December 15, 2005

Life continues to have more turns that the average river. I visited over the weekend to explore some updated business cards, and was paralyzed by indecision in short order–do I have these cards printed to focus on turkeys? Or everything else? Recent events have moved turkeys very much into the limelight. We are poised to raise as many as nature can provide this coming spring, and maybe do very well with sales. However, live animals require more time and focus than plants, and this could add unwanted pressure to our lives. Or, it could be a road to an exciting and profitable venture. It’s hard to know from one side of the fence how the grass is in the other pasture, and looks can deceive. One thing is certain–we refuse to expand beyond the point where we can enjoy our animals and take excellingly good care of them. Some discussion went around recently about marketing the birds that we very small farmers raise. Other farms and ranches do very well by advertising their "free range" turkeys to the public. Except, "free range" often equals hundreds of birds in a very large pen, with fewer than two or three square feet of space to call their own. Because of the corwding, the ground is denuded of vegetation and the birds are fed a prepared ration. My cohorts and I don’t believe that this is "free range" at all. At Nevermore, our birds have at least fifteen square feet of space each, and that’s just in their actual pen. They are never IN their pens, so the number is really more like a quarter of an acre per bird. They do what they want, when they want, get premium supplemental feed, graze all they want, and have great turkey lives. Myself and other small operators locally involved with heritage breeds (who feel similarly about their birds!) are hoping that the conditions our birds experience will mean something to consumers who are able to pay for a premium turkey to eat. We also believe that the advantage isn’t just psychological, because (speaking for myself) the taste and texture of the meat has more similarity to pork loin than anything I’m used to in the way of commercial turkey. This year will be quite the adventure in marketing and economics!

We met another great family recently, who took interest in our Royal Palms. We made a trade of a beautiful woodstove (to heat our workshop) for a nice flock of four birds that will breed this spring. This leaves us with one surplus tom, who has turned into quite the character. It is sometimes said of women, do we dress up to attract men, or to compete with each other? The same might be asked of toms. Do toms strut and display to attract hens, or to impress each other? Each tom now has a dedicated ritual of focused showing off that lasts through most of the daylight hours. Their antics are hilarious to watch, and just when we think we’ve seen it all, something new happens.

I have been working hard to finish the growing cycle for the year. Many gardeners have long since ripped out their dead plants, but since we grow special varieties, we don’t do that. November and December are when many flowers and vegetables set their seed, and I collect as much as I can. I pick baskets and bowls full of pods and seedheads, and spend evenings when we watch television getting the seeds out. I have two gallons of mixed broom cornseed, almost a gallon of okra seed, many many bags of our beautiful zinnias (sorted by color and mixed), a quart of african horned cucumber seed, cups of unusual eggplant, pepper and tomato seed, and on and on. To make it worse, the seed catalogs have arrived, and idle time is spent turning each page again and again, deliberating which varieties to try next year alongside the ones we already love. We have enough seed to plant absolutely acres and acres of stuff–more than we can use and then some. I hope that in another month or so, I may be able to convice a high school agriculture teacher with whom I am acquainted to have his students raise my heritage seedlings in their large greenhouse. We hope to have our own greenhouse sometime in 2006 (here’s hoping the taxes are kind) but it will be too late to raise the amount of seedlings I’d like. I hope that this could be a mutually beneficial arrangement. I’d love to give a talk to students about these plant varieties and why they matter, and their efforts could give us a huge boost toward a successful market garden for 2006. Increasingly we have experienced the importance of meeting new people and making contacts with others who have similar pursuits. One of the best parts of 2005, for us, has been meeting so many  who share our goals and have so much knowledge themselves. As a relatively isolated endeavor we’ve learned and had fun, but it means so much more to participate in a community of hardworking good people.

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