Tag Archives: Cumberland Island

Auf Wiedersehen, My Friends

15 Nov

As farewells go, this one is incredibly difficult.

My time at Greyfield is over.

In the past year I have grown professionally and personally beyond my wildest expectations. And I leave with the full and heartbreaking knowledge that even the most enchanted of times must finally come to an end. But this is a movement onward and upward–a conscious embrace of new adventures and different challenges. On Cumberland, goals had been met, theories proven, more cucumbers produced than could possibly be eaten. These roots are ready for new soil. In a word, it’s time to go.

Still, as I search through pictures today, I palpably miss the garden, the daily thrill of watching life ebb and flow around me and at my fingertips. Every hurdle, every disappointment I encountered trying to implement a thriving natural system in the garden was balanced daily by an experience straight from the pages of National Geographic. Even as the Fall crops struggled to the point of failure due to diminishing light, owls began to swoop from oak to oak, a host of unnamed birds organized flying south beneath the night’s first stars, a stray white deer could be seen radiant beneath the full moon during the brief drive home from work.

Greyfield Garden, Cumberland Island, Donn Cooper

Even more, I miss the people and the faces I wish I could still see everyday. They were my true sustenance, and I could do nothing better than shine upon each an infinitesimal portion of the light he or she deserves. There’s no way to do this with due justice. So, I’m simply going to list the people whom I’ve come to cherish over this past miraculous year of my life, which, easy for me, is everyone at Greyfield. Excuse me as I clear my throat. These, ahem, are my friends:

The Dipsters, residents of Serendipity, citizens of Dipadelphia–

The first set, who were there when I arrived: Anda, a kind face to a new arrival; ever industrious Dan; retiring Katie; and the caring and always incomparable Jen, who is gone on to other pastures but will never, ever be forgotten.

Brodie, the singular, the great, the tugboat man, who could “hurl a torrid phrase across the water hard enough to make it bounce” and cook a steak anywhere he pleased. We landed on Cumberland almost simultaneously. He was my first friend there, and the sadness I felt when he left pains me even now. I’ll never forget driving him to his final departing boat, grinding down the main road while Def Leppard demanded, “Pour some sugar on me.” May I see him soon, and when he laughs deep and strong, I’ll laugh, too.

And then the magicians, shapeshifters, and defiers of reality (Brodie included), those who would each in some way become part of the tenuous Golden Age, in no small coincidence reflected by the gradual Spring blossom of an entire island–

You all deserve more than I can say, and as I write all of this, I realize you often say the least about the people for whom you feel the most: Ashley, whose laugh could shake the paint from Greyfield’s walls (she belongs to me); Dylan, pilot, American Hero (says Goose); Sarah, TurtleGirl forever; Johnna, aka Juanna Jefe; Iris, who made everything feel like home; Bejan, the most intrepid, Trout, etc., etc., etc.; Lauren, baseline, rock-steady gamer, artist; Jamie, Tiny Dancer/Satilla Soul-Boat; Heather, our lil’ sister, the original ghetto country; and the one and only Greg, who made us all proud to be ballers.

Lake Whitney, Cumberland Island

Never forgetting of course the queen bee, Emily–lion tamer, keeper of the flame, votary of Diana, our private historian whose stories warmed us around the fire and settled our nerves in the bug-thick and uproarious summer nights. Emily, whose name will always be synonymous with Cumberland.

Next, the Non-Dipsters, those who spent their nights around the inn, many of them Dipsters before, no less for not or no longer being so–

Back-KitchenersLessli from Billyville (that’s right, Billyville), never bear-caught, part-time Dipster who could sweep in like a gentle breeze and utter a phrase rarely heard this far from the big swamp; Janet, L.Q., Jill of all trades, balm of the back-kitchen, who’s led more interesting lives than one can imagine, and who–you’d better believe–can fold a fitted sheet. Jessie–never has there been a nicer Tokyo Drifter.

Greyfield Inn Kitchen

The Chefssuperstars every one–Catch a glimpse of Whitney and Ben as they land at Farm 255 in Athens, GA.  I can’t wait to see the new menu, and I’ve got my fingers crossed for some rabbit–and biscuits. Georgia is pure comfort to the soul; she makes cheesecake and carrot cake that would make you slap your mama. I miss Al‘s conversation, his mischief, the light in his eyes when he talks about his daughter, his help in the garden, his chimichurri sauce, lemon cottage cheese pancakes, and pork chops.

The Boat MenTucker and Dylan; plus BrodieLevi, and Sam, gentlemen all. Some of the funniest, smartest, and–ladies–most eligible bachelors I know. Dashing, gracious, debonair. Just. Good. Dudes: they made the Lucy R. Ferguson a completely happy place, and without them the forty-five minute ride to and from Fernandina Beach would not have been the best commute in the universe. Tucker, Uncle Tucker: in too few words, South Georgia raconteur, whose experiences are unfailingly entertaining, from watermelon chucking to late nights on South Beach. A great man. Dylan: Collar-Popper, so nice he gets mentioned twice. Levi: white-shirted comic, argumentative, playful, gifted with insight and stark orginality. Sam: I wish you’d been around more. Anytime you want to talk about ABAC, I’m all ears.

BarnersLee and Angel, amigos of the shop. Comrades of the workday. I miss your help, your talk, your mechanical wizardry, and the cool sanctuary of the barn on a July afternoon.

The Supers

Fred–Indiana Jones. That’s just the way it is.

Ken–Uncle Cumberland, Dr. Greyfield, dear sage, kind philosopher, the reader you’ve always dreamed of.

Fawn–Honorary Garden Team Member. No one else could ever make Greyfield’s flowers looks so good.

Mary Jo & Mitty–Thank you for making me feel so incredibly blessed. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to watch the life of a barrier island evolve over the span of a year, and to fall head over heels in love with every moment of it. Thank you.

Finally, my industrious, cheerful, and just fantastic wwoofers, who gave more than I ever imparted: Sophie & Milleniama, dancing through a West Coast consciousness; Tony, on the right path farming biodynamically in McDonough; Becca, who’s working all the way to Maui; Dodge & Batty, sharp mistresses of pies and politics; and Wynne & Jake, making an art of being young and brilliant and terrifically funny.


I know as I conclude here you must be asking yourself, “What about Donn? I wonder what he’s doing now that he’s left Cumberland? He’s such an interesting and talented guy. I bet it’s something mega-awesome.” That’s a great question. If you were asking yourself that very thing, then you’d be right. Even if you weren’t saying those words, I’ve still got the answer.

I’m back in North Georgia (Gainesville to be precise), where my uber-talented and beautiful girlfriend is the senior political reporter for The Times. I’m farm-planning this Fall in order to cultivate in the Spring. I’m excited about transferring everything I learned on Cumberland, from the particulars of soil science to tasty and prolific cultivars to a deep reverence for ecological and biological systems. As I told myself over and over again–buffeted by storms, simmering underneath the falling ashes of nearby wildfires, struggling to find organic answers to the huge mineral deficiencies of marsh-side sand, and fighting every last raccoon on the island: if I can grow veggies well on Cumberland, I grow them darn near everywhere.

I can’t wait to use my expertise and passion to grow the prettiest, most nutritious vegetables in these clay hills.  So Gainesville, Atlanta, Athens–watch out! Of course, whenever one moves from an remote island wilderness, there are always little hiccups. I’m still looking for the land to make all of this happen. But it will materialize. Working diligently and earnestly got me to Cumberland. I trust it to carry me again.

Until then, I’ll be searching the classifieds and blogging as regularly as I can on Farmer South. Realizing, of course, nothing will ever be like Cumberland. To everyone and everything that made the last year, thank you. I hope to see you all again very soon.

And best of luck to Ryan, the new gardener at Greyfield. Enjoy the sound of the winter wind brushing through the top of the pines. You’re going to do a great job.

Cheers, y’all!

P.S. I didn’t forget you, Shane, or you, Dave. And no one will ever forget Eddie

Composting on Cumberland

29 Aug

I’d like to point everyone to my friend Jen’s absolutely delicious blog Food Orleans. Reading about her culinary adventures across the Crescent City and salivating over the photographic record reminds this fellow just what it means to miss New Orleans. In pursuit of at-home sustainability, Jen recently asked me to share my thoughts on backyard composting and the lessons I’ve learned from the Greyfield Garden.

I hope I’m not the “thoughtful composter” of Jen’s post title. I wish I could put more thought and energy into our compost program here on the island. Without a doubt, it’s the easiest way to address our fertility issues. But our extreme environment doesn’t make achieving a rich humus-like product easy, especially in the summer months. I’ve heard the garden on Little St. Simon’s does an excellent job in this respect, and I plan to study their system and bring it back to Greyfield. To be honest, I just don’t feel that we’re composting as successfully as we should be.

Regardless, Jen is far too generous with her praise. I’m not half as articulate as I wish. And, honestly, I could sit down and talk about Greyfield’s compost or any other aspect of the garden for days. I am a Greyfield Garden nerd, proudly. Get ready. With a little more time and determination (and a new camera), I hope that means a lot more blogging in the near future.

Until then, please check out the inside scoop on wild horse poop:

on sustainability, part 2: the thoughtful composter


P.S. That’s super-Wwoofer Wynne in the compost pit. More on Wynne and the other pea in her pod, Jake, to come soon.

First Cumberland, Next the World

23 Feb

Early morning smiles, still in need of coffee

UNTITLED: Donn Cooper + Greyfield Garden

Three cheers to Dodge ‘n’ Batty, our latest Wwoofing volunteers and the linchpins to a successful year in the Greyfield Garden. Let no man ever say a couple girls (and city-slickers at that) can’t work a shovel. As temperatures went prematurely balmy, our cultured Atlantans took to the dirt, turning under old crops and furiously hoeing rows for our spring and summer harvests. I don’t know where we’d be without their unrelenting elbow grease, smiles, and buoyant humor.

Cumberland Island was just their first stop in a six-month “farmhand” tour across the U.S. Call them ambassadors of agriculture goodwill and Southern gregariousness. Whatever the case, follow their ever-winsome adventures at their irrepressible blog (Cumberland and Fernandina Beach make half a dozen entries).

Godspeed, ladies. May your journey be constantly serendipitous.

P.S. Yes, “Untitled” is actually part of their blog’s title. That is, until providence offers the right name, or a really good suggestion comes along. Any ideas, Greyfield fans?

The Kitchen at Greyfield Inn

6 Nov

Love and marriage, a horse and carriage, the garden and the kitchen—what’s one without the other? And who wants to eat raw turnips? Today the Greyfield Garden pays rightful homage to the folks who make the magic happen, masters of the alchemy of heat, oil, and spice that transforms the homely rutabaga to a sense-rattling feast. Ladies and gentlemen, may we present the kitchen staff at the Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island, to whom our stomachs owe many thanks:

Whitney Otawka—Executive Chef

Hometown: Hesperia, California

Whitney’s love for all things French sent her headlong into the culinary world. While taking French classes at the University of California-Berkeley, she responded to an advertisement for a waitress position at a local French bakery. With absolutely zip waitressing experience, she didn’t get the job. Instead, she was hired as the second part of a two-person kitchen, where she began her career as a budding chef and learned to manage the brain-frying multitasking of the restaurant business. At night the owner, who cooked his mother’s Brittany-based recipes, would give informal lessons on the art of food and introduce Whitney to whatever wine caught her fancy. It was a remarkable experience, and her boss at the time was one of the most generous people she’s ever known. Whitney came to Greyfield after working simultaneously for 5&10 and Restaurant Eugene, the better dining establishments in Athens and Atlanta, Georgia, respectively—much less the country. Although invitations to work permanently in Atlanta came knocking, she didn’t want to fight the grind of the big city. The opportunity as executive chef at the Greyfield Inn, where her first experience had been as a guest, was a captivating way to stay in the South and a unique chance to put culinary creativity into practice and enlarge upon her talents.

Staff’s Favorite Dish—Whitney’s responsible for so much, it’s nearly impossible to winnow it down. I’ll say this, since I’ve been here, I’ve never eaten so well in my life.  I often have extra helpings of gnocchi, butternut squash, and pheasant. And, oooh, the lemonade bubbles….

Alberto “The Rock” Gonzalez—Sous Chef

Hometown: Miami, Florida

We are so much a product of our parents’ jobs and life-decisions. Al’s story is a simple one, which as the son of a farmer I can certainly understand. His father was a restaurateur in Miami. After resisting the family business throughout much of his youth, Al eventually discovered he could stay out of it no longer. These things get into your blood, and their lives become part of your own.

Al came to Greyfield after running a hip and happening bar in the sparkling seaside hamlet of Fernandina Beach, Florida (which really has more enticing bars and decent eateries than a place its size should). While job-hunting there, he made friends with Greyfield’s head chef at the time. It’s all about connections.

(Something I learned in the course of this “interview”: Al can play the bassoon.)

Staff’s Favorite Dish—Lemon cottage cheese pancakes. A fabulous treat in your workday: They make plain pancakes seem completely lazy and insufficient. Al also makes a flavorful hot sauce with just the right amount of heat. The guests were recently overhead raving about his garbanzo bean salad.

Georgia Kelly—Pastry Chef

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Georgia says she is not a spontaneous person. She likes plans, preparations, and insurance for her insurance. Yet, after 20 years as an X-ray tech—a temporary job that had forgotten to be just that—Georgia gave it up with nothing certain to fall back on and nothing definite to come. At the age of 40, she enrolled in culinary school in Charleston, throwing herself bravely into a new life. Of course, Georgia had grown up cooking and always loved it (although she says the same could not be said for her mother).

Initially, Georgia completed a 12-week externship at Greyfield as part of her schooling. She chose us over The Ritz on Amelia Island because of the comfort and attention to detail of the small kitchen here (besides the fact that Greyfield and Cumberland are together just a special place). Eventually a full-time position opened up and Georgia jumped on board.

Staff’s Favorite Dish—Rice Crispy Bar with Bavarian Cream. The Mount Olympus of sweet desserts. As the names says, this is a rapturous combination of rich chocolate cream and a chocolate rice-bar base like the most heavenly Nestle Crunch you can imagine. It’s decadence plus debauchery plus a little moral turpitude thrown in for good measure. Her carrot cake is a close second, soft and moist yet the perfect amount of nutty crunch. And everyone loves to talk about the French toast encrusted in bran flakes.

Ben Wheatley—Sous Chef

Hometown: Washington, Georgia

From childhood Ben has loved cooking. He cooked alongside his mother growing up. He cooked in and around the town of Clayton, Georgia during high school. And, remarkably, he cooked in the esteemed kitchens of both Blackberry Farm and 5&10 shortly thereafter. Now, Greyfield is fortunate to have him cooking for us.

Staff’s Favorite Dish—Personally, the steak, cooked slowly over a cedar and oak fire, producing the perfect internal color. I also think he makes some great cornbread.

I put the kitchen staff through this rather whimsical round of inquiries, some of them borrowed from the Proust Questionnaire published in Vanity Fair magazine. Hopefully, their answers partially convey what great, enjoyable people they are and the generally fun mood of the kitchen.


What is your favorite food?

Whitney—“My mom’s cabbage rolls.” If she’s paying, Mexican food.

Al—Bistec Empanizado con tostones y frijoles negros. Breaded steak with black beans and rice and fried plantains. Followed by tiramisu. Al loves tiramisu.

Georgia—Comfort foods like soup and chicken and dumplings. “I would go all the way to Colorado Springs for avocado pork burritos.”

Ben—”My grandma’s potato soup with cornbread cracklin.”

What music are you most likely to listen to in the kitchen while you work?

Whitney—Jack Johnson. The Black Keys. She says, “I also really like Dwight Yoakam.”

Al—Pearl Jam. Latin music.

Georgia—Anything light and fun, especially music with brass. The Gypsy Kings.

Ben—Classic Country, Bob Marley, Neil Young. Also: Drive-By Truckers, The Black Keys.

If you could come back as an animal, what would it be?

Whitney—A Tahitian dolphin.

Al—Great White.

Georgia—A peregrine falcon or a gibbon.


What is it that you dislike?


Al—Saying “um” over and over again.

Georgia—Chewing and snapping gum.

Ben—People who complain openly, also people who constantly talk without saying anything.

What word or phrase do you most overuse?

Whitney—“Just so you know”

Al—“No worry”


Ben—”Huh?” (However, Ben’s really not one to overuse words.)

What talent would you most like to have?

Whitney—Spanish guitar or violin.



Ben—”Badass on the guitar.”

What are your favorite names?

Whitney—Violet. Phineas.




Greyfield’s October/November Menu

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Wwonderful Wwoofers

17 Oct

Several weeks past, two unstoppable forces of nature landed in the Greyfield Garden. Melanie and Sophie—or Milleniama and Arrow, depending upon your personal feelings about rainbows and stardust—took a southbound Greyhound out of Seattle with Cumberland on their minds. Now, there were some stops and detours along the way—and the girls may have worn out their thumbs between Chattanooga and Fernandina Beach. But by hook or crook, they made it here, arriving to toil and till in the garden as the first Wwoofers on my watch.

Admittedly, I was anxious about their coming. New people in  your work environment can be a disruptive force. What if they didn’t like to sweat? Didn’t know which was the business end of the shovel? Or had a congenital aversion to any of the myriad, big-toothed buzzing things that often come out for breakfast and dinner?

Thank goodness, all of my fears were completely unwarranted. These girls knew how to work. They loved simply being outdoors, taking in the infinite rare experiences that Cumberland Island can give. It’s actually a wonder that I ever had my doubts or suspicions, as anyone adventurous enough to ride a Greyhound 2000 miles would certainly be up for shoveling a cart full of wild horse manure.

I am immeasurably grateful for their help. We got a lot done. We pulled cosmos, with stems like trunks, plantsthat were too happy to flower, instead content to go on growing like Jack’s beanstalk. We dug up rotten beds, with infernal metal roofing tacked to their sides plunging four feet or more into the soft sand (a putative defense agains

t dollar weed, but nothing can stop dollar weed). We consolidated clumps of odoriferous lemon grass to make room for a trellis of blackberries and hardy, grape-sized kiwi. We hoed up furrows for ridges that would house potatoes and Early Wonder Tall-Top beets and sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” We planted countless collards seeds in homemade starting mix (pond much and vermiculite), preparing for the fall and winter garden.

Although I say “we,” it was really a lot of “they.” I normally mumbled some directions twice too long and went about other chores with total confidence in their intelligence and industry. That kind of trust in a work relationship, no matter how brief, is rare; and it is a total luxury. Three bodies working smartly meant the garden underwent almost a complete transformation in about ten days.

For all of this I’m grateful. But more than anything, I’m grateful that these two luminous girls somehow passed by Cumberland in their wild orbit. I can think of few other people who might enjoy the full moon here as much or whose presence would be a constant melody of laughing. I knew they were keepers when walking to the inn, I heard them singing Madonna in the garden behind me.

Greyfield will miss you girls, you vagabond mermaids. We hope to see you soon. And as you make your way through this world, should you need them, we’re happy to write any professional references.

Be part of the answer.

Dog Days on Cumberland: Keep on Trucking

9 Sep

Tuesday, mid-August—It is just one of those days. I think all farmers and small business-folks and anyone with ambitious schedules suffer through exasperating mornings where everything that can go wrong does. And then it does again.

Greyfield has just finished two weeks of “haul out.” Every year in the middle of the Dog Days swelter, the inn shuts down to undergo a complete cleaning and refurbishment. Carpets are rolled, furniture moved, and rooms broken down to clean every nook and corner, dust every book spine and seashell fragment. A small band of painters stays on the island throughout scraping and putting a new bright coat on the building’s exterior. By the end of it, Greyfield has received a first class makeover. She seems to know it, too, preening a little bit more than normal in the late summer sun.

Collapsed tomatoes with driftwood stakes in the background.

The garden needs its own haul out, which I’ve been trying to accomplish bit by bit each day. Honestly, it’s a mess. The heat has stricken most of the beds, leaving sad clumps of dead plants and dry root balls. Many of the boards framing those beds are rotten. The palm arbor over the worm bin has fallen in. And the driftwood that had served as tomato stakes have finally given up their tenuous position in the sandy rows. Those not lying on their faces are fractured and crumbling. The tomatoes, consequently, have taken quite a sprawling stumble.

On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve got a chaos of weeds. The canna lilies and luffa vines are conspiring to take over the entire garden. The dollar weeds, with runners spreading out just below the soil’s surface, are their pawns. Elsewhere, melons and squash shoot fifteen yards in every direction. They insinuate themselves amongst the strawberries, okra, cherry tomatoes, heirloom cotton, and cosmos. They wrap together in a huge net trapping the best, most fertile part of the garden. The weeds around them are almost accessible, and any attempt at hand-pulling usually means the sacrifice of some big, funky African squash.

Cosmos and African squash running amuck.

T.S. Eliot, no doubt shut in by yet another rainy day in London, began The Waste Land thusly: “April is the cruelest month…..” Obviously, he’d never visited Cumberland Island in July or August, where the calendar gets downright villainous.

Of course, when everything beyond human control would seem to be so inclement—and there’s so much to do, nothing on this bright morning will come easily. The problem is the tiller, mainly. Having been stored up for a few months, it’s hardly prepared to be unleashed furiously upon the weeds like a Shakespearian dog of hell. First, the fuel tank is empty. No problem, right? Actually, yes. Besides the Park Service, Greyfield Inn has the only fuel dispensary on the island. A combination lock secures the pump, its code a closely guarded secret—which as a new employee, I am not yet privy to. Second, after filling up a small gas can and returning to the dark shed where the tiller is stored, I find that the tire is flat—so flat, in fact, it’s no longer attached to the rim.

By now, it’s ten o’clock, and the sun’s turning on the broiler. I’ve got to manhandle this hulking tiller to pull it out of the shed and remove the wheel. I’ve got to root in the shop for Come Alongs, chains, or straps of some kind. Then, I’ll pray that I can get the tire tight enough on the rim to create a seal. If all goes right, I’ll have air in the tire and the wheel back on within the hour. If not, who knows? Worst case scenario, I send it on the next boat to Fernandina to be repaired, and I get it back tomorrow.

(Most creative scenario, I pour gasoline on the wheel, set it on fire, and watch the flames seal the tire to the rim by eating up the oxygen inside. My brother did this once. I saw the tire shoot ten feet up in the air. The rubber went up in a blaze half that high. But he got his seal, albeit charred. And on second thought, I will not be attempting this solution.)

This too shall pass, as Solomon says. The situation is not impossible. It’s just going to take a lot of sweat and a lot more water. All the obstacles and inconveniences are going to feel magnified by the stifling heat and the relentless bugs. But I’m not deterred. I’m just going to remember these frustration as I look over the garden in October and November, the shimmering kale leaves, and think what hard work brought such beautiful results.

This too shall pass. Or as another wise man once said, keep on trucking.

New Beginnings

23 Aug

This marks my first post as the new manager of the garden at the Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island. My name is Donn. I was raised on a farm in Chestnut Mountain, Georgia. But we can get into all that later.

I have been here for three weeks. Finally, my feet are wet enough to talk about what it is that I do here. As we move forward, I intend to get thoroughly into the nuts and bolts of gardening in such a strange and spectacular place. But before that, I’d like to use this inaugural entry to describe briefly my daily existence on Georgia’s southernmost barrier island.

If it weren’t for the comings and goings of guests and coworkers, I’d totally lose track of time, which for the record isn’t a bad thing. Simply, I wake up and I’m in the garden early, before sunrise if possible. I watch the bats zigzag through the bluish light before retiring for the day. I’m hunched over in the dirt at midday, when it’s so hot not even the horseflies have stopped biting and the soil is almost scalding. And I’m closing up the electric fence and locking the gate in the soft light after sunset. The gloaming, I think that time is called—such a right and lovely word. The bats soon reemerge in the lavender sky. Two nights ago I watched a big great horned owl hop among the branches of the live oak that overhangs the southeast corner of the garden. There are squirrels near there. But I also think he’s peering into my little spot, looking for something delicious. I know there are raccoons with that very same thought, although instead of a field mouse or a snake, they’d happily gnaw on a melon. Darkness brings out interlopers and thieves. I almost tremble at the thought of what hard work might be lost each night. But that fear and all the myriad things here going bump in the night are part of the enchantment of Cumberland Island. This is a wild, almost impenetrable place. As the sun goes down, a world rises that can only be touched by imagination.

And then I’m back up again, crack of dawn. I’m watering, pulling weeds, plucking tomatoes, turning the compost. I’ll do the same the next day and the day after that. The job is never done.

Making a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables will always be a labor here. Yet despite this infernal heat, this soil that almost wants to repel water, these infinite pests that bore and crawl and swoop, it’s worth it. My job forces me to know life on the island intimately. Everyday I watch the crabs and leaf-footed bugs scuttle away from me. I watch ospreys glide in from the marsh. I watch the plants rise and fall with the intensity of the sun. And I learn what it takes to survive on Cumberland. It’s a lesson I’ll never forget.

No surprise—as I write this I find a tick on me. And another. I feel that I’m living my definition of Thoreau: sucking the marrow out of life. Strip away the romance, however; and I’m breaking my back, with the odds and opponents stacked against me. Either way, it’s going to be one fabulous adventure.

I look forward to sharing it with all of you.

Slow movement and speedy growth

29 Jun

Lately I have been thinking more about how thankful I am about what I have and the things around me and I wanted to share a photo that I took on the way to work in the morning not long ago. Cumberland Island really is a place of beauty and the serenity that can be found here is almost unbelievable at times. Wherever you are be thankful for what you have and take a minute to realize how special this planet is.

Horses on the way to the garden in the morning.

Summer is in full swing and here in the low country the humidity is as heavy as a truck load of compost. We are still experiencing a bit of a dry spell unfortunately; before too long the humidity will fatten up the clouds and they will start dropping on us every afternoon.  Plants are amazing on many levels but the ability to store water and produce a fruit made mostly of water is one thing that makes me more aware of the incredible abilities of mother nature. For example, our melons and cucumbers are looking great right now and we are not watering all that much. Our soil has been developing over the past year and it has gained a good bit of organic matter which enables it to hold water as well as other nutrients that it may not have been able to last year. We are harvesting several varieties of tomatoes, peppers, beans and cucumbers currently. Our melons are looking tip-top (let’s hope those raccoons don’t get them before I do), the herbs are strong, our flowers are busy with bees and the okra is about to start blowing up.

squash, peppers, tomatoes mmmm

I have had several conversations lately about organic farming practices with guests in the garden and would like to share some thoughts. A guest  asked me about a problem with his squash plants and described what to me sounded like vine borers… I took him over to one of my plants that had fallen to these pesky creatures to make sure this is what he was describing. Sure enough, the borers were eating his squash. He asked me what I do to deal with this problem. I said that I try to keep an eye on the plants for signs of the pests and pluck them out when I do see them; I told him I had tried using diatomaceous earth when I ran into a serious infestation. He asked if sevendust would work…. I just finished reading  Silent Spring and proceeded to explain that sevendust destroys all life in the soil. We had a brief discussion about the use of chemicals and that even though they do get rid of certain pests they are often misused and their effects are felt in areas outside of their application. This discussion often arises in the garden and I feel that it is my duty to inform folks about the harmful effects of chemicals. Perhaps I am stating facts that are obvious when I tell someone that the chemical they are using is harmful, but maybe they did not realize how harmful. I always applaud folks that grow their own food and I think that the ability to work the land is a life skill that more people need to practice. I do my best to persuade individuals that use chemicals to take the next step in growing healthy food for themselves and their family by explaining organic farming practices and the benefits of building a healthy and active soil. 

composting in place x3

The above photo is an example of one way that I build organic matter to be added to our garden. composting in place is a great way to feed plants during their growth while simultaneously allowing the materials inside the barrel to decompose and make beautiful soil that will be spread after the removal of the preceeding crop. This method is also less laborious than turning a pile or spinning a barrel and it is perfect for raised bed gardeners. The barrel can be placed in the middle of a bed leaving room around it for planting and once the crop is finished the compost is already in place and ready to spread. I started saying “Feed the food that feeds you” and began to realize that feeding food is actually something that is very important and often overlooked. What we put into the soil is what when get in the form of our favorite fruits and vegetables. The importance of caring for and properly treating our soils is something that is gaining attention on some levels thanks to the hipness of the organic food push but it should not be treated as a trend. Soil is very real and we only have so much topsoil to work with. Please help everyone by doing your part to compost, buy from your farmers’ market, and start pushing for this type of education in our schools. Our children are the future and if we can get them excited and educated about healthy food and healthy soils then we are headed in the right direction.

This bee was a little stumbly, I think he had too much to drink.

I have posted these photos of bees because I think they are pretty cool pictures and because I began participating in something called the Great Sunflower Project. A guest brought to my attention that some research is being compiled about wild bee populations and that the scientists needed help across the country to compile data. I checked out the website and signed up, you should do the same! 



Borage flower and a busy bee.


Remember, “Feed the food that feeds you” and do your part to sustain the earth’s topsoil and the health of  we creatures that inhabit it. Until next time, take it easy (on the planet)!

Healthy soil equals happy spring seedlings!

19 Apr

Hello everyone, I hope you are well. The pollen has been making everyone cough and sneeze and as I sit in the garden I see it blowing from the trees like dust.

Sugar snaps blooming

The bees and other insects are active around the garden lately; trees are budding and flowering everywhere within sight. The keeper of our active hive at Greyfield Garden stopped by the other day and shared some interesting information about bees. He talked to us about the South African Hive Beetle and shared tips about handling and keeping bees.

The beekeeper came by to check his hive in the garden. He shared lots of info about bees and maintaining his thousands of hives.

Here on Cumberland Island, the smell and feel of spring is best served early in the morning with a fresh bucket of compost and a hot cup of tea.  Unfortunately the sand gnats enjoy the early mornings and otherwise calming sunsets that are usually perfect for relaxing in the garden just as I do.

Using funky shaped limbs as tomato trellising works nicely and is also aesthetically pleasing.

Volunteers are popping up everywhere! It is really amazing what one-year of agricultural activity on a one acre piece of land can produce and create. The compost that we have been feeding our beds with since last summer has selected this spring’s garden prospects and they are abundant. Hunter, our new WWOOFer, and I spent an evening in the garden transplanting basil from several highly populated areas to areas that needed some filling in. They are doing well several days later and we are happy that they are happy in their new spot in the garden.

Speaking of compost! I wanted to give an update on our compost. Since the beginning of this calendar year we have turned approximately 1300 pounds of kitchen scraps into food for our soil!

The new chipper, our to-go coffee cups (made from vegetable oils,compostable), egg cartons, and newspaper... otherwise known as our carbon source for composting!

7 huge bags later!

We cannot forget about what else that compost has done for us. I have been keeping a loose total of veggies going from garden to kitchen….

Cooking Greens (kale, collards, mustards, sweet potato greens, turnip greens):

–       Roughly 50 gallons

Salad Greens (arugula, butter head, red leaf, endive frisee, bibb and others):

–       Roughly 30 gallons

Radish ( red meat, nero tondo, icicle, French breakfast, easter egg, pink beauty, daikon):

–       Roughly 60 dozen

Carrots (purple haze, yellow stone, white satin, rainbow varieties):

–       Roughly 30 dozen

Here is a bundle of our rainbow mix carrots being sprayed off early in the morning!

We have also harvested 35-40 pounds of sweet potatoes and an assortment of root vegetables. Plenty of broccoli and cauliflower heads made it from garden rows to dinner plates along with a few hearty rounds of Brussels sprouts. We have been working with the kitchen toward doing more of a seasonal menu. On the garden side I am working on ironing out a crop plan and rotation including a cover cropping rotation along with composting in place. We are looking forward to a productive late spring and summer at Greyfield Garden so stay tuned! see more photos check out our page on Facebook! Take it easy (on the planet).

Louisiana, Alice Waters, and an Edible Schoolyard

21 Mar

Hello and good day. Spring temperatures are finally here and the island is a very healthy looking shade of green. The horses are as pleased as I am with the new colors of spring and the gnats are back to test everyone’s patience, spring really is here!  I recently returned to Greyfield Inn following a trip to Louisiana.  Marksville, Louisiana was my first experience in the great state and honestly I loved it. My girlfriend and I were hosted by Mr. Rodney Rabalais and Mrs. Paige Rabalais on their property appropriately dubbed “slowness”.  The couple were absolutely amazing people and welcomed us as if we were family. Paige had been a guest of Greyfield Inn in December and on her visit she spent some time in the garden. Paige and I chatted about the local food movement, shared gardening stories, and talked about school gardens for an hour or so.  Paige had invited myself and Robbie (WWOOFer at the time) to attend a school event highlighting the schoolyard garden that she and another teacher initiated. Avoyelles Public Charter School is a lovely k-12 school in Marksville, LA consisting of a curriculum focused on the arts. Students take art, music, foreign language, and sewing at every grade level. The school really is a jewel. The students and faculty share a beautifully designed campus on a spacious piece of property. A well-constructed and creatively designed tool shed sets behind the school within wheelbarrow distance from the garden. The shed is built largely with reclaimed wood. The school held a shed- raising event that drew assistance from all over Marksville. Upon entering the shed a breath of the community surrounding its construction fills your lungs and a feeling of home is exhaled.  Signs indicating vegetables, flowers, trees, and fruits are all in written in French, which helps the students stay sharp on their vocabulary as well as teach them about their heritage.  Paige and fellow teacher Polly spearheaded the movement to create an edible schoolyard at Avoyelles Public Charter School. The students wrote letters to Alice Waters when they took their first steps toward creating the garden and invited her to attend their 10-year anniversary.  Shortly after receiving the letters Miss Alice agreed to visit the school and see what everyone had accomplished. I had the opportunity to talk briefly with Miss Alice. She is a very kind woman and truly has a golden heart and sincere love for educating adults and children alike on all things food. My experience in Louisiana is one to remember. The food was as delicious as the culture surrounding the area and the people were incredible. I tasted a few things for the first time one of them being a rice and vegetable stuffed sausage called boudin but the taste of the rich culture is one that I will truly hold on to and hopefully taste again in the future.  Until next time, take it easy (on the planet).

This is what the Avoyelles Public Charter School garden looks like mid March.

The kids were so excited about their new project!

The entire hallway leading to the garden is full of info about why the garden is the right thing to do!

The students at APCS take art, music, sewing, and foreign language classes beginning in kindergarten.

The 5th graders made an apron for Miss Alice and Mister Joe.

These folks were very informative and their honey was delicious!

One of many chefs participating in the feast surrounding the garden event.

These kids are not students however they did receive a good amount of attention.

A true Louisiana experience!

Mr. Rodney, Mr. Joe, Miss Alice and Miss Paige

Mr. Gerard and some students celebrating their heritage in the form of music.

Mr Joe doing a cooking demo using fresh garden veggies!

A few students enjoying some good food and a lovely day.