Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays from all of us at Bluebird Farm!

All of us at the farm, especially the animals, are excited about the days growing longer. Day by day we will have more sunshine encouraging plants and animals to think about spring.

Even in the cold winter weeks our layer hens are hard at work. They give us one delicious egg every day. Our eggs are available at the farm. Millstone Market and Kitchen and the Grind Cafe in Morganton also both purchase our eggs. So you can ask about what dishes they bake them in.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


The sleeping garden at dawn

Snow! I have to admit I was skeptical of all the hype this storm received. After living in Colorado it is hard to believe we would ever get anything worth calling snow here in North Carolina. I was wrong!

"What is this stuff?"

"We have cold feet!"

I hope everyone was able to enjoy the snow and stayed safe. The animals here at the farm didn't quite know what to make of it all. The pigs ate it and nose it curiously. The chickens, well to put it kindly, I think their brains froze. They lacked the good sense to go into their shelter onto dry ground and stood in a penguin mass, hopping from one foot to the other, under the trees. We had to assist them into their shelter before the froze their toes!

During the snow storm we had to repeatedly brush the snow of the chicken shelters to keep them from collapsing. As I went out extra early in the morning I was hoping not to kind some kind of disaster.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

December Newsletter

Hello all,

As you look out your window on a gray cold day like the day I am writing this, you might be wondering what in the world could a farmer be doing at this time of year. Well, write newsletters for one!

We have been planning our 2010 season Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. In a CSA Customers purchase a membership in the farm at the beginning of the growing season. Members receive a weekly box of seasonal produce, herbs, eggs, and chicken. In addition you will receive recipes and cooking ideas in our newsletters for the food you receive. A CSA share is a wonderful way for you and your family to share the fresh, seasonal bounty of Bluebird Farm. Fresh food is more nutritional than week old food picked unripe and shipped across country. In addition, reestablishing the connection between farmers and eaters is an important step for personal health, community vitality, and environmental stewardship. We have been very excited about all the positive feedback we have been getting about the CSA. If you are interested in learning more about the CSA then you can read about it on our website. If you have not received a December CSA update in addition to this newsletter and you are interested in the CSA please contact us so we can put you on our CSA list.

Our seven pigs have been enjoying themselves outside these past few months. These days they huddle together in their shelter at night for warmth. But as soon as the sun comes over the trees they are up and about eating, playing, and eating some more. They will grow to a harvestable size by mid-February. Our pork will be available in large and small family packs and by the cut. You will receive more information on our pork prices and how to purchase the meat later this week.
We have been putting out plenty of fresh hay for the pigs to sleep in and eat. They especially like finding seed heads in the hay. Our chickens and pigs have been living together for the winter which has resulted in some pretty funny scenes. My favorite so far is a chicken eating seed heads that had stuck to the back of a pig while the pig enjoyed her mid-afternoon nap. Together the chickens and pigs are providing the raw ingredients for next year’s compost piles.

The other activity we find time for in the winter is continuing education. We were able to attend the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s annual conference. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet people involved in the food system in all sorts of ways from farmers to distributors to food activists. One presentation of particular interest to me was the compost tea workshop. Compost tea is a brew made with a small amount of good compost, a microbial food source like molasses, and warm water. The ingredients are combined and aerated for a day or two. The resulting mix is an amazing mix of microbes, nutrients, fungi, and protozoa. If made properly, compost tea can build soil, feed plants, and fight disease. We hope to do some of our own experimenting with compost tea.

Winter gives us time to cook. The holidays give us an excuse to cook decadent food. Marie tried her hand at using our eggs to make eggnog. It was the smoothest, yummiest, richest eggnog you have ever tasted. In fact, it was so thick and rich that we had to eat it with spoons instead of drink it!

Our chicken, eggs, and greens continue to be available at the farm. You can also find our food cooked into delicious dishes at Millstone Market and Kitchen located on South King St. in Morganton. Please call or email to arrange to arrange a visit or pickup at the farm at: (828) 584-7359 or . See how your chickens were raised, where the fresh eggs come from, walk through the garden, and visit our animals in the pastures. We would love for you to visit; just call or email to arrange one. In the meantime you can read about our farm activities here, at our blog or learn more at

Happy Holidays,

William and Marie

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sustainable Agriculture Conference!

William and I spent the weekend in Black Mountain attending the annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference hosted by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. We stayed up past our bedtime, met amazing people, and came back to Bluebird Farm feeling so inspired! William and I have attended many great conferences and it was great to return to this one after several years' absence. Lots of familiar faces and new friendly ones too! Bluebird Farm is a proud member of CFSA.
The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association organizes this exciting and inspiring event every year at different locations throughout the Carolina's. The conference is open to anyone interested in learning more about healthy food systems and agriculture, and it is also a great opportunity for exchange of ideas between farmers, educators like holistic veterinarian Dr. Ann Wells, outreach groups like the Society of Saint Andrew, organizers like Mark Winne (community food security expert), coops like Organic Valley to our very own Foothills Family Farms, and organizations like the Animal Welfare Institute.

Whew... So many great thoughts were exchanged! But now we are off again to Atlanta for a family visit. Thanks to my Dad, brother, and sister for taking such great care of the animals for us.

More about the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association

Our Mission
Promote local and organic agriculture in the Carolinas by inspiring, educating and organizing farmers and consumers.

Our Vision
A regional food system that is good for the farmer, the consumer and the land. CFSA is a membership-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization of more than 1,000 farmers, gardeners, consumers and businesses in North and South Carolina. These members are committed to sustainable agriculture and the development of locally-based, organic food systems. Learn more about how you can join our efforts to grow a healthier food system for our communities.

Monday, November 30, 2009


In the spring of 2010 we will begin our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Customers purchase a membership in the farm at the beginning of the growing season. Members receive a weekly box of seasonal produce, herbs, eggs, and chicken. In addition you will receive recipes and cooking ideas in our newsletters for the food you receive. A CSA share is a wonderful way for you and your family to share the fresh, seasonal bounty of Bluebird Farm. Fresh food is more nutritional than week old food picked unripe and shipped across country. In addition, reestablishing the connection between farmers and eaters is an important step for personal health, community vitality, and environmental stewardship.

What is a share?
A share is a weekly box of fresh, seasonal produce, herbs, eggs, and chicken from Bluebird Farm. We plan to offer large and small summer vegetable shares. A large summer share will feed four people with a season’s worth of wonderful summer crops like sweet carrots, peppers, tomatoes, herbs, and potatoes for 20 weeks (mid May- mid Oct). Additional options will include egg shares, chicken shares, early spring and late fall shares, and shorter “trial” shares. If you purchase a chicken or egg share you will receive our pastured chicken or eggs in addition to your vegetables. See example shares here.

Interested in helping?
We want to emphasize that our CSA is still in its formative stages. We want your input! The wonderful part of a CSA is that it is a two way street of mutual support and ideas between growers and eaters. So we want to know what sorts of vegetables you want to eat, how many vegetables you want, how you want to get your share, and any other ideas you have. We plan on having an organizational meeting in early January. We hope to see you then or hear from you in emails. To learn more about the CSA concept check out our website.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Food Safety

You may have heard people talk about a new bill in congress that will radically change the way we can produce and purchase food. House bill H.R. 875 and senate bill S 510, better known as The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 is probably the legislation referred to. This bill stems from legitimate concerns about the safety of our food system. The major focus of the bill is to ensure that food processing and handling is undertaken in a manner to prevent food borne illness such as E. coli 0157H7.

While the impetus for the bill stems from real danger in our food supply it does address the heart of the matter. Rather than proposing real solutions to the problems posed by centralized production, long distance transportation, and centralized processing, it proposes to pile more regulations onto the pile of already under enforced current regulations.
We know that our current rules don’t work. A recent example is the January 2010 Consumer Reports which found that 2/3 of fresh whole chickens in grocery stores contains at least one of two potentially deadly bacteria: campylobacter and salmonella. The birds are contaminated in spite of our current regulations. They are, in fact, contaminated because of the way in which we raise, transport, and process most of our meat in this country.

Cattle, pigs, and chickens are all primarily raised in confined situations with high levels of fecal matter. This fecal matter harbors disease agents. As animals are transported and slaughtered there is high risk of fecal matter coming into direct contact with the animals and finally the meat. The solution is to raise animals outside on fresh pasture where they do not wallow in their own excrement. The second part of the problem is centralized processing. This puts pieces of thousands of animals into one piece of processed meat. So even if only one cow carcass is contaminated the meat will reach thousands of people via thousands of burgers. The solution here is to butcher at local slaughter houses in smaller numbers. This way if one animal is contaminated a limited and easily traceable quantity of meat is affected.

The Food Safety Modernization Act does not really address these alternative ideas. It applies blanket rules designed for large producers to all producers regardless of size. Most of the time the new rules probably wouldn’t stop an outbreak, they would simply make it slightly faster to trace. We need to stop these problems before they begin. Furthermore, we must recognize that these are problems of our large scale Confinement Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and centralized processing and not problems of small farmers selling to local markets.

Please learn about this bill at these sites:

North Carolinians have a good opportunity to provide input because both Senators Kay Hagan and Richard Burr are on the committee reviewing the bill. After learning about the bill and reading the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s talking points, please call your senators and urge them to modify the bill to allow small producers like us to operate without undue regulatory burden.

You can reach them at the following numbers:

Senator Hagan's office at (202) 224-6342
Senator Burr’s office at (202) 224-3154

Thank you

Monday, November 23, 2009

Morganton News Herald

Read about Bluebird Farm in the Morganton News Herald...

For those of you who are interested in finding out more about the farm, please read on through our blog or new

We welcome your comments, ideas, questions about our Community Supported Agriculture(CSA) project, local foods, and Bluebird Farm. Email William and Marie at We also invite you to visit the farm!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Apples, garlic, and chicks!

Our pigs got a special treat a few days ago! We were given a load of deer apples which the pigs have enjoyed immensely. Besides the taste, which they clearly enjoy, they roll the apples around with their noses.

Our garlic is growing well. The heavy morning dew has created some jewel bedecked leaves. We are all used to very uniform garlic in the store, but there are three different types and dozens of varieties of garlic all with unique growing properties
and flavors. Soft-neck garlic is the type most often sold in grocery stores. Soft-neck garlic can be braided into wonderful displays. The two other types are stiff-neck and elephant garlic. Stiff-neck varieties are more resilient to grow. Elephant garlic is not true garlic but a very strange leek. Consequently it has mild flavored large cloves. We are growing soft-neck and hard-neck varieties this fall. They have wonderful names like Chesnook red, Nootka Rose, and Music. We look forward to taste tests next year!

Our chicks have finally grown large enough to move to pasture. They were excited about the grass this morning. Our only problem with the move appeared tonight when I went to close them into the coop. The silly chicks don’t recognize the new coop as home yet, so they did not return as it grew dark. I had to collect little piles of chicks from around the pen to put them inside. They had just plopped down anywhere. Some adventurous birds were roosting on top of the coop-those were hard to reach.

Friday, November 20, 2009


We have a webpage now! You can find recipes, old newsletters, directions, and other general information there without having to sort through the chronological blog posts. Keep checking the blog for our weekly activities growing on the farm!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sustainable Agriculture Event

There is one more speaker in Western Piedmont Community College's Food for Thought forum. Their first speakers, farmer Joel Salatin, author Anna Lappe, and teacher Chip Hope were all very good. Don't miss the final speaker Joel Bourne. He is a contributing writer for National Geographic magazine. The title of his talk is The Global Food Crises: The End of Plenty. You can read his article by the same name here. The lecture is in Moore Hall at 7:15 pm, Thursday November 19th.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Quiche recipe

Quiche is one of my favorite recipes to highlight the flavors of fresh eggs and greens. It is also easy, relatively quick, and delicious. This recipe is adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.


Tart Pastry (one nine-inch tart)

This well-balanced, basic recipe produces a firm, crisp crust with the taste of butter. You can sweeten it slightly, if you wish, by adding 1 ½ tablespoons of sugar to the flour. The tart pastry will not get tough if you handle it a lot and you can mix it in a food processor.

1 cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ pound cold butter, in small pieces
1 egg yolk (save the white for the quiche)
2 tablespoons ice water

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Cut in the butter with your fingers or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal or tiny peas. Whisk the egg yolk and water together in another bowl, add the flower mixture, and blend until the pastry is smooth and holds together in a ball. It can be mixed in a food processor; process first the flour, salt, and butter quickly together, then add the egg yolk and water through the funnel and process until the dough balls up around the blade.

Pat the dough into a pie pan or springform with your hands. Pull pieces of the dough from the ball and press them over the bottom and sides of the pan, using the heel of your hand. The dough should be thick enough to hold the filling, but be careful that it is not too thick around the bottom edge or the finished tart will seem coarse.

Prick the bottom with a fork and bak2e it unfilled for 12 minutes in a preheated 425 F oven. If you used a springform pan, do not remove the sides until you serve the tart.

Fresh Greens and Onion Quiche
(Serves six)

½ pound fresh greens (spinach, chard, stir-fry mix, radish greens, or any other fresh cooking green you have on hand)
4 eggs
1 egg white from tart pastry
2 cups light cream or milk (if you use milk whole milk works best although I have made it with 2%)
½ tsp salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 ¼ cups grated swiss, cheddar or other hard cheese
1 partially baked Tart Pastry from the first recipe
Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Dice onion and sauté in olive oil or butter. While the onions are cooking wash and chop greens. When the onion is almost done (when it starts to turn transparent) add the greens and put a lid on the pan to help it steam. Cook the greens until they are soft.

Sprinkle ½ of the cheese over the bottom of the tart shell. Place the onions and greens into the tart shell. Combine the eggs, egg white, cream (or milk), salt, and spices in a bowl and beat thoroughly. Ladle the mixture over the greens and onions. Sprinkle the remainder of the cheese over the top of the egg mixture.

Bake for 15 minutes at 425 F; then lower the heat to 350 F and bake for 30 minutes more, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve in wedges hot or cold.

Play around with other flavors and fillings as substitutes for the onion and greens mixture. I used this same quiche recipe for a summer tomato and basil quiche. You can also make it a bacon and onion quiche. Really you are only limited by what is in your fridge and your imagination.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cautious Science

When people learn that I am raising food using organic methods they tend to have one of two responses. On one hand many folks immediately begin discussing the benefits of food raised using organic methods compared to chemical, anti-biotic and hormone laden foods. On the other hand some people question the benefits of organic and natural methods.

The most recent challenge I heard was an explanation that protein based growth hormones are completely safe to humans. The argument was that the hormone was protein based so our stomach simply digests it. Furthermore, the protein is not a protein that we have a receptor for, so even if it were not fully digested it could not bind to any of our receptors.

This argument is based on two basic assumptions. First, what we currently know about hormones indicates that the growth hormone shouldn’t have any effect on us. Second, the lack of studies linking the ingestion of hormones to any short-term health effects means that there are no health effects. Both arguments stem from a view of current science as interchangeable with technology. This view holds that science can and should be undertaken with desired end results in mind. The results of this science should then be immediately applied to develop technology for everyday use.

However, science is not technology. Technology is simply the use of tools to produce results. Science is the careful exploration of the world around us without preconceived end results.

In my science classes I learned three lessons repeatedly, none of which was that science provides us with absolute answers. The first lesson is that in our scientific exploration, we are consistently wrong. Only after years of study, new ideas, and new discoveries do we ever reach theories that begin to adequately explain a given subject. The second lesson is that we only study what we think to study. And third, is that nothing occurs without any affect and we frequently fail to see the connections. Together, these three lessons have made me view science as an important tool, but one that must be used with much caution when developing new technologies. This is in direct conflict with the view of new technology as the immediate and beneficial result of scientific exploitation.

In the case of growth hormones the first view of science advocates their use unequivocally. There are no immediate measurable harmful outcomes and there are immediate measurable positive outcomes. The second view of science requires that we proceed with caution on principle. It recognizes the possibility that, because of inadequate knowledge, we have misunderstood the full role of proteins and hormones in cellular function. It readily admits that in our studies of the affects of such substances we may not be asking the right questions to find connections between their use and harmful (or beneficial) outcomes. And finally, it assumes that because we have added a component to a living system it will change whether or not we notice it.

Caution is particularly well advised when it comes to food. We ingest food and use the components to build our own bodies. If we have made changes to our foods that are not fully understood it is likely that we have introduced changes to our own bodies that we do not fully understand. Currently, we are experiencing higher than ever levels of poorly understood “diseases” such as ADHD, diabetes, cancer, and autism. It is true that correlation is not causation. The fact that the massive increase in chemicals and hormones into our food happens to occur at the same time as massive increases in systemic diseases and disorders does not imply that one causes the other.

However, it does give one pause to consider that many of these health problems are poorly understood, related to body systems tied to nutrition, and have no apparent cause. At the same time we have introduced a large number of substances into our environment and directly into our bodies without good knowledge of their effects.
Remember: we are usually wrong, we often ask the wrong questions, and in complex living systems everything is connected. We need to stop confusing science with technology and proceed with caution.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

November Newsletter

Hello all,
The hard frosts of mid-October brought out all the color in the trees. The crisp mornings were refreshing even if our fingers did get a little cold.

The colder weather slowed down everything in the garden, but the greens are growing well. The plants are a vibrant shade of green from the wet autumn weather.

We have been enjoying salads with buttery lettuce mixed with spicy arugula If we are looking for extra flavor and texture we can add baby stir-fry mix to our salad. The stir-fry mix consists of several types of mustards and Asian greens. When the stir-fry mix is mature, it is excellent lightly steamed and served on the side with rice or added to a rich soup. We should have all of these greens available for much of the fall. These greens are full of flavor, fresh harvested, and always chemical free.

The most exciting news on the farm is that we now have pigs! The pigs come from Wild Turkey Farm just outside China Grove, near Charlotte. It was a little bit of a drive to get them, but the high quality pigs they raise made it worth it. The pigs are a mix of Berkshire/ Tamworth, which are both heritage breeds. Heritage breeds have been bred over time for traits that made them particularly well-adapted to environmental conditions.
These breeds have hardy characteristics that allow them to flourish outdoors in pastures and have also been selected for the flavor of their meat. These heritage breed pigs will make delicious pork! Our pastured pork will be available in late February. Available in a variety of delicious cuts. Roasts, Ribs, Chops, Sausage. Please contact use to reserve your pastured pork! Sold by the pound, family packages, ¼ hogs, and ½ hogs.

We also have whole, frozen chickens and fresh eggs for sale. Chickens are sold as frozen, whole, dressed birds for $3.50/lb, and weigh approximately 3-4.5 lbs. We will be butchering some more chickens on November 10th. If you would like a fresh chicken you can let us know in advance and schedule a pick up at the farm on the 11th.

Next spring we will have a Community Supported Agriculture project or CSA. Customers join a farm’s membership group at the beginning of the growing season. Members receive a box of seasonal, fresh, healthy vegetables and other farm products like eggs, chicken, and flowers on a regular schedule throughout the growing season. This is a great way to enjoy the bounty of a farm’s crops with your family. We will let you know when we will have planning meetings and sign-ups this winter for next season.

This fall our products can be picked up at the farm or we will deliver if a group of people order $100 of farm products. Get your friends together and place a group order! Please call or email to arrange to arrange a visit or pickup at the farm at: (828) 584-7359 or . See how your chickens were raised, where the fresh eggs come from, walk through the garden, and visit our animals in the pastures. We would love for you to visit; just call or email to let arrange one.

Happy eating!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Morning Dew

We were treated to a nice show of mist, dew and spider webs this morning.

There were several types of spider webs in the garden. In some places stands of webbing crossed spans of 20 feet or more between trees!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Feeding the Hawk

Farming takes a certain amount of arrogance. The basic assumption of agriculture is that we can create a more productive environment than native ecosystems. While we might be able to produce more human food than the natural system, it is not always an easy interaction between the managed ecosystem and the larger ecosystem around a farm.

One of the most common issues a farmer encounters is that wildlife doesn’t distinguish between our “human” food and “wild” food. In the last week we fed the hawks of Bluebird farm. We lost two chickens in two days to a beautiful red-tailed hawk. The third day we didn’t give it a chance.

Our chickens have been staying inside their coop and Petunia has been put to work. Fortunately, the coop is open bottomed-so with daily moves the chickens continue to have access to fresh pasture. Meanwhile Petunia has been spending her days inside the electric netting formally used for the chickens’ day range.

Petunia learned to watch for birds as “bad” animals in Colorado. In Colorado the Black-billed magpie is an extremely common bird. This cousin of crows, ravens, and jays is extremely intelligent. In Colorado they quickly learned Petunia’s feeding schedule. If there is one thing Petunia can’t stand its other animals eating her food. So she learned to watch the sky and bark at all manner of birds. This habit has yielded humorous results from chasing speeding barn swallow in tight circles to ferociously barking at a paraglider in Telluride (a bird that big would steal her whole bag of food!). Now her bird chasing skills are coming in handy.

It’s always a balance to produce people food in an environmentally friendly manner without simply feeding it all to the rabbits, deer, hawks, foxes, and insects that enjoy vegetables and livestock as much as we do. But maintaining the balance between our managed world and the wilder world around us is part of what we love about farming. We get to keep learning and experimenting all the time to keep producing delicious food.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

October update

We have been busy here at the farm. Plants and animals have been growing over the last few weeks.

In the garden the cover crop is coming up. The mixture of grains, clovers, and peas will hold the soil, provide nitrogen, keep weeds from germinating, and add organic matter in the spring. The recent rain has helped the plants sprout to new heights!

The baby chicks continue to grow. We are letting them out of the coop now. Unfortunately, they are still small enough to squeeze through the holes in our electric fence. Many are so small that they don’t even notice they are walking through a barrier. So they exercise under our supervision and the watchful eye of Petunia the Great Pyrenees.

Petunia thoroughly enjoys watching animals of all kinds. She readily distinguishes between domestic and wild animals and has never attempted to chase a domestic animal. The chicks are wary of her, but don’t mind her presence-until she barks.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Breaking Ground

The past few days of wonderful fall weather has been perfect for our latest project-expanding the garden.

There has been a garden for many years at the house. This fall we are using the existing garden to grow our fall greens. However, we have already outgrown the 30’ x 90’ garden plot. We need a place to plant alliums: garlic, onions, and leeks this fall. Garlic is traditionally planted in the fall. Onions and leeks will germinate, grow a few inches, then sit dormant for the winter. In the spring their fall growth allows them to quickly restart growing for an earlier harvest. We are also preparing ground for early spring plantings of greens. We are doing this now because in the spring the ground is often too wet to be worked up very early.

This fall we have opted to prepare out ground with no motorized tools. The principle tool we are using is an “Italian Hoe.” This heavy, long handled hoe is lifted to about hip height then dropped into the grass with a satisfying “thunk.” We have broken ground on seven new beds with this tool.

The next step is to fork the bed with a digging fork. This is a wonderful all around garden tool for stirring compost, preparing soil, weeding, or harvesting root crops. The fork allows us to work the soil deeper than the how alone. It also breaks up the clods left behind by the hoe. The last step is to prepare the seed bed with a metal garden rake.

Preparing our beds by hand may take longer, but it has several important benefits. First, it is cheaper. The tools only cost about $125 and will last for years if properly cared for.

Second, tillers and plows leave a “pan” of slicked over clay just below their tines or plow shovel. This pan becomes nearly impervious to water and plant roots, effectively limiting the soil available for food production. Also tillers and plow are potentially highly destructive to soil structure. Soil is a complex world of solids, air, water, and living organisms. Soil organisms are adapted to very specific depths. Some need the more steady temperatures found at 6 inches while others need more air found at the surface. Plows in particular completely invert this ecosystem. It can take soil years to recover from being flipped upside down. Another aspect of tillers and plows is that they are always attached to heavy machinery. The weight of machinery compacts the soil, especially if it is wet; counter acting the very purpose of tilling or plowing. For a general discussion of soil management including the effects of tillage see

Third, the area we are preparing is relatively small (maybe a ¼ acre) and I enjoy hand work-so why not? Avoiding motors means I can hear the birds or have a conversation while we work.

Finally, hand tools avoid the use of fossil fuels. We must learn to produce our food without the use of fossil fuels. Currently we use from 3-10 calories of fossil fuel energy to place one calorie of food energy on our plates (it depends on the food-vegetables take less, meat more). This is an energy equation that cannot continue. Whether we have 5 years or 100 years of fossil fuels available does not change the fact that they are a finite resource-they will run out. Additionally, their continued use has led to a variety of environmental and health consequences ranging from an increased CO2 concentration by over 30% over stable levels to through the roof asthma rates in and around cities. For more information on energy use in agriculture read

We have curved our garden beds to try to follow the contour of the hill while at the same time orienting them east to west. This allows southern light to hit the long side of the beds. We have left the grass in the paths to prevent erosion over the winter. Another technique we will use to prevent erosion is to plant a fall cover crop. This mixture of clovers and grasses will hold soil in place with their roots, soften the impact of any winter rains, and hold soil nutrients that would otherwise leach over the winter. Most plant nutrients are volatile and do not just sit around in the soil. If a plant does not use them, rains easily wash them deeper or down slope. Erosion of soil nutrients is now one of the leading surface water pollutants leading to a host of environmental and public health problems.

With hard work and care these beds will provide a bounty of beautiful and nutritious food for years to come-without depleting our ability to continue growing food in that location.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Chicken recipes

Pastured Chicken Recipes

These simple recipes will fill your house with the great smells of aromatic herbs. Leftover chicken can be used for other dinner dishes or shredded for chicken salad. The pan juices are wonderful served plain or poured into a soup pot to make the most delicious chicken broth. Recipes are from The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook, by Shannon Hayes.

Herb-Roasted Chicken
Serves 3-4
1-2 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Herb Rub (see below)
1 whole chicken, approximately 3-4 pounds

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Rinse the chicken, and pat it dry with paper towels. Dice the garlic and mix into the olive oil. Brush or rub the garlic and olive all over the chicken. Sprinkle and rub the Herb Rub over the chicken. Roast the chicken in a roasting pan for about 20 minutes per pound, about 1 hour and 20 minutes for a 3.5 pound bird. Check the meat for doneness by cutting a tiny slice of the meat and look at the color of the juices. The chicken is cooked when the juices run clear. Remove the chicken, cover loosely with foil, and let rest for 10 minutes.
The breast usually cooks more quickly than the thighs. If you find the breast meat done before the thighs, place a small piece of foil over the breast and continue cooking.

Herb Rub
1 tablespoon sea salt or coarse salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 tablespoon oregano
Mix together and store extra in an airtight container.

Delicious Chicken Broth
The best chicken broth is made from flavorful chicken! Use it as a base for delicious soups. Freezes well and defrosts easily on the stovetop.
2 medium carrots, chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped into quarters
1 bay leaf
4 quarts water
1 leftover chicken carcass and pan drippings

Place all ingredients in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer the broth for a minimum of 6 hours- the longer the broth simmers the richer it will be. Strain the liquid, discarding the vegetables. The meat on the carcass can be picked off and returned to the broth or used for a chicken and rice dish. Place broth in a container, cover tightly, and refrigerate. When it is chilled, skim the fat from the surface.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Chicken orders and Pick-up

Greetings from Bluebird Farm!

Everything is growing very quickly at the farm, and we can almost watch our garden and grass grow! Our newly arrived chicks are absolutely adorable.

Our pastured chickens are available at Bluebird Farm beginning next Friday the 25th. See below for directions. This first group of chickens will be available at the farm until they are sold out. Call or email to place an order or to check for availability. They will be sold as whole, dressed birds for $3.50/lb, and they will weigh approximately 3-4 lbs.

Our chickens are raised on pastures with continuous access to fresh grass and grains. Pastured animals have high quality meat that is more flavorful, low in saturated fats, and higher in essential omega 3 fatty acids than conventional meats.

Chickens are available fresh on Friday and Saturday, and then they will be frozen after that. Enjoy a visit to the farm when you pickup. See how your chickens were raised, where the fresh eggs come from, walk through the garden, and visit our chicks.

Friday 25th 1-7 pm, Saturday 26th 10-5, and Sunday 27th 1-5.

A Morganton pick-up location will be available if a group of people order 10 or more chickens. This would be at Gisella’s house on Sunday 27th from 1-5.
A Hickory delivery will be available if a group of people order 10 or more chickens.

Please call to arrange these options.

We look forward to meeting you. Thank you for your support!

Marie Williamson and William Lyons
Bluebird Farm
4178 Bluebird Dr.
Morganton, NC

Directions: 4178 Bluebird Dr. Morganton, NC 28655
To get to the farm, take exit 100 (Jamestown Rd) off Interstate 40. Head south (away from town) on Jamestown Rd. After a long downhill take a left on Conley Rd. Go 1.8 miles down Conley Rd. On Conley you cross a bridge and pass Delta Dr. on your right. Take the next right onto Bluebird Dr. (Look for a small Gazebo at the head of the driveway.) Stay right on the paved drive, the driveway turns to gravel, stay left on the gravel. We at the end of the driveway (about 1/2 mile), near Silver Creek.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Happy Chickens

A comfortable, active life? Delicious food? Count me in! Our chickens have the good life! The broiler chickens are enjoying the pasture around our towering black walnut trees. We currently moving them to a fresh piece of the pasture twice a day. The broiler chickens know that we bring them delicious food. They wait for us at the door, squawking with excitement. They know human visits= exciting new food. As we pull the "hoop coop" forward to fresh grass, they line up along the fresh grass and jostle each other for the best spot.

Currently, most people see how the animals they eat are raised, and that allows industrial systems to raise animals not on a farm but in a warehouse or in a feedlot. Our farm is open to visitors. Everyone can visit our farm and see what a good life our animals have.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Organic matter is the basis of any sustainable agricultural operation. Broadly speaking organic matter is anything in the soil derived from living or once living creatures. The rest of the soil is minerals from broken down rock.

Organic material in the soil works wonders. It mediates chemical, physical, and biological processes and creates a more stable soil structure. Each tiny piece of organic matter is actually not solid at all, but filled with pores. The tremendous surface area acts a sponge for plant nutrients and water. During dry periods it holds moisture for plants. In wet periods it better retains and releases water to prevent surface runoff-in other words it helps in both flood and drought. Likewise, the sponge holds all kinds of plant nutrients.

Perhaps the most amazing component of soil organic matter is the living component. In a tablespoon of healthy soil the organic matter holds more than 7 billion organisms, as many creatures as there are people on the entire planet. This living soil literally builds more soil by breaking down dead plant matter, manure, and minerals. As minerals and dead matter are broken down nutrients are released for crops.

Some soil organisms form beneficial relationships with plants. For example, fungi in the soil can extend the effective root area of a plant by several orders of magnitude. This allows the plant to absorb water and nutrients more effectively.

The best part is that we can make this soil organic matter! Perhaps you know it as compost. Compost is the foundation of sustainable crop growing. To make compost we combine fresh plant matter and manure with dry matter like straw or leaves. Within a few days a properly built pile will become warm to the touch as microorganisms whip into a feeding frenzy. After only a few weeks or months (depending on season, ingredients, and pile management) what was once a pile of horse poop, straw, and cucumbers will turn into a rich, dark, sweet smelling, crumbly substance.

Fresh compost on the garden

Unfortunately, we can also destroy soil organic matter. The excessive use of synthetic plant nutrients, excessive tillage, and the use of poisons for both insects and weeds will kill soil life. Without the living component of the soil organic matter no new dead plant matter is ever incorporated. Leaves will stay leaves and corn stalks will stay corn stalks, for many months. Eventually, the soil will be reduced to a hard, lifeless medium used to hold plants up and receive the chemical fertilizers the producer sprays. Additionally, without the structural support of organic matter soil easily erodes with excess water. Soil becomes highly susceptible to compaction by machinery. As the soil is degraded crops require more and more inputs to produce. The additional use of fertilizers and machinery generally speeds the process of soil degradation. In the end soils can be turned into lifeless dirt. One that is extremely difficult to grow anything in.

At Bluebird Farm we strive to build our soil organic matter through the use of compost and rotational grazing techniques. As organic matter improves we will see a decrease in our water needs and an increase in yields. As the process continues our land will only improve in its food production ability and the food will be of higher quality.

For more information on compost read

For information on organic soil management check out

Sunday, September 13, 2009

New Arrivals

We have had some exciting new arrivals at the farm!

Our greens, radishes, and carrots are practically exploding out of the ground. Some of the lettuce germinated in only two days! We look forward to eating fresh greens in a few weeks.

We also received over 100 baby chicks! We ordered several dual-purpose breeds. These are breeds that are good as both layer hens and for meat. Almost half of the birds we ordered are cockerels, or young males. We will use them for meat and breeding.

We chose these heritage breeds because we want to eventually use less and less of the industry meat bird-the cornish cross. The cornish cross is a large breasted white bird that is extremely overbred for rapid growth. Essentially the are designed to stuff their faces and become obese. This breed suffers from a wide range of health problems including a tendency toward heart attacks and lots of leg joint issues. Additionally, their breasts are so large that they can't naturally breed. By choosing these other varieties we can keep some of the males for breeding our own chicks. This way we can maintain control of our breeding animals and avoid shipping chickens from half way across the country.

Monday, September 7, 2009

September Newsletter


William and I, having returned to North Carolina to farm, have hit the ground running. Our new enterprise is called Bluebird Farm. We are very excited to farm in beautiful North Carolina! Thank you to all of our customers who have enjoyed the farm fresh eggs from our hens on green pastures. As you know, our family has been helping us by raising our young laying hens. A big thank you goes out to them for all of their hard work. William and I have been busy with farm work. We will produce chemical-free vegetables and hormone/antibiotic-free meat from animals on pastures.

Picture a farm where your eggs come from. Are the hens raised humanely, outside eating grass? Or do they live in a crowded warehouse with thousands of other chickens? Even “cage-free” and “free range” hens live in conditions like these. Our hens can always eat fresh grass and roam around eating insects. Our farm fresh eggs are flavorful, low in saturated fats, high in essential omega 3’s and vitamin D, and low in cholesterol.

Raising healthy hens in a way that protects the environment and provides a living for local farmers requires some higher costs. To reflect these costs, our eggs are $3.50/dozen. This money goes directly to the farmers and back to the raising of healthy, happy chickens and our labor.

In addition to our eggs we will have delicious produce this fall. We will have baby salad mix, stir-fry greens, spinach, and other fall vegetables at the end of September. These greens are full of flavor, fresh harvested, and you know they are environmentally safe. Our vegetables are produced using organic methods (not currently certified), so you know that they are always chemical free. We build the health of the soils to ensure high nutrition in our vegetables and the grass the animals eat.

Our animals are raised on pastures with continuous access to fresh grass and grains. Pastured animals have high quality meat that is more flavorful, low in saturated fats, and higher in essential omega 3 fatty acids than conventional meats. Our first pastured meat will be whole, broiler chickens. Our broiler chickens are out on the pasture enjoying grass and insects. These chickens will be butchered at the end of September. Order now to get whole, dressed chickens. The meat does not contain any water or salts from processing so you purchase meat not water! Available for $3.50/lb.

We would love to have your email so we can keep you updated as the farm grows and we have new products. The best way to learn about the food you eat is to visit the farm where it is grown. We would love for you to visit. We are just outside of Morganton. Please email for directions or questions at Look for updates and more photos about the farm here on our blog at:

Pastured Meat and Eggs

This fall we have our pastured eggs and pastured broiler chickens for meat. The key word in both products is pastured. The word lets you know, as a consumer, that our birds have continuous access to fresh grass. Chickens, like most birds, are omnivores, so in addition to the grass in the pasture the chickens hunt insects and find weed seeds. Taken together this pasture diet is extremely important to the health of the animals and so to our health.

Because of the pasture diet meat, dairy, and eggs from pastured animals carry an almost endless list of nutritional benefits. In general pastured animal products are low in bad fats, high in good fats, high in vitamins, and rich in anti-oxidants.

In addition, we raise our animals without antibiotics or hormones. This is important because 70% of antibiotics used in this country are used on animals that aren’t even sick. The medications are given as a preventative measure because the production system is so unhealthy undedicated animals would quickly sicken and die. This widespread use of antibiotics in animals is contributing to the rise of drug resistant diseases.
A great source for information on the benefits of pasture raised meat, dairy, and eggs is:

Working in the Garden

We have arrived in Morganton!

The last two days have been spent working in the garden. Larry, Victor, and Vivian kept a very nice garden so we arrived to minimal weeds, nice tomatoes, and gorgeous peppers. One of the highlights of the garden are four huge basil plants. As I write Marie and Vivian are making some pesto. They have more basil than they know what to do with and you can't even tell that the plants have been harvested from!

Today we planted carrots and greens. The carrots are an experiment to see if we can squeeze in a fall harvest. If not, they should be an early spring crop. We planted a first round of lettuce mix, stir fry mix, spinach, and arugula. It is wonderful to have my hands in the soil and work with seeds. Seeds are such wonders. Each seeds contains all the information for a new plant with its own set of fruit and some more hundreds or thousands of seeds. Amazing to think about.

Being back in the east is a little bit of a shock for us. Everyone has been remarking how cool and nice the weather has been. But as we work our shirts cling to our bodies and our pants are damp from sweat--dry? Of course in the west sweat evaporates immediately, so we are adjusting.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Red Wriggler Worms

In bear country outdoor composting for food wastes is not an option. Bears don't need any encouragement around here to raid your yard for food. In addition to bears, there is the issue of everything freezing solid for about 6 months of the year around here. So this winter we composted right in our living room.

We didn't just throw our food in the corner and hope for the best. We enlisted the help of an incredible creature, Eisenia Foetida, also known as red wriggler worms. Our composters live in a Rubbermaid tub in the corner of our living room and happily devour our food wastes. They will consume up to half their body weight in food--everyday!

The worms' home

Worm food!

The worms aren't too picky. We just mix shredded newspaper with our food waste and make sure it isn't too wet or dry. The result is a sweet smelling, black, crumbly substance known as vermicompost, castings, or worm poop. Every few weeks we sort the worms out and put them back in the container. We then take the castings over to our vegetable plot where our spinach and lettuce very much appreciates the amazing food they get. And its no wonder, worm castings contain higher nutrient levels than the soil ingested. Additionally, the castings contain many beneficial microbes that help to build a biologically active soil. Finally, the castings contribute to the improvement to the physical structure of the soil.

worm castings-high quality soil food

More information is available at:

Worms will eat just about any food waste. However, extremely bulky or hard foods like citrus peels or egg shells take so long that they begin to decompose and smell. It is also not recommended to feed worms meat or dairy. While they will eat it there are many odor issues (and in our case there would be dog issues as well).

Using worms to compost food waste is an easy and effective method for closing waste loops. Roughly 1/3 of the waste that currently enters our landfills is decomposable (this includes both yard and kitchen waste). While it is impractical to try to feed a tree branch to worms much of our organic matter could be removed form the traditional waste stream and returned to our yards though composting. Worm composting is one composting tool ideal for people in cold climates, cities, or with wildlife issues. Besides, the worms are fun!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Fridays on the Farm

With the long summer days I been working four ten hour days in my job as an electrician's apprentice. It makes for a long day, but a free Friday is a great treat. Of course, that Friday didn't stay free for long.

I have been able to help out at Indian Ridge Farm and Bakery, the farm where I spent the last two growing seasons, on Friday mornings. It makes for an early day leaving in time to arrive at 6:30 am. But the early mornings are beautiful and the day of farm work is well worth it.

Indian Ridge Turkeys

I don't do anything spectacular or unusual at Indian Ridge. I just help out with chores and a project or two so they can get off to the Telluride farmers market on time. It isn't glamorous, but it is fun to be active in food production. Perhaps the most enjoyable part is talking with the other interns about their agricultural experiences ranging from food to farming. The wonderful part about being an intern is the opportunity to have an outsiders view of a farm. Sure one is generally fully immersed in farm life for a season, but it is usually only one season at a particular farm and so the intern is free to make observations without the economic constraints of actually running the farm. It is an ability I hope to be able to carry over into my own techniques as a farm manager-always stay open minded and inquisitive.

From the farm I generally race back to Telluride to catch the tail end of the farmers market (kind of ironic to race to Norwood early so they can make it here on time, then to race back to try to catch the market myself). Sometimes I am tired and don't really feel like going to the market. But every time I do I am rewarded for my efforts.

In his book Deep Economy Bill Mckibben discusses how on average a shopper at a farmers market has ten times the number of conversations as a shopper in a super market. This is what I love about the market. It is a community activity with vendors and buyers alike happy to be there and excited about good food, new flavors, and delicious smells. It is really amazing how different the simple act of buying food can be at a farmers market compared to the grocery store. At the market people are smiling, talking, enjoying the outdoors, and making plans for dinner. When was the last time you heard a group of strangers laughing together in the grocery?

I look forward to our farm being a similar focal point for curiosity, exploration, good food, and laughing. See you there!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Broiler Chickens

Gisella, Larry, Vivian, and Victor have received the first broiler chickens of the farm! On Friday the 1st 75 chicks arrived in the mail. They are now living in the attached greenhouse at Bluebird drive. The farm is slowly coming together!

Monday, July 27, 2009

King Corn

Today on the local radio station I heard a great piece from the program A World of Possibilities. The program was focused on the central part corn has played in agriculture since its domestication. The program highlighted the place of corn in the industrialization of modern agriculture and the corresponding environmental, social, and economic impacts. Check it out at:

Monday, July 20, 2009

Waiting to see the chickens

On Saturday Larry picked up our first 25 layer hens! They are a batch of 16 weeks old Golden Comet pullets. Vivian reported that they were in the pen "squawking and everything." The latest update is that she already has found an egg! It makes me want to drive over to see our birds! These ladies will be providing our winter eggs and hopefully some extra for sale.The

The Golden Comet is a hybrid red, sex-linked, brown egg layer. The red refers to the color of the adult female. Sex-linked means that the cross between two pure breeds produces an offspring whose color is genetically linked to color. This eliminates much trouble in separating day old hens from cockerels.

In the future we hope to breed our own sex linked layers. In preparation we have ordered to two parent stock breeds-female Barred Rocks and male Rhode Island Reds. These will produce a black sex link, brown egg layer. Interestingly, it matters which parent breed is male and female. The reason to breed a hybrid rather than two pure breeds is that they display a trait known as hybrid vigor. Hybrid vigor is a phenomenon whereby the offspring of a cross between two pure breeds exhibits greater health, size, and overall vigor than either parent. In our case that means more eggs. The disadvantage of hybrids is that they will not breed true. There is no second generation of Golden Comets. One has to continue to breed the two parent breeds.

It is fun to know that we officially have animals! I only have to wait out about 6 more weeks until I get to start working with them.

(the photograph is not ours, although it is a Golden Comet)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Farm Planning

We have planned and planned. We have ordered some animals and some infrastructure. We still have so much to do though. I checked out Elliot Coleman's New Organic Grower and have been reading about winter harvesting. It is exciting to see so many possibilities for winter harvest! Besides all the greens there is cilantro, onions, and many roots I wasn't sure would work. But he harvest through the winter in Maine, so I'm sure we can manage something in North Carolina.

We are thinking of getting some milk goats. Marie headed up a two goat dairy last summer--making cheese and yogurt for sale. Everyone in the CSA enjoyed it so much. We would like to find some good goats for a reasonable price to at least supply our dairy through the winter. We do have to decide if the cost in money and time is worth it.

Goats would be a huge asset in that they would be a ruminant animal capable of greatly helping restore the health of the pasture. Chicken and pigs don't have the same health giving ability as ruminants. Both poultry and hogs are omnivores who dig, root, and scratch. Under very careful management and with good rotations they can be beneficial, or at least neutral, to pasture health. But some goats could work wonders for the pasture.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Working man's food

Today at the end of the work day I was talking to the carpenters at the job site. I asked if they were working tomorrow as working four tens is fairly common. One said they were and was I. "No, we've been trying to do four tens" I replied. "We come up a little short, but its fine. But on Friday I will be working at a farm in exchange for food." He asked what I did there so I briefly explained about raising the chickens on pasture and the garden. He commented that the chickens must be better. Of course I had to agree that chickens raised on pasture were far superior to confined birds.

Later he surprised me by returning to the conversation. "Where can you get one of those chickens? Like, at the store what is their brand?" I explained that they just sell at the Telluride Farmers market. Unfortunately, this probably guarantees that he will never buy one. The market happens during work hours so it is almost impossible for him to go, even if did think it was worth his time to make a special shopping trip. But, he still wanted to know what they cost. I rounded down "$4 a pound" (they are really $4.50/lb). I knew that this didn't probably mean much to him (most people are very bad at translating costs in and out of a per unit basis, this explains how small packages of ready to eat meals ever sell. If people realized they were paying $20/lb they wouldn't buy them) so I translated to a whole bird "around $16 a bird." He responded as I expected "$16 for a chicken!"

I admitted that this was alot. But I threw in that it is a large bird and Marie and I get 3 meals out of one. What I didn't go into detail about was that in reality it is not that much to pay for quality food. One of the most interesting facts I have heard recently regarding the supposed expense of healthy food is that while Americans spend less on food as a percentage of our income than anyone ever has in the history of the world (about 10%) we now spend more on health care than anyone in the history of the world. In fact, the sum of what we spend on healthcare and food has remained steady. But instead of spending most of our money on good food and very little on doctors visits we now spend very little on empty calories and most of our income on dealing with the affects of those poor food choices.

Add to this the fact that much of the carcass weight you are paying for of a factory raised bird is contaminated water from the cooling process and paying a little extra up front for a healthy meal doesn't seem so expensive. Of course, right now we are paying for both. We contribute to cheap empty calories with our tax dollars and everyone feels the effects of an unhealthy society in their insurance bills. So we are faced with a problem. We can pay extra up front on an individual level for healthier food, but in the meantime continue to pay the societal costs of an unhealthy lifestyle.

I don't know what the solution is right now. But I cannot think that making poor choices on the individual level will ever add up to create a healthier whole. However, I believe that if we all slowly make changes in our own lives they can add up to eventually change the larger picture. So think twice about where your money is going. Is it going to improve the health of your body, your family, and your community? Or will saving a dime now lead to the degradation of all of the above and ultimately higher costs down the road?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Farm in the mail

We have a farm in the mail! We have ordered meat chickens, egg layers, and some heritage breed makes to begin experimenting with for meat. We have also ordered some fencing and energizers. We are keeping Larry busy running around in Morganton. He will have chickens to care for and things to buy that we find on Craig's list. It is amazing to have someone on the ground in Morganton-what a help!

I have been so excited everyday just thinking about our farm. We will have so much to do on arrival. I want to squeeze in a fall crop of greens, we have a mobile processing unit reserved for two dates, and we will be able to make the last two weeks of the Morganton farmers market. The mobile processing unit is a chicken butchering plant on a flat bed that farmers can rent for cheap. NC allows farmers to butcher up to 1000 poultry (and rabbit) units on farm each year. We will be getting what we can for this year.

We still don't have a farm name though. We need to figure one out, it would be helpful on the business side of things. Now that we have begun to buy equipment and animals a name would be good. Gisella and Larry are also both talking us up among friends and coworkers. A name would help there as well. We will see.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Still Excited

Larry and Vivian visited us for three weeks. We all crammed into our small apartment. They shared the living room. This meant that they had a street light in their eyes all night and had to put up with our early morning work noises. But at the end of three weeks we are all still excited about farming in Morganton!

We will be there in only about two months! Time to actually sit down and make some concrete plans. We have to decide on how many birds and when to get them. I would like to squeeze in a season of greens in the fall. We will see if we can make that work.