Monday, April 24, 2017


I’m going to make a blanket statement here.  I feel like of all the resources in the world, water is the most vital, and with our changing climate it will only get more so.  Without it you cannot survive.  You cannot grow food.  You cannot take care of yourself.  It can be your biggest blessing and your worst enemy.  As I sit here and watch this rain fall today, I know it has been both to me.  We've had years where our location to the swamp and river have proven vital to our survival.  We've had years where I just wished I could spread a tarp over the field and keep the water off the plants.  Farmers say a dry year will hurt you but a wet one will kill you.  I believe it. 

This is the Hurricane Matthew post.  I’ve sat down five or six times to write it.  I tried last fall and couldn’t.  I tried after Christmas and couldn't.  How do you sum up a disaster that big?  How do you convey the feeling in your heart when you drive up to your farm and see it under water?  We were blessed that our home was not hurt.  We were blessed that our families remained unscathed.  We had a lot of things going for us, but we had one big one going against us.  I know to a lot of people what we lost seems like nothing.  It was just a corn maze.  It was just a field of corn.  You can plow it up and plant again.  At least it wasn’t a building.  At least it wasn’t your house.  No, it wasn’t and believe me, I am beyond thankful it wasn’t.  But it was still important to us.  So here’s our Hurricane Matthew story. 

All that week we watched the weather.  It’s a compulsive habit of mine to check the weather every time I get on the computer.  We watched the spaghetti plots and rainfall estimates.  I was glued to every news outlet in Eastern North Carolina, the National Hurricane Center, and even those Facebook meterologists who are on iffy credibility at best.  Worrying about the weather is something I’ve done my whole life (honestly worrying in general comes natural to me.  I got it from my granddaddy).  One of my earliest memories was of a tornado outbreak that occurred when I was four or five.  I will never forget how hot it was that day or how black the clouds were.  I will never forget coming out of my house into a drenching driving rain into a yard that was flooded to my knees with hailstones floating on it (when it receded it cut a foot deep ditch in my yard).  I will never forget the fear in my mama’s voice as my daddy tried to get his truck up our dirt path, and the wind was blowing so hard he had the pedal to the metal and it was barely moving (he, of course, thought it was great fun).  I will never forget how scared I got for weeks after every time it clouded up and how she used to have to make me play outside (seriously, it was on my chore chart).  That experience instilled a great need in me to be prepared.  From then on I read every book in the Grantham school library about severe weather to learn all I could so next time I would know what to do.  I’ve also lived through Hurricane Fran where the wind was so strong it blew our front door open and soaked the entire living room and Hurricane Floyd where my uncles pond overflowed and crayfish crawled on Herring Road and we were without electricity for two weeks.  Still, all of my admittedly limited education and experience and first-hand knowledge were no preparation for a storm with a mind of it’s own. 

The back field where the corn maze would be after Hurricane Floyd, Sept. 1999
Where the sunflowers were last year after Hurricane Floyd, Sept. 1999.
That Saturday it rained, and rained, and rained.  I watched Facebook as people started to report water in their yards but it wasn’t until that afternoon that I realized what all this would mean.  Our biggest fear going into this was we’d miss a week of being open to deal with drying out.  We never thought we’d have the flood of the century, 19 years after the last flood of the century.  My husband is never one to stay put (especially after the lights go out).  He was riding around even at 3 or 4 that afternoon (like an idiot).  At 8 he went over to the farm.  He reported it was crazy wet, but relatively unscathed.  At 10 he went and called me with a tone of calm command.  He needed me to get ready to go out and help him, the water was up. It was still raining and the wind was blowing.  I got chilled to the bone as we rode over on the trusty Gator.  As soon as we crested the hill where the building sat I burst into tears and a chorus of "Oh My God’s".  The entire back half of the property was a rising river.  Under what is now the goat shelter we had lawnmowers and equipment parked.  We had an irrigation pump in our pond and a nurse tank slowly getting deeper in water from the swamp.  We pulled it all out with the trusty Gator.  Thank God he was antsy and decided to go check on things.  Then there was nothing to do but wait and see how high it would go (and play Skip Bo with The Boy). 

It went up about six more feet from where it was that night.  The corn was still standing.  We said a prayer and crossed our fingers when the water went down and the sun came out it would be alright. 
On Wednesday, the water began to recede.  Only then did we see the debris left behind.  Our corn maze that we’d spent countless hours planting and fertilizing and cutting out and mowing was now a hot mess.  Our neighbor had picked his corn and these huge masses and channels were now carved through our field and filled with tree branches, random trash, and two feet thick layers of corn stalks.  It didn’t matter that the corn was not blown down.  It had been mowed down by the river.  Well, now what could we do?  For two or three days I walked around in shock as we watched our community sink.  I wasn't prepared for this.  This wasn't supposed to happen.  As soon as we could stand up on the ground without miring completely we did and that first time we drove down there I cried.  This was our livelihood.  This is how we pay to keep our farm.  But, giving up isn’t something we do, so we made the best of it, took the corn maze off the schedule and cut the price, and I think in the end we pulled a decent season out of our hat.  We have the community to thank for it.  We didn't know how everyone would react with so many people having lost so much but everyone rallied.  You don't know how much we appreciated it.  We're just a little farm doing the best we can with what we have and you all make it worthwhile.

Now six months later it's easier to have better perspective.  If this is the worst that happens to us then we'll be lucky.  I can tell you this, it's going to take a few years before we plant a corn maze back there again.  We have healthy 'normal' children, each other, a dry house, and a beautiful farm to raise those kids on complete with the prettiest little river that once in a while turns into a huge destructive monster.  What more could we ask for?

Our farm path around 3 in the afternoon Hurricane Matthew came in.

The normal level of the Little River.
Our irrigation pond with the picnic area behind.

The entire back field and corn maze.

One of the channels made from the corn stalks.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hello Again

I haven’t blogged in a really long time and I tell you, I’ve missed it.  I’ve had lots of stories but when I sit down to write I get stumped.  Maybe I’ve had writers block.  Well, all I can say is…I’m baaaack! (imagine me saying it in a sing-song voice and you’ll get the picture).

It’s spring break and we’re getting geared up for our CSA.  Yesterday we planted plants.  1000 bell pepper, broccoli, and pointed-head cabbage.  1000.  My legs are feeling it today.  I couldn’t get over the nostalgia as I did it though.  When I was little I used to stay with my grandparents when school was out.  My Uncle Pat raised tobacco back then and I remember being The Boy’s age and working in the greenhouse some during spring break wading through water an inch or two deep to help move trays of tobacco plants around so they could set them out (best job ever because I got to play in the water!).  Later, after I had a car, my sister and I helped with the setting out.  She was too young to be a super great setter, so her job was to wash the trays down with bleach.  My job was to walk behind the transplanter with a couple of plants and a peg and when the setters (my Aunt Patricia and Mrs. Brenda Scott) forgot one they’d holler to me that they missed and I’d plant that hole.  Sometimes when one of them would have something else to do I would take their place on the transplanter.  I liked that job way better for obvious reasons, until one of the last days we set.  It was cold and rainy and I sat on the back of that thing wrapped up in trash bags shaking with cold trying to set out with numb hands.  Even now I still say it was the coldest I’ve ever been.  We got a drink and a nab at 10 and 2, and an hour for lunch.  It was my first paying job and it was awesome…way better than taking it barns after the tobacco cured, which I also did, with much less success.  Hot weather and I have never gotten along well.

We didn’t ride on a transplanter yesterday.  The husband ran down the plastic with the water-wheel transplanter and punched holes in the plastic and once he went down a row he stopped and he and I and The Boy stuck plants by hand.  The Girl planted some too, because the plants were ‘so cute’ and needed homes.  But then she got distracted by lady bugs and asking constantly if she could go to grandma’s and would the ants sting her and a butterfly and picking strawberries.  Yes, we do have a few rows of strawberries.  No, unfortunately they’ll probably never produce enough for us to be open for picking.  We had to plant them so late because of The Flood that they didn’t get the root development they needed before they went into dormancy.  The way the weather was this winter (if you could call it that) didn’t help.  It was so up and down and then we had that horrible cold spell in March.  It’s turned into our personal strawberry patch, or The Girl’s strawberry buffet.  We wouldn’t have planted them at all but we didn’t plant the year before and while it was so nice to have the spring ‘off’, we missed having spring school tours.  We hoped we’d get enough to still do those and have some for the CSA, but it looks like that’s not going to happen so, Plan B.  Anyway, back to what I was talking about which was setting out plants.  While we were setting I kept thinking back to helping my Aunt and Uncle set out tobacco, and how great it was that my son was out there planting plants with us, and while we might not be taking some glamourous trip or something this spring break he was learning that hard work means something and if we work hard this spring and summer and fall maybe this winter we can take the glamourous trip.  Welcome to farm life.

I maintain that everyone ought to have to work a week on the farm.  If it does nothing else it will teach you the value of your education and an appreciation for those who choose to work with their hands (either because they have to or want too).  One of the best things it teaches is teamwork.  If we all work together towards a common goal there’s no telling what we can achieve. I can think of another place or two that concept might work…

Our poor strawberry plants.

She said "they taste like fruit punch."
The Boy is picky like me.  He said "they'd be good without the sesame seeds on them."  Bless his heart.

The sunset we were rewarded with as we prayed for rain.