Spring is in the air– I can feel it all around me. I am sitting on my front porch, and the birds are going wild. The sky is a crisp pale blue, and the air is brisk and energetic. In fact, Spring for me is all about energy. It isn’t just the hibernating animals that come back to life, but everything around us seems to take on a new radiance, a reclaimed vigor. All of the struggles we had through the winter seem small now as we are arising triumphantly into April!
I feel that vigor, a renewed sense of purpose and of passion, as the month begins. And with it, I return to my blog. It has been a few weeks, and I apologize for that. Busy family visits turned into increasing guilt about my lack of maintenance, and honestly, not a lot has been going on until the past week or so. March was a difficult local eating month. I will admit that I didn’t stick with it the entire time. My mom and my brother came to visit from Ohio, which was a blast, but ultimately I thought it was appropriate to take them out for meals as their vacation– not force my fairly limited diet upon them. It was a welcome break from local, as the number of winter vegetables available diminishes and the spring ones haven’t yet grown. I am craving variety, and can’t wait for the first wave of spring season crops to mature. Summer is going to be wonderful; I can feel it.
The Hub City Farmer’s Market in Spartanburg started last Saturday morning, and is open weekly on both Saturday mornings and Wednesday early afternoon. I am glad to have them back! I bought a basil plant and a sage plant from Harp & Shamrock Croft– they are sunning themselves on my window sill as I type. It will be great to have a wider variety of fresh herbs in the house!
People continue to be so supportive of this project. My botany professor (an avid fisherman) brings me a rainbow trout just about every week. It is humbling to know so many people want to see me succeed.
Today’s blog entry is one that I am so very excited to bring to you. I visited Greenbrier Farms in Easley, South Carolina yesterday, and it was one of the most satisfying days I’ve had in a long time. What a fantastic place, kept going by an even more fantastic group of hard workers. After my volunteer day, all I can wonder is: “When can I come back?”.
My friend George, who has been mentioned in past posts, is an intern at Greenbrier this summer. He invited me to come help out for the day– I looked forward to it all week. Friday morning at 4:45 George sent me a text telling me to bring a change of clothes just in case. 4:45?! That isn’t even a real time in my book! The day for farmers starts EARLY. I myself, after an hour plus drive, arrived at the farm around 9:15. Unfortunately, I missed all of the morning chores. I kicked myself for not getting there earlier; next time, I will avoid the temptation to sleep in so I can get the full experience.
The weather was a bit overcast and windy, but I would prefer that to hot and humid anytime! I started the day out with George, one of the other interns Maria, and another man who works at the farm, Frank. First, I got to see some of the biggest pigs I have ever seen in my life:
Each one of these pigs weighs around 400 pounds! They are each pregnant with their first piglets, due to give birth any day now. Pigs that are having their first farrow are called gilts, whereas sows are on their second or later pregnancy. Greenbrier’s “Big Momma” is on her third pregnancy! The farm hopes to have 9 or 10 viable piglets out of these births. The 100+ pigs they have are of all different ages.
I also got to see the big daddy pig, Randall. This boar fathers all of the piglets at Greenbrier. I was pretty shocked at how massive and intimidating these animals are– Randall was no Babe. Some of the noises he made sounded like they came straight from a Norwegian black metal album.
Next, we had to refill the pig feeder. Normally this would be no real issue. The auger at Greenbrier is full of sorghum feed, and when functioning appropriately could fill the feeder in no time. Unfortunately, it is currently out of commission. This meant that by hand, we took buckets of feed and poured it into a bag capable of holding 4,000 pounds! Needless to say, it was a pretty good work out, but we got done fairly quickly with George shoveling feed into the buckets and passing them to Maria and me.
Using Frank for scale, this bag was HUGE! He and George strapped the bag to the trailer, and we took it via pick up truck to the pig grazing area at the edge of the forest. Here, pigs can enjoy more of their natural rooting behaviors. They, like the cows, are moved from pasture to pasture regularly to avoid certain places becoming too depleted.
The pigs were apprehensive of me at first, as I approached them trying to get a good photo. They stared me down, instinctively moving closer to each other. Maria, on the other hand, had a couple of her “boyfriends” demanding belly rubs:
Pigs are intelligent, social creatures– it’s no joke. And these guys seemed pretty happy.
Then, using the buckets as before, we had to scoop the feed out of the monstrous bag, and pass it to Frank standing inside the feeder. You can tell he has been doing this awhile; the ease with which he lifted heavy buckets over and over again was incredible. He also maintained a sense of humor throughout it all.
Now, for the best part of the blog post today: we made homemade brick oven pizzas for lunch. We had goat cheese, spinach, chorizo, italian sausage, and pickled jalapenos at our disposal for toppings, and I was absolutely in heaven.
Each of us got to try our hands at making our own, including rolling the dough, sauce, toppings, and shimmy-ing it onto a pizza peel and into the brick oven. I watched Maria and George go first, along with other people around the farm who came for lunch.
I tried my hand at it as well, and it didn’t end with raw dough and tomato sauce smeared all over the ground! Hooray!
Feast your eyes!
Post lunch, I switched teams over to the veggies. I worked with Chad and two interns, Lindsey and Harry. Lindsey hails from Wisconsin, so we shared a common Midwestern past. Our job was to make rows and plant leeks:
Chad put these red rubber ends on some of the rake prongs to make evenly space rows. The soil was very clay rich and rocky, so it was a challenge to make holes along the rows that didn’t collapse in on themselves. After some work, we had some pretty swell looking leeks:
I also got to see the greenhouse, which hosted an enormous variety of kale, peppers, okra, herbs, turnips, and more! We worked to put potting soil in trays and plant hot pepper seeds, to hopefully germinate inside and then be transferred to the outdoors once they were ready.
To end today’s post, I have a couple pictures of the Greenbrier pets! They have a dog who I enjoyed playing fetch with (he definitely never tired of it), and a barn kitty who has been given different names by everyone working there:
I don’t know if I have ever seen a happier dog!
Greenbrier Farms is truly a magical place. The people who work hard to bring you fresh food are kind, passionate, and generous. I felt immediately welcomed, and enjoyed every minute of my time there. If you live in the upstate South Carolina area, I strongly suggest you support this farm and think of them when you have to go buy groceries. They sell meat and produce at a Whole Foods, and a few Greenville area restaurants also purchase from them:
Bacon Bros. Public House
The Bohemian Cafe
Treat yourself sometime– these are some fantastic restaurants, and by having a nice dinner you are also helping out a genuinely good business.
Thank you for reading!! I always enjoy feedback from my readers. Until next week, think locally!