So, it’s been a bit since I’ve posted anything, but as the 2020 farm season begins – I wanted to add a post. While, I never want my blog to be pollical – it saddens me that one of the presidential candidates felt the need to insult EVERYONE in farming… and it also made me angry. The anger stemmed from the simple fact of how much the agricultural industry contributes to every, single person, every single day and the overall lack of respect that some people have for folks whose jobs require manual labor. No farmer, no food, no clothing. It also served as a reminder of why I farm and why I walked away from a six-figure salary to make significantly LESS …. To grow things and feed people. Something more important than collecting money and fancy things… even at my age.
We all love our pets. I have this crazy old man named Otis. He’s the top cat in my house and because he’s old – he has a ton of health issues. No one beats Dr. Ashely at Main Street Animal Clinic. Otis is certain she cares more for him than I do! Stinker that he is… Do your pets a favor and make this your go to place for your four-legged family members.
I’m starting to realize something about myself… I like old things. I moved back to Illinois because of old people (Mom & Dad). I bought a house that is over 150 years old. I have an old cat… AND – I drive and older car. I love my car. His name is Andrew. Lol! But… that also means I need a good mechanic. My mechanic? Bert’s Service Station. Not once have I ever felt like I was just a number to them. I like going where I feel appreciated.
In addition to growing things – I have the best product line under my brand Addie’s Pepper Patch. My salsas are better than anything you will find at the grocery store. My jellies are amazing! And so diverse in flavor combinations. And don’t get me started on my BBQ sauces and seasonings! While you are used to seeing me at the Farmer’s Markets in Central Illinois in the summer time, I take orders for my products year-round. My product list is on the website and available for delivery. With Christmas right around the corner, I am happy to make specialized gift baskets of whatever you need for that special person. I also have cakes, cookies and candies.
There are so many great, small businesses that need your support. Not just on Small Business Saturday or during the summer – we need your support 12 months a year. When you’re looking for a place to have drinks out with friends, visit The Longbranch in Athens or Weebles & The Curve Inn in Springfield. These places also have great food choices. When you’re needing a unique gift for someone, visit Estep & Associates in Petersburg or one of the folks already mentioned here. Looking for a new pharmacy? We have that covered too – Athens Pharmacy. While it may be convenient to support big chains, making the choice to pick small, local business first – makes you a hero. AND - when we keep our dollars local, that just helps all of us. Thank you.
Things in life that make you pause… Thanksgiving was two days ago. It was also my mother’s birthday… and it was one of those “things”. I’ve been saying for years – I like growing things and I like feeding people. This Thanksgiving was the first time I’ve had the meal at my house and was joined by mom, dad and all my brothers – including my sister-in-law, niece, bother’s girlfriend and her son. It’s the first time my entire immediate family has been in my house for a meal – EVER. It made me pause.
Growing up, the holidays weren’t spent running to both side of the family. I was fortunate that my mom and dad’s families all got along. The only decision was which grandmother was hosting Thanksgiving and which was hosting Christmas. And whoever wasn’t hosting was at the meal along with my Aunt and her family. As the years went on – the hosting part transitioned to my mom and aunt, but we still had everyone there, no one was splitting the holidays between family – like folks do now.
So… we get to the pause. We had a great meal. My brother Don helped with the prime rib – something I’ve never cooked. My brother Jim brought desert. My brother Mark and his wife Brenda brought fresh veggies and made homemade rolls. We had everyone at the same table – like I remember when we had a meal at my grandmother’s house… and I think everyone had a nice time. After the meal we discussed Christmas – which will be at my house too. So… the torch has been passed? Yay! Because I like feeding people…. Especially people who mean so much to me.
When I started writing this – I almost added “& Why Organic Foods Cost More” in the title, but I thought that might be a bit of a lengthy title for my blog post. Last year when I decided to risk it all and farm, there were several driving forces behind the decision – but the most important one was simply not wanting harmful chemicals in my foods…. Since last year I’ve run across several articles about the herbicide Roundup™ being found in Cheerios™; which wasn’t a surprise to me. The wheat grains are so genetically modified in the US – they can survive being sprayed with this chemical to increase the odds of harvested grains being weed free… but at what cost? Chemicals in the field equal chemicals in the end product. It’s that simple. I don’t want chemicals in my food. I’ll probably repeat this a few more times in this blog post…
One of the categories of produce I grow is squash. I do several varieties of zucchini as well as summer and winter squashes, along with melons and pumpkins.
These are a favorite to squash bugs – which are happy to spend all day munching on the leaves of these plants, mating and laying THOUSANDS of eggs!
Grrrr!!!! I despise these creatures. I’ve yet to find any useful purpose for them They can wipe out a healthy crop in a matter of days. So… if you ask most non-organic farmers how they deal with these pests – most will tell you they spay pesticides… Which aren’t an option for me. I DON’T WANT CHEMICALS IN MY FOOD! And we have bees… which are crucial to pollinating EVERYHTING we grow… and these lovely pesticides are not selective in what they kill. They are happy to wipe out a bee colony too.
So… how do I attempt to manage this problem in my field? For me it’s a two-step process. Well, three if you count prayer. Since the plants started coming up, I’ve been using diatomaceous earth around the plants and on the tops of the leaves. Diatomaceous earth is a substance made up of the fossilzed remains of plankton; it looks like an off-white talc powder. It can kill any bug with an exoskeleton… which means it can also kill our honey bees and other pollinators if I’m not careful with how I use it – which I am and I’ve not seen any ill effects to our hives… second step is hand picking these awful bugs and their eggs off the plants. Both of these steps are time-consuming. If I paid someone to do this – I wouldn’t be able to afford to farm… instead, it’s a job I do; which means I get less sleep – having to do other tasks well into the early morning hours just to make sure everything gets done.
Choosing to NOT use chemicals in my field is labor intensive. It costs money in hours worked; which is far more costly that chemicals that destroy our ecosystem and poison our bodies. It’s a no-brainer for me… and should be for you too. When you’re at a Farmer’s Market and you see a stand doing organic farming (certified or NOT) – buy from them. The food they grow for you is healthier for you and our planet. Oh… and give them a “thanks”. Sometimes we just need to know folks appreciate what we’re doing. For this farmer, it makes the sleepless nights a bit easier to deal with.
So… Spring/Summer, 2019 planting season has been a challenge. You don’t have to be a farmer to know this. Daily commutes often reveal flooded fields that have been in this condition for weeks… and have pushed the envelop on planting windows and in some cases made it impossible for farmers to get crops in the ground. Some have accepted defeat – knowing the time has run out. It really is a sad state of conditions for the those in agriculture.
Recently, I asked a fellow farmer if she planted according to moon phases. Her answer was along the lines of “I’m planting whenever the ground is dry enough to get seeds in”… while in some respects – I understood what she was saying, but there are parts of my upbringing that will stick with me no matter what. My dad always planted by the moon phases and when I first started gardening on my own I thought he was nuts. What on earth does the moon have to do with anything. For several years – I planted radishes. Every row of radishes produced these beautiful lush leaves… but no radish underground. It drove me crazy! So… I told my dad what was going on and he replied “you’re planting them at the wrong phase of the moon”. WHAT THE HECK! When I finally followed my dad’s advice – I was blessed with my first crop of radishes that I could actually eat. Needless to say… I found value in this age-old process of planting by the moon.
So… even with this challenging season – due to an enormous amount of rainfall, I’ll still do what I know works best. I may not know what the gravitational pull of the moon does to plants and seeds – but I’m happy the Old Farmers Almanac is at my disposal to keep track of all the important planting dates. When it says plant - I plant. When it tells me not to, I'm happy to work on native plant management. More information: ttps://www.farmersalmanac.com/calendar/gardening/
So… I moved back to Athens – my home town area. Anyone who has followed my farm journey know this. Since moving here, I’ve been able to reconnect with folks I haven’t talked to in over 35 years; one being our current Mayor. Some time in early April (I think, time is a blur), he reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in getting a farmers market going in Athens. Of course – I said yes. I started working on the details of a vendor agreement and planning what our market would be. Small town or not – I wanted to make sure we followed all the “rules” as it relates to running our market. I also needed to make sure the city wouldn’t face any significant risks from our little market. So… all that was done and I began soliciting vendors for our market. I have found this to NOT be an easy task…. But I carry on.
We’re the only one in Menard County. We are open on Wednesdays – which, in true mean mother nature style – she’s ensured we’ve had icky weather all three Wednesdays the market has been open. Grrrr! But, our Mayor is AWESOME! When we asked about being inside city hall vs outside in the park – he immediately said yes. So… not only do we have the only Farmers Market in Menard county – we have an INDOOR market. Which means vendors and customers get to stay comfortable and dry no matter what mother nature throw at us!
So… why does this matter to Thompson Family Farm? Let me just say it matters more than anyone will probably ever realize. I love all the other markets I sell at – but the Athens Farmers Market is home. This market truly gives me a chance to see my neighbors and get to know people in MY community better than any other place I sell. The support of this community has been overwhelming. Three Wednesdays in a row – this community has come out in support of my farm and all the other vendors who put their trust in this market. This market makes me proud… proud of where I live and proud to be a part of this amazing community. And because of all this – I will continue to work on getting more vendors to the market, so it can be a one-stop shop for our community.
My small family farm appreciates the support of the vendors and customers who support our market. Thank you!
My world... I love my world. My only wish is for mom nature to be a great deal more cooperative. Just like last spring - I'm faced with fields that are too wet. Yesterday wore me OUT! I was able to get some tilling done and planted a ton of lilies, some more horseradish and asparagus. I was able to get all the fruit bushes trimmed and cleared out. I came home from my farm feeling muscles that had gotten a bit "squishy" over the winter... lol! I went to bed tired. Somewhere around 3:00a.m, I heard a motor running. My tired brain didn't connect the dots until about 5:30 or so and I PANICKED!
For some reason I've been fighting the heater in the greenhouse. It keeps shutting off over night for reasons we've not been able to work out. The temps have dropped to as low as 45 degrees. So... when I heard a motor running - I realized it was my generator running. My mind went crazy. When did my power go out. Are the fans still running? Is the heater running? I threw on clothes, went out in the snow (yes, snow) and checked on everything... plants were warm and sleeping. It was still dark, but I noticed a ton of things tossed around in the back yard. I assumed it was a storm that ran through and took out a power line "somewhere"... so I went back to bed.
While I was trying to sleep - I realized no one else was without power on the west side of me... but I still tried to sleep. Around 7:00, I got up. And found out why my generator was running...
This is what remains of one of my trees. It was huge... and old as heck. It sat on the bank of the little creek that runs through my property. It landed with such force it shattered into thousands of pieces... it made me sad... it's spring. The calendar says its spring. This beautiful old tree had buds and only wanted to grow his leaves to shade my little creek one more time...
But... this beautiful, old tree can't. Its shattered and freezing. My heart breaks for it. I love my trees... and will miss this one terribly... there will be a hole on my property and in the heart of the plant whisper.
Time for a break – right? Haha! Nope! I’m now working on getting herb seeds planted so I have lush, beautiful herbs for the winter markets. I’ve been perfecting candy recipes so I have amazing candies and sweets for the holiday markets; one which was this past Saturday. The feedback from those folks who sampled the candies tells me I hit the right balance between sweet and a touch of heat. Between now and December 22nd, I’ll be making sure I have everything for the market that happens right before Christmas. I’ll also be doing some mini garden welds to add to the rosemary pots… which will be at the December market in Bloomington.
From that point forward – it’s time to start the seeds for next year’s produce. Chili peppers have a really long growing cycle and if not started in January; they don’t stand a chance of making it. And then it’s time to get the other veggies growing too. Everything I bring to the Farmer’s Markets is grown or made by me. All my vegetable plants are started by seed and either direct sowed or started in the greenhouse. I’m a bit of a control freak and I want to ensure my plants haven’t been fed anything I don’t approve of… and the only way to do that is by planting them myself. Oh – and let’s not forget the chili peppers I’m growing right now so I can have fresh chili’s at the winter markets… because there is NO better way to bring heat to central Illinois than to do it with chili peppers!
So… no matter the season I grow things. I make things. I feed people in Central Illinois. I vend at Farmers’ Markets, although less often… and continue to feel blessed for being able to do something I love more than ever.
My obsession with chili peppers... so I've had this obsession for a great many years. Before moving back to Illinois I had a big house on a small, city plot; which translated to zero space for a garden... however - we still always had about 10 different varieties of chili peppers in pots on the patio. The peppers were started inside in the winter and put in pots once it started to get warm... we babied those pepper plants, including building a make-shift greenhouse to extend the growing season. It's amazing what you can do with a gazebo frame and some clear plastic sheeting... lol! Oh and an old electric blanket! Even during the snow - it kept the temp inside around 65 degrees.
So... I currently have 23 varieties of chili peppers on the farm. I have approximately 250 or so plants. I am OBSESSED with them. I'm nearing the end of the growing season and it's killing me! :-D There aren't enough hours in the day to harvest all the peppers that are on the plants... and then figure out what to do with all of them! So... I'm getting creative. I've pickled Carolina Reapers and they have been a big hit at the Farmers' Markets. I've now pickled Tobasco peppers too... and tonight - a strange mix that includes chocolate habanero, tazmanian habanero, jalapeno, tequila sunrise, lemon drop, scorpion, white habanero, cayenne... and so many others have joined the mix. Ya know what's interesting when you mix spicy peppers in a pickling brine? They get crazy hot! That's what they do! lol! But... oh, my goodness do they taste wonderful. So the mixed pickled peppers will be debuting at the Illinois Products Farmers' Market this week.
So... back to my obsession with chili peppers. What amazes me about chili peppers is the versatility of them. Even the super hots have great flavor once you get past the heat. I love seeing what I can do with them to bring out the flavor and reduce the heat level of them... which if you've tried my products you know I've been able to do this. So... as we wind down the growing season - peppers are being cultivated in the greenhouse and I'm doing all I can to save EVERY last pepper so I can turn them into something delicious for the many fans of Addie's Pepper Patch products.
So… the first market day at ALMH Market was May 12th. It was my first day doing a market in Lincoln and I had no idea what to expect. What I knew? There was a bread lady, a cheese guy, a smoothie lady and a ton of farmers who seemed to know so much more about farming than me. That morning I loaded the truck. I had the beginning stages of Addie’s Pepper Patch products, some beautiful perennial flower plants and herb plants. Mother Nature ensured I had no fresh produce… I arrived at the fairgrounds at about 5:30 and waited for the market manager to arrive so I could set up for the morning. I had no idea what to expect… I think I said a small prayer on my drive in, hoping… just hoping.
So… this Saturday will be my 21st time at ALMH Market. Thompson Family Farm has been there every Saturday since the market started this year. I’ve had the pleasure of vending beside “the bread lady” for the second half of the market. Her breads and treats are amazing. I’ve enjoyed the cheese from the cheese guy on many occasions. The smoothies have been refreshing on the hot summer days. I’ve been lucky enough to sample and enjoy some of the best produce Illinois farmers can grow… but more than that, I’ve made some amazing friendships…. With fellow vendors, customers, market volunteers and our AMAZING market manager.
Knowing this year’s market is coming to an end this Saturday is sooooooooo bitter sweet. I’ve had a better summer than I could ever have expected. I learned so much about farming, about vending at farmers’ markets and being the face of our farm. I will never have the words to express how much I appreciate everyone who has been a part of my ALMH Market journey. You all have made me realize I made the right choice in walking away from corporate work and making the decision to farm was the right choice for me… it is the hardest job I’ve ever had and I love it more than anything. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’ll see you in May of next year.