Leaning In: Q&A with Blackland Prairie Farm's Carin Moore

Can women really have it all? Raise your hand if you're a wee bit tired of hearing this question. It's not so much that it's constantly being asked about women, but more that no one bothers to define "it all." When people say, "I don't know how you do it all," I always silently check off a mental list of all that I am not doing: writing a book, painting the house, finding that lost library book, making preserves, exercising, meditating, reading the entire Sunday paper. It's a matter of priorities--perhaps the more vital question is: "Are you doing what's important?" And therein lies plenty to discuss. This week, I visited with Carin Moore, mother of four, who singlehandedly farms several acres at Blackland Prairie Farm. She has time for her family, for herself, and feeds hundreds of lucky local folks gorgeous produce from her fields every week. Along with her husband, she designs labels, signage, packaging and shares recipes with market customers. Kids Jaxson, Cooper, Susan, and Bodie come along to the farm in summer months for weeding and harvesting, and enjoy being outside and developing their entrepreneurial skills at the market every Saturday. With her husband, she runs a business and puts dinner on the table at home; with her own two hands, she puts fresh, healthy, local food on our tables, and her life is joyful because of it. Now, that's what I call leaning in.

Tell us a little about the journey that led you to Blackland Prairie Farm.

Deron and I have always had a garden. At first, it was just 2 5x10 raised beds in our backyard. Then it was a 16x40 plot. Then we put in a gate and doubled our garden behind our fence. At that point, we were getting some pretty serious ribbing from our friends about needing to sell our veggies at the farmers market. And we had one baby, and loved the idea of raising our kids (we knew we wanted more) on a farm. So even though we were city kids who preferred the outdoors, we thought, why not look for land? This would be a great area to at least make a go of farming. I wanted to be home with our children. We officially began our journey in farming in December 2004.

Why raise food?

We raise food because we love to eat great food. We both cook, I bake, we all eat. And there is so much satisfaction in knowing that the food we grow ends up on so many other tables and nourishes so many other people. And because it is so good, we know we are also nourishing spirits, as well. That makes us very content and happy.

How did your previous life experience or influences prepare you to raise food for a living?

Deron and I were both fortunate enough to have grown up in homes with parents who cooked and families who sat down together to share meals daily. We both had grandparents who gardened, and allowed us to help. We learned to cook from our mothers and grandmothers. We both worked in food service at early ages and loved food more for it. From the very beginning of our relationship, we’ve cooked together. Our second date was Deron making me dinner—grilled steak, salad from his garden, and a bottle of wine. We appreciated the better flavor and fun varieties of veggies we could grow in our garden. We loved sharing our surplus with friends.

Our work histories also both include retail experience. Our mutual favorite part of retail was and is the opportunity to interact and develop relationships with other people who share similar passions. We are able to both learn and teach everyday, and that is awesome. Marketing for us is fun. We enjoy coming up with educational fliers, new recipes to share, looking for perfect packaging and display materials, and seeing it all come together. We especially love SHARING with our customers.

What does “sustainable” mean to you?

Sustainable, to us, is doing everything we can to coexist with Nature, while producing beautiful, delicious, nutritious food. We believe in a healthy soil foundation, and minimal interference. We believe that for the good bugs and desirable predators (lizards, snakes, spiders) to come, they need something to come for. We only interfere if there is more damage being done than done about it. We only use OMRI approved materials, and choose the product best suited to whatever the particular problem happens to be. Spraying always also includes compost tea. Coincidently, we have had many opportunities to increase our knowledge of problems, pest or disease, their causes, and various solutions.

What does a “day in the life” look like at Blackland Prairie Farm?

We don’t live on our farm, so farming for me begins around 8 a.m., after I drop the kids off at school. Also, I am the only person who works on the farm, so projects for me take a lot longer. For instance, I have been working on clearing and planting the entire three acres of garden area since the summer. I am currently at two acres full, and hope to finally fill it with onion planting. My day may be pulling out used waterlines and ground cover, tilling in compost, setting new waterline and groundcover, planting seeds or transplants (always by hand), or spraying the garden. Fridays are always harvest days, and do not end at 3:30, like most other days have to.

While it is only me full time everyday in the field, during the summer the kids definitely help out in a big way. This summer our garden stayed weed-free for the first time ever! They also help A LOT with the summer harvesting and planting. And Deron is always my partner in getting everything rinsed and packaged for market. Deron is our marketing guru. He is responsible for printing all our banners, recipes, and any other materials we use. And we all participate in market day, a collective favorite day of the week.

What would we be surprised to learn is part of your “job description”?

Rattlesnake wrangler.

What do you find most rewarding about farming?

Farming has totally reconnected us to the earth, and specifically to our land. I love feeling a part of the bigger picture. I love knowing how much healthier my land, my family, my community, and even I am because of the farm and the fact that we grow food on it. I try to take time each week to just walk around and soak up all that is going on, whether that’s at the creek bed, the pond, around an area of bamboo, or wherever. I love watching the changes that seasons and years make. Everyday is different and beautiful and wonderful in its own unique way. Everyday. And I get to watch and be a part of it, and I love that.

What do you find most challenging?

By far, the most challenging obstacle for me is time. I have a very limited amount of it to spend there, and that is only impacted more by distance. My farm literally gets 35 hours of work each week, and we try to stretch that time as much as possible. What do you feel is the biggest obstacle faced today by folks who want to raise food sustainably for a living?

This is a tough question to answer, because everyone faces their own set of circumstances. Land values, expensive equipment, business knowledge, farming knowledge, land management, water management, public relations with customers, authorities, and Mother Nature in general are all components of beginning and succeeding.

What is a farmer’s role in our society?

A farmer’s role in our society is, sadly, almost universally completely overlooked. There is an Italian saying: “Pay the farmer, or pay the doctor.” All we have to do is look at our food system and our healthcare system to see who we, as a society, choose. The farmer ought to be as equally respected as the doctor, and they both ought to be overseers of society’s health and well-being.

Why should we shop at the farmers’ market?

At the farmers’ market, consumers are put in touch with farmers who DO care. We want to provide families and individuals and chefs the very best possible food. We enjoy the labor we put in to it, and I know that is expressed through the food itself. Whether it is the array of variety, and the beauty in that, or the increase of nutrients based on the superior farming practices on small farms, or just access to information, consumers get SO much more at the market.

What is the best news in food you’ve heard recently?

I like that food is becoming an issue that is newsworthy. The increased discussion on nutrition and overall health from elementary schools to workplaces to living rooms is exciting to me.

What do you wish more people knew about growing food?

Growing food is extremely satisfying! If I could share one thing, that would be it. I wish everyone would try it on some scale, whether that be a small window herb box, or a patio garden, or a full on plot of land. It feeds your spirit first, and then your body. And when you can share that with others, it is really special.

What inspires you?

Nature inspires me. I love its processes, its beauty, its sounds, and that I get to be a part of it. Everyday. But nature can be harsh, and my family inspires me to keep moving when things get tough.

What is one thing everyone can do to create a better, stronger food system?

The best thing to do is for everyone to grow something! If everyone would grow just one thing, that connection to food could be rekindled. We are all in different places, with varying capabilities, but we could all benefit from growing something we love to eat.

What are you cooking this week?

Sunday Dinner: Beef Pot Roast with caramelized onion, mushroom, and wine gravy; I’ll serve it with new potatoes and green beans. Deron also made a coleslaw salad for later in the week.

Quick Picks:

Favorite breakfast: Carin’s farm day breakfast: Mashed potatoes with kale topped with a fresh egg, then broiled with a bit of sharp cheese. Awesome way to start the day! Family Sunday breakfast: Deron’s biscuits and gravy.

Favorite comfort food: Wonton soup

Favorite cookbook: Mexican Cookery by Barbara Hansen; I bought this book at a garage sale when I was about 18. The author relates so much more than lists of ingredients; she opens a window. It was the first cookbook I ever read.

Favorite fall fruit/veggie: Apples, pecans, and collard greens.