farming

My Best Life

 Shooting on farm with sunflowers and toddlers...this is my best life.

Shooting on farm with sunflowers and toddlers...this is my best life.

Right now, I am living my best life.

Wait...I take that back.

I am living my 95% life.

The reason for the 95%...because I always hope there is room for improvement. I hope there is always space in my life for the phrase, "I can do better." If I think about it, that IS my best life. Always striving for something greater. Otherwise we become complacent, right? We become comfortable. And that is where we stop growing.

I have had an amazing year this past year. I have worked in situations I only thought would exist in my dreams. I have worked with clients who share my vision and style. I have worked with missions that I truly and whole-heartedly believe in. I have photographed things I only fantasized over. I have told stories and taken photos of people, places, and things that make me pinch myself in hopes that I really won't wake up from this incredible dream.

I never thought the possibility was real for me to live my best life. Somewhere along the line, I stopped believing. I believed I wasn't enough - good enough, strong enough, thoughtful enough, skinny enough, pretty enough. But somewhere deep in my soul, I believed there was more waiting for me. There was a little ember of hope burning on my belly, not put out by the wet blanket of self criticism. I believed those dreams could actually happen. I stopped hearing the voice that said "give up...you can't do this." I leaned in to trust. I leaned into the fear. I pushed through. I gave it one more try.

Every day I wake up and am happy to do what I do. Don't get me wrong, this is still a job. It has it's moments. And it has come with it's own set of massive sacrifices (ohhhhh...the sacrifices). But I am happy...at least 95% happy.

It has taken a long time to get here. I have made mistakes. I have lived with crippling anxiety and depression. I have failed miserably...wow, have I failed. But all of that has brought me to this place where I can appreciate the complexity of what makes life feel good.

Will I screw up again? Most definitely. Will I be afraid and paralyzed? Absolutely! Will I know how to get up and dust myself off again? You can count on it!

Today, I am opening myself up to possibility. The possibility of hope, failure, success, despair, highs, lows. All of it. Because without all of that, I am not growing or challenging myself. I am not changing. I am not moving forward, knocking off that last 5%.

But if I have to be honest, I will be happy to settle in where I am... Always pushing. Always dreaming. Never settling.

 

 

An early spring

radish

It feels like we are having an early spring this year.

As much as I want to say "praise the maker," I am stuck. It's the same feeling you get when you didn't get long enough to spend in bed on the weekend because obligation rang. Or when a party ended too early. Or when you just weren't quite prepared for your guest arrival.

On the bright side of things, spring is my favorite season. It's gusty winds clear the dust from my aching soul. It's colorful parade of blooms makes me feel like life is colorful and clear and oh-so-alive. The early arrival of spring means a long, lingering season of amazing things...things like fresh, garden grown veggies. Long, lingering days that melt into extended evenings and deep conversations. Bonfires. Delicious meals. Friends. Beach evenings. The best things that life is made of.

Maybe an early spring - crisp and bright like garden radishes, crunching with peppery brightness - is just what I need after all.

Lately

raised beds

I have been more quiet than usual this fall and winter. I have been working on some exciting projects and new ventures. Thankfully quiet = busy right now!

One of the projects I have hit the ground hard on is a book on saving seeds I am wrking on with my good friend Julie of Julie's Garden Delights. I liken this project to a type of step by step for seed saving gardeners which has taken me literally from Spartanburg to Charleston and everywhere in between. I have learned so much on this project - not just about seeds and gardening, but about myself and my work. I love when a project comes along and changes everything, don't you?

Here are some images for you to see. I have no idea what's been rejected, but images of vegetables never disappoint! Special shout out the the folks at Charleston Parks Conservancy for my all access pass to their gardens!

sprouts
chopping
carrots
seeding
magnolia garden-137.jpg

In the middle.

pumpkins

Cultivating things takes patience. It's a lot of work in the beginning. A lot of planning, nurturing and caring for the eventual lovely harvest that yields all the best parts. But what about the middle part?

The middle is where the work really is getting done, but you can't see it. Sure, you can define the measured growth along the way. Pull a few weeds. Do a little watering. But the parts that are really making things happen are a little undefined. Maybe the fruit hasn't started forming on the vine. Maybe it's happening underground in a place you can't see it. But the magic is in the middle.

The middle part is always so undefined...uncelebrated. It's the part we want to be over, so we can see the fruits of our labor. We want to fast forward through this part when in reality, this is the most needed part. This is where ideas incubate and bloom. Where you build the muscle for the product. It's where you refine and redefine what the final outcome will be and how it will look. It's essential in the end product.

We are all in the middle really. We are all watching patiently. Revising. Revisiting. And just watching patiently to see what comes of it all. Be patient here. This is where the good stuff is happening.

Blooming.

Growing...

 

A Fresh Future

  Fresh Future Farm event for the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, 2017

Fresh Future Farm event for the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, 2017

This past weekend, I got to attend 6 (or more...it's all a haze now) events for the Charleston Wine + Food Festival. One of my dream events was shooting at Fresh Future Farm – an urban farm created as a response to addressing food, health, economic, and environmental disparities. Fresh Future Farm is in the middle of what's known as a food desert in North Charleston - an area where grocery stores have pulled out of the area because these are unprofitable neighborhoods. And as you may well know, grocery stores equate to big business.

So there I was, shooting a farm to table dinner in the middle of a food desert on the cutest little farm I ever did see, with some of the top chefs in the country cooking over open flame and plating up one of the most spectacular meals I witnessed in all the events I attended... maybe even in my whole life. All of it was Inspired food from the region – some of it grown right here in Charleston.

As I stepped away from the event goers and party planners into the field of collards and cabbages, I took a moment to appreciate where I was and what this meant.... For me. For the community. It was all a little overwhelming to be honest. Not only am I doing PRECISELY what I loved (HELLLOOOOOO.... farm, food, & people are my intersectional bliss), but I was getting to witness it being done for a cause that mattered. I saw community coming together and chefs making magic.  Suddenly, my heart felt fuller than the bellies of those lucky little diners.

I am lucky to do what I do every day. It's not easy. It doesn't come with all these romantic notions of love and grandeur and cups that runneth over. Don't be deceived. This work is hard. It's relentless hustling and constant let down. It's time away on the weekends and tired muscles from walking with too much gear. But it's what fills my soul. Especially when it intersects with moments like this.

I am forever grateful for this job, this life, and this continuously unrelenting call that hasn't left me since I first picked up a camera at the age of 12. I love what I do. But today, I feel inspired and incredibly lucky to just be here...basking in the aftermath of it all.

Thanks CHSWFF2017. I can't wait to see what you cook up for next year!

 

Cultivating faith

 A shot from the newly cultivated crops out at  Compost In My Shoe .

A shot from the newly cultivated crops out at Compost In My Shoe.

Cultivating a crop takes patience. It takes time and repetition. It takes weeding, observing, watering, and watching. And sometimes it doesn't go as your careful plan. Pests get in. Frosts hit. Rain washes away your hard work. It's a precarious game making you anticipate Mother Nature's next move.

This can be said for a lot of things, too. Raising children, starting a new job, or even creating something new... like art. It's a balance of patience and grit, of testing and trials. You await for the outside influences to come and hope that you have some semblance of a plan when it all hits. 

But after the battles and the hardships, you are left with new soil and a fresh, new place for seeds take root. New growth come. And the crops that were taken out during the heavy rains, pest invasion and frigid temperatures have made way for fertile ground to sprout new ideas. 

And along the way, you realize that ultimately it is all a test to cultivate a crop of faith in yourself to handle it all.

 

Little chicken

My dad used to call me little chicken growing up (one of the more endearing nicknames he had for all of us.) Every time he said it, this is exactly what I pictured in my head: strong hands protecting his little fluffy, vulnerable babies. Some days, this is all I want...strong hands gently holding me until I am ready to fly away, but always open and waiting for me as a safe place to land once again.

 

 

Hidden beauty

 Tomatoes. Shot for  Plate South.

Tomatoes. Shot for Plate South.

There is beauty everywhere - just waiting to be discovered.

It's waiting to be found in the corners of your world. It's waiting to be seen in the most obvious of places. It's in the simplest of things and the most complicated places. It's always there...a part of life that eagerly and patiently awaits your discovery. You just have to want to see it.

Indeed, there is beauty everywhere. But it's your job to go and find it.

Trust the outcome

  Jim Martin. Compost in my Shoe. Farm shoot, Fall 2016.

Jim Martin. Compost in my Shoe. Farm shoot, Fall 2016.

You have to do the work...

Work the land. Plant the seeds. Till the soil. Weed. Water. Mulch. And watch with patience as things develop.

The good stuff takes time and love and reckoning with things you might not be prepared for. But the rewards are great.

Take your time. Do the work. Trust the outcome.

Foraging

 Foraging from our backyard loquat tree

Foraging from our backyard loquat tree

 He's cooperating, but very unsure.

He's cooperating, but very unsure.

I spent my summers slightly sunburned, running around outside in the fresh air, chasing fireflies, and picking perfectly ripened blackberries for my mom behind the watertower at the top of the mountain. We never heard the word foraging. We just did it. I lived in a neighborhood edged with forests and farms, so foraging for wild berries and wildly growing culinary treats just sort of happened.

When we moved to the south during my teen years, everything was different. We lived on a barrier island on the coast of South Carolina that looked more like a lush, tropical forest than the woodlands and farms I was used to. Everything looked exotic and exciting. And a little bit poisonous. And honestly, as a teen, I had better things to learn than what was yard berry was edible and what I should fear. So I stayed away from most things thinking I would suddenly die upon ingestion. 

As the years passed, I found myself longing for those blackberry bushes I foraged in my youth. For some reason, they seemed like a treasure that nobody knew about for years but us...like our own secret garden right up the road. It was a treat saved for a few short weeks every year. And although I loved eating the plump berries right off the bush, my pudgy fingers stained purple from their juices, I was always excited to bring them home to my mom to see what magic she would make with them - cobbler, pie, preserves. It was the stuff dreams were made of. 

Somehow this unfamiliar territory made foraged foods seem harder to come by in South Carolina. But as I learned more about the culinary south, I realized there was a whole slew of foods at my disposal right here in my own backyard. I moved into my current house about 11 years ago. On that day, I noticed a bush dripping with what looked like tiny apricots against a backdrop of fuchsia azalea blooms . Golden yellow in color, I had seen these bushes around the south for years. Little did I know I had a loquat tree right in my own back yard. The very start to my own little backyard farm.

This year is my first year harvesting these babies. They are tart and juicy and have a great texture - sort of peachy. So we will be experimenting with drinks, preserves, foods and maybe even a desert or 2 over the next few weeks before our quickly ripening bush goes to the hungry wildlife of the neighborhood.

I can hardly wait to see what goodness comes out of it all!

 

Organic Farming

dirt
seed packets

You wouldn't think farming would be one of those careers that would require the tender care and patience of a mom with a newborn, but it does. The sleepless nights. The worry. The patience. The uncertainty. They all come with the territory. And decision making for times of crisis come along when you least expect it.

When unknowns come along like cold snaps, flooded fields and bugs feasting happily on your delicate plants, you are left as heartbroken as a parent watching their child struggle through an illness they picked up at that birthday party over at the Chuckie Cheese's. Helpless and frustrated, you do what you can. And you ride the wave in hopes that it's not a total loss.

Then there is the blood, sweat and tears that go into it. The reading. The research. The uncertainty. But you keep pressing on, like a weary soldier. You do the work because it's your passion and joy. For the organic farmer, there is no easy answer. There is no shortcut.

Just like parenting, it's all just trial and error. And hard, hard work paired with a whole lotta love and care.

For more information on Jim, his farm share and his awesome ingredients, visit his website.

The Farmer and the Chef

farmer and chef

The Farmer and the Chef - aka Jim & David - are 2 of my favorite people on this earth. Not only are they some of the best humans, but they deal with 2 of my most favorite things on this earth: farming and food. They are at both amazing at what they do - no detail is ever overlooked. The care and artistry of their individual crafts always yields some incredible magic.

I can't wait to see the next part of this duo unfold - right before my very eyes! In the meantime, I will just keep yielding the fruits of their labor. Literally.

 

Welcome home.

vineyard

I think I found heaven on earth on my little excursion to California last month. Rolling hills. Mountains. Creeks. Forests. Farms. The ocean. And wine(!). Our trip to California was lovely in so many different ways - the climate, the people, the geography, the food, the culture - even the work I was there for that didn't totally feel like work at all. I will forever try to be getting back to this very spot for the rest of my days - lingering in farm life, sipping wines, and watching sunsets paint the vineyards magical colors.

Oh California - I miss you so. Thanks for welcoming me home.

#knowyourfarmer

veggies

I am lucky enough to get a farm share from one of the best farmers I have ever known - Jim Martin of Compost in my Shoe. His food is grown with love and heart that you can certainly taste  in every juicy tomato and in every spicy leaf of basil. It's magical food.

I wish every farmer - big and small - could provide this for the world. Maybe when we get back to the smaller farms, the quality instead of the quantity, we can all have a chance at eating good food that is good for us.

Good food - grown with sunshine, water, and love.

Inner peas.

peas

I have often talked about the joys of my simple attempts at starting a garden. They go far beyond nutrition and digging in the dirt. They seem almost spiritual and tie my love of all things food and farms into my own little homegrown version of gratitude. Each moment around my little raised bed yields some peace in my heart. And I have been aware for most of my life that I wanted some form of massive garden and to work with my hand in the dirt. I was always messy. I was always wandering around my friend's back yard gardens. But lately, the pull has been much greater.

When I harvest my little pea crop from the vines elegantly curling and reaching up to the sky, I am always reminded at the joy of simply growing something you can eat every day right in your own backyard. With pretty minimal effort and not much time, I am yielding a handful of peas to enhance our humble home cooked meals. This is my first experience with peas, but I  already know these little green guys are going to be put into a regular crop rotation. These peas are full and plump and as sweet as the sunshine that helped them grow. They taste like Mother Nature's candy. And the reward of picking them straight from the vine in my yard is beyond measure for me.

So for now, I will plan on my next crop of peas or carrots or beets or Spinach. I will work with a bigger plan to expand what I am currently growing in my humble backyard raised bed. Maybe I'll even plan on a few chickens to wander around back here. whatever the path, I am excited to get my hands dirty again doing it all.  And I am happy to find a little inner peace through peas.

In your own time.

peas

Many things in life are hard work. Blooming where you are planted takes effort and energy. It takes the proper balance of elements to thrive, yielding the gifts you were placed here to give. Gentle care balanced carefully with hard work give up the fruits of your labor to share with the world.

What we forget easily is this: just because we plant ourselves somewhere doesn't mean we will grow strong and bare fruit in that spot. We need to be careful to pick out the appropriate balance of light, water and care.  We need to look closely at the soil we are given and the climate in which we are planted. We need to examine the care and the strength it will take. And we can't just expect to grow with no solid foundation.

If you have ever had a garden, you know all plants fruit in their own time. Some do it quickly while others take great care and time in yielding a crop. Just because the tomato is ripe doesn't mean your peas will be ready too. Everything blossoms in it's own time.

One of my favorite expressions has always been "Grow where you are planted." But after spending some time thinking about this, I really think we need more than that. We need the proper elements to make it happen so we don't wither and die before getting the chance to bare the fruits of our labor to the world. And we need patience to grow as we need to....on our terms. 

 

Homegrown

herbs

Each week, my share from Compost in my Shoe comes and I am always floored. The beauty. The care. The love that goes into these plants... it's remarkable. I have talked tirelessly about it recently. Shamelessly and tirelessly.

While I am a huge advocate from getting your food locally from people you know, I am also a huge advocate for growing your own stuff. This is not only good for you, it's good for the planet too! Pretty much everybody wins.

This is part of the share from this week. It smells DIVINE. I pull off this stock of herbs all week - putting them on fresh fish, in veggies, and in salad dressings. What doesn't get used up there gets tossed in a pot and turned into fresh juice or stock - vegetable or chicken. It turns into something we can use later. But it never, ever gets wasted.

I can't stress enough how happy I am that this is part of our life : fresh food, straight from the earth. If we get it from someone or if we get it from our yard. It's homegrown...with love...with purpose...with a mission.