We End Up Together

"Do You Realize - that you have the most beautiful face
Do You Realize - we're floating in space -
Do You Realize - that happiness makes you cry
Do You Realize - that everyone you know someday will die

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes - let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn't go down
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round."
-Wayne Coyne

There are many things that I am thankful for.

I am thankful for my lovely wife, Sarah. This year, we celebrated our 11th year of marriage, and our 14th year together. She is my favorite artist, and she adds the color to my life.

While we may have differing opinions on many things, including how much stuff should hang on our walls, I am glad that her taste in decor is second only to her taste in men.

She loves me despite my faults and is the best thing that ever happened to me. I feel blessed to share my dreams with her.

I am thankful for the two beautiful, unique girls we get to spend our days with, Dagan and Talia. I can't believe that they are (nearly) 12 and 9.

Their energy is infectious, and they help keep things fresh. I hope that their love for themselves, each other, and the world around them continues to blossom as they do.

I am thankful for our parents. We were both lucky enough to grow up in homes where love and respect came before everything else. We would obviously not be where we are without their love and support. They were the first members of our farm.

I am also thankful for our siblings and their
families. Sarahs's sister Emily is a horticulturalist who has worked at some of the best botanical gardens in the country, including in Omaha where she met her boyfriend, Neil. She is currently teaching kids gardening at UT-Knoxville. Emily has always had a special relationship with our girls.

My brother owned a painting biz near St. Louis for more than a decade, before giving it up last year to start a new business with his father-in-law. Luckily for us (and our house), he kept some of the equipment and all of the knowledge. He married Karen the same year that Sarah and I were married, and they have two wonderful daughters.

I am equally thankful to our friends and neighbors whose emotional and physical support helps this farm function. Bob and Sharron down the road have lent us equipment for nearly every project over the last year. Gale has helped keep the critters fed (one in particular).

I am thankful for the home that we share together. We bought the farm, so to speak, five years ago next week.

When Sarah saw it for the first time, she called me at work and told me she found our home. We put a contract on it that night.

I am happy to say that it was one of the best decisions we've made.

I am thankful for our CSA members. When we moved here, we knew we wanted to grow food, but were intimidated by the prospect of trying to sell it.

We didn't even know what CSA stood for, let alone how vital it would be to our livelihood in such a short time. Without our members, transitioning to full-time farming would be impossible, but thanks to them, it may be a reality within a few years.

Our members this year endured all of the trials and tribs of belonging to a new CSA, in addition to what some locals say was the worst drought in memory. It is nearly impossible to meet all of your own expectations for the coming year as a farmer, but with the encouragement of our members, we all persisted and have many positive experiences to look back on and another season to look forward to.

Last, but not least, I am thankful for the animals in our lives.

Yes, even Pee-Wee, though he decided he would move to his "retirement home" down the road instead of staying with us.

I will keep telling myself that there were 6 reasons for this, and that the humans weren't one of them.

We got three shipments of chicks this year. We now have two hen houses, with 21 & 28 hens each.

We also raised two rounds of broilers this year. One of them will be dinner today. Perhaps next year will bring turkeys to the farm.

With all of the growing going on at the farm, it is not without some sadness.

A few days after I thought I heard crying coming from the treeline, I went out to feed the broilers, who were still living in a mini "coop", at the time. I was startled by a gray blur, which darted from the box into the woods.

After a couple of days of coaxing with some chicken, she came close enough for the girls to see her. They caught her while she was playing on the woodpile.

Though Pepper had a contusion on her lower lip and was quite thin, she was happy to take up residence on the porch. She was determined to be about ten weeks, and grew to be a wonderful addition to the family. It was as if she found us.

Sadly, during the painting of our house, she ran off to avoid the commotion, and probably the dogs. While she had really gained her legs, she was still small and naive. I didn't think much about moving her usual perch into the yard to clean the porch for painting since it was daytime, but it was truly a fatal mistake.

After a long night and morning, we found her. We are unsure whether it was the Great Horned Owl that had claimed some of our broilers earlier in the year, or one of the pair of Red-Tailed Hawks that live near here.

Her life was short, but we like to think she found a little happiness at the farm before she left us.

She taught me that I am not just a dog person. I am very thankful for that.

Don't Fence Me In

"A thing long expected takes the form of the unexpected when at last it comes."
--Mark Twain

If there is one thing you can say about expectations, it is that they are always, without fail, met. With what they are met, now that is what makes the story interesting, or perplexing, and sometimes even frustrating.

This can certainly, perhaps even especially, be said of expectations relating to co-habitation with animals.

Let me preface all of this by saying that I realize, of course, that a chicken is a chicken....

and a human is a human.

You can read all of the books you want, then want all the things you want based on what you have read, but at the end of the day there is nothing like experience.

We really didn't know for sure what our 17 hens would want with respect to space. I built a reasonably sized coop (about twice the advised minimum for them at maturity) on the edge of the drive last fall, with bumped out nesting boxes (more for us than them).

There is room for at least ten more on the pine branch roosts, though floor space would get tight during feeding time in the winter.

I built the coop on 4x4 "sleds" so that I could move it to its permanent location. The info I read & based the coop design on, I must say, was spot on.

In the summer they would free range all day, and only use the coop for eating/drinking, afternoon naps, and nighttime.

With a ratio of 3.4 hens/acre, there would be plenty of room for them to explore.

Our extensive landscape plantings, and more importantly, 1.5 acres of vegetable ground, were always a concern, but I thought we could work it out.

Unfortunately, chickens prefer the same light, fertile soil as plants, only for their dirt baths, and its inhabitants (earthworms and grubs) for their snacks.

It was not a worst case scenario...yet. The annual mulching has not been done, and hardly a thing has been planted outside our first spring plot, which is protected with chicken wire. It has been effective, for the most part, so far.

It has become increasingly apparent that our optimistic expectations about free range hens were not spot on. Even though it may not always be obvious to the eye, depending on what project we are in the middle of, I do like to have things in their place, from tools and materials (like mulch) to plants, desirable and less desirable, and it now appears, hens.


with all this in mind, and knowing that good fences may very well make good neighbors,

our ladies now have slightly less range.

I did try to give them a mountain range, made of composted mulch and dead grass plumes, for climbing, dirt bathing, and digging for bugs.

Further testing is sure to come, but at this point, the plan (expectation?) is to add two more runs, so we can rotate them around, as I assume (expect?) that this grass will soon be gone.

We just saw a video where a woman let her birds free range for just an hour or two before dusk. Maybe this solution will work for us.

I will try and keep my expectations to a minimum.

It's Easy Being Green

"Being is the great explainer."
--Henry David Thoreau

There are many good things about St. Patrick's Day. Unfortunately, since getting into landscaping about 12 years ago, I have more often than not found myself raking leaves, pruning shrubs, or even spreading mulch. I have endured blustery winds, unending rain showers, and even a flurry or two. Sometimes, my efforts to get home and enjoy a celebratory brew are further delayed, like last year when I had a blow out on my water trailer.

This year even started on a rough note, as I discovered that the hoophouse had had it's first overnight guest, a field mouse I'm sure. The damage was minor (though I am a little on edge tonight as I write this) as he or she only devoured some early experimental cukes and the casings from the okra and sage, both of which seem to have survived after an emergency operation.

But I refused to give up on this year. I had planned to stay home and work and enjoy a celebratory brew (or two), and it was going to be a good one.
I spent the next few hours tending to starts and transplants, and then moved out into the 65 degree sunshine to work on a much needed construction project with Sarah. I'll get to that later, or tomorrow.

Now is the time for life on the farm to shine.

Mustard Greens

Swiss Chard

Early Mizuna




Red Leaf Lettuce


Bronze Arrowhead

Sanguine Ameliore

Red Stars...

and Wrigley...

and Rosie and Pee Wee

It was a good day.


"Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way."
--Edward de Bono

Sometimes we find solutions to our problems in unexpected places. My love for growing food has evolved alongside my disdain for plastic. Plastic, along with one of its primary components, oil, are at the forefront when considering our impact on the environment on which we depend. The list of problems that are exasperated, if not caused, by our dependence on oil is long. Its not exactly rocket science.

But is that really the fault of oil or plastic? I think not. The problem is with management. When cars became affordable, everyone got one, regardless of actual need. As long as gas prices stay below $3.00, there is little talk of downsizing, regardless of actual need. I suppose it is human nature on some level, but it is far from the human nature of two generations ago (or two generations from now) when conservation was (will be) necessary for survival.

I have often found myself perplexed when confronted with images and stories of organic farming operations that use a product referred to as plastic mulch. It is not exactly mulch in the wood/straw sense, although it does control weeds and conserve moisture. It is really just a sheet of black plastic that is stretched over a raised bed, then buried along the sides so that it doesn't blow away.

Besides the plastic (about 4 sq.ft./linear ft. of bed), there is the diesel fuel that transported it and was used in the 30ish HP tractor that is required to lay it. Oh, and then at the end of the season you have a huge pile of plastic that many farmers choose to burn. Sounds organic to me. And all to save the work that a team of well-trained ten year-olds can pull off in a good twelve hour day.

Growing (and eating) food in Illinois, and many other parts of the world, presents a peculiar issue with regards to oil consumption. We can only grow certain crops for a limited duration, unlike California, for example. Until recently, I didn't think there were any real benefits to be gained by using plastic to grow food, with respect to the ecosystem as a whole.

My discovery of four season growing has changed that. Plastic film is stretched over a metal structure to create a micro-climate that can be used to extend seasons. Hoop-houses, or high tunnels, are not a new idea, but with the increasing focus on fuel conservation, I think it makes sense to take advantage of this technology in our area. I also use a secondary layer of mini-hoops inside for the really cold nights (see the top picture). Operating on a purely experimental basis, we were able to grow lettuce, carrots, beets, onions, spinach, and assorted chois, throughout the winter without any supplemental heat.
On sunny days in January, with six inches of snow on the ground and daytime highs hovering in the mid-twenties, it reached a balmy 55 degrees inside. This heat is trapped by the soil and slowly released overnight, so that the ground never freezes inside.

When considering impact, the amount of fuel saved by not transporting these vegetables across the country is surely more than what it took to manufacture and transport this plastic. As of last month, I can say that I will soon have actual data to back up this assumption. We, along with eight other farmers in Union County, and many more across the country, have been pre-approved to take part in a 3 year USDA study on the benefits of using these systems for season extension, erosion control, and pesticide reduction (synthetic or organic). This program has created a variety of possibilities for farmers interested in producing food to be consumed locally.

The plastic on this year's hoop-house can be used for the mini-hoops inside next year
if it is weakened too much to be the primary protection. It can also be used on small hoops throughout the property to warm the ground and for shorter periods of season extension, though they alone generally won't hold the weight of snow.

In my mind, all of life is an experiment. Slight variations in materials and techniques can lead to wonderful realizations. Sometimes we use things that we once considered useless. The results achieved thus far have given me a whole new outlook on farming, year-round.


"Whatever you can do or dream you can do--begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now."

This post, it might be said, is what it's all about for us here at the farm. To me, there is no better marketing approach than one that puts the producer and the buyer together. That is the idea at the root of the CSA movement.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) links farmers directly with consumers. CSA “shareholders” purchase part of the season’s produce before it is even grown. This shifts some of the farm’s annual income to the winter and early spring, when the farm incurs most of its costs. The start-up money allows for investments, from seed and tool purchases to equipment repairs and upgrades. These components, and others, are as critical to the survival of the farm as the soil itself. By providing some income during this important time of the year, you help to balance the expenses and workload, which ultimately increases the productivity and sustainability of the farm.

What follows here is the detailed outline of our CSA. My hope is that we have addressed the main issues. There are still some group decisions to be made once our shares have been sold. If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to contact me.

Frontwards Farm 2010 CSA

The weekly cost of a Regular Share for the 2010 season is $30.00. The season will run for 22 weeks, totaling $660.00. In return for this early commitment to the farm, you will receive an average of 12-20 lbs. (6-12 different veggies, fruits, & herbs) per week. This is enough for a family of four, or two adults who love “five a day”. At this time, we do not offer half shares, but we encourage you to find someone to split a share with if you feel it will be more than you want.

Everything is grown using bio-intensive methods, without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, with the long term sustainability of our land in mind. We add new varieties and experiment with new techniques every year. A list of varieties will be available here shortly, as our seed orders have been made,and filled for the most part. Questions and comments regarding specific produce and practices are encouraged, as are farm visits.

Furthermore, you will always have the first opportunity to take advantage of other offerings as new products become available. This is a life-long venture for us, and our hope is for you to stay with us as the farm grows. One of the most exciting parts of this growth is sure to be our focus on season extension structures, as we strive to offer produce year-round.

What is expected of members?
Be Vocal--As mentioned above, feedback is encouraged, as it is vital to the development of the farm. We want to know if you want more or less of a certain item, or a different variety or type of produce all together. We can’t improve if you don’t tell us how.

Be Flexible--Growing food is unpredictable. Every year brings variations in pest and climate pressures. A bad year for tomatoes may mean a bumper crop of peppers. Our search for the best method for growing the best varieties is met with success and failure.

Be Reliable- Timely payment is critical. Pick up your box as scheduled or arrange for a friend or neighbor to pick up your share if you will be unable to. Shares that are not picked up will be donated to a local family.

There are some things to think about when considering participation in CSA.
Among those:
--How do you like surprises? Each week the contents of your box will vary based on
the season. This not only allows us to enjoy the true bounty of our region, but keeps the menu interesting.
--Do you like to cook? There are many items that are best eaten raw, but we would not suggest eating butternut squash this way. Preparing meals presents a great opportunity for family time, and is the final step in bringing the food to your plate.
--Are you a creative cook? Some items may be new to your kitchen. This could lead to variations in favorite recipes or new ones all together. With the internet, a world of ideas and experiences is at your disposal, and if you are like us, experimenting a little will bring out the artist in you.
--Do you support local, sustainable agriculture? Your membership in our farm makes this a reality, and will hopefully be as rewarding for you as it is for us.

What still needs to be determined?
--Delivery location-Deliveries will be made to a central location, most likely in Carbondale. This will be determined as membership fills up, based on convenience for all involved. Farm pick-up is certainly welcome, but this will increase overall fuel consumption, which is always a factor to consider when striving for minimal environmental impact.
--Delivery time-The preferred time would be mid-late afternoon. This would allow same day harvest of all produce, which could be done during the coolest part of the day. With regard to the day of the week, our participation in a farmer’s market will be our deciding factor. Saturday is not an option, and other days may be ruled out as well. Members should consider delivery prior to the main shopping day of the week to allow for meal planning based around available produce.

If you would like to become a member of Frontwards Farm C.S.A. for the 2010 season, please follow the link to our Sign-Up Form.

Any items of concern can be addressed in the comment section at the bottom of the sign-up form, or via email.

Thank you.


"Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny."
-Patrick Overton

Music, ye have done it again. Inspired me, that is. While searching for a fitting quote from a rocker for my previous music post, it occurred to me that reading/writing has been equally important to me (it was my major) as I follow my path to not only financial, but spiritual & emotional security. As a result, I will lead each post with a meaningful quote.

As you can see if you follow the link to Patrick's website, he is an ordained minister. I prefer not to use labels regarding religion, politics, and other philosophical movements to describe my journey. Rather, I search for the wisdom of someone's experiences, conveyed through their words, as well as actions. In everyone lies a kernel of history, a unique perspective, for no one experiences exactly what someone else has. (Atticus Finch, anyone?)

While I may never read Patrick's writing extensively, I can assure you that these words of his will go forward with me. If I were able to remember one quote from everyone who has lived, (or even just those who have written), not only could they fill a library, but they could provide a path through history. If the particular circumstances could be stripped from around those words, if they could be whittled to their root essence, the idea could be molded to inform the reader, regardless of time and place. It is this that draws me to the words in song and prose. There is a mystery in there, and to me it is a personal one. The writer took the thoughts and found the best way to present them. Next, the reader must find the best way to interpret and apply them.

The Music Never Stopped

"I just do what I do. I like to make music."
-Neil Young

A few notes on the role of music in our lives. We'll start with the obvious.

I love music so much that I decided to name every one of my posts here after a song. Most of them are by bands I love. Some (like the upcoming one regarding our CSA) were too obvious to ignore. Some may be unknown to you. Some of these may be by your next favorite band. Perhaps a Google search is in order. The name of our farm also comes from a song title. The lyrics or context may not be fitting for the post (or the farm), but the title is meaningful in what it implies.

Further evidence of my love for music lies in my insistence to include the rather cheesy music player in the sidebar. One of those things that could certainly be improved, I just haven't taken the time.

In addition to searching our favorite record store, Plaza-Wuxtry Records, & the internet for new music on a regular basis, Sarah and I both have the honor of hosting a weekly radio show on WDBX, our community radio station. She hosts "The Jazz Buffet" on Fridays from 12 to 2 pm, and I host "Music & Activists" on Thursdays from 2 to 4 pm. You can stream for free 24 hrs. a day using the link in the sidebar.

We have 100+ volunteer DJ's & thousands of members that provide 30-40% of the financial support for the station, in addition to local underwriters & fundraisers.

Our annual Valentine's Ball takes place on Feb. 13th at the Carbondale Civic Center. Longtime local favorite blues musician Tawl Paul and his band Slappin' Henry Blues will headline, with the SIU Studio Jazz Orchestra opening. Fellow DJ and painter Eileen Doman painted 10 amazing portraits of famous blues musicians that will be available for sale, in addition to lots of local art available in the silent auction. We have a meal catered by C-Infinity in Cobden & cash bar by Tres Hombres. You can get ticket info on the main WDBX site.

And the Bottle Rockets are coming to PK's on the strip this Sunday.
It's gonna be one of those legendary Carbondale nights.


Way back when I first started the blog (last October), I promised, among other things, a proper intro to who "we" are.

The best place to start is who "I" am, aside from the info on my profile page. My name is Jason, and I will be responsible (and to blame) for all of the posts here, though I must immediately credit my wife, Sarah, and our daughters, D & T, for most if not all of the photos.

Sarah & I grew up in central Illinois about 45 minutes apart, but we didn't meet until coming to school at Southern Illinois University - Carbondale in the mid 90's. Her father has been a farmer since college, and mine was a factory worker until they shut down his plant earlier this decade. Both of our mothers are/were (until retirement) educators at the schools we attended.

After graduating with an English degree, I started a landscaping company that is still my main source of income, working mostly in Carbondale, about 15 miles from home.

Sarah graduated with a degree in Fiber Arts, and has been growing her art business since. Her work is currently featured in a dozen or so galleries in the Midwest, and we try to attend 5-8 weekend art festivals a year.

Until recently, however, this was more of a side job for her. She home-schooled our daughters through grades 4 & 1, respectively, until they enrolled in school near our home this past fall. It was a wonderful, if not exhausting, experience for us (especially her, as I was able to "escape" to work.)

For those of you who have considered home-schooling, let me say that it is possible to raise normal, bright, well-adjusted,& inspired (and inspiring) children in this way. We never mastered the challenge of meeting the complete "standard" curriculum, but there were things gained by each of us learning together in this way. The girls are now in 5th and 2nd grades, finding their place in their own worlds.

We love to travel together, and were lucky enough to do so often when our schedules allowed more freedom. The girls favorites have been camping in Door Co., WI, & Land Between The Lakes, KY, as well as a beach trip to Cape San Blas, FL, all with some of our best friends from upstate. (And T would be upset if I didn't mention our annual trip to Holiday World water & amusement park in Indiana.)

I hope this glimpse into our lives gives you a small idea of who we are.
We welcome you to follow us here, as you will certainly learn as much about us through the experiences and anecdotes posted as you have in these few paragraphs.