Going Rural: The Artful Palate

Hello everyone, this is Jennifer Downs, an intern here at the North Central Louisiana Arts Council. Previously I wrote a short blog series entitled "An Eco-Active Imagination." Well, as I near the end of my grant-writing internship, that series must also come to a close. I am now working with fellow interns Rod Waynick and Caitlin Angel on marketing for several upcoming events for NCLAC, including Artoberfest and Holiday Arts Tour. As this new phase in my work with NCLAC begins, I am also starting a new blog series entitled "Going Rural: The Artful Palate." My goal with this series will be to celebrate unique fare in the 5 parishes of Lincoln, Jackson, Union, Bienville, and Claiborne which NCLAC serves. I believe that growing, baking, cooking, and decorating food is an art form and that we should celebrate our local food artists.

This week, my post focuses on 47 Daisies, a CSA and organic farm outside of Ruston that is run by Dylan and Harmony Dillaway. As organic farmers, I believe that Dylan and Harmony are artists in their own right, because there is a level of skill and creativity necessary to grow so many varieties of fruits and vegetables without the use of pesticides or genetically engineered seeds.

The follow is an interview that I had with Harmony, wherein she describes the art of growing organic food in her own words.

Photograph courtesy of 47 Daisies

JEN: Where did the name "47 Daisies" come from? Do you grow daisies, and does the number "47" have any special significance?

HARMONY: The name “47 Daisies” is a combination of Dylan’s favorite number and Harmony’s favorite flower. We do grow daisies as part of our pick your own flower beds which are open to the CSA and produce sale customers each Saturday. 47 has followed Dylan throughout his life. It was the number on Dylan’s first soccer jersey when he was a boy and grew into a personality all its own. If you look for it you can see 47 in lots of places even around town. It’s a really random name, which fits our farm perfectly.

J: Was organic farming and joining a CSA always a dream of yours, or was there a "eureka!" moment in which you two decided to go for it?

H: From a very early age Dylan knew he was going to farm sustainably Dylan started his first CSA in 1998 in Pennsylvania after interning at a farm in Vermont where he was introduced to the concept. When Dylan and Harmony met, Harmony quickly adopted the dream of farming as her own and they have never wavered from that path since. A CSA is a natural model to utilize on a small, diversified family farm. It is difficult to manage but provides a mutual benefit to the farmer and the customer.

J: What has been the greatest challenge for you and your family on the farm?

H: By far the greatest challenge we have faced getting our farm started in Louisiana has been the unprecedented weather we have experienced over the past few years. Farmers are always at the mercy of mother nature but these past few years have been off the charts in terms of lack of rain and high temperatures.

For this reason, diversification is the key to a successful farm and 47 Daisies is in the process of diversifying its operation. This winter sheep will join the farm and as early as 2014 pastured lamb will be available to the community at the farm sale each weekend. In addition we have added eggs to the mix. We have started small with 25 laying hens and are expanding the operation this fall. Our hens are pastured in mobile coops and portable electric netting to keep predators out. We often joke with our customers that when they eat our eggs they are mostly eating our vegetables because the chickens love their veggies!! We will also have berries (strawberries, blueberries, red raspberries and blackberries) and other types of fruit (figs, citrus, apples, pears and persimmons) available in the near future once our plants become established and start producing.

J: How do you handle "pests," from the smallest of insects to rabbits and deer?

H: Being “certified naturally grown” (which is standards almost identical to organic and more strict in some instances) pests are a problem. Especially during these droughty years pest pressure is high. Most of our insect pests are dealt with by handpicking, row covers (a preventative barrier) and OMRI listed organic sprays, such as Bt, insecticidal soap, and neem oil. Most years we don’t spray anything at all on any crop and we just accept the fact that we will suffer crop losses due to insect pressure (for instance we just tilled under a whole crop of barese swiss chard due to leaf damage from insects). We feel that if we create a healthy garden ecosystem the plants will do most of the work for us and be able to fight off all but the most severe infestations.

We also have to deal with a number of other critters ranging from deer, armadillos, rabbits, squirrels, birds and raccoons. Every year we lost a certain percentage of vegetables to the small critters, but deer pose the biggest threat. We utilize electric roping and solar powered fence chargers to ward off deer and to date this has worked well for us.

J: Does your CSA work like a conventional CSA, in which members of the community purchase "shares" of your crop? Typically, how do these exchanges happen?

H: Every CSA across the country is slightly different from any other. However, ours is similar to most in that members of the community and surrounding communities pays in advance for a 10 week block of vegetables. We operate 3 10 week blocks in a season and members can choose to be a part of all three blocks or just one block. We found that this gives our members the flexibility to choose which times of the year they want to participate. Some folks only want the spring crops, others only want your traditional summer time crops (i.e. peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, etc.).

Photographs from the farm's 2012 growing season, courtesy of 47 Daisies.

We harvest all the produce that is going to members each week as close to pickup day as possible. Our pickups take place at the farm on Saturdays from 10am-2pm. Members come during those times and pick up a share of the harvest from that week. Due to a number of different reasons, quantities and variety vary throughout the seasons. We target 6-12 items each week in a quantity that will provide side dishes to a family for a weeks time. Pickups happen once a week so that all produce consumed by our customers was still growing even up to a few hours before pickups start. Most produce is harvested Friday evening and Saturday morning in order to provide the most nutritious, freshest food possible. Some of it may even still be warm from the sunshine.

J: How is growing food, particularly organic food, an art form?

H: I often think of farming as a mixture of an art and a science. Plants grow in certain ways and studying them you can learn a lot about the “science” of farming. However, you only become a good farmer when you develop your artistic side. Especially when managing crops for a CSA the art form takes over. The science is easy….observe, learn and your plants will tell you what they need.

Artistic expression comes in all shapes and sizes. This may sound cliché, but we start off with freshly tilled soil and get to splash our colors, shapes and varieties onto this medium. Much like an artist does on a piece of canvas our beds are an expression of us as farmers and people in general. Artists make art for a variety of reasons, but we farm the way we do not only to produce crops but to provide a pleasing experience to anyone who might venture out along the garden paths. Everything matters from the smallest detail of sowing an individual seed, to the combination of plants in a given bed, to the bed layout in general. Due to the fact that we grow over 300 varieties of vegetables in any given year the color schemes, the garden structures and the various shapes of the plants all matter when planting a bed.