I know I’m not the only one excited about the hint of green showing in our landscape and the sight of daffodils blooming in yards and in fields around old homesteads.
I love how the land comes to life in spring—the color, the birdsong—everything except the mosquitoes and snakes that come out of hiding.
A few of our purple martins are straggling in from down south now.
I’m continually amazed at how they remember from previous years which homes are theirs.
On another spring note: Gardeners have been chomping at the bit to get their hands in the dirt after a long cold winter.
Maybe we’re “pushing it” with the cold temperatures lingering around, but we’ve got peas, onions, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, spinach and Swiss chard in the ground.
I’m looking forward to some good fresh eating, but I’m also looking forward to just watching it all grow. That’s part of the fun of gardening.
I always find it interesting to see how other gardeners grow things. A couple of weekends ago we spent part of a sunny Saturday at the Kentucky Green Living Fair in Somerset.
It was the second year for the fair that is sponsored by an organization called Sustainable Kentucky. There were workshops throughout the day on fascinating topics like forest gardening, permaculture, aquaponics, and beekeeping.
Besides the workshops, nearly 80 vendors displayed products they had made from things they’d mostly grown or raised.
Best of all, many of them had samples. I tasted smoked lamb for the first time, which I thought was very good. I also sampled cheeses made from whole raw milk, and I bought two varieties of that.
I purchased Sweetgrass Granola from some young folks from Crab Orchard who make several varieties of granola with locally grown or locally-sourced products. They use sorghum syrup and wild honey to sweeten their granola.
There was an ice cream vendor selling “pig candy”—that’s ice cream flavored with bacon and maple syrup. It sounds weird but tasted delicious.
I also bought soaps made from beeswax and scented with lemongrass.
One thing I noticed about nearly all the vendors at the fair is that they were young—mostly in their twenties and thirties. They are a new breed of farmer seeking to farm as naturally and sustainably as possible.
They are growing pasture-raised poultry, grass-fed beef, organic vegetables and fruits.
From what they grow, they create “value-added” products like beeswax soaps, tomato sauces, dried beans and cornmeal, cheeses, goat’s milk soaps, ice cream, wool products, wood crafts and much more.
A couple of the most interesting workshops we attended were about permaculture, or permanent agriculture, a way of gardening that attempts to imitate nature’s way of growing.
It’s hard for those of us accustomed to tilling, fertilizing and spraying pesticides to imagine that better results can be had by building up the soil with compost, mulch, and green manures.
Susana Lein, of Salamander Springs Farm near Berea, presented a slide show explaining how she bought a piece of worn-out hillside a little more than a decade ago and transformed it into a fertile and productive space where she says she grows four times the amount of beans and corn on her two-acre garden that traditional methods produce.
Lein grew up in the Midwest where farming is done on an industrial scale. She said the prairie topsoil that was once six feet deep there is now but six inches deep in places, with much of it deposited in and along the Mississippi River.
That’s part of the reason that Lein now gardens without tilling, without buying fertilizers and without pesticides.
Her methods are not new ones, radical as they may sound, but are methods that have supported humanity for thousands of years.
As my brain has processed some of the things I learned at the Kentucky Green Living fair, I’ve thought about the possibilities for economic development that similar practices present right here in our county. There’s plenty of land where vegetables, fruits and berries can be grown, and there are ways of starting small that don’t require a lot of equipment.
For example, it doesn’t take a lot of land or overhead to keep a few goats that can be milked to make cheeses, soaps or lotions. Neither does it take a big investment to raise some pastured chickens for meat and eggs.
Such enterprises would be small operations, at first anyway, but at least they’d be something.
Many small farmers are finding niche-farming profitable. Creative marketing is important for making it work, but the dozens of vendors at Kentucky Green Living Fair are showing how it can be done.