Monday, March 27, 2017

Can we just talk about last week?

Guys- last week, we had almost 6 straight days of below freezing temperatures. Yes, we were prepared (well, as much as any farmer can be). It is often common this time of year to dip below freezing once things start to bloom, but for us to have such growth so early (almost a month before normal Spring), and then have such a cold snap, we were scared if our emergency measures would be enough.

Well, we will have strawberries! YAY!! We covered them and irrigated them and, from what we can tell right now, the plants look mostly fine. The berries we had, survived. It's the flowers that took the biggest hit. That means we will have berries for a while, then go for a dry-spell, and then pick back up where we hopefully were going to be this time of year.

But another crop wasn't so lucky: peaches. No, we don't have any peaches on our farm, but we sell peaches from other local farmers. They are a HUGE draw to our stand in the summer and a big part of other farmers' livelihoods.

And this is where I need you to pay attention. Peaches are one of the impulse items which makes our farm stand profitable. Their sweet juicy deliciousness is what makes small diversified farmers and farm stands an economic viability. When you're driving down the road and see a sign that says "squash" do you say- Hold up, Honey! Stop the car! We gotta get a bushel of those squashes! No. You don't. Squash aren't sexy. Neither are cucumbers, beans, basil, beets, kale, lettuce, peppers, hot peppers, eggplant, winter squash, basically 80% of what we grow. We count on those eye catching crops, peaches, strawberries, tomatoes, watermelon, and pumpkins, to get the customers in the door. And, most of the time, once the customers arrive, get their impulse buy of peaches or tomatoes, they purchase other ancillary items, the items which make running a sustainable, diversified, small family farm, possible.

So what happens when you don't have peaches for sale? Last year, we saw a drop in sales of all things, simply because we were not able to put out our sign that said "Peaches." We didn't get the traffic of previous years when we were able to sell the peaches of our Cabarrus County neighbors. People would stop in, ask if we had peaches, we would have to turn them away, and then they would drive away, not making a purchase. This pattern proved detrimental to our sales during the summer. We had all of the rest of the crops, just not the Sexy Stars which make consumers stop and pick up a pound of beans, three squash, 4 cucumbers, a jar of jelly, honey, and a bar of soap.

So, not only have our friends lost their profitable peaches for two years in a row, now, according to smart business models across the southeast, small diversified farms are not as profitable as they should be when we have our Sexy Stars.

What we need from you, our customers and friends: Please Please Please continue to support us and other small farms this year even though we don't have peaches! Please stop, see what we have, and make your meals according to what's in season. It's easy to cook seasonally when the season is literally fruitful. What's tough, and what's vital, is to support the farms when the weather is difficult and the Sexy Stars aren't so bright. There is still a ton of great, delicious produce out there which will carry our farms through the dim summers-of-few-peaches. If you ever have any questions of how to work our produce in to your diet, just let us know. All of our staff can help you with recipe ideas. We, the farmers of Cabarrus County, need your support in the good years and the bad years. We have bills, just like you, regardless of how the weather treats us.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

It's Spring and look who's Blooming!

We get asked all the time as farmers, "What do you do in the 'off' season? What if it snows? What if the weather changes?"... etc. And the answer is pretty simple... There is no "off" season. Sure, the weather may not cooperate from a day to day basis during the Winter months. But if plants aren't growing, it doesn't mean that we are sitting, waiting, and watching.

This year in fact we had a totally different approach. Due to the success of Charlotte's first Kriskindlmarkt (Christmas Village) and a grant from the local group Farm Hands Charlotte, we were able to get a head start on Spring like never before!

Strawberries were planted late October.. in hopes of harvest in late April. Spring, however, had other plans! We will probably be harvesting within this month or so! "So soon?" you ask. Trust me. We're just as floored as you. So with weather changes comes ingenuity and careful planning.

As most of you may or may not know, Farming is not an exact science. In fact it is a lot of trial and error. We do precision based guesswork, based on data and information that can change at any time. So basically a nicer way of stating that we "roll with the punches". And our team is taking those punches like a champ!

Not only are we over a month ahead on planting; we have finished constructing our new beautiful greenhouse, we have finished updating and securing 'Chicken Run' (our coop), we have started germination of all vine clippings, and now we begin our new seed cells for our Summer crops!

It is so rewarding to put a seed into the ground and days later see the green peeking through the soil...

We can't wait to bring this year's produce to market! We will, of course, have our usual... tomatoes, onions, lettuce mixes, asian green mixes, arugula, strawberries. But we are also trying our hand at some new veggies. Jerusalem Artichokes (a totally tubular tuber!) shaped like a ginger root and tastes like a potato... we are excited for the new addition to the family!

As always with changing weather, comes changing growth rates... therefore, when strawberries are ready to harvest.. we will be opening the Farm Stand. It is a little earlier than normal... but then again when is the last time we had an 80 degree day in February?? That being said keep an eye out for updates at the farm. We love providing fresh, local, organic produce to the public.... so the sooner we can do it... the better!

Thank you for all the support. We really are having a great year at Dover Vineyards so far.. and there is so much more to come!

 Our New Greenhouse!
 Sprouts of mixed greens!
 The start of a pea plant!
 Jerusalem Artichokes
 Green strawberries ...almost there!

-Olivia, Dover Vineyards

Monday, February 27, 2017

Farm Life by Nina

Well hello everyone!! My name is Nina and I have had the pleasure of working on the Dover team for almost 4 years. My first memory of farming was when I was about 15 doing volunteer work for the Gracious Greens for the Needy team. There I met Elizabeth Ann Dover where I later landed a job as a farmer! I had always loved working and being outdoors so for her to have asked me to join her, was truly an honor. I have learned so much through working on the farm, it really is amazing to be able to say I love my job! The long hours we as a team put in day out and day in throughout our busiest season is amazing and goes to show how hard everyone works to make sure you get the vegetables you ordered and even though there is a range in age, we all come together as one and I can say that I am apart of a wonderful team that remind me why I love working on the farm. I am so excited to be able to share a few things with you all for this upcoming season!

 Since the weather has been so lovely lately, the Dover crew has been getting a head start on planting our Spring crop!  So far we have planted three different types of peas which include; sugar snap peas, snow peas, and shell peas. Along with the peas, we have many different varieties of lettuce heads, carrots, onions, and Jerusalem Artichokes which is a new crop for us this year!  Jerusalem Artichokes have a sweet, nutty flavor to them which is great for roasting with other yummy vegetables! We are very excited to welcome Spring and start yet another year of growing fresh vegetables for our local customers and restaurants. Another little project we have been working on is the chicken run. We are ready to have chickens back on our farm so we can supply their fresh brown eggs to everyone who loves the taste of farm-fresh eggs! The best part about having the chickens back is being able to hand pick their eggs from the chickens' laying area and hangout with four rambunctious goats, because not too many people get to say they hung-out with animals at work. Well with that being said, I  hope everyone has a great rest of their week and we hope to see you at one of our two locations or our markets on the weekend!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

We're NOT expanding! and I'm ecstatic!

pruning grapevines

Friends and Customers, every year, since we planted the vineyard in 2009, we have expanded our operation. I am happy to say that this year, we are not taking any more acres into production! I am grateful for the rapid (in farming terms) expansion, but the learning curves each year have pushed me to my limits. It's time for a break and just fine tune our operation at our current size, approx. 13 acres. I first wrote the business plan for this project back during the financial crisis in 2009 at Appalachian State. If you had told me that in 2017 I'd be running a 13 acre farm and attending up to 7 farmers markets, I would have told you that you were flat out wrong. At that point, I had only worked and studied on smaller scale farms: 1-2 acres. We started out that size, but I soon saw that that scale of farming was not going to produce what we needed, and what the Charlotte area demanded.

As we have grown, each year, I have found myself developing a new skill set. During the first few years, I learned what I needed in order to be able to work long hours in the field and go home and follow up with office work. Then I had to learn how to manage the farm as I took on another job at Raylen. Next, I had to learn all about the whole Farmers Market scene and how to move the majority of our sales to a Saturday-based business model. Then, and most recently, I have had to learn how to mechanize (tractorize) as much as possible and how to delegate and manage staff. We now offer food from up to 10 local farmers at our Farm Stand, so I'm getting lots of on the job experience with inventory control and purchasing! I still get out in the field, but gladly, we are past the days when I would have to put in extra hours before and after the employees were at the farm.

Nevertheless, we are not successful quite yet. I still anticipate about two more years until profitability, but it's so nice to finally see the hard work paying off. I cannot tell you how many gallons of sweat or tears of frustration I have shed to get us to the point where we, at Dover Vineyards, are working humane hours.

We are trying some new things this coming year at Dover Vineyards: ginger, turmeric, and sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes. We are also going to try our hand at doing our own eggs and will start using fertigation. But none of these new undertakings involve installing new farm-wide infrastructure, clearing of land, establishing new markets, or massive plantings. We will keep you up to date with our successes and failures as we try these new things.

This past December, thanks to a very successful holiday sales season and the Christmas Village at Romare Bearden Park, we sold more wine that I could have imagined. We have found ourselves in a strange position. We will need to supplement our harvest this year with grapes from other local vineyards. I know some people will think this is heretical. How could we ever dare to produce non-estate grown wine? Well, honestly, quite easily. My favorite human, Pancho, happens to work for about 3 NC vineyards. He has access to and knowledge of the best grapes in the state and is helping me find what we need to grow the Dover Vineyards brand. We will be working closely with the people who will be growing our grapes and will always stay transparent about who is growing what and what is going in every bottle of our beloved wine.

We thank you so much, customers and friends, for your patience as we get our business off the ground. Yes, we started 8 years ago, however, in farm years, we haven't even gotten through the first three months of a normal business. We still plan on doing a tasting room on our property (and are seeking investors), however, we will have to replenish our inventory of wine first, and that will be at least another year. Hope to see you this coming season at the Farm Stand, Plaza Midwood, or at an area wine tasting.

Monday, February 6, 2017

From Kokoro Shears to Fiskars Pruners: My First Six Months on the Farm

If you had asked me twelve years ago what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have had an exact answer for you. Marine Biologist. But, that was a pipe dream. Short-lived to say the least. After graduating High School, I (like most), had a much tougher time answering that same question.

What did I want be when I grew up? I was a good student. I didn't try bringing much attention to myself. I made good grades, and stayed out of trouble. However, it was difficult for me to put myself into a four year university state-of-mind. I enjoy change. I like being creative. I love learning. But something about those four walls, for four years, scared the daylights out of me.

So I worked. I worked hard. Two jobs, Seven days a week, 75 hours a week. I wanted to prove to myself that I could support myself on my own. In turn, bettering my skills in the customer service line of work. While working for a restaurant, I met a woman who's hair was as flawless as her personality. She, after one conversation, convinced me that cosmetology may be the path for me. I had never considered the option, but why not? I'm creative, I like being hands-on, and I'm a good people person.

So I did it. 1500 hours of cosmetology school over a series of 14 months. It was the most exhausting, yet liberating experiences of my life. I learned so much about myself and who I "thought" I wanted to become. I really found a home with hair care.

About five years had passed. I still enjoyed my choice in career. I'm being creative. I'm taking on responsibility in the work environment. I'm actually doing something hands-on, that I truly feel may be changing someone's life. And then it hit me...

.. What about me? Can I do this for the rest of my life? And, am I truly, happy?

Happy. That's a word we take for granted nowadays. I realized I was doing so much for everybody else at work, at home, in public, that I forgot about... me. What did I really want?

So I sat down. I thought really hard. It was at this point that I thought back to my garden that I had planted the previous Summer. It was my first attempt at an above-ground plot. I didn't know the rules, but I gave it my best shot and learned as I progressed. I thought about the feeling I had going out everyday pruning my tomatoes, and picking my squash. The heart-break of a dry week, and the elation of a hearty yield.

There it was. There was my happy. Dirt, seeds, vegetables; getting sweaty and sore, but feeling so accomplished. That's where my happy was and that's where I needed to be.

Lucky me, Charlotte/Concord is a smaller world than I imagined. You rub enough elbows, you find your connections, and networking blossoms! I met Elizabeth Anne Dover through my best friend. They had gone to school together and she knew I had the farming-bug buzzing in my ear. We connected and set up an interview.

First impressions are important to me. It doesn't matter whether your interviewing for the position of CEO or cashier at your local grocery store, you need to convey who you are; and I think dressing professionally speaks volumes. So I came in what I wore best. Black slacks, white button up shirt, and my emerald green cardigan. Needless to Elizabeth Anne was taken aback. No one expects to see a farm hand dressed in their Sunday best. What was I doing? "She's not going to take me seriously," I thought to myself. In fact, it was just the opposite. She welcomed me with open arms, rather relieved that I hadn't picked up a new pair of Carhartt's the day before to "look the part". She hired me on the spot, and I began my transition into the agricultural world two weeks later.

February 2017:
I have been working for Elizabeth Anne, Dover Vineyards, for about six months now. I can honestly say, without any hesitation, that I am happy. More than happy, even. This job has done more for me than I can explain. I wake up every morning happy to start the day and I go home every night, worn out with satisfaction of a hard day's work. And although it may not be in a classroom, I am learning so much and so many life skills, that I don't feel that I have missed any opportunities taking the path I did.

When people hear farm they automatically think of cows, goats, chickens, vast cornfields, overalls, and tractors. Little do they know it's precise calculations, trial-and-error, understanding your land and taking those risks to see if what you had planned can become a reality. Farming is much more than laying seeds, watering occasionally, and fertilizing. Some days we walk through the vineyards collecting clippings from every individual plant in hopes of germinating a new vine. Other days we hand shovel compost into the back of a Ram 1500 and hand spread across two of our acres to enrich the soil before tilling for the next crop. Farming is planting 600 feet of collards and Kale, hoping you won't lose your crop to snow

. Farming is camping in the middle of your vineyard with controlled fires, at midnight, when it's under 10 degrees to make sure your vines are sterilized, but not killed off. Farming is a loving, frustrating, hard-work inducing industry, and is not for the faint of heart. And I love every minute of it.

We are small little work family with a lot of gumption. From all walks of life, we have come together and have found who we are. I still have a lot to learn, a lot. However, everyday is something new. Everyday I learn new skills, new techniques. I am becoming more rounded. Which ultimately is helping me find my center. I may not know what I want to be when I grow up, but I know one thing...

I'm happy.

Monday, May 2, 2016

IndieGoGo Campaign update!

I'll be honest- the IndieGoGo campaign is not going as well as I had hoped. We are still going to be planting the vineyard. In fact, we have already started! We have purchased the vines, worked up the soil, dug the holes, and are now putting the vines in the ground. But the most expensive part is still ahead- getting the support for the vines, the rebar, and then the landscaping fabric and the staples to hold it down.

We decided not to move the pole in the middle of the field, since that would have cost $5,000. Instead, we just planted around it, and stayed away 20 ft.

Preparing the soil has been the biggest challenge so far. We had the property surveyed and staked off by Concord Engineering and Surveying. Then we measured out the rows. We tied a string between poles at either end of each row, spray painted the line, and then Dad mowed the future row. Then, he got his tiller out and went over each row 6 times. Then, he mowed the inter-row spaces so we could work in the vineyard.

Then, because the tiller only had us going down about 4 inches of workable soil, we used a plow to work up the soil. We plowed in two directions, each time, piling the soil to the middle. The after that, we disked the soil to break up the clods. Finally, we used our new tool, the middle buster to dig a trench down the middle of the row.

That got us down about 8 inches and working with gorgeous fluffy soil. You couldn't ask for better working conditions. We finally are digging holes in the trench, about 2-4 more inches down, and are putting mulch in the bottom of each hole. The we put the plant in, and cover it up.

This is so much easier than the first vineyard we planted! We are able to plant about 100 vines per hour (after the holes are dug!). The condition of the soil is what is really making this a speedy endeavor. It's so delightful to work with compared to the rings of clay and rocks that were in the first vineyard. It's amazing to see how the soil changes in just a quarter of a mile! It goes from rocky clay to a soil filled with awesome organic matter! It will be interesting to see how the wines turn out.

So, again, I ask for your help in making this a possibility. We have had some unexpected bills in the past few months and your financial contribution means more than you could imagine! 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Our New Vineyard

We are so excited to be started on our next two vineyards! We have two in the plans for this coming season: one located by the current vineyard and one located in Mount Pleasant on an hillside acre owned by another farmer. We will be planting Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot on our own property and more Villard blanc on the other property.

In order to fund this, we will be doing a crowd-funding campaign, so if you have a few spare dollars, please consider helping to fund our project. Every dollar counts. Every dollar goes towards buying another vine, another piece of rebar, another bag of fertilizer.

We are going to plant the vineyard a little bit differently this time. We learned a lot in our first planting, and hope we have made some improvements and realized a few ways to save money in the process. Since it takes approximately 3 years to get our first crop, we are going to establish the vineyard over the course of a few years instead of in one go, like we did last time. This year, we are going to plant the vines, put down the landscape fabric, and stick a piece of rebar beside the vines. Last time, we used bamboo stakes to hold the vines up. That was a nightmare. We spent countless hours picking up the vines as they would blow over and break the bamboo. Last time, we also constructed the trellis in the first year. The plants didn't really need it until the end of the second year. We are going to try putting the trellis in in the fall of 2017 in preparation of the first crop in 2018. That should help spread out the cost of establishment.

So why are we planting another vineyard? Besides the fact that wine sales are going well and continue to improve, we are striving to improve our economies of scale. From what we have seen, we will have to increase our input very little if we add on three more acres. I'm not saying that it won't be more work, but having a 4 acre vineyard is a bit cumbersome. We can't really afford full time vineyard staff or marketing staff for so few bottles of wine. However, if we put in three more acres, we will be able to operate more efficiently, and probably be able to afford a tasting room with a full-time staff person! This, however, might be a few years in the future. Remember, if we are planting the grapes in 2016, we won't have wine for sale off of those grapes until 2019. That's a long way off! A lot can happen in three years!

That's why we are counting on community support to put this new vineyard in the ground. We are using Indiegogo to help us out. We have three perks: bottles of wine, cases of wine, and gift certificates for vegetables. Please check out our campaign below. We are very excited to begin this new venture and all the fun wine-making things it will let us do! We will be able to add a barrel or two of Cabernet Franc to the Chambourcin to make it more complex! We will be able to add a barrel or two of Chambourcin in the Cabernet Franc to naturally increase the acidity and deepen the color! After three years of making Petit Verdot at Raylen, I can guarantee that it is the best varietal of grapes that we can grow right now in North Carolina. It makes a deep, rich, complex wine that can compete with any wine in California, especially when aged in some new oak barrels.

So please! Help us get the word out! Let's get the community involved! And come out to help plant. We will probably be doing this the week of April 11-15. Thanks for your support and we will see you out there.