Tag Archives: Florida organic vegetables and fruits

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

Farming Adventures and Gardening Pleasures

24 May

Hello and all the best to everyone reading. We have gotten through six weeks or so with very little rain and now the heat is building up. The garden is a little parched but still very pleasant. Swarms of beneficial insects accompanied by a medley of annoying pests have resurfaced with the change in season. We are constantly keeping our eyes peeled for hornworms, squash borers,  and aphids at this point. Insect pests are lower on the bad guy list than armadillos in our setting. If anyone knows a good way to keep these destructive mini tanks out of the garden please share your secrets!

Monarch and milkweed

Greyfield Inn has been pretty busy which means we have been giving lots of garden tours. I always enjoy the enthusiasm of guests entering the garden bursting with questions about their personal garden, organic food, and sustainable lifestyles. The goal of my garden tour is to allow guests an opportunity to connect with the food they will be consuming as well as simultaneously exhibiting our efforts to provide a unique culinary experience.  The way that food brings people together is often overlooked and taken for granted, my thoughts on the subject are simple. Stay in touch with your food. Buy from the man or woman that grew your food at your local farmer’s market. Grow what you can for yourself, it tastes better trust me! Feed the food that feeds you. Compost. Think about the distance your food has traveled to make it to your plate. Take time to share a meal with your family and better yet get your family involved in the growing, planning, and purchasing of your foods.

The colors are similarly beautiful.

View from the south beds looking north.

I have taken some time to visit a few local farms over the past weeks and spent some time with some incredible people.

Mr. Ben Walter of Hermitage Farms is a good friend of mine with an insatiable appetite for knowledge. I describe Ben as an intellectual that is obsessed with soil health and sustainability. He is running a five acre family farm equipped with a pecan orchard, a flock of chickens, several vegetable plots, shitake logs, and a lovable border collie named Jada.  Ben is located in DeLand, FL so if you are in the area look him up!

Veggie plot amongst acres of pecans, chickens, and wild flowers.

Hermitage Farms, Deland Florida. Farmer Ben Walter

Maggie’s Herb Farm is owned and cheerfully operated by Dora Baker. She is an incredibly intelligent woman with an obvious affinity for plants.  The plants are of the most excellent quality and it is obvious that they are expertly take care of. We have beautified and filled out our herb garden at Greyfield with plants from Maggie’s and could not be more satisfied.

Herb classes are offered and workshops occur frequently, check them out!

Sapelo Farms is a family owned and operated farm located in Brunswick,GA. They have been producing delicious and beautifully cared for fruits, vegetables, goats, chickens, beef,  and bees since 1947. This farm is perfect. The fig trees have a wisdom about them and one blueberry patch is over fifty years old. The mother daughter duo that run the place are inspiring and their dedication and compassion for the property is incredible. They run a CSA and sell to local restaurants. Chef Whitney, myself, and Robbie took a day trip to the farm in hopes of making a local connection to grass fed beef, goats, and seasonal fruits and veggies. We walked away with a half gallon of wildflower honey and nearly a goat!

Amazing family run farm in Brunswick, GA. Beautiful people and delicious food!

Greyfield Garden is putting properly nourished produce on the plates of our guests and the energy coming from both the kitchen and garden are apparent on the dinner plate.  Here are a few pictures of what is coming out of our garden at the moment.

Amaranth being cleaned in the sink with the plants and garden in the background.

Squash blossoms prior to being tempura fried and put on top of a fresh garden salad

I have drawn inspiration from each of these places and hope that no matter where you are in the world it is possible for you take a trip to a local farm and enjoy the feelings I have felt visiting these places.  The farms I have visited lately have reassured me that the direction we are heading in at Greyfield is on par with other local farms and gardens.  The places I have highlighted have many things in common but the one that really stands out to me is the dedication to wholeness that is present in many forms; the unity of a family,  biodynamic practices, community involvement, and the knowledge of the land  work together like thousands of bees in a hive… truly amazing.

Remember, live simply so that others can simply live.  Know your food, or at least be better acquainted with it. Enjoy the life that you have and take care of yourself and your family.