Editor’s Note: We’re kicking off #dirtlife, our new producer-written blog series, with a post from Darby Smith of the Sun Dog Farm in Blairsville. This series is funded by the USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Grant.
By Darby Smith
It feels like just yesterday my husband Elliot and I were in the greenhouse, intoxicated by the smell of greenhouse markers and the infinite possibilities of tiny seeds. It’s a slow Spring here at Sun Dog Farm, way up in the Northern Mountains of Georgia, just 10 miles or so from the North Carolina border.
The winters are long, icy, and they often linger deep into the Spring months with late frosts, chilly mornings, and the slow roll of growing sunlight. Our nerves are always tested as we wait for things to grow, for the greenery to reclaim the abandoned landscapes. Our farm is a long sliver in a valley. With shade on all sides and mountains in the distance, we are in a micro climate, often maintaining temperatures several degrees lower than our neighboring areas.
At some point along the journey there is a buzz, a hum, the tiny quakes of life break the silent forests and fields and the mountains explode with biodiversity. As if they never left, the leaves on the trees grow rapidly, insects of all origins fill every crack and niche, and our crops put on the most beautiful displays of colors, textures, and shapes that could only sprout from the great imagination of nature.
If we blink too long, it is August, the wildflowers go from blues and purples to reds and yellows, the sunlight has peaked and begins to recede, and we’re mimicking planting and harvesting we did at the very beginning, with everything hinged on when it will frost. Many of the summer crops, such as squash, beans, and cucumbers, have passed us by while the fall crops such as greens, roots, and others join our remaining pepper plants, flowers, and herbs. Our apple trees are laden with fruit, swelling and sweetening, and the woodpile grows in tandem with the growing number of canned goods in the root cellar.
The onset of Fall also sets the tone for the harvest of our protein for the Winter. Sun Dog Farm is a fully functioning, moving towards totally self-sustaining, homestead and it is an essential part of our farm organism to grow and process our own meat. The animals raised here on the farm have been well taken care of and have had the fullest expression of their identities with plenty of fresh food, water, and freedom. They have been treated like family and will be harvested with the greatest reverence and prayer for what they have contributed to the landscape and the nourishment they will bring to our family.
A lamb, two pigs, and 13 chickens will enter the chest freezer in the coming months with all processing happening on farm by our own hands. Our ewe and milk cow will be bred and along with our laying hens will continue their rotation throughout our pastures.
Livestock is not only essential for our nourishment in the winter, but is also an important part of the system we utilize to grow food here at Sun Dog Farm. We farm our three acres of vegetables Biodynamically, a growing tradition we carry forward from the former farm owner, Hugh Lovel. Lovel spent 35 years fine tuning the art of growing Biodynamically and wrote a book about his trials and successes here at this farm entitled “A Biodynamic Farm.”
Through his research, experience, and unmatched understanding of the relationships formed between the plants, animals, soil, atmosphere, and the cosmos, he was able to enhance the quality of the soil with every crop he grew and generate a diversified habitat that, more often than not, could replenish fertility with limited off-farm inputs. Growing Biodynamically essentially means that you are viewing your farm as a living organism.
Every part of the farm organism has a necessary function for the well being of the ecosystem as a whole, and the more diversity of life, the more avenue for fertility. For us, this means we make our own compost from our livestock manures, we never spray even OMRI (Organic,) approved chemicals, and we focus our energies on enhancing the biochemical systems of the soil and atmosphere through cover cropping, mulching, planting by the moon and other planets, holistic mineral management and the use of the Biodynamic Preparations.
The Biodynamic Preparations are homeopathically applied medicines for the farm made with herbs, minerals, and animal parts that share energetic patterns that benefit the different systems of the farm. These preparations were created by the Father of Biodynamic Agriculture, Rudolph Steiner, and their purpose is to enhance the natural rhythms of the farm and to harmonize the different moving parts of the farm organism. This system of growing not only generates healthier, happier plants and livestock, it makes our crops more nutrient dense, more flavorful, and gives the produce we sell a longer shelf life post-harvest.
What we don’t buy in chemicals, bagged amendments, and plastic, we must make up for in added labor. Much of our work is done by hand with limited tractor use and this makes our relationship with our land very intimate and challenging. What we bring to the farmers market and to our CSA customers is the beautiful representation of the undeniable magic of the natural world mixed with the determination and creativity of two stubborn farmers.
With the help of our intern, Gabby Montoya, we have somehow pulled it all together and made it all the way to August once again. While this lifestyle has its ups and downs, financial struggles and crop failures, we find absolute fulfillment in tending to a piece of land with all the love of our hearts and sharing this with people who choose to eat well and support good food. My greatest task in the coming weeks is to be present, to capture the greenery and hum of high summer and hold it in my heart. It will be a motivating memory as the leaves begin to fall.