In times like these…..

I really can’t recall every “disaster” I’ve been alive for, and I’m not even that old! Multiple hurricanes, the earliest I can remember was Elena in the early 80’s. Several stock market crashes, a bucket full of viral outbreaks, more hurricanes, two wars, recessions… I think you get the point. COVID-19 is another in a series of these once in a lifetime events that those in my generation have been gifted with. But I can say with certainty, it won’t be the last. However, after each one of these events, we have rebounded. We pulled on the lessons taught by our grandparents, who came from far worse times, and pulled our bootstraps up and went to work. This time is no different.
If anything, this forced pause on life should give us a moment to reflect. Reflect not only on what is important to us, but what is important to all of us. Whole before the self, and no this isn’t a plead for socialism. In a pod cast with Joe Rogan, Congressmen Dan Crenshaw said ” We have to do not what just feels good, but what is good…” What he was saying in this is that just because something feels like the right thing to do, doesn’t mean it is sustainable, or that is has good long term consequences. To carry that a bit further, it may seem that these recommendations/requirements to close establishments and distance ourselves from each other are extreme and they will no doubt affect the way our lives are lead in the short term, they are purposeful. So please heed them! Limit your travel, stay put, if you’re sick, stay home.
Do I think this event has been a bit over blown in the media? Absolutely, but has that been necessary to convince people to change their habits, even for a short time? Probably so. But what can we do with this forced pause on life if everything is closed down?
What we can do is be mindful of the people who are still trying as hard as they can to keep their staff employed. Some places have gone to alternating schedules. Some have enacted takeout orders. Some vendors are setting up open air pick up spots where you can come get your produce. Some stores are limiting the number of customers inside at a time, or offering curbside delivery of product. All over the place, the market(s) are being forced to be creative in how they get their product to customers not only because they depend on these customers for their livelihood but because customers depend on them for their diets and health needs.
We as producers will continue to work to produce and deliver no matter what. Business owners will continue to try to find ways to employ staff, even if it means coming out of pocket. So do what is good, and feels good, and support your local shops, stores, and food producers. Be mindful in your choices.
Some other ideas to consider is how prepared were you for an event like this? Some will say ” no one was prepared…” but that isn’t true and not I’m not specifically referring to the “Preppers” on A&E or the History Channel. I mean people who keep a stock of food in the house at all times. Those who have gardens that produce some fresh foods for their homes. We can’t all do it all, which is why we have an economy. But keeping a week or two of meats, dried goods, and even some canned foods on hand is never a bad idea. Veggies are always a challenge to store, but keeping some seeds on hand and planting your own little lettuce leaf pots isn’t a bad idea. What other ways can you think of to be a little more prepared should something like this occur again, and it probably will in our lifetimes.
In the end, not to be cliche here, but this too shall pass. Life will come back to normal, if not just a little different because our eyes have been opened to what could happen. Maybe some people get better about washing their hands, or others become more mindful of when they aren’t well and being conscious of others and not infecting them. Maybe they check on their neighbors a bit more and offer assistance to some one who is struggling. Maybe it’s giving a roll of TP to a stranger. ( I still haven’t figured out the run on TP.. maybe I’m just dense.) Life will return to normal, even if that is a new normal. Don’t panic, be mindful, be kind, keep the lessons we are learning now close to heart for the future.

As the frost thaws….

After a three month break, which literally seemed like just a few days, we are back in the grow room and green house. During our time off, we did some renovations, did some test grows on new products, added some infrastructure, cleaned, took stock of the seed library and reflected on the past year of craziness.
We are as prepared as we will be for the coming season. We have farmers markets coming up soon, real soon! The Market at Cedar Point is already firing on all cylinders and the Olde Beaufort Farmers Market will be up and going again in just a month. We plan to be at both as often as we can this year. Some added staff will help us with those goals.
We at Harlowe Custom Micros are eager to see our friends at the market(s) and visit the Chefs in their kitchens to see what new things they have to share with us. Spring is a time of birth and freshness in nature, it’s hard not to enjoy the cool mornings, warm days, and the blooms that promise another wonderful year to us.
See you all soon!

Season Recap…

Thank you!  Thank you to each and every one of you!  This year has been an amazing ride filled with highs, lows, successes, learning lessons – also known as failures we gained experience from – new friendships and so much more.  There were several times that I was exhausted, burned out, frustrated, and ultimately pondered just letting it all go.  

Quitting isn’t something I am accustomed too though, I probably just don’t have the sense for it to be honest.  So quitting, mid-season, just wasn’t in the cards for me.  I kept my eyes on the prize, the end of November, when I could again sleep in, visit with friends, enjoy some personal time, and lick my wounds from this whirlwind of a season. 

In a week or two, I’ll have forgotten all my frustrations and will begin building my purchase lists of supplies needed coming for the upcoming year.  I’ll work on projects around the house trying to get caught up on needed repairs and begin setting up the new year.  I’ll test grow some new products for the new season, and decide which ones to retire from my seed library. 

It’s in this time of year, that I get to reflect on all the experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve met, things I’ve learned – it’s the time of year I’ve become grateful for.  Thankful for not only the break, but thankful for the time to reflect on it all.  Thankful to be able to just breathe a little.

Finding the stride….

For the first time all season, I finally feel like we are hitting a stride.  Sounds odd doesn’t it?  We’ve been producing since February, this year, and we are just finding our stride for the year?  In this game, there is little that is consistent.  Clients and orders change weekly. Changes in quantity, changes in type, figuring out how to fill orders with no lead time.  It’s always fluid.  Yet, there is some consistency to it as well, two planting days a week, two harvest days a week. Lights on the same time every day, watering on a schedule as well.  

The stride is when the machine moves flawlessly, effortlessly, and with reliable consistency.  It takes a special kind of person to have a love of growing crops and providing clean and healthy food to people and providing quality local produce to Chef’s to use in their kitchens.  I’ve found a team that harbors those qualities. It’s taken a couple of months for the team members to learn each other, learn the methods, the nuances and be able to adjust, react, and handle things as they come through.  Being able to delegate with confidence is essential.  I don’t have to worry much anymore, the questions are fewer and fewer. This, this is where we needed to be, operating as a team yet independently towards a common goal. 

With all the bumps, bruises, sweat, and setbacks, we are finally at a point where things are moving well. I fully expect more of the same in the future, but with a quality team those set backs will be less catastrophic. What I’ve learned from this particular lesson, there have been so so many lessons along the way, is that no one person can do it all.  You must have faith in others and let them do what they do best without micromanaging. It was incredibly hard to share the secrets of my trade with another. It was even harder to let the reins go a bit and trust. 

This journey hasn’t been just about growing microgreens and hydroponic greens.  This has been a journey of self discovery. I finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up, a Farmer.  Honestly, when the inspiration took me, I had no idea what it meant to be a farmer.  I was standing on my steps one morning, having just spent the early hours just after day break in the garden weeding, pruning, and harvesting. I was covered in dirt, sweat, and bug bites but I felt amazingly calm.  It was a Tuesday morning, I wasn’t at my desk at work, I was where my soul felt fulfilled.  I had a date with some ladies, about 100,000 of them, and I needed to get cleaned up and prepared to meet them; My bee hives needed tending.  Later that day I was to can the tomatoes I’d harvested that morning.  These tasks, my soul told me, are what should be on my “To Do” list.  I was suddenly inspired. In that moment, I set forth on my journey. I’d been growing food since I was a child, but it was at this point I finally felt inspired to move forward with it. Though I had absolutely no clue how and it would be years before the path finally started to illuminate. That path has taught me some amazing things. Many of them can not even be articulated as they are intrinsic and introspective.  

Together, we have found a stride.  The machine is working, it’s churning out amazing foods and brining smiles to the faces of people of whom I would never have met and interacted with otherwise.  It feels good.  Most importantly we, together, have a purpose and we are working together for the business goals, and working independently for our personal goals.

Thanks for stopping in to read.

New stuff on the way…..

We’ve undergone some massive changes this year!  Thank you to all our customers, both at the farmers markets and in the restaurants; we are growing so fast! With that growth though, we are constantly working to keep the quality you’ve come to expect while expanding our operation to meet our needs to continue providing the micros you love.  Not only do we focus on quality, we focus on innovation. We are working on learning to grow new products, as well as making better blends that our customers will love! Harlowe Custom Mix was the first in this line of products.  It was developed last year with lots of input from loyal customers who weren’t shy about giving feedback. We played with the blend and its components until we’d nailed it. Stay tuned though, we will be introducing new products each month at the market, and new blends as we perfect their balance.

You may see some changes at HCM, the way we work at the markets and the products showing up on the tables of your favorite restaurants.  This change is our commitment to you. We are working to not become stale or complacent, after all there is always someone following in your footsteps, trying to do what you do, exactly the way you do it.   They will always follow you though, let it be flattering rather than threatening. The only way to continue to grow and prosper is be innovative.  Without innovation, without creative thought, without passion you really don’t have much.

When I started HCM, I just wanted to grow good food and share it with people. That dream hasn’t changed, if anything my passion has grown stronger. In this journey, I’ve had to learn so many things, most of which would never be learned in formal education. I’m grateful for the chance at not only growing plants for people, but for the personal growth that has come with it.  Please stick with us as we continue our journey, I can promise your taste buds won’t regret it!

From the grow room…..

Feb 8, 2019
While working at the farmers market one weekend, I engaged in a conversation with a local farmer. He’s not a big operation, but he and his wife run a family farm that has been feeding the local area for over 100 years.  The topic of conversation was how farming has changed, not just in practice but in what he grows and how much.  It was during this conversation that he said something that I’ve often thought about, but just didn’t know how to put into words.  I’ve often found a level of wisdom in people that are salt of the earth that isn’t found in a book, or in a fancy quote on the internet. Joe was no exception. 

As a child, I helped in my father’s small garden, that’s were I got my start.  We had a neighbor, who was an older gentleman from Southern Georgia. Inman had been on a farm his entire life, and despite working at the local plant, he spent a considerable amount of time growing his own food.  From Inman and Frankie, his wife, I began to learn through my labors while working along side him in his considerably sized garden, what it was to plant by seasons.  I also learned what it was to put up food for the coming months or year.  In the spring, seeds would be started inside, and gently cared for until it was time to turn the soil, make the rows and place the starts.  Throughout the spring, we’d raid the worm beds for castings and spread them on the rows. As the days grew longer, the plants began to yield more than anyone could eat in a week. Then the work really began.  We shelled bag after bag of peas, snapped bag after bag of green beans, and eventually as the corn came ready we’d spend hours on the porch shucking and scraping the corn from the cob to make creamed corn or jarred corn.  They were preparing for winter.  During these months though, we enjoyed strawberry’s as they came ready, then blueberries, then the melons would come in.  An ever-present supply of fresh fruit, but only in the time it was ready. Some fruits were made into preserves and stored for future use, and others frozen for cobblers in the fall.  As soon as the spring and summer gardens were played out, compost was spread, castings applied and fall root crops were set in for potatoes, radish, turnips, and of course, collards.

The way Inman and Frankie worked their food and prepared for the coming days was something different than I learned at home.  At home we ate what was ready when it was ready, and when it was gone, it was done.  I learned lessons from both gardens and styles though. 

What Joe shared with me that day at the market was that what I experienced as a child was no longer the norm.  There was a time when his family would plant 50 acres of sweet corn. When it came in, there would be lines of trucks filling their beds with the corn for families to take home, shuck and scrape just as I had as a child.  Now, people buy 2-4 ears and are done.  Collards, are very southern fare, have lost their popularity, he now plants far less than they used too because they just aren’t eaten as often.  Even melons are tough to offload when they come in.  “Food isn’t special anymore….”  What he meant by that, is food has no seasons.  If you want Zucchini in January, you can walk into a grocery store and get it. If you want Strawberry’s for Thanksgiving, no problem.  At one time, an orange was considered the best of Christmas gifts for kids all across the country.  Now, they are commonly found going bad on kitchen counters all year long. 

Global flattening is a term typically applied to economics and technology, but it applies to food as well. Global Flattening means is that the advances in communication and technology have leveled the global playing field or even tipped the balance in favor of poorer nations. The ability to move food from country to country quickly has created a constant season for just about everything.  We no longer covet the week when the first fruits of spring are yielded and enjoy them in succession. We can pick up small packages of them anytime of year.  Local farmers are no longer competing with just each other, they are competing with the world.  Competing with farmers in other countries that don’t have the same regulatory practices, environmental rules, weather patterns, or labor costs.  

With the global flattening of our food sources, gaining access to local markets is even more difficult.  There are very stringent buying rules placed on farmers, often making it impossible to do direct sales. The more common method is for markets to only buy form large third party food vendors.  Everyone has to make their money right? I’m all for it, but cutting out local growers does a great disservice to all, and based on the number of recalls of lettuce last year,22 recalls in 2018,  it does little to make it safer.  If anything, it makes it worse. More food passing through single points causing a greater spread of the problem.  To further the problem, many today have a phobia of locally grown foods because it doesn’t come from a storefront.  People being removed from their food sources has created a emotional fear that what they find at road side markets and farmers markets isn’t clean or healthy because there isn’t a little lot number sticker on it.  I’ll never forget the look of horror on a family members face when I pulled fresh eggs from my chicken coop and made breakfast from them. “How do you know they are safe?” I couldn’t even answer.  She had a similar fear of fresh fish brought home by her husband, caught in the nearby sound. She’s better about it these days but it took years to deprogram the idea that only foods from stores were safe.

Seasonal eating is also beneficial for the body, the types of crops grown in specific seasons feed the body what it needs at that time of year.  For example, oranges in winter, boost our vitamin C needed for immune support, root crops from the fall stored for winter hold their nutritional value and provide a good base for soups and stews that warm and nourish the body.  Spring greens are heavy in minerals and antioxidants to help purge the body of winter sluggishness.  Summer fruits are loaded with moisture for hydration, and high in beta-carotene’s that help protect against sun damage as well as adding some flavorful zest to summer dishes.  A quick search of the internet will turn up dozens of articles, all relaying the importance of seasonal eating recounting facts from environmental impact, to nutrition, to local economy, and safety.

There are many reasons to help make food special again by partaking in seasonal eating.  Learning how to store food, whether it be via canning (jarring) or freezing, allows you to capitalize on the local market growers and obtain the freshest ingredients for future use as well as immediate table fare.  Joe was absolutely right, we have largely forgotten how to eat and nourish our bodies and our souls with “special foods.”