Pavilion Update #1

dcfmodelVIEW1 copyHave you heard? We’re building a pavilion! Currently there is no shelter on the farm site and we’re quickly running out of storage space in our little shed (pictured left). The pavilion and new shed will allow us to meet the growing demands of the farm by providing an outdoor classroom for workshops and visiting courses, weather shelter for our workers, increased storage for farm tools and an improved produce washing station. The structures will be built in part through a grant from the Duke Endowment as part of a collaborative sustainable agriculture initiative between the 4 endowment schools.

As of June 1st, the structure is designed and the building permit is currently in review by Orange County. Once the structure is approved we can begin construction which should take 4-6 weeks. Hopefully by the time students return in August the structure will be complete.


Zombie Attack! Music Video!!!!!!

You may remember a while back when I released Zombie Attack!, I wrote “a video is coming soon.” Well, my friends, that time has finally come! It is with great pleasure that I release the much anticipated and highly instructive Zombie Attack! music video. A big thanks to Emily Sloss, videographer, producer and editor. Enjoy!


The Future Health of the Honeybee and Our Food System

Honeybees are what some may think of as whimsical, mythological creatures that turn flowers to fruit.  According to the EPA and USDA, their Midas touch, helps to produce approximately one-third of the food and beverages we consume in the U.S. every year1. In recent years, however, honeybees have seen a rapid decline.  Farmers across the U.S., who for years have relied on honeybee hives to pollinate their crops, have reported large numbers of colony loss.  For many years, the reason for honeybee decline was an enigma.  In the mid-90’s when my dad kept bees, a mite, known as the Varroa mite, was the reason for most colony deaths.  My dad, like many hobby beekeepers I imagine, gave up after losing hives for 3 consecutive years.  Farmers, however, could not give up.  Giving up meant a loss of both their crops and their livelihood, and as the years progressed the reasons for colony losses became more and more mysterious.  In an effort to better identify the reasons behind honeybee colony losses in the U.S., researchers across the nation have been testing several different factors that may contribute to colony loss.IMG_4316

On May 2, 2013, a statement was released by the USDA and EPA announcing the findings of several years of research conducted by researchers across the U.S.

In summary the statement announced that, according to the 2012 National Stakeholder Conference on Honeybee Health, a network of federal researchers, managers, and researchers at Penn State University, the following factors are greatly impacting honeybee health in the U.S.:

  • The parasitic Varroa mite and a new virus species, causing Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), are largely contributing to honeybee colony deaths across the U.S.  In addition, the Varroa mite is increasingly becoming resistant to chemicals, used to kill the mite.
  • Genetic diversity is lacking in many honeybee colonies in the U.S., resulting in decreased resistance against the Varroa mite and other diseases.
  • Poor nutrition among colonies, resulting from pesticide-treated crops and lack of diverse forage, is also decreasing disease resistance among colonies.
  • A lack of coordination between growers and beekeepers on best practices, with regard to pesticides and bees, is contributing to colony loss.
  • Pesticides present a challenge to bee health and more research needs to be done to explore pesticide exposure and effect on bee health.

2012-04-12 14.02.48As the findings suggest future policy needs to address pesticide use, methods of chemical pest control of the Varroa mite, increasing genetic diversity among colonies, and land use management.  I think that two of the large factors here of greater concern are pesticide use and land use management.  Both factors would require some very large systematic policy changes.  To speak to the first of these, pesticide use:  Limiting pesticide use on just one farm will not do the honeybee any favors.  Honeybees know no property line boundaries, and they are known to fly up to 5 miles or more away from their hive in search of pollen2.  What happens then if the neighbor’s farm is applying pesticides?  Or what if the landscapers in the subdivision next to the farm are applying pesticides?   A systematic policy approach to pesticide use that impacts the timing of application and quantity used is therefore in order.  Such an approach would have to function at levels of policy beyond the municipal and state levels.  Land use management would also require systematic change.  Providing bees diversity in their food sources is suggested to increase disease resistance.  By decreasing forest fragmentation (i.e. increasing forest connectivity) around agricultural areas, as well as increasing the diversity of the crops planted on farms, diversity in food sources for bees can be achieved.  Local governments can play a role in forest conservation in agricultural areas.  Increasing the diversity of crops on farms, however, is a larger issue that would require a systematic change in the way that agriculture is currently done in the U.S.  Increasing diversity in crop selection also means moving away from large acres of monoculture crops, a favored approach to agriculture in the U.S..  As farm size increases and the monoculture approach to agriculture increases, we need to be careful not to make ourselves more vulnerable to diseases and pests that not only affect our bees, but also our crops.  By increasing biodiversity on farms both through crop selection and conservation of forestlands around farms, both our crops and our bees will be healthier.  It seems to me as though honeybees are taking on the role as the ecological indicator species for our agroecosystems.  The struggling of an ecological


indicator species makes us aware that a balance has been disrupted in the ecosystem. We, therefore, cannot ignore the honeybees distress much longer.   A change in the way we do agriculture and manage our agroecosystems is vital for the future success of our food system.

1.  USDA and EPA Release New Report on Honey Bee Health.  May 2, 2013.

2.   Ribbands, C.R. “Flight Range of the Honey Bee.”  Journal of Animal Ecology.  Vol.2 , No. 2,  1951.

Closed loop farming

This April, I had the privilege of touring Chapel Hill Creamery in Chapel Hill, NC. I took away two major lessons from my visit and would like to use this blog post to share them with friends and visitors of the Duke Campus Farm.  First, the potential for selling a locally made “value added” product like cheese.  Second, the major benefits of “closed-loop farming.”  But first, let me set the scene.

Chapel Hill Creamery

The 37-acre operation began with a handful of Jersey dairy cows and has grown to support over 30 Jerseys, along with two oxen, barnyard poultry, and hogs.  The milking parlor has six milking machines and the girls are milked twice a day.  The dairy cows are rotationally grazed, which I saw during my visit.  The girls were roaming across a 2-acre field, quietly munching on luscious ryegrass and lounging in the mid-spring sun while contentedly chewing their cuds.  In my work I have seen hundreds of herds of dairy and beef cattle, so let me say: These were some happy cows.

2013-04-05 14.04.37

Like many states, North Carolina has outlawed the sale of unpasteurized or “raw” milk, meaning anyone who wishes to sell milk must have access to a pasteurization tank.  You can imagine that Flo and Portia who own the farm did not make this sizable investment when they opened their business with just six Jerseys, instead opting to turn their cows’ milk into cheese.  Portia and Flo however, do not make simply one type of cheese from their herd – they now produce and market seven different cheeses.

Our group sampled three of the Chapel Hill Creamery cheeses.  There is the buttery and creamy “Carolina Moon” cheese that spreads on bread, a raw milk “Hickory Creek” cheese that is full-flavored, and the “Dairyland Farmers Cheese” that is equally moist, smoky, and tangy.  The Dairyland Farmers Cheese was my personal favorite, and while slowly eating it my mind raced with what types of flavorful dishes would benefit from its strong smoky flavor.

Portia and Flo retail their cheeses at multiple farmers’ markets and sell them wholesale to local grocers like the Maple View Country store and Whole Foods.  At this time their sales are divided roughly 50-50, with half of their cheese being sold directly to consumers at farmers’ markets and the other half being sold at food retailers.  When small farmers market their goods, a mixture of wholesale and retail sales is often preferred because grocery stores purchase in bulk and with consistency (depending on your contract).  Selling retail at farmers’ markets gives the farmer the biggest financial return because they remove the middleman.  By combining the two, local farmers like Portia and Flo can have an income that is profitable and reliable. They also benefit from selling cheese, because it is a value-added product.

Benefits of value added products

So what is a value added product? Basically, it means you take a raw product, process it somehow, and sell it at a higher cost because of the added resources and labor.  For Portia and Flo, this means they milk their cows and then use their cheese-making facility built onto the back of their milking parlor to produce wheels of delectable cheese.  For local farms, value added products can be delights like jams, jellies, pickled eggs, sausages, bacon, butter, yogurt, and yes, even Mapleview ice cream.

For Portia and Flo, raising a reasonable number of dairy cows was the life they wanted, and selling cheese was the way to make it pay for a number of reasons.  First, they add value and reduce input costs by making cheese on-site, meaning no fuel and transportation costs are added until it is actually time to take cheese to market.  Second, they diversified their product line by selling seven types of cheese, meaning if you don’t like the tanginess of the Dairyland Farmers Cheese you can instead try their 2012 NC State Fair Best of Show Calvander cheese.  Finally, they found a niche market because no one nearby made dairy cheese.  Additionally, there is an ethereal added value some customers receive from purchasing locally made goods from a farm whose animals have exceptional living conditions.

While the Duke Campus Farm does not sell value-added products, we do have workshops that feature food processing, like with kimchi and kombucha.  The Duke Campus Farm does however practice a closed-loop farming system like Chapel Hill Creamery.

Closed-loop Farming

To understand the benefit of closed-loop farming, think about all the inputs necessary to grow vegetables or in this example, make cheese. To make cheese you need cows (check), land (check), grass (check), water (check), and fertilizer.  The dairy cows at Chapel Hill Creamery are rotationally grazed which means a large portion of their diet comes from grazing. While Portia and Flo rotate their cows on a very structured system, their manure input will not equal the amount of nutrition they removed from the soil.  So, do they drive down to the local farm store and purchase chemical fertilizer by the ton? Certainly not!

Instead, hog waste is occasionally spread on fields to restore depleted nutrients and organic matter.  The hog waste comes from their own herd of roughly 15 pigs that live on the farm in an outdoor enclosure.  When asked, Portia said that she had never planned to have pigs but it made the most economic sense for their needs.  When she said this, she wasn’t just referring to their waste, but also their diet.

When Portia and Flo began making cheese they produced a surplus of whey as a byproduct.  In the past farmers would just dump the whey and call it a loss, but the material eventually became classified as an animal waste which means there is now a mountain of regulation about waste-whey.  So, the option emerged: do they install a wastewater treatment system that can properly break the whey down for disposal, or find an alternative way of making it disappear.  They chose the alternative method and invested in hogs hungry for whey.  The hogs consume every drop of whey the dairy cows produce in exchange for some supplemental feed and soft hay bedding, far less demanding than a state-approved wastewater treatment system!  As mentioned, the whey-fed hog waste is put back on the fields to fertilize grass for the cows, plugging a hole where nutrients would have quietly left the farm and increased the rate of soil depletion.

Once their time on the farm comes to an end, the whey fed hogs are processed at a North Carolina slaughterhouse and then make their way to the customer base.  Whey fed pork is a niche product in the meat market, with more people trying it because they have heard that the meat is better-marbled, more flavorful and produces a more tender hog altogether.

Portia and Flo’s hogs are also another example of a value-added product because whey fed pork is a specialty meat that is hard to find.  If anything were to happen to their cheese income, they also have pork as a secondary source of revenue.  By closing the waste-loop on their farm, Portia and Flo saved tens of thousands of dollars they would have spent on a wastewater treatment system, added an on-site source of animal waste aka fertilizer, and successfully turned a problematic byproduct into bacon.


At this time, the Duke Campus Farm produces fruit and vegetables and does not have animal waste to use as fertilizer (hog waste cannot be spread near food for humans, just grass for cows).  We do, however, value composting residual plant and vegetable matter.  This way, nutrients that were stored in leaves, stems, and dented watermelons make their way back into the soil for the next crop.

All in all, I hope that you (readers) are now familiar with the concepts of value-added products and closed-loop farming.  These critical principles of local farming help make ends meet for businesswomen like Portia and Flo, who have more freedom to work on their next gold medal cheese and give more attention to their cows to check for sickness, rather than worrying about the legality of their production’s byproducts and if fertilizer is affordable this year.

All the Sols

While studying for my soils exam I wrote this song about soil taxonomy.

All the Sols


Alfisol, Andisol, Aridsol, Entisol
Gelisol, Histosol, Inceptisol, Mollisol
Oxisol, Spodosol, Ultisol, Vertisol
Those are all the sols.

Weather bedrock a little, then you get an entisol
A little bit of A over C, it’s pretty recent y’all
Super active, non-acid, loamy and skeletal
Found in the Midwest

But if it’s really wet, well, you’ve probably got a histosol
Lots of decomposing organic material
Shrink and swell, a greasy fine texture it makes
Found in the Great Lakes

Volcanic ejecta? Probably an andisol
Filled with orderly crystalline minerals
Generally productive, highly weatherable
Found in the Northwest

Put on a parka to look at a gelisol
Thick O horizon, it could have been a histosol
Instability due to a’ freezin’ and a cracksa
Found in Alaksa (Alaska)

Remember that entisol? it turned to an inceptisol
Beginning of a B horizon when those oxides fall
Often on slopes and most likely lithic
Found in the Northeast like New York(ic)

Dry climates tend make your salty Aridisols
Argids in the B horizon means it once had rain fall
Calcium salts make caliche that’s hard
If you lived in Nevada, you might find it in your back yard

Let’s get into the good stuff with those grassland mollisols
Thick A horizon, most productive agricultural
Mollic epipedon in climates semi-arid and moist
Found in 15 to 20 percent of the U.S.

Vertisols are made up of that highly active smectite
If your cracks are 30cm, then you fit into this soil type
High on the base and it might crack a wall
Found in Texas and Louisiana (l)


Spodosol got that white eluvial horizon
Weathering pulls down organics, aluminum, iron
Usually infertile and often acidic
Found in forests that are coniferous (tic)

Moderately leached, argyllic B? Its an alfisol
High pH but very fertile
Temperate humid, semi humid forested places
Found in 14% of the United States (es)

Ultisol have that clay that’s red and brick-like
Iron, aluminum oxides and low activity kaolinite
The nutrients are shallow and the acid is high
Found up and down our country’s East Side

Extremely weathered? Its probably an oxisol
No B horizon and low activity minerals
Been stable for a long time with low fertility
Found in Puerto Rico and Hawaii


Alternative Spring Break

A little over a month ago we hosted a wonderful group of Duke students for a “farm to fork” alternative spring break.  The students, a group of about 14 wild, intelligent souls, joined us  on a journey through the U.S. food chain.  We took the students to farms, had guest lecturers talk to the group about the issues facing our current day food system, and discussed how we as students and consumers can make a difference in making our food system more just for all.  We literally took the journey from farm to fork and beyond.  In an effort to capture some of the wonderful moments we shared with these students along the farm to fork journey, we assembled a short photo essay.

Day 1:  The Farm

farmersmarkt  On the first morning we shopped at the Durham Farmers’ Market, where we bought all our veggies for our meals.  In keeping with the theme of supporting a sustainable, local food economy, all our veggies were bought from local farms.farmersmrket2



Later, we ate lunch at the Duke Campus Farm and worked into the late afternoon hours planting, hauling mushroom logs, and clearing pathways.eating4

at the farm3wrk at the farm











On the night of Day 1 we had three guest lecturers come and speak, James Robinson with the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), a farmer advocate group, Brock Philips, a farmer with Coon Rock Farm, and Lee Miller, a former Duke Campus Farm intern and current agricultural policy researcher.  The speakers addressed the many issues that smaller scale, local farms in the area face.


And of course… we ate a lot of good food for dinner.  Every meal of the day was a feast, cooked by the students with local veggies.



Day 2:  More Farms, Carrot Jam, and Goats

On the second day we started off the day making carrot jam from some of the carrots we bought at market.  Knowing how to cook, preserve food, and make jam are all ways we can learn to better value the food we eat, as well as our food system.jamming







And then… we went to a goat farm, learned about how farmers process value-added products, such as goat cheese, and get them to market.  And of course, there were a few baby goats named in the process.goats5













Day 3: The Beginning, the Middle, and the End of the Food Chain and Beyond

On the last day we volunteered with Durham’s Meals on Wheels program.  This particular morning we focused our conversations around food access and food justice. meals on wheels2


Later in the day we took at tour of Eastern Carolina Organics’ (ECO) facility.  ECO is an aggregator and distributor of organic local foods.  Aggregators and distributors are very important in an alternative food economy.  They help farmers sell their products beyond the farmers’ market and into grocery stores, restaurants, etc.  eco


At the end of the day we had a delicious feast and heard from Dr. Mary Eubanks from Duke’s Biology Department.  Dr. Eubanks is a corn breeder, and has done amazing research on non-GMO corn hybrids.

At the end of the last day we all said adieu.  It was hard saying goodbye to such a wonderful group of students, but they all promised us they would come visit us at the farm.

Since March we have seen a few of the students visit the farm and we have seen several others getting involved in Duke’s food scene on campus.  We are genuinely hopeful that these bright young minds will go out in the world and do great things to change our food system into a system that is more just for all, both at Duke and beyond.  Thank you to all the wonderful students of Duke Food Project’s ASB 2013.  May your future journeys, wherever they take you, be filled with fun adventures and delicious food!



Seeds of Hope

Spring planting is a unique experience, one in which a grower can start fresh, rebrand, be new and idealistic.  Three players are involved in spring planting, the seed, the grower, and nature.  The seed and the grower spring planting experience are not much unlike one another.  For the seed the experience of planting is like being the new kid at school.  Seed and earth meet, and earth sizes up seed.  The seed has everything to prove, and the earth has nothing to lose.  To the earth, it’s just another seed after all.  The grower, like the seed, also has everything to prove in this new season, as well as everything to lose.  The grower tells herself,  “This year will be different.  This year my plants will thrive. This year will be better.  This year I will be a new and improved grower.”  Grower and seed together are fed by hope.

I have found hope to be the mantra of the grower.  Without hope the soul, just like the plants in the field, can be worn down by the elements.  We try so hard as humans to overcome nature, to control her, to be one step ahead… only to discover that we never really can.  Through humble acceptance and hope, we can become better growers and people.

At the Duke Campus Farm, the elements took down our hoop house last month. A freakish windstorm took her down in one fell swoop.  All our hoop house crops were ruined and our spirits profoundly dampened.  I suppose this is what they call farming.  However, although harsh and relentless, nature is also grace-full.  She gives us a spring every year, and in the Southeast, she gives us four growing seasons.  Nature gives us a second, a third, and a fourth chance.

And so today at Duke Campus Farm we are starting anew with our spring planting.  Today we are planting beets and peas, lettuce and mustard greens.  We are telling ourselves that this season will be different.  This time we will be better growers and better people.  We are rebranding and recreating.  We are a new and improved version of ourselves, a version that has been made wiser by the elements.  Today with our beets we sow seeds of hope.

Summer internship – accepting applications now

Position: Duke Campus Farm Intern
Term: Summer, May 15 – Aug 10
Hours: 20/week
Pay: $10/hr

– Daily care for crops including watering, weeding, planting, harvesting, washing, packing and delivering crops
– CSA and farmers’ market sales
– Leading and facilitating community workdays
– Community outreach projects including giving tours, planning and facilitating educational workshops
– Working as part of a team to expand the operations and reach of the farm

– Duke rising sophomore, junior, senior or graduate students.
– Federal work-study preferred but not required
– Ability to provide personal transportation to the farm preferred
– Flexibility, the ability to work independently and with others.
– Self-starter and creative problem solver.
– Possession of good communication and interpersonal skills.
– This is a physically active and demanding job, the ability to lift and carry 50 lbs is a plus.

If you are interested in applying, please email with the subject line “summer internship” for more information.

CSA Summer 2013

Summer 2013 CSA – Sign up today!
Last summer we launched our first ever CSA in the months of May and August and this year we’re offering a full summer subscription. Participants can sign up for one month (May, June, July or August) or can sign up for all 4 months at a discounted price. Each week you’ll receive a couple-sized box with approximately $20 worth of produce. Pick up is at the Duke Gardens every Tuesday from 4-6pm. See below for pricing and what you can expect to find each month in your box.  The Duke Campus Farm is not certified organic, but uses all natural practices including no chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides, no GMO seed, and strives to use as few off farm inputs as possible.

Sign up here. 

May – 4 weeks – $80
salad mix, strawberries, kale, rainbow chard, snap peas, radishes, beets, salad turnips, carrots, bac choi, broccoli rabe, greens and herbs

June – 4 weeks – $80
cucumbers, snap peas, salad mix, mustard greens, beets, rainbow chard, kale, beets, potatoes, onions, garlic and herbs

July – 5 weeks – $100
cucumbers, corn, eggplant, tomatoes, green beans, onions, garlic, rainbow chard, okra, basil

August – 4 weeks – $80
tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, okra, watermelon, musk melon and herbs

Full summer subscription $300 (two weeks free!)

Our View on Community Supported Agriculture
We believe in the traditional community supported agriculture system where the consumer shares in the risk and reward of the farm by paying in advance for a “share” of our harvest. Crops that do well will be abundant in the share, crops that do less well will be less abundant. We will never buy produce from other farms or wholesale distributers to fill the boxes each week (a common tactic for some local farms). Instead, you are getting a true reflection of what we’re producing on our farm.

Each week a “what you can expect” email is sent out giving our best estimate of what members will get in their box the next day. We don’t harvest until the day of delivery in order to give you the freshest produce possible and sometimes what we find in the field on Tuesday is not what we expected to on Monday. Sometimes there are bug infestations or crop failures. Sometimes there are crop bumpers. And that’s what makes being a part of a CSA so much fun – it’s always a little bit of a surprise what you’re going to get each week.

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse – Spring 2013 Workshops

We don’t know how the Apocalypse will begin, but with the power grid down, global trade halted and brain-loving zombies roaming the countryside, you’ll need skills to survive. That’s why we’re offering skill-building workshops to help you thrive. Register here for workshops.

Wilderness Survival and First Aid
Date: Thursday, January 31st 3:30-5:30pm
Instructor: Jan Hackett
Location: Duke West Campus
Cost: $10
Description: The workshop’s instructor, Jan Hackett, coordinated Duke’s Outdoor Adventure Program for a decade, and taught outdoor classes such as fly-fishing, climbing, kayaking and wilderness skills. Currently Jan is an instructor in wilderness first aid, CPR/AED, blood borne pathogens and emergency first response.This workshops will give you the basics of wilderness first aid from splinting broken bones to caring for a snake bite. The course will end with real life scenarios that participants will carry out.

College Cooking Made Easy
Date: February 16th, 11am-1:30pm
Instructor:  Duke Community Garden
Location: Duke Smart Home, 1402 Faber Street (just off C-1 route)
Cost: $5
Description: This is the first workshop hosted at the Duke Community Garden and will include basic cooking instruction, recipe making and eating. With a focus on seasonal produce and sustainable eating, Duke students will lead a demonstration and discussion on easy and healthy meals that cater to college lifestyles. The workshop will take place in the Smart Home next to the Community Garden, located behind the Freeman Center for Jewish Life.

Mushroom Workshop
Date: Sunday, February 24th: 11am
Instructor: Damon Cory-Watson
Location: At the farm, 4910 Friends School Rd
Cost: $10
Description: come learn how to grow Shitake and Oyster mushrooms in your backyard (or dorm room!). Participants will have hands on experience inoculating mushroom logs, that once mature will be served in the dining halls. This event is a collaboration between the Duke Campus Farm, Duke Forest, Duke Mycology Lab, and Woodfruit Farm. A portion of the logs inoculated will be raffled off to participants to take home.

The Chemistry of Food
Saturday, March 2nd, 11 am – 1:30 pm
Instructor: Justine de Valicourt
Cost: $10
Location: Duke Smart Home
We are honored to host chef-in-residence Justine de Valicourt at Duke this semester! As an expert in food chemistry, Justine will teach us how to make sourdough bread, the basics of fermentation, and how to make yogurt. She will also show us how to make vegan and gluten-free parmesan pasta and carrot cake. This is a cooking class you don’t want to miss, especially if you have food allergies or are looking for a little more food chemistry in your life.

Basic Beer Brewing
Date: April 4th, 4pm-7pm
Instructor: Emily Sloss and Lee Miller
Location:  Duke Campus Farm, 4901 Friends School Road
Cost:  $10
Description: Learn about the basics of homebrewing with this hands-on workshop.  Discover how easy it is to brew and bottle your own beer.  This skill is one you will definitely value during a zombie apocalypse.