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Meet Sunflower, Petunia and baby on the way will make three – (three pumpkin-loving Jersey cows that is) and a flock of cackling hens and a strutting rooster, and, of course, Tara and Sean, the farmers of Ostara Farm. Now before someone looks at the photos and then questions if I know the difference between pumpkin-loving cows and winter squash-loving cows, let me allay your concerns. These cows really prefer pumpkins, but the pumpkins were gone and they were just going to have to settle for winter squash during my visit. I believe Sean mentioned that this was good for their digestive system. They are 100% grass-fed with additional treats of yummy homegrown veggies, and the milk is organic jersey milk that per NC law is only sold for animal consumption. My mouth watered thinking about the “real” milk I enjoyed as a child. No wonder our homemade ice cream was creamy, yummy growing up; the richness makes all the difference. I must have Tara and Sean over for ice cream this summer; they bring the milk and I do the rest. Either that or I get our own Jersey cow…hmmm. After they reminded me of the milking schedule, I think I’ll hold off adding a Jersey to our farm household.
Tara fell in love with growing her own food and Sandy Mush while interning for Joe Allawos on his farm on Sugar Creek. She realized that the organic vegetables and the physical exercise she was getting were lessening her fibromyalgia pain. Tara reflects “ I later came to understand that my body is highly sensitive to chemicals in food. When I eat conventional foods for any length of time, my body starts to hurt. So the more I produce my own food the better I feel- it gets me out moving around in the sunshine and the food is clean. Years later, I read that Fibromyalgia is associated with a buildup of chemicals in the fascia of the body, causing pain and that people who have it cannot process all of the chemicals our environment is laden with, and my own personal experience seems to back this up.”
Tara graduated with a biology and environmental studies background from UNCA, and she and Sean utilize biointensive and permaculture practices on their farm; they use a no till system with a whole lot of mulch. They do have good looking garlic, which is what inspired my visit; that and wanting to see for myself if they really don’t have to weed due to the heavy mulch. (I’ll be back in June to check on those weeds or lack thereof.)
Farming has been a natural progression from her internship, growing for herself, then surplus to friends and faculty, to starting a CSA for UNCA faculty, and now selling at the French Broad Coop on Biltmore Ave. Ask for Ostara Farm’s garlic, and later this season their produce and eggs will be available there as well. They will also be selling starts at Fifth Season Gardening in Asheville.
After living in a few other places, Tara and Sean made their way back to Sandy Mush and carved out a special home for their farm, Ostara, named for a goddess of spring solstice. Springtime on a farm holds such promise! Before I took my leave of Ostara, Petunia let me pet her and I had one more question for Tara: “What do you love about living in Sandy Mush?”. Tara was quick to articulate the depth of her feelings:
“It is one of the most beautiful valleys on Earth and I feel very close to Spirit here. I also love that it is still a farming community- we have lots of farming neighbors that we like and can share common interests and experiences with. Farming can be isolating, but not quite as much in this valley as some of the other places we’ve lived and farmed. It feels nice to support each other in our work, makes it feel like what I am doing is more magnified, having a larger impact.”
Tara is also passionate about her work with the Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council.
After a night of gusting winds in December, we awoke to find our chicken coop upside down and our chickens discombobulated, but, thankfully, alive and squawking. They certainly gave us an ear full when we arrived on the scene; it seems they have some grievances with our top heavy portable chicken tractor. Glenn made a few adjustments that seem to be riding out the fierce winds that we have been experiencing. However, the chickens were not so confident at first. Though we had righted and secured their home, they were not overjoyed to return to their roost that evening. They reminded me of young children daring each other to the be first to jump from the diving board as first one chicken then the other would jump on her platform to ascend to her home roost and then change her mind and jump down and go to the back of the line. After several minutes, courage or sleepiness prevailed and they each ascended to have sweet and calm dreams.
All has been well, and our plump, shiny chickens are strutting, scratching and laying eggs.
The wild turkeys are enjoying our buckwheat, and Glenn sees our chances of the buckwheat reseeding itself being gobbled away ; the flock of 30+ are grazing daily and taunting Tillie on our morning walks. Glenn and Tillie have informed them not too push their luck too far or one of them might be the lucky bird to be marinated in bourbon and apple cider and roasted to a golden brown next Thanksgiving.
Our hens have finally slowed down egg production, but we are still getting two eggs a day which is fine from the five hens. They were thankful for the cornbread dressing that they received after Thanksgiving, and I am thankful for the fresh eggs that definitely make a more delicious quiche.
On a sad note, we lost our yellow hive of honey bees; we are still analyzing the evidence, but it looks potentially like colony collapse disorder. This hive was always weaker from the start, but we had left all their honey in the hive in the hope that they would be able to survive the winter and gain strength going into next year. We had seen a lot of bee activity during the sunny days when we looked out at their hives, but upon closer inspection, Glenn realized that those were robber bees enjoying all the yummy honey. It seems that they had a Thanksgiving feast as well.