Hello everyone here on Local Harvest. This is Farmer John from Blues Hill Farm. As you probably know from our page here we are a small, single family farm in Short Mountain Tennessee. My wife and two children ages 11 and 13 raise a variety of naturally grown produce available for CSA's and market sales. We also make traditional white oak baskets and grow Shiitake mushrooms in oak logs. Our farm is also home to 4 dogs, 2 cats, 2 donkeys, 2 goats, and 6 chickens, as well as a wide variety of wildlife.
We have been here at Blues Hill for nine years and farming for market for seven. I grew up in the hills of middle Tennessee and a lot of my family farmed for most of my life. My parents raised beef cattle and a large garden. My grandparents and aunts and uncles raised row crops and cattle and most summers found me in the hay fields and picking tomatoes with my cousins. When I moved away for school and work I thought I had left the farming life behind. I enjoyed growing up there, but was ready for adventures out in the world.
After being away for more than ten years I found myself living in a subdivision in Nashville with a wife and two small children. I began to yearn for peace and quiet, and a safe place for my children to grow up. I realized that I wanted my kids to have what I had as a child. Hills to roam, creeks to wade, and animals to play with and care for.
Fortunately for me, my wife was in complete agreement. She too had grown up on a farm and knew that was where we belonged. So, after two years of searching for a new home we loaded up the wagon and moved away from the rat race. I was more excited than when I left home as a young man.
Our kids were still just 3 and 5 when we moved and I stayed home with them and ran our small home business selling textbooks for children with disabilities. My wife was teaching full time so we didn't have a lot of time for farming. We started small with just a few raised beds, which was good because I quickly realized that I knew virtually nothing about raising vegetables. All those years on the farm had taught me how to do the labor on a farm, but nothing about the planning and management stages of farm life.
Slowly but surely over the next few years I learned from my mistakes and minor accomplishments. I usually had my children at my side so they learned along with me. I read everything I could find and asked a lot of questions. Each year we have increased production and gained customers. We now supply a restaurant with specialty items, and last year had our first CSA.
I have to admit I was a little hesitant about starting a CSA at first. We had been supplying individuals for several years and going to the farmers market, but had never taken subscriptions for our produce. I didn't like the idea of taking someone's money without handing them something in return right away. After our customer base began to grow I realized that I needed a way to limit the number of people I could commit to and keep them well stocked. The CSA seemed like a good way to prioritize who I would commit to for a season. When all my subscriptions were sold for the year I knew exactly how many people to prepare for and could concentrate my efforts on keeping them happy.
I have been very pleased with how the past season went. Most of my customers were very appreciative and understanding. Some weeks were better than others but as a whole we had a very good year in the garden. I think some of our friends got a little sick of green beans and cucumbers, and a few probably wished I had planted more spaghetti squash. Thats just life on the farm and I think they understood. One of the great things about the CSA is I think it gives subscribers a better understanding of how the seasons work and how important weather conditions and other things are when it comes to putting food on the table. I do a weekly newsletter during the season letting everyone know what's happening on the farm and what to expect for the weeks delivery. I feel like we have a pretty good relationship with all our subscribers, and I enjoy that. They are more like friends than customers.
I know this is a little long winded for a blog, but it's raining outside and my kids are doing their schoolwork. We planted another 50 pounds of rye, clover, and vetch yesterday just before this rain so I'm feeling pretty smart. My son Hank also got his peanuts out of the ground and they look great. I will try to use this blog to tell the different things we are doing here and any good ideas I might have for other small farmers or people wanting to get started like I did all those years ago. I think because I started basically from scratch I can give a different insight into the process for both beginning farmers, and those a little further along. Next time I will tell you about the Shiitake mushroom workshop we conducted here in October. Thanks for reading and have a great day.
Posted by John
@ 10:40 AM CST