FLOW: “A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.”– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
I always loved that concept, so much that it became the name for our farm. Building and running a farm certainly requires a lot of planning, but working with your hands in the soil and weeding and harvesting always brings me into to the moment, to the state of Flow. We first started to come to Pinehurst in 2001, and I decided I wanted to grow a garden. It was that simple, an idea and some action. Jules was living in Washington, DC working as an environmental attorney, and I was living in Chicago working with computers in the financial markets. Pinehurst was our weekend home together, and we were married here in 2004. And now Pinehurst is our full-time home, and we have two sons, two dogs, two cats, and a farm.
In 2008, we bought five acres of forest and have been able to expand to about 15 acres over time. It’s a beautiful forest with pine and hardwood trees, dogwoods and magnolia and holly, and a healthy forest floor peppered with leaves, needles, ferns and mushrooms. We cleared some to build our new home, and we included about two extra acres inside the deer fence for me to develop our farm. I’m not sure what Jules thought I was really going to do, but she indulged me along the way, and here we are.
Among the first things I learned when we cleared a small patch of the forest and setup the initial layout for our fields was that our soil is really not well suited to grow fruits and vegetables. It works fine for growing a mostly pine forest, but it’s not made of the right stuff to really grow healthy food. Well, I had no idea about this, and it wasn’t like we were going to cancel the project and move somewhere else, so I started to learn about soil. We are vegan, and it felt good to read books about building soil and growing organic food, but most of what I read still used animal products to build soil fertility. And that’s when I learned about biochar, which I heard was being used successfully on a small veganic farm in France. So, I decided to build a kiln to make biochar from the trees we had cut down from our forest.
We started with largely depleted, acidic, sandy soil on top of hard-packed clay, because that’s what’s naturally found in a pine forest ecosystem in this area that gets lots of rain. The main things I needed for my soil were organic matter, resident carbon, nutrients, and minerals. And I knew that if I added those things, then the soil organisms to build healthy living soil would be provided by nature. I brought in azomite powder from Utah and kelp seaweed meal from the coast of Maine for trace minerals, and a wide range of natural rock amendments were added to give the soil environment access to all the nutrients in quantities that were both abundant and balanced.
To build organic matter, we grew cover crops all year-round for the purpose of shredding and working into our soil. We use a blend of science, art, and intuition in designing our farming techniques, and we learn a lot from all the wonderful farmers who have written books and blogs to help us. We use only sustainable methods, and we are in the process of becoming a USDA Certified Organic farm. We work hard to keep improving the quality of the soil in our rows by using our own style of no-till techniques with small tools and hand-managed processes. It feels really good to be growing food in a manner that reflects our values. In doing so, in our small way, we are helping to improve the soil, air, and water quality in North Carolina, a state badly polluted by industrial agriculture.
After many years of letting our soil develop and grow, in 2016 we started selling our food locally through our Farm to Friends harvest share subscriptions. And, we are also starting to sell our Flow Farm biochar, made exclusively in our kiln from locally sourced wood.