difficulty dealing with dinners and lunches. I don’t know why it’s different but we are both pretty tired when we get home at 7pm and have been going to bed much earlier. One thing that has helped me a ton is to prepare one freezer meal every weekend. Last week it was soups and this past weekend I made burritos. I turn on some music, pour myself a glass (or two) of wine, and cook a nice big delicious meal. It is legit so pleasant.

Make the Bed

There is a ton of research that this is the best way to start your day and I am… yet to be convinced. So far it does help keep Dolce’s dirt off of our sheets, which is a huge plus. Farm+dog=strange smells and dirt. Today I caught her gnawing on a deer’s lower leg. Hoof and all. Where the hell did she get that?

I guess it also helps me to notice when our bedroom is reaching critical mess level because the nice bed is a foil to the piles of clothes. What do you think about this? Am I missing something?

<3 Jessa




17 Feb, 2016

Wayne got a new job – have I told you guys that yet? He’s working locally now which is terrific for me because that means he is traveling less! What isn’t terrific is that we missed out on a really cool trip to South Africa with his old work team (whom I love) and my favorite travel buddy. But mostly I’m happy about the change. Without so much forced international travel (how douchey do i sound saying that international travel was forced?) we hope to do more close-by vacation weekends and this trip was the start of that!

Nashville holds a lot of really wonderful things in our eyes. Some of our favorite people live there – people who are totally like minded and want to live the same kind of lifestyle we want to live: community oriented, grow your own food centric, etc. It has great music, fun nightlife, terrific food, southern hospitality… I could go on. Nashville was actually one of the three places we seriously considered putting our roots down in.

What we have learned on very short trips like these is that whoever you spend the night with is who you have the most one on one time with. The sleepy late night convos are some of my most treasured interactions so on this trip we split our time between the homes of two different sets of friends.  Which was perfect because one night and morning I got 3 legged puppy snuggles and the next night and morning I got tons of child snuggles.

On our first day we had the most amazing brunch (the service was terrific), day drank at several local bars, got the boys some matching hair cuts, and stopped in at some really adorable local shops. Sara bought Jason a pig and I bought Sara and I matching hippie crystals.

pig purchase

pig stroll

They are such a cute little family. 🙂 In one shop there were these beautiful hand letter quote arts. We need much bigger artwork than this in our home but I really loved them. In that same shop we took a strange self portrait in their crazy mirrored wall.

shop art

self portrait


We migrated over to our friend Whit and Blaire’s house for the night and met their kiddos, who are super adorable and mostly well mannered. 🙂 I sat on Field (the son) for a while and held him up by his feet because I am nothing if not a hyperactivity-making machine. Once the babysitter came we went to this incredible Cuban dive where you bring in your own alcohol from the liquor store in the same strip mall. (yaaas) We tried to go to a really fancy dessert restaurant but they asked us to wait in their hallway (whaaa?) so instead we meandered over to Whole Foods, which was the best decision EVER. Seriously why have I not done this before? Everyone gets what they want – be it ice cream or the best sugar cookies ever, we each grabbed a beer from the individuals area, and we basically sat in their little lobby area laughing our asses off for an hour. Boo-ya fancy dessert restaurant. We don’t need you!

As I am writing this I am just thinking about what a magical, go with the flow weekend this was because as our “adults hit the town” night spot we headed to The Stone Fox and happened upon some strange, perfect, themed/hosted karaoke night. This was no ordinary karaoke night where most of the singers are awful and nervous. Each singer had a signature song and was often dressed appropriately for that song. One gentleman had an awe inspiring teddy bear sweatshirt on and one woman had the whole tights and unitard look perfected. It was glorious and hilarious. The next morning we went there for hangover brunch and it turns out the best people were staff members. Apparently they closed like a week later so maybe this was their staff’s last hoorah.

the cutest

child snuggles

This is where I got so many of my child snuggles in. I’m not one of those people who really likes children or really likes being around them all the time, but when I meet a kid we often hit it off pretty quickly. I’m that visitor that your kid wants to sit next to at dinner and wants to read to them. It might be because I’m an adult/kid and they can relate to me? It might also be that it takes a lot for a kid to annoy me because my interactions with children are like – once every six months. I can handle the screaming and the acting out and stuff once every six months. I will also totally welcome ALL the snuggles once every six months. Plus check out how that little peanut “smiles” for the camera. Ugh, I die.

A trip to Nashville isn’t a trip to Nashville without a visit to the honky tonks and I know that Sara and Jason love me because they came with. For a beer. 🙂 After that I was on my own and made some new friends!

new friends

::sigh:: I love Nashville. We are totally having my dirty thirty there if you want to come. It’s gonna be great.

<3 Jessa



9 Feb, 2016

Welp, I’m sick again. And not just all hives all the time like I mentioned in this post but also sick sick. I blame our friend Chris because I drank from his cup on accident at dinner last weekend and I have to blame someone. I should really blame my shit immune system, because how is it possible to be this sick all the time?

Anyways, right now when it doesn’t feel like I’m swallowing shards of glass  or going up and down in an airplane I’m working on farm stuff. What that mostly  means is planning, planning, and more planning – and working on the application for a farm loan. It also means seeking out the right advice from the right people. I found an irrigation expert through the local extension office and a regional sales rep with Johnny’s Seeds who is promising to help me pick out varieties that are good for North Carolina. How is it that people are so kind and supportive? I keep thinking that I must have done some really wonderful things in my life to deserve to be surrounded by people who calm my fears and provide all the answers.

I also submitted my resignation paperwork at work, which is terrifying and more than a little sad. I never would have expected (after such a negative environment in my last work space) to find coworkers that make me laugh and give good advice and support one another. My supervisor legit rocks and I really do love this job, so it is hard that I am leaving so soon (March 11th, official last day). But now is the time to focus on creating the life we want so badly, and to spend more time taking care of myself and my family. My immune system is certainly telling me that changes have to be made.

The other update is that we had our requisite 5 days of snow here in North Carolina which I think could turn out to be my favorite time of year every year. It’s just magical (science = magic right?). This year we spent it being lazy, eating comfort foods, playing cards. I spent a lot of time needlessly worrying about the chickens who looked so cute in the snow. They kept tucking one little foot up into their down comforters/feathers to warm it and then switching.
snow chickens

snow sun

We also went to Nashville, but that’s news for another day.

<3 Jessa