2019 Farm Year

Working toward Sustainable Agriculture in Kentucky

January 1, 2019

It’s official. 2018 was the wettest year in central Kentucky since area record-keeping began in 1872.

Our non-gmo soybeans are still in the field. We’ve been unable to harvest them because we’ve not gotten a good period of dry. Driving into town, I see other farmers in the same situation, fields unharvested. It’s a real mess, but one that was predicted by climate specialists at the Donella Meadows fellowship 10 years ago. “Kentucky? Drought and deluge…”

Unharvested soybeans

For the farm, this would be a near-disaster, except for the organic hemp crop and the support of our Homestead Alternatives hemp CBD customers. So one lesson -- one I didn’t have to learn on a farm, but in life -- is don’t count on one thing, but do several things well.

Obviously, this is easier said than done. It takes us away from the reductionist mid-set, as a farm should. When we switched to organics, this became even more compelling. Everything is connected. We feed the microbes, who feed the plants, who feed us. The climate is impacted by how much carbon our organic soils and timberland can absorb and hold. The local economy is impacted by our ability to make good jobs.

Dr. Susan Shore is spending two weeks here, and we are planning our climate change project for 2019. She has written a post with her perspective, on the climate page here.

2018 Farm Year

October, 2018

Cobbler hemp is harvested

Cobbler hemp is in the barn

We finally have some dry weather, and harvest is on. We’ve got our Cobbler variety of CBD in the barn, and finished our organic corn today. Our organic yellow corn goes in the grain bin, for sale in 2019. Our organic Bloody Butcher is cleaned and sacked, ready for the granary, which we’ll fire up after Thanksgiving.

May – High Summer, 2018

High Summer, here we are!

Berea’s Whitney young scholars

In June, we hosted Berea College’s program for the Whitney Young Scholars, got up our first cutting of hay, and mowed the farm off. Our hay fields are certified organic, and we fertilize them after each cutting with Mt. Folly Compost tea. It’s “our secret recipe,” so I’m not going to tell you how we make it, (it’s all organic, and the inspector reviews the mix.) but I can tell you that the whole point of the brew is to feed the soil.

This is the paradigm shift in organic food production. On Mt. Folly, the soil is alive! And this is why we at the Organic Farmer’s Association think hydroponic organics goes against some of the basic principles of organic farming. This at a minimum should be labeled, so customers can know the difference.

Our secret recipe compost tea

Students mark grave sites in the historic cemetery

For my part, having been at it for 35 years, I’ve concluded that deception in food advertising is so pervasive that local knowledge and transparency are the only answers. This is the reason behind this website, and the science and legal tabs on Laura’s Mercantile website, and the “our-doors-are-open” policy at Mt. Folly.

Husband bill and son Craig playwith the brush eating goats

Organic soybeans after the first pass of the invention

Even though I’ve moved to a vegetarian product line, I find it hard to imagine the farm surviving without our excellent cow herd, both for land use reasons and soil fertility reasons. Ruminant animals have been roaming global grasslands since the Pliocene, and have been part of human existence since the Neolithic period, when the Auroch was domesticated.

This summer, an intern has worked on carbon sequestration related to building organic matter. We can do this better and faster with compost and herd behavior. But that is a whole other story….

Flame weeding organic corn in late May

Pascaul contemplates the invention

I love organic farming. Being an early adopter in Kentucky, we have to invent our way to success. To this end, Pascaul, Juan and Jason deserve a shout out for “the invention,” which has been in action when the Johnson grass was stalky, about a month ago. (We posted this on the farm’s facebook page.)

It has regrown, now willowy, with many seeds. The new adaptation will mow the seed heads off, thus giving it at least one more good punch. (It will never go down…not in Kentucky.) I just went to the barn to look at our new purchase, 4 brand new lawn mowers, to be attached to a Rube Goldberg system of belts and pulleys, mowing and mulching the Johnson Grass before it goes to seed. At least that is the plan.

High summer. Hickory nuts in the making

Our blackberries bloomed in May, to be eaten in June

May saw us get our organic and non-gmo crops in the ground. Hemp planting dragged over until June because of the late delivery of seed. This problem ought to go away as the crop becomes normalized. It has cost us yield for three seasons now. But we keep at it!

Laura doesn’t miss getting away for an hour or two. On one of her farm walks, she snapped this picture of a new fern unfolding.

March and April 2018

It has been a cold, wet spring, and we need to get planting. We’ve weaned the fall calves, fixed everything that needed fixing, and spent two months slogging through mud, and more mud. Right now, the guys are testing the flame weeder, our weapon against weeds in our organic fields.

March saw the Organic Association of Kentucky conference, during which most organic farmers in Kentucky gather to learn from one another and have some fun. I attended the organic hemp track. Then, in early April, I went to Washington, D.C. for the annual meeting of Organic Farmer’s Association and we met with our legislators to explain the benefits of organic farming, and asked them to see to enforcement of organic regulations, and stop fraudulent organic imports.

Late in the month, I spoke to Berea College’s agriculture students, and met with Leadership Central Kentucky.

Leadership Central Kentucky brought young leaders to Mt. Folly to learn about the farm’s environmental efforts and businesses.

Laura, her brother George, and her mother Talitha had a proud day with the unveiling of the Daniel Boone Historical Marker

April 18th marked a high point, the dedication of the Daniel Boone Settlement and Scholl Station Historical Highway Marker. Much of the farm is part of Daniel Boone’s only settlement in Kentucky, chosen by Boone in 1775. My mother, distantly related to the Boone’s (I’m even more distantly related, I guess.) unveiled the sign, and we had a reception at the log cabin.

The rest of the month has been spent working on the distillery when it rained, working on the roads or pasture when it is not. We’ve got to start planting!
I don’t miss a day to get outside, though, and have been able to have nice walks with wonderful wildflowers.

Both Leadership Central Kentucky and Berea College held class in the cabin, where Laura and Ben talked about entrepreneurial agriculture.

January 2018

The big news for January is that we finished our granary, and started grinding heritage cornmeal and grits for local sale. We’ve sold some Bloody Butcher to a Ky. Distillery, and tried some for Wildcat Willy’s, perfecting the grain blend for our new distillery in our hometown of Winchester. Our goal is system sustainability, which means we sell wholesale and make deliveries in our regional food shed (as far as an electric car can travel is our self- imposed limitation for now), with the rest of our business online, delivered through our post office. The farm is to be a carbon sink, and we are figuring out how to measure what we do. Updates are on the Climate page

Finished! We now are milling three kinds of heritage grain.

Selling online is central to our sustainability strategy

For our sustainable farm-based business to be viable, the online store needs to pay its way. So far, it hasn’t managed to. In this space, we are competing with Amazon, and we are severely hampered by Facebook, which won’t let us advertise or otherwise boost posts with hemp. The wholesale business is great, and we are in more than 100 retail outlets in Kentucky.

Any ideas to improve Laura’s Mercantile web store would be welcomed. Please let me know how we can do better: the product line, the website itself, or anything else.

Retail sales have been great

Our 2017 Farm Year

Despite no rain for a month
there is still water in the larger creeks on the farm

November – The month started out with rain, which came to a sliding stop, and as I write this (December 3) it is pretty droughty and unseasonably warm. We’ve only had a trace of moisture in the last 30 days. This has stunted the cover crops, but allowed us to finish harvest in good time.

The organic corn and soybeans, the non-gmo corn, and the heritage grain are stored here on the farm. We don’t have storage for one crop, and this year we chose to sell our non-gmo soybeans out of the field. They are on a barge to Japan, which bans growing gmo crops, but allows gmo crops to be imported. Our customer is a grain elevator owned by the Japanese, supplying a wary domestic market. I was elected in September to the policy committee of the Organic Farmers Association, sponsored by Rodale in an attempt to keep the farmer’s voice in national organic policy. I invite you to become familiar with the group, our issues, and join if you are a farmer. http://organicfarmersassociation.org A link at the bottom of the page shows current position polices for the organzation.

Stunted cover crops

We are hosting commununity events
at the log cabin

We are also starting to have folks visit the farm, and I’ll talk policy and organic farming and climate with anyone who shows up when I’m here. One guy came to check out the B&B and wound up on a speedy hike down the farm lane, so I could squeeze exercise into my day. He has experience with Rocky Mountain horses, a breed of Appalachian mountain horse the foundation stallion of which, Old Tobe, is associated with Natural Bridge State Park, which is 40 minutes from the farm. Continuing to ride these minor breeds is important work, but is something I’m not able to do since my riding accident. I have a couple of ideas in the back of my head about this, though. If you would like to get to know the Rocky Mountain horse better, let me know.

Finally, in November, we had two community events at the cabin, which dovetails well with my interest in real community, not virtual ones. I hope we can keep this up.

At last! The log cabin at the Mt. Folly Homestead is open! It is available for rent for long weekends, and if you’d like to stay longer, we can work something out.
It is a place for events and retreats, too. Yesterday, we had a group of researchers working on a fascinating aspect of Clark county history. If you would like to know more about either option, email me at Laura@laurasmercantile.com.

Cabin at Mt Folly

Living room in the cabin

Germination as of 11/5/17

We are plugging along with harvest, the weather being wet and warm, which makes things difficult. We managed to get a soil health cover crop (Crimson clover, rye, and Austrian winter peas) planted on two 25-acre non-gmo crop fields the week of October 23, and I checked today, and we have germination.
I’m going to post pictures of the crop, winter through spring, so you can get a better feel of the process for building soil fertility and sequestering carbon through growing plants in the winter.

September-We are creeping closer to our farm stay grand opening. The floors are done, and the cabinets are set.
On the farm, we are getting ready to harvest, and fall calving is in full swing.

The 200-year-old floors are down! Compare this to February

August-The solar panels went up on the log house, and we've hung the sign on Laura's Mercantile at the Crooked House. We hosted the Organic Association of Kentucky Field Day, a big event for us. We looked at the organic crops, the specialty equipment, and served a farm-to-table lunch for 65!

We mixed up a batch of hempcrete and used it to chink between the logs in the cabin. The new product should have many benefits, from the insulation to environmental properties.

We've attempted hand weeding our hemp, but have done little good. The weed population has overwhelmed the crop, for the 3rd year in a row.

Solar Panels are up and We are credited 18 dollars for August
Buckwheat smother Crop

July – We have been trying to figure out how to best use our new “flame weeder.” This is considered an important piece of organic equipment, and is a pretty fearsome contraption. It knocks back the Johnsongrass, but the Johnsongrass comes back and there is some damage to the crop, in this case organic soybeans.

One of our biggest organic farming successes this year has been using buckwheat as a smother crop. This is a practice we’ll expand next year. Very pleased with it!

Janet White invented the best Hickory King Cornbread Blueberry cake, and taught us to make it. She has also developed chocolate cornbread…really.

The corn is tasseling, and some is as high as an elephant’s eye! We are going to make a good crop.

We visited Berea College’s organic farm, particularly to learn about their grain-grinding program. Many thanks to Andrew Oles and Sean Clark for rolling out the red carpet.

Weeds are winning in the Hemp

June—We think we’ve got a handle on the weed load in our organic fields, with the exception of the hemp. We have been trying to cultivate it with an old tobacco tractor. It was planted too late!

Taking the whole crew, we attended a field day at Windy Acres Farm in Tennessee. Thank you Alfred and Carney Farris!

May-We didn’t get all our cover crops planted last fall, so we planted Austrian winter peas in late February. Here is what they look like today, May 23rd, before we plow them down for our organic corn. Picture those cover crops we did get planted last fall are lush and building our soil fertility. Just like we like them. Picture remodeling our log house into a farm stay rental is part of our business plan, and sawing the logs from another 18th century cabin is how we’ll get authentic era floors. Here are the sawn logs, drying after getting wet on the drive back from the mill in Georgetown, KY. We’ve got goats everywhere, it seems. They are our new brush cutters.

Austrian Peas

April – From the field to the grocery store…it’s a long way!
Here we are with our hemp chocolates in Kroger’s before Derby Day.
What a dream it is to take a wild flower walk in the Hornback Hollow. Next year, this will be available for guests

Laura's Hemp chocolate in Kroger for Derby
Down to the dirt

March – Work on the log house proceeds apace. Angelo has rebricked the fireplace in the 19-century ell, which we have gutted to modernize. We’ve had to dig down to the dirt in the original cabin, as the floor joists were rotten. This is going to be some project!

Chimney in the Log house at the Homestead

February – demolition on the cabin is done. Now we are starting on the chimney in the ell, which we brick over or tear down.
We have early jonquils in the Andy Robinson cemetery at Dry Ridge. Come learn about the Civil War African-American settlement, and, if you know anything about it, please contribute to our effort to document the amazing story.
Laura signed on the dotted line for 31 East Broadway, which she is restoring and then turning over to Ben and Bill for a distillery.

Late February-Generally, we try to plant cover crops on all our fields, but every once and a while, we don’t get this done. On the organic ground shown above, the weed load (johnsongrass in particular) was so bad, that we plowed, and then this spring planted spring peas. We will harrow these under before we plant organic corn in May.

Austrian Peas planted in very early spring
Bill "Wildcat Willy" and Granddaughter Ana

Some of this we planned, and some we didn’t...

We celebrated New Year’s Eve here at the farm, with my husband Bill in a hospital bed, having just had his knee replaced.

As of mid-January, prices have improved a bit, and we are starting to sell our non-GMO corn. When we deliver to the terminal at the Ohio River, CGB, the purchaser, does a variety of tests to ensure there is no genetic pollution in the crop. We’ve passed with flying colors!

This is how we prove our corn is non gmo
The Mt Folly log house was evaluated by Clay Lancaster, an authority on American architecture, an orientalist, and influential advocate of historical preservation
TLC turned into tough love

Our big winter news, however, is the decision to remodel the farm’s original residence, a 1790 log house, which had an “L” built on it in the 1840’s. A Kentucky Landmark, it needed some TLC. The TLC turned into tough love, as running plumbing that wouldn’t freeze and putting in a better kitchen, was impossible without interior demolition. This revealed a 2-story brick chimney, which will be the centerpiece of the “L”. The cabin is in pretty good shape, almost ready for its close-up.