Monday, December 16, 2013

Blogger's Block

I promise I really have been meaning to sit down and blog about the misadventures that occurred this fall on the farm.  However every single time I would sit down to do so, I would freeze.  The words would escape me and the post would feel forced, like I was just writing crap to be writing crap (as opposed to what I'm doing right now).  I felt if I couldn't just sit down and write the story, if it felt like I was pulling it out of my mind like pulling teeth, then the post would be awful and no one would want to read it (assuming it gets read now!).  Therefore, I didn't post.

However now that I've had almost a month's reflection and blog ideas are again bubbling in my head, I thought I'd tackle one of them.  Which idea is the lucky winner you ask?  Public Opinion.

Last year, in 2012, we had a representative from Groupon call and ask if we wanted to work with them on a deal for our corn maze.  Being from a relatively small town (as opposed to Raleigh and points westward) I was skeptical.  I had heard of Groupon from TV and other attractions such as ours around that used them.  I had never personally used them though and wasn't sure if other people in our area would (then again I'd never been to a corn maze before we opened our own, so obviously I'm used to taking leaps of faith).  We figured what the heck?  We'll try it.  If it doesn't work we don't have to work with them again.

Overall our experience was what I'd call so-so.  We didn't make much off it but we did get our name out to areas who would previously not have known about us.  We figured it was worth the advertising.  What we didn't count on was the ability of the purchaser to rate us.  Of course we knew they could but it wasn't until they started coming in that we thought about the impact of someone reviewing our farm.  Personally, I'm not a reviewer.  I'll give you a couple stars or whatever, but I'm not the type of person who is going to take the time to write a review.  However when I go online to purchase a product I read those reviews.  Especially for something I've never bought before, a company I'm not familiar with, or something for my kids.  What I've never thought about until I was on the other end of the deal is how the person who created that product feels upon reading them.  Now I'd imagine if you were reviewing a Graco stroller the inventor of said stroller probably doesn't care.  They aren't going to go home that night depressed because some user a thousand miles away found it hard to use or difficult to clean.

But when I read a review that someone wrote of my farm, I take it to heart.  Now I know you have to read them with a grain of salt.  After all, there are 'those people' who you are unable to satisfy.  If we brought them here on a limo and let them in for free and gave them the a list treatment they'd still complain.  It's still hard though when you've put everything into something; all your nights without sleep, the times you couldn't take your kids to that birthday party, all the days where you ate fast food, or the laundry didn't get done, or your baby had to take a nap in the car because you had no choice.  When you invest your time, energy, and money and give whatever your are doing 110% of everything you have, for someone to say that wasn't good enough stings.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I never want someone to say they had a good time when they didn't.  I know we're a small farm, still (and always will be) centered on agriculture and not how many more amusement attractions we can add to the place.  If it gets done, it gets done by me or The Husband.  I know that in some ways when I speak of some of our 'competition' it's not comparing apples to apples.  I've been to those places too (shh!  don't tell anyone!) and I know what they have.  Our motto is Rome wasn't built in a day and our role model (a little place near Beulaville that some of you may know Christmas lights in North Carolina...for now!) didn't become what it did over night.  We love that some of our customers have been coming since the beginning and have seen us evolve and continue to evolve.  Still, if someone came to my farm and had a bad experience I want to know it even if it does hurt just a little, so we can improve.  If we don't know what we're doing wrong we can't fix it, especially if it's a service issue (I can't stand how customer service seems to have just disappeared!  Everywhere I go it seems like the person waiting on me is too busy playing with other employees, or checking their phone, or won't even speak to me.  It's like they've forgotten that I'm paying their salary.  I can assure you, I haven't forgotten that my customers pay my salary and if you come and don't get excellent help you let me know!).  And then you get the good reviews too and it makes you feel great to know that someone came out and had a good time.  That's the whole point of our operation, is to get people back out on the farm having a good time with their friends and families.  Those good reviews are what makes it all worthwhile.

So this year when we partnered with Groupon we were ready, and when we started getting reviews, mostly good, some still bad, we made sure we addressed it so we got less and less bad reviews and the ones we got were about things we had no control over.  In the end we've grown a thicker skin and realized you can't please everyone.  You do the best you can with what you have, you try to provide the best experience and service possible every time, and let the haters hate.

After all, tomorrow is another day!

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Well, we took our annual family vacation to the mountains this year.  It's the life of a farmer, the only vacations you get to take are in the off season and they still are centered around farming.  We went to get strawberry tips to come home and plug into plants.  Yes, it's already time to start next years crop.  Yay!!! (Note the sarcasm).  Well this year at least we weren't hauling an overloaded trailer and no speeding tickets were handed out in the course of our journey.  However we were traveling with an 8 month old so...going was not bad.  She slept most of the way.  It was the ride home that got her (although to be fair she was not 100%, but that's a story for later it the blog).  So sit back and be prepared to hear about the vacation you didn't go on and get something to drink, it's a little lengthy (I couldn't leave out the pictures!)

We're from the country and we were tourists, so where was the first place we went on Sunday (now too be fair we found a lovely park Saturday night and rode paddle boats out on a lake, that's not terribly country)?  The Farmers Market of course!  We walked around looking at all the beautiful vegetables and fruits the mountains had to offer.  Gorgeous.  I was actually really sad that the CSA had ended because I wanted all those heirloom tomatoes and plums and different colored striped peppers and fresh stuff to put in our boxes.  It was a feast for the eyes. Then we ate at the restaurant there and it was so good (although I did think the waitresses were putting it on a bit when she asked me what she could "rustle us up" to drink.) 

Behold, the feast for the eyes!
My wonderful cousin and her family live in Saluda NC.  Never been to the town but I hear it's lovely.  So when we get as far west as Asheville (where we always stay for convenience) I try to make a point to see her.  This year we met in Flat Rock NC ((around 30 minutes south of Asheville) at Sky Top Orchards for an apple picking adventure.  Seeing as that (as is typical with us) The Husband and The Boy aren't really apple fans and I'm allergic (yes, I am allergic to apples.  For years when I ate them they would irritate my gums, causing them to "itch" [I cannot tell you how many times I was made fun of for that statement] and then last summer I ate one that I did prewash and cut the peeling off of and my entire mouth and tongue swelled up.  The following 5 hour trip to the ER was enough to keep me from basically the only fruit I eat for life.) the trip was more to investigate another agritourism farm and see how they do things.  It was great and other than it being a touch hot for the top of a mountain and the kids being tired and half sick it was a great trip.  If you're every up that way anytime from Aug - Oct I would highly recommend it.  The prices are reasonable, the drive is nice, the kids can run off pent up car steam, and the views while you're picking is a-mazing.  I don't know how these people work with that view!  One thing I'm going to be working on for the next two weeks is signs.  They had beautiful painted signs everywhere about apples, how they grow, bees and how they make honey, which apples are ready when, the waggle dance bees do to let other workers know where sources of pollen are, you name it they had a sign.  It was nice to know for someone who didn't know, and for everything to be labeled and had I not known about bees I would have learned something so it's a 'must do' for me.


Pretty Signs

With a view like this who needs work?
Labor Day we went to Darnell Farms in Bryson City NC to pick up our tips.  Now for any of you who come pick, especially later in the season when it gets hot, tips are the little plants that try and grow at the end of runners (sort of like a spider plant, least that's what my first girl scout leader called them and it's stuck with me since).  We can't keep ours because of the risk of disease, but up in the mountains they have a wonderful climate for raising tips, not to mention a beautiful location.  After you go apple picking you must drive about an hour west via 40 and 74 W to Bryson City.  It's right on the Tuckasegee River which is this lovely winding river complete with rapids and little falls.  There's several chain fast food places (including a Bojangles that I'm sure doesn't serve cheddar bo's) but there are some local barbeque joints right on the river bank that looked good too, one of them is an old drive in.  Again, I can't imagine how these people cut plants all day long looking at the mountain behind them and the river in front of them.  It's beautiful.
Future Strawberry Tips

It just makes you want to jump in.

Do I have to say it again?  Beautiful.

We left all that beauty to come home sick (all except The Husband), and to stick plants for the next two days in 90 degree heat and humidity with gnats (I swear, the devil sent 4 things to show us what hell would be like: gnats, fire ants, pigweed, and joint grass.  Get your soul right or get prepared!  Just kidding.  Seriously.)   Thanks to my amazing in laws (is that an oxymoron!  Just kidding.  Seriously.) for helping to fill trays (the worst job in the world!  You will end up wet, dirty, and with a hand FULL of tray cuts, which are kind of like cardboard cuts, just full of dirt and gnats.) and stick plants and babysit The Girl, who was sick and teething.  We are all on the mend now after meds and a day on the couch with a fever.  The Boy started kindergarten this year (sniff, sniff) so he wasn't around to join the mess.  Anyway, it's all done and the plants are doing very well and we'll be laying plastic hopefully this weekend, so let the strawberry season begin!


It's a dirty process but someone has to do it.

Gotta keep those plants watered!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Insert Title Here

I apologize ahead of time for the title.  This is kinda a hodgepodge post, as all of mine have been lately due to procrastination, and I didn't really have a great category for it.'s raining, and my TV is not working (since for some reason it keeps cutting off every five seconds but only when connected to the satellite???), and The Husband is playing fruit ninja on his phone (do not tell him I told you), so why not blog since I haven't done it in two months?  Sounds like a plan.

We've had a busy two weeks on the farm.  We planted the corn maze, the kids maze, the haunted maze, and pumpkins (better late than never).  Still not sure how the pumpkins are going to work out with the patch.  We may have already cut pumpkins in a patch of pumpkin vines.  I know, I know, it's not the same but we had rain when we needed to plant them and then when it cut off the wheat had to get out and other crops had to be planted and it was the last thing on the totem pole.  Whatever we have, it will be hands down better than last year I promise!

The Husband hard at work planting the corn maze (notice how the row marker is missing it's blade?  Epic Fail.)

Baby Maze

You can barely see the kids maze, it's the lighter color green that is running horizontally all the way up to where I'm taking the bad picture.  The rows going vertical to the shot is the corn maze.
We have three weeks left of the CSA.  Again, more problems here because of the rain.  Most of what we planted drowned, and most of what everyone else planted drowned.  So every Tues or Wed morning we get up (at 5 am, and The Husband always says 'do you think our members appreciate this?' and I say 'No, because they don't know we do it', and yes, it's the whole family, me, The Husband, The Boy [5] and The Girl [7 mo].  But...sometimes, we eat at the restaurant there and that makes it all worth it!) and go to the Farmers Market and see what the local farmers bring to sell and decide what we're going to get to put in the boxes.  I feel like we've had an abundance of peppers and peaches.  Sorry!  We really do try to provide a variety but like I said, this year has just not been the year for us.  It was so cold for so long, then so rainy for so long, and until tonight we haven't been able to beg a drop.  It's been at least two weeks if not three that we've had rain on our farm.  Our new motto is be careful what you wish for!

I'm so excited that I'm already booking groups and parties at the maze.  Every year people start earlier and earlier and I am so glad to see it.  One idea I'm super excited about is our 1st Annual Scarecrow Contest (click here for a link to the flyer and entry form).  When I was a kid I was in 4-H and girl scouts and my church youth group where we were always doing service projects to help our community.  The idea of service really stuck with me, and now that I have a platform to give back I want to do it.  One way we're going at it this year is with our contest.  If you are a part of a non-profit group and are tired of selling crap to make money, make a scarecrow instead and bring it to the farm.  All season we'll have people voting on them, and at the pumpkin festival Oct. 26 (another new idea!) we'll announce the winner and give them a cash prize.  $100 for first place, $50 for second, $25 for third, and $25 for staff favorite.  So please, please pass the word around and lets see how many Scarecrows we can get!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Over and Out

Well, it's official.  We're closed for the season.

Funny how I can remember every single opening day for the past four years, April 17, April 16, March 31, April 15 but I can never remember exactly when we close.  I attribute it to being so excited to open for a new season of strawberries in the beginning and then by the end being so worn out and tired and hot I'm just ready to throw in the towel.  I've always said the corn maze is fun but strawberries are work, and boy have they ever been this year.  Between the strawberries and CSA and The Boy and The Girl (especially The Girl.  I was not at all prepared for how hard running a business would be with a 'new' baby.  Wow.  That's all I can say) and The Husband and running for him and all the other incidental drama that comes with being an employer and dealing with the public.  I find myself feeling the same thing I always feel at the end of a season, just times ten this year.  Bittersweet because it's over and relief that I don't have to get up and work out there in the 80-90 degree heat and sun all day (I mean will I get to a point where I stop sun-burning, or will I just successively burn every single day?   And honestly it hasn't even been that hot yet).
My step-dad cut this out of last Sunday's paper for me.  It about sums up the last six weeks or so.
It was a pretty good season.  The cold spring and a late start made our yield not where we really wanted it but in the long run I think it was a good thing this year.  We set a goal after last season to move all our berries retail, and we managed to do it.  there was one day we had to cap berries.  Other than that we sold out and/or picked out, and that has meant the world to us.  We feel like now, finally, after four years, things are starting to come around and people are understanding more about what we're about, they're understanding that we're here not only to be your local berry farm but to provide an experience for your family, and apparently they like it.  Which is great.  The average person is not going to drive out to our farm and up our path to buy a bucket of berries (even if I was told we had the best berries in America!).  They can do that at any local fruit stand.  The person coming to our farm is coming with their family to pick and then their kids can play and visit the goats and maybe they can bring a lunch or eat a cup of ice cream.  That's the idea we're going for.  
Nothing a little ice cream and a laugh can't fix!

Making new Friends
So with that in mind we're looking forward to some changes in how we do things this fall.  We're completely changing the pumpkin patch, to a real patch where families can come cut their own pumpkin.  We're going to be adding more attractions (I'm trying to talk The Husband into building teepees.  So far no luck but hopefully I can persuade him!)  We're going to make the educational aspect of our field trips more hands on (it's a farm, if you don't go home covered in hay and dirty I haven't done my job).  We're also talking with Rosewood High's FFA about an Ag Day where local elementary schools can come and be out on the farm.  There is lot's to be excited about for the fall.  All we have to do is make it through this long, hot summer!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Bee Story

So last year The Husband got the bee bug (pun intended).  We had six hives on the farm to pollinate two acres of berries, and they hung around for most of the spring and summer.  They swarmed several times, as anyone who's read this before knows, and that attracted his attention.  Then the owner came out and showed him a few things and he was hooked.  Of course the fact that I get constant calls for local honey might have had a little to do with it too.  And I might have encouraged him (just a little).  

I've always been scared of bees, wasps, hornets, bumblebees, pretty much anything that makes a loud buzz. Blowflies can unnerve me.  It's really the sound that gives me the heebie-jeebies more than anything.  I think I associate it with pain since I got stung by a wasp and a yellow-jacket once (on separate occasions, ten years apart).  As I've gotten older I try to hide it, but I'm still a little scared (especially of wasps and yellow jackets, not because I've been stung, but because those suckers will chase you).  I've tried to take an intellectual approach to bumble and honey bees.  They won't bother me if I won't bother them, that kind of thing.  And I'm just a little fascinated by them and their behaviors (which are so freaking neat!) so I make a big effort to overcome my fear.  I've been two feet away from the hive with no protective gear on and they've never bothered me.  Still, when I hear that sound my instincts kick in and I get scared, which they can smell, which sets off their instincts, you see where this is going.  

The Husband wanted to paint them Island Orange,
but after the pullover incident I
convinced him bright orange probably wasn't the best color.
Building the Hives
The Husband has no fear, despite being stung a number of times (it's really his own fault, he was wearing a bright orange fleece pullover while disking [not sure of the spelling on this one, and Google's not helping] right up next to the hives on the loudest tractor on the east coast, what did he really expect?).  So him and Cousin Alvin took the beekeeper class that was offered by the Beekeepers of the Neuse (basically the beekeepers association of Wayne County), and what started as 'I'll just take the course so I'll know more about it' turned into 'we're buying five hives.'  Just like that we were in the bee business.  After a couple trips up to the bee store in North Wilkesboro and a couple Saturdays spent building and painting hives, the Sunday came when we were to get the bees.  I was excited.  While I am technically a little scared of them (or rather the sound they make, honestly we should tape it and play it in the haunted maze.  I'm sure it would freak me out to hear a swarm coming at me in the dark in the corn.  Heck it would freak me out to have a swarm coming at me in the daytime in the wide open field), I like them at the same time.  I just like the idea of having our own hives here on the farm, hives we've taken care of and that we know all about, and honey that was produced from the trees and plants right here.  It's as local as local can get.  

The Package
The Queen and her Ladies in Waiting.
Her  majesty has a red marker on her
abdomen that you can just barely see in this picture.
So the packages came in small cages, with the queen and a couple workers in their own little compartment.  First they removed the queen and put her in the hive, then they dumped the cages out into it.  It was all going well until the bees became agitated.  They sprayed them with sugar water in an attempt to calm them, and on one package it didn't work.  The husband (who has always bragged that he could get close to the hive without a veil, got stung three times.  It was pretty hilarious.  He ordered a veil the next day).  They must have done something right though, because they all went in well.  We only lost one hive, and it flew away destination unknown.  We aren't really sure why.  Luckily we had a helpful customer with a swarm in her backyard and a party planned who called asking for help.  Cousin Alvin caught the swarm and that replaced them.   So if you are not a beekeeper and have an unwelcome swarm in your yard, call us and if we can't come catch it we'll pass along the info to the bee club and hopefully someone will.  You can never have too much local honey! 

PS, if you know someone with local honey (within 20 miles or so of Goldsboro) they want to sell, give us a call also.  I would love to take it off their hands!
The Brave One Dumping a Package

The Smart One dumping a package

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Hog Scouting and Other Things I Did on My Maternity Leave

When I had the boy, I took all of my FMLA allowed 12 weeks and it was so awesome.  It was the first time since I was sixteen that I wasn't working and not looking for a job or going to school.  I think I looked forward to the time off as much as having the kid.  This time I own my own business, so a week after having The Girl I was back at work.  I was just doing paperwork, and no one wants to read a blog about me doing paperwork.  Heck I'm bored just writing it.

But never fear, this blog is not about paperwork, because I went hog scouting.

So we rent some land over on Arrington Bridge Road and over there we have a bit of a wild hog problem.  They come out and get in the field and root up places looking for delicious things to eat in the dirt.  I'm not even sure I know what they're looking for.  They cause a lot of damage and we have some trappers that come once a year or so and trap some of them.  Right now (as you can see in the picture below) there is nothing planted so it's not crucial, but in a field were you might have wheat planted the entire field would have been a loss.  Well The Husband came home a couple weeks ago and said he saw a couple sows with about twenty piglets and I got excited, because all I've ever heard was how dangerous and big they were and I wanted to see one.  So that weekend after dinner we rode over to the field to see what we could see.  I was hyped up, all excited.  Finally.  I could see the elusive menace.  We pulled up to the field and cut the brights on and I was holding on to the oh s*** handle and ready to see one...and nothing.  It was the biggest let down.  We went all over that field and two others we rent over there   Nothing.  Only rows and rows of rooted up soil.  We were so disappointed The Husband took me for a latte (which did cheer me up but before you get too impressed I had a gift card that some of my Posse friends gifted me for my birthday last month and he got one too).

Last weekend we went for take two, this time with The Boy in tow.  It was around 7:30 so I knew for sure we were too late.  As predicted, we pulled up to field one and saw nothing but a deer.  We went to field two, which was finally dry enough and saw fifteen deer.  While I was impressed by the number of deer, I was not impressed by the animals themselves.  I can go out my back door and see deer.  We have their favorite early spring treat planted a hundred yards from my house, strawberries (and yes, the sap suckers have been indulging).  We went to field three and saw yet another deer (population control anyone?).  This field is L shaped, with a path going around the edge of a pond that fills the area inside the L.  We turn the corner of the path and drive down the hill and surprise, there are four huge hogs.  Now, I don't have pictures because it was dark, but they were huge.  I didn't see their faces, so I plan on returning to see if I can catch them again, but they were so big and furry they looked like bears (granted I've never seen a bear in the wild either so...yep, it's on my list).    

This is a tame picture.  Imagine 8-10 foot wide swaths the length of the field.
So nothing else I did can top the excitement of finally seeing the hogs.  Sorry.  It's all creating CSA forms and figuring out spring farm tours and planning long term goals for the farm.  The Husband did some excavating around the pond, sloping the sides down so it's no longer a dangerous ten foot drop into it with no way of pulling yourself up.  At least on two sides.  We're taking the dirt and putting it to the side for the giant slide we're planning on installing.  Eventually we want to open it up for fishing, since my Youngest Brother in Law put catfish in it over the winter.  

The Husband & The Girl
Looking towards the picnic area
I do have an awesome mom moment.  When we saw the hogs The Boy went crazy and we were talking about how big they were, in perfectly pg terms.  Then The Boy breaks in with "those were some big a** hogs".  Yeah.  I felt like an a-plus mom at that point.  Part of me was trying really, really hard for him not to find out I was laughing.  Part was semi-proud he used it in context.  Part of me was super guilty because I knew exactly who he'd learned that word from (insert knowing cough and red face here).  Most of me was cringing hoping he's not going to his church-affiliated preschool showing off this robust vocabulary.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

For Your Viewing Pleasure

Okay, so I won't even pretend this isn't a big chance for me to show off pictures of the sea monkey, but I will talk a little shop since I haven't been able to turn spring ideas off in my head.

Business first.  So, like I've kinda mentioned a few times, we want to make some changes on the farm, increase activities, basically step it up a notch.  In that spirit, I've been spending the sleepless nights thinking about field trips at the farm.  I love having groups out.  I like teaching kids about plants and bees and where food actually comes from.  I like watching them be able to run around and just be kids.  But I also want to offer more things to do on the farm.  I'm thinking about offering birthday packages this year, maybe have a somewhat education experience picking berries.  Maybe, if (and this is a super, super big if) we're able to get a kitchen out there this spring, offer a package for older kids where they make jam.  For schools and daycares still do the tours that we offer, I'm thinking of having the option to just pick and play (mostly for younger kids who might not have the patience for a longer lesson), or have a more detailed tour, or (and this is an if, since I'll need cooperation from my local beekeeper) have a tour guided more towards bees and pollinators.  Anyway, those are some of my ideas for the spring, in addition to adding more playground equipment and animals (I've put it off long as I can, we're gonna have to get some, just NO pigs!).  What do you guys think?  Is there something you'd like to see/learn about on the farm?

Pleasure second.  The sea monkey is permanently (reluctantly on her part) out of the sea, and I posted a pic on Facebook but I hate to post a lot of personal things there.  It's not that I want you guys to not know what goes on in our family, I just think you liked our farm page to learn about the farm, not to be blitzed with family pictures, anecdotes, and minor annoyances I post on my personal page.  So, I limited myself to one of The Boy and The Girl, and decided to post a couple more here for your viewing pleasure.

The Husband and The Girl - he's already talking about teaching her to drive a tractor

Where are the strawberries?  These long fingers were made for picking!

I very rarely post pictures of myself, even on my own FB page, but The Boy was so cute I couldn't resist.