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.