Tuesday, April 19, 2011


So we've hired and we've advertised and we've fought the mortal enemies and the fickle foes and now comes the big test.  Now comes the big test.  It's finally here.  D-Day.

Last week I ran missions preparing the farm for opening day.  Thursday I went to Southern Container to get some pulp quarts and pint clamshells to put berries in.  Friday I spent all day on the road to Greensboro to Lewis Shipping Company to pick up flats from Mid-Carolina Packaging and to Hillsborough to pick up buckets and ice cream from Maple View Farm Dairy.  Not to mention the various errands around Goldsboro to get signs, pay for advertising, buy miscellaneous supplies, etc.  The Boy and I were on the road pretty much all last week. 

Finally it arrives, the day we've all been preparing for, Saturday April 16 2011, D-Day.  We knew all week they were predicting awful weather (remember, I'm a weather geek).  I wake up that morning around six thirty to you-pickers waiting on me.  I run out the door without even my phone in a rush to get there and let them pick.  My scale wasn't even out of the box.  My help arrives, Tiffanie and Keith (aka Red Robbin the hayride driver) and we get started folding flats and whipping the place into shape while the wind whips us into shape.  The bee man comes and we get an up close and personal look at the hive (this was super neat, even though the smoke smelled awful that they use to subdue them and the sight of all those stinging creatures buzzing around me and crawling around did give me the heebies, I persevered, got within a foot of them, and got some nice pictures, even one of the queen!)  All the while I've got the National Weather Service pulled up on my phone and we're watching the clouds just boil knowing something big is coming.  Saturday also happens to be my mom's fiftieth birthday (my mom is the best mom ever, without her and my mother in law I wouldn't be able to get half the things done I do) and my dad has planned a party for her.  So The Boy and I leave The husband, Tiffanie, and Red Robbin to it and go celebrate.  As I'm sitting there letting my food digest (in THE most comfortable chair ever.  I don't know where Uncle Pat got it but it's a-mazing.  He says he's going to use it to hunt in, I think he'll be doing more sleeping than hunting) I pull up the radar to see the line of storms at around the Greensboro mark.  The entire line is filled with tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings.  That's when I knew that this was for real.  Normally when the meteorologists on TV go crazy about severe weather it turns out to be nothing really, it's when they don't talk about it that it's bad.  This time they got it right.
All Hail the Queen!  She's the one at the top right corner of the knife.  She is all golden colored and has a longer abdomen from the others.

Creepy Clouds

Opening day U-Pickers
I get back to The Stand and we have some pickers who couldn't make it to the air show.  I'm watching the radar constantly.  When it gets to the Johnston county line and we start getting thunder, Tiffanie and I give up and pack up The Stand.  The Husband and I are freaking out because we just know we're going to get hail at least.  Strawberry slush anyone?  We've already resigned ourselves we will.  Power goes out before the storm hits and our phones are dying (that's the problem with smart phones, especially my Droid.  I can't use it a full day and it hold a charge.  I love it, but I'm glad I invested in a car charger).  The storm hits out of nowhere and the wind and rain are so bad I can't see out of my windows.  I'm staring at the ground, looking for the inevitable menace, those horrible little white balls of ice, hail.  Miraculously, I see none.

So this was how our season opened.  The next day we had no electricity at our house and they closed our road for no reason at all.  Like I said in an earlier blog, everything that can go wrong will, and it will, but we were so fortunate that we didn't get the worst.  Some of our fellow strawberry farmers in the county lost their entire crop, and that's nothing to the poor folks who lost everything.  My heart goes out to them all, and every time I look at our berries and my unscathed house I get goose bumps thinking about how fortunate we really were.   

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Spy Games


The soundtrack above for today's blog says it all.  My mission for yesterday, should I have chosen to accept it, was to investigate the competition in order to perform a price and quality comparison.

As some of you know, our berry patch is opening for business this week.  I spent yesterday morning fulfilling my duties as vice president of part running (I do have to throw a shout out to Durand of Auto Parts & Supply of Princeton.  The Boy was absolutely thrilled to be in a parts store as usual and as I was checking out Durand gave him a little paper bag of Tootsie Rolls and a Hot Wheels Car.  It's yet another reason to patronize an independent retailer :)) and yesterday afternoon I fulfilled my duties as President of Two Mule Farms (it sounds way more important than it really is).  I made phone calls and when The Boy awoke from his seista, we went and ordered shirts and signs for the farm.  Then, I got the call, "an unnamed competitor (I'd tell you the name but then I'd have to kill you) has set up around town today, why don't you go and see how much they are charging?"  I accepted the mission before it could self-destruct.  Time for me to fulfill my duties as Berry Girl (my third career change of the day) and run reconaissance on the competition.

The Boy and I went incognito as just a normal mom and kid.  I wore normal everyday clothes, he had on his Bass Pro Shop t-shirt.  I disguised my face with dark sunglasses.  We drove out to a location I knew they had a small u-pick patch on sight in order for me to get the most information possible.  Once we arrived I realized I had caught the stand attendant off guard (ha!).  She didn't have time to get out of her car before I could sneak up to the stand.  It was completely full of berries.  I nonchalantly asked her the price.  I decided to buy what they call a flat to bring it back to the lair and study it.  I wanted to run tests to see how much it weighs and how does it fit into one of our buskets.  I wanted to see how many quarts are in it.  I asked her about the u-pick.  Once I have gathered the necessary surveillance I safely return to my vehicle and return to the lair to report on my mission.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not out on a vendetta against my competition.  I really have nothing but hope for success in my heart for all my local comrades in arms.  I believe there is plenty of business for all of us.  We've sold plants to them, we talk to them to see how their farms are coming.  We believe that by working together we can get further than engaging in a capitalistic blood sport over berry business.  However, the unnamed competitor I am speaking of is not really a local operation so I do not feel the least bit guilty for scoping them out.  The object of my mission was really just to make sure our prices are in line with what the rest of the county has.  I have no doubt that they have absolutely no idea who we are, and if they did they couldn't possibly consider our little farm competition.   

So what where the results of my mission?  I believe we may change the sizes in which we sell our berries.  We may move to the smaller flats and not even have the busket size we had last year.  This change is mainly due to how much easier it will be for us to handle.  The flats will stack easier, and it will be less overhead for us to not have to buy the buskets which do not stack.  Plus, it will be more efficent since we can pick them straight into the flats and not have to move the berries in the buskets (I'm always looking for smarter ways to do something), which will cut down on time and bruises to the berries.  This is still in a planning stage, as I have yet to purchase these flats, but I am pretty sure we will be moving to those, if not this weekend then next week for sure. 

Don't forget that we'll be open on Saturday!  Come check us out!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Y'all Come Back Now, Ya Here!

I remember the night we decided to open our farm up for agritourism (this is the part in the superhero movies where the audience learns of how the hero came to be 'super'; imagine a faded out image of this conversation with my voice narrating as a voice-over)  So, The Husband had decided to do the strawberry gig and he went to his first NC Strawberry Association conference (check out their webiste for some good information, recipes, and farm listings if you live too far to come to ours http://www.ncstrawberry.org/).  He came back choc full of information that I paid no attention to whatsoever.  Then he was talking about how a lot of these growers also do corn mazes in the fall.  He seemed excited about the idea so I said to him, well, if we're able to buy your grandma's farm, why don't we do a corn maze.  He looked at me like he couldn't believe the words that had just come out of my mouth.  I asked him if he thought that was stupid and he said he just never thought I'd want to do it.  From this conversation, Two Mule Farms was born.

One thing I figured out quickly was saying you want to run an agritourism farm and actually running it are two different things.  I learned from last fall was if it is going to go wrong it will.  We had bonfires that wouldn't light, straw that got wet, tractor batteries that died (this was a result of me learning how to drive one, yeah, that worked out well), school busses that ended up in the ditch, you name it, it went wrong.  Another thing I learned was that someone's gotta be the boss, and that someone is me.  I'm not a naturally bossy person, not a natural leader, so this is a continuing struggle for me personally, but sometimes you just have to put your big girl panties on and take over.  The most important thing I learned last fall was that I have some really incredible family and friends who stepped in when we needed it most, either helping us bodily on the farm, watching The Boy, or just giving us great advice. 

So, now we're coming into a new season.  We'll have berries in about a week (YIKES!!!) and I'm freaking out.  I have supplies to get, things to order, prices to work out (yes, my name is Emily and I am a procrastinator.  Procrastination is the root of all evil, I'm tellin' you).  We're trying to get the farm ready; we're ditching water, moved the stand for better parking, filling in holes and expanding the driveway so no more busses will end up in the ditch.  I'm trying to implement the things I've learned.  I’m trying not to stress, everything that can go wrong will.  Once I accept it and move on I can take it as it comes (yeah, still working on this one).  I’m trying to be the boss (another one easier said than done).  I have hired some great girls to work in the stand and in the field to free me up so I can make sure everyone has what they need.  Also, I can't forget my other job as errand runner extraordinaire.  Plus, we're going to be getting ice cream from Maple View Farms so I'll have to be running back and forth from Raleigh (hopefully a lot!).  Hopefully this will let me be free to handle those inevitable problems as they come up.

One thing about this quest I have embarked on that has genuinely surprised me is how much fun it is.  I really like having people come out on the farm and have fun.  Nothing makes me happier than seeing little kids running around playing like I used to do when I was younger.  Of course I want to make money doing this, I wouldn't be doing it otherwise.  Honestly though, I get so much more from just having people come out and have fun that that becomes a secondary purpose.  I feel more like I'm hosting a big party at the farm rather than working and that's what I love about it.  When people come, I want them to feel like they're coming to some relative's house for a reunion (just without the covered dish, that one great aunt that pinches your cheek, and the cousin Eddie type, 'cause you know everyone's got one of them stashed away on the family tree that you're hoping no one will realize you're related too).  So please consider this your formal invitation to come hang out with us.  I'm going to be having events here on the weekends, doing some fundraising for cancer research, treasure hunts for mothers day, military appreication.  Come and get a cup of ice cream and hang out in the shade in the picnic area or bring your kids to pick some berries and maybe find a nice surprise for yourself on mothers day weekend.  Or, if nothing else, just come laugh at the latest screw up, there's bound to be a lot of them.  We'd love to have you out, no matter the reason!