Tag Archives: Greyfield Garden

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

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?

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)!

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.

Greyfield Garden and Kitchen at the Georgia Organics Conference

2 Mar

Storms have blown through the country, all forms of precipitation have fallen, knowledge has been gained and ideas have sprouted like the restless spring seedlings since the last post. Myself and Chef Alberto Gonzalez attended the annual Georgia Organics conference February 20th and 21st on behalf of Greyfield Inn.  I attended last year’s event and walked away feeling more empowered and enthusiastic about my life and my career than ever before. This year’s event was enlightening and inspiring for Al and myself as well as every other attendee, vendor, volunteer, educator taking part in the conference. The event was held in Athens,GA, a city with a very rich food culture as well as a welcoming atmosphere of  a community that is  keyed in on the local food movement.  Al and I joined our new chef Whitney Otawka for an elegantly local meal at 5 and 10, her former place of employment. The food was excellent and the conversation jovial, what else can you ask for?  We look forward to growing with Whitney in the kitchen and the  garden. Good things are here and even better things are happening at Greyfield Inn and in Greyfield Garden.

Two days were spent digging a mote, filling it with wire cloth, securing the cloth with staples, and zipping up all the loose spots. The end result of hours hoeing with blisters and numerous backstretches gave the garden a well-constructed armadillo-proof fence!

Jen and Aaron, a sensible newlywed couple, lent a week’s worth of their time in exchange for some good food, garden experience, and a chance to gain some knowledge about their interest in returning to the land. Check out their blog to read about their journey… wwoofingpattaps.blogspot.com

I have been busy getting a few projects folded up and put together while the garden has been carefully expressing apprehensive feelings toward the tardiness of spring.  The seedlings are itching to leave their apartment buildings and set some roots in the warm and lively sandy soils of Grefyield Garden.  I had the pleasure of sharing two days of flower planting and compost sifting/hauling with a few friends this weekend. Ryan and Amanda came down from Savannah to spend some time with their hands in the earth. We took the first few steps toward fashioning a funnel and freshening up an herb garden. More to come about the funnel… it’s a part of our most recent structure in the garden, a water tower for collecting rainwater and irrigating a portion of our vegetable and flower beds.

I am working hard at making our spring garden healthy and productive to provide our guests with delicious veggies and a pleasant place to meander and gather inspiration. Greyfield Garden has started a composting initiative of sorts on Cumberland Island. We are giving island residents and extended stay vacationers 5 gallon buckets with information about composting and asking them to collect kitchen scraps during their stay in hopes of encouraging new earth friendly habits. Cumberland Island has a rich natural history of food and sustainability and we intend on preserving that culture and soil that it starts with. Chef Whitney, myself, and the entire staff at Greyfield are waiting arms open for spring to walk in the door, we look forward to an enjoyable growing season!  Enjoy some photos of the “garden haps”. Take it easy (on the planet), happy planting!

Sugar snap peas busting trough the still cool soil.

Leguminous cover crops collect nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots.

Chinese cabbage, Red Russian kale, green wave mustard , and collards.

Young carrots and ornamental kale.

A look under the row covers.

Seedlings under the cold frame, almost time for spring transplanting.

The tower part of our new rain catcher with some recently shaped and composted rows ready for planting.

True companions. Strawberries and onions work well together.

Snapshot of the garden on March 1st, this same shot in May will be totally full of color!

Current Issues

28 Jan

This post will catch everyone up with what is happening at Greyfield Garden, well at least the stuff we are willing to disclose!

It is the last week of a pretty chilly January and personally I am very much looking forward to some warmer weather.  The whole country went through a week and half or so of some frigid weather early in the month and crops were affected. Those of us that are growing fruits and veggies this time of year had to do some cuddling and cozying. In our garden we had some pretty eager tomatoes and basil that volunteered in a number of places and they were the first to fall when Jack Frost came to town. A”volunteer” is a term used for  seeds that hang around in the compost and are spread in the beds or in the rows and decide to set some roots in a new location. Perhaps they wanted a change of scenery or maybe they were just sleeping in their compost comforter and ended up peaking their heads out when we ruffled the blankets. Our Casper eggplant had been holding strong late in the season and, like the tomatoes, thought that the low temperatures were a good reason to tuck in to the compost comforter for a couple months. Thankfully the eggplant, tomatoes, basil, and a few patches of nasturtiums were the only folks affected by the low temps. The days of our kale, cabbage, collards, brussels, cauliflower, broccoli, and salad mixes being under blankets ended around the middle of the month. I even spent several nights heating bricks in the oven and placing them under the blankets to sleep with the veggies during the coldest nights!

Jack Frost left around the middle of the month and we had about a week of mid 60’s- low 70’s. I spent most of the cold spell inside planning for Spring, placing seed orders, and drawing garden maps. I received the seeds I ordered just in time for the warm weather! I spent several days planting salad mixes, radishes, kohlrabi, and carrots and harvesting sweet potatoes. Farmers and gardeners need to know when to plant and harvest, they need to be familiar with their soil, they need to be well read on pests and diseases, but even the most well studied farmer is at the mercy of Mother Nature.  Two days after I shed the layers of long sleeves and stocking cap and started planting we got three or four days of hard rain, lots of water in a short period. We have a very low spot in the NW corner of our garden and after one or two hard rains a couple months ago I realized it was going to be a lasting issue, so I raised all the beds in the western section.  The raised beds helped a great deal but it did not solve the problem completely, we are still dealing with standing water following a few hours of hard rain.  I spent a couple rainy days bending conduit for row covers. The row covers will serve as a warm tunnel for some spring seed starting. I hope to start enough seeds under the row covers to transplant a good majority of the garden by the end of February.

I have attached some photos of our worm bin as well as a composting method that was shared by a guest, Paige Rabalais, of Avoyelles Parish, LA. I am excited about the composting in place. I feel like it is a great way to give garden visitors a visual on the composting process. The method is great for backyard gardens and raised beds; lots of guests have questions about compost and it is great to give them an idea about how to handle composting at home.  Composting in place is less laborious than pile composting or other methods that require shoveling and hauling the compost to the intended place of use. I planted oats and rye grass around the small compost barrel in our garden. Cover cropping and composting in place are excellent together because they both add organic matter to the soil and help to create a rich bed for the next crop in rotation. I have built 12 of these small barrels and will begin using them in rotation with cover crops following a fruit or vegetable crop. Our worm bin started out with two pounds of worms, several boxes of shredded newspaper, kitchen scraps, and some finished compost a little over two months ago.  Our worms are currently being fed like kings and have a lovely house nestled between our two orange trees in the garden. I transported the worms from Savannah one weekend and became well acquainted with them when the bag I was carrying them in busted in the car. Needless to say I know what they looked like when they went into the bin and now when I feed them I check on how much they have beefed up, they are looking happy and healthy! We are using this bin and our compost piles to reduce the amount of material that is hauled off the island. Instead of sending it off to be hopefully be recycled we are shredding the newspaper and some cardboard to use in our compost and the worm bin. Along with

Those of you that are farming and gardening out there, good luck with spring prepping and we wish you the best in the upcoming season. Those of you that are not currently growing, I hope it’s because it’s too cold where you are and not because you think that you don’t have enough time or space to do so. Grow what you can, it tastes better and you feel better when you eat it!  Take it easy (on the planet) and eat well.

The new Greyfield Garden sign, come on in! Thanks Tucker 🙂

10 nights below freezing. We made sure our babies were as warm as they could be.

These are the guys that took a hit w/ the cold weather. We saved them and fried them for a delicious snack!

Casper eggplant, middle of Decemeber. These guys and our volunteer tomatoes were among the cold weather casualties.

After the cold we received several days of hard rain. The garden is a little stressed. I am doing my best to keep her happy and healthy.

Compost tea anyone?

Adding new rows in the western section of the garden.

West beds are finished. Robbie plants young strawberries in one of the new rows.

West beds are looking good!

(Top to bottom) Bananas, cold frame, beds, hand cart, beds.

Beginning of our worm bin.

The worms survived the cold weather and have grown considerably since we dropped them in to their new home.

Thanks for the idea Paige. Composting in place. I am going to do this in beds when they are not under vegetable production. Compost in the middle with a cover crop surrounding the pile. This will really help get the beds ready for the next rotation!

Composting in place well on its way.

Cheddar cauliflower surrounded by broccoli and snow crown cauliflower.

Micro greens factory. Our chefs love using these as a garnish and when they get past the "micro" stage they use them for young leaf salads, delicious!