by Jamie S.
Some of you may remember my recent post about eating at Farm 255. Well, this weekend I had a fantastic opportunity: I was able to visit Full Moon Cooperative Farm, the farm that supplies much of the restaurant's produce and serves as its inspiration.
Jason Mann, agroecologist and director of Full Moon, is also one of the three owners of the restaurant. He has worked with some of the best minds in the field, including Michael Pollan. He is word-tumblingly enthusiastic and engaging, and I think that within the space of one morning, he may have assimilated me into the biodynamic agriculture borg.
The property where Full Moon is located spans 100-some acres, but not all of it is devoted to restaurant and CSA production. The majority is given over to agroecological experimentation: mixed tree plantings of Pawlonia, pine, and oak, for example. One hilltop with typically degraded Georgia red clay soil--the farm was subjected to cotton planting and cattle grazing since the area was first settled--is the site of an innovative in-situ mulching project in which barriers of brushy foliage are cut down directly into the neighboring rows of jalapeño and poblano peppers. Nearby, another researcher is experimenting with (seemingly oxymoronic) shade-grown blueberries.
Near the old farmhouse--now restored to house interns and volunteers--is a small kitchen garden and a large free-range chicken enclosure. The rare-breed chickens fly in and out of an open window with relative impunity. A few have been picked off over time by feral dogs and the like, but the greater predation problem is with snakes eating the eggs. Mann says he has walked into the coop only to find snakes in mid-swallow; he then has to capture them and take them away to a distant part of the farm. The eggs that are not engulfed by reptiles go to the restaurant.
A short hike through rolling pastures and sweet-scented woods takes you to the CSA and restaurant production area. Right now part of it is fallow, recently seeded with summer cover crops. Until last year, Full Moon did a full-on CSA package with about 150 subscribers. This year, to allow for more freedom and less stress, it's switched to a series of mini-seasons with small numbers of subscribers paying premium prices.
Here we saw a teaching pavilion, a vast hoophouse (Mann swears by them for extending Georgia's already generous growing season), an herb garden, and rows of potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, leeks, and so on. Many of the crops are interspersed with barrier rows of False Indigo that can be cut down into mulch. All of it is served by a vast drip irrigation system that connects to the farm's ponds and springs. Mann installed the system four years ago during a brutal drought, and although he has needed it less during the last couple of seasons, it will doubtless come in handy in the very near future.
Soil amendments are of primary importance at Full Moon. Local granite dust adds minerals and drainability; worm castings from a nearby fishing-worm producer serve as a seed starting medium. Jersey greensand and hydrolized fish concentrate are also favorite additions. All the restaurant's food waste, even down to the oyster shells, comes straight back to the farm and is composted. This weekend, two piles of compost sat with thermometers protruding from them; some of Mann's students were engaged in a boys-vs.-girls contest to create the hottest compost heap.
Mann explained how traditional tilling destroys soil profiles and creates hardpan below. Then he demonstrated what may have been the out-and-out coolest farm implement I've ever seen. It was an imported piece of machinery (not manufactured in the U.S. yet, we were told) called a spader that mimicked the action of a person double-digging with a shovel.
I left with my mind racing, and immediately came home and worked for several hours in my garden. I also resolved to volunteer at Full Moon Cooperative Farm so that I can keep learning about the methods used there.
The following day I finally happened to be in town at the right time to catch Farm 255's Sunday brunch. As I sat there eating a pair of stunningly fresh poached eggs on tender biscuits with beet greens and smoked trout, I realized that I had seen the chickens who had laid those eggs with my own eyes.
There is something truly profound about that connection. That may be why, even though May is over, we keep finding ourselves eating all-local meals...and trying to spread the word about why we do it.
Jamie S. lives in rural Georgia and writes 10 Signs Like This, a blog that's part gardening journal, part cookbook, part sustainable lifestyle, and part short attention span.