Moon Dog Farms

Certified Naturally Grown family farm growing fruits, vegetables & flowers in the Texas Gulf Coast

MoonDog Farms is dedicated to stewardship of the land, reinforcing a healthy community and producing great food.  

Dogs in sunglasses, for the win.

Could it really be that time again? 

(c) Hannah Growney 2017

(c) Hannah Growney 2017

Indeed, summer is here. Okra's bursting towards the sky, gullywashers that last for weeks (really, that's all year long here) have turned every aisle into a veritable bullfrog heaven, the hot sun bakes your brain come midday, the celosia flowers are on fire, and our good friends from Texas A&M SeaCamp are back for their summer field trips. 

And you know what that means. Lots and lots of killer photos that provide a special glimpse into Moon Dog Farms, just how it is, in all its sweaty, weedy, colorful glory on a day in mid June.

Let's get to it, shall we? The talent of these young adults speaks for itself. And the absolute manic euphoria of our 3-legged farm pooch shouts for itself. 

(c) Kylie Sambirsky 2017

(c) Kylie Sambirsky 2017

(c) Mackenzie Campbell 2017

(c) Mackenzie Campbell 2017

(c) Kaylee Vann 2017

(c) Kaylee Vann 2017

See what I mean? This partnership with Robert Mihovil and the Aggie SeaCamp at Galveston's Campus is such a joy. Who else can make we family of goobers look so magazine-ready? 

And because there were so many spectacular shots, I thought I'd do something a bit different and group a whole bunch of them together by photographer. Scroll through and be awed by today's youth and the power of a high-quality camera. :)

Kaylee Vann

Kylie Sambirsky

Mackenzie Campbell

Many thanks to all these young artists. We love seeing the farm through your eyes, and we love sharing your work!

And the best part is, we have more to look forward to. Stay tuned for upcoming weeks and more up close & personal farm shots....

(c) Kaylee Van 2017

(c) Kaylee Van 2017

(c) Kylie Sambirsky 2017

(c) Kylie Sambirsky 2017

Happiness amidst the bogginess.

Why are we so happy amidst the slosh and sludge caused by the incessant spring rain that has, inevitably, begun its months-long parade? Acceptance, I answer. The embracing of "what is." Understanding that this is all part of the farm dynamic and that all this is beyond our control. 
 

Oh, and a few days off the farm. That's gonna help a whole hell of a lot, too. 

www.moondogfarms.com


We're taking the quickest of trips to Santa Fe, New Mexico this week. The strange warm weather of this Fall meant we kept planting and harvesting which meant we never really took the seasonal break we've come to expect in the final months of a calendar year, which mean we never took a real vacation for ourselves. As we take firmer and firmer steps into this 5th year of our farm, we know that in order to keep going and remain strong we have to take occasional breaks (and learn not to feel guilty about them--that's key). 

 It was an absolute joy to have more harvest to bring to the markets last week--arugula, be still my heart-- and if we can come through this most recent avalanche of rain we might just have even more abundance for when we return to markets this weekend. We're planning on reopening the farmstand some time in March, but it too depends on Mother Nature. We had many new transplants and seeds in the ground before getting pounded with rain last Friday and earlier this week. As always, we'll hope for the best and move onward, ever! 

Little zucchini seedlings begin to poke their heads up on the tenderest of necks. The fields have to dry out considerably before we can put these darlings in the ground!

Little zucchini seedlings begin to poke their heads up on the tenderest of necks. The fields have to dry out considerably before we can put these darlings in the ground!

And lest you think the only thing that makes us happy is blissful ignorance and holding turquoise in the mountains, I thought I'd share these few memories from the past week that put the broadest of smiles on my face:

If you're familiar with Dr. William Johnson, I don't even need to explain why he makes me happy. But if you're not, let me tell you that every moment spent in Dr. J's company is 100% pleasant, enlightening and companionable. He's a horticulture expert for our corner of the world, and he was one of the first people to learn of our endeavor to farm organically in Galveston County. He's recounted to me several times how he withheld judgement until he saw us endure one Gulf Coast summer, and once we'd made it through that (scarcely unscathed, but with a sweaty determination to continue), he figured we'd be all right.

www.moondogfarms.com

 Dr. J came to the farm this week to perform our on-site inspection required for our Certified Naturally Grown certification. This peer-review system depends on the generosity, knowledge and flexibility of experienced growers in whichever area of the country you grow in, and Dr. Johnson fits us like a glove. He endured multiple pages of paperwork, a long and muddy ride in the rhino and a lengthy discussion with the chickens. (He was particularly tickled with our beautiful rooster, Rusty.) I'm most excited about the samples he took from one of our Einscheimer apple trees. A few of them have a funny pest and/or disease problem that I couldn't sort out for myself, and  you wouldn't believe how immensely comforting it is to have my resident expert snip a few pieces of branch to tote back to his office and examine with his fellow plant nerds. My proclivity for taxonomy and obsession with nipping things in the bud wherever possible (pun absolutely intended) meant I was going a little crazy not knowing what to call the crumpled leaves and wispy webbing I found on the tree.

We often miss the community we felt when living in upstate New York and North Carolina--the organic agriculture scenes there are bursting with support, meet-ups, potlucks, workshops, happy hours and constant camaraderie. That's been far harder to cultivate here, but it's moments like the one painted on Dr. Johnson's face above that make me happy to be here. 

Little sliders of black olive bread from our local baker smeared with Thai jalapeno jam topped with grated chioggia beets, white grapefruit sections and spicy mesclun mix--all from the market's vendors!

Little sliders of black olive bread from our local baker smeared with Thai jalapeno jam topped with grated chioggia beets, white grapefruit sections and spicy mesclun mix--all from the market's vendors!

On that same note, I owe a credit to the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Galveston for their marvelous generosity last Sunday. As market manager, I arrange various community outreach events for Galveston's Own Farmers Market, and last weekend we had our second-ever "Taste the Market" event, hosted by the SDA-Galveston group. All week we discussed what produce would be available from the various farmers and they arrived at market prepared to put together tasty samples and share them with our customers. It's a large diverse group of volunteers who are nothing but smiles.  Not once do they mention what group they're with. They bring no flyers, no posters or signs.Their lack of self-promotion and desire to serve others is nearly confounding but for their very obvious mirth and gratitude to be there. All they wanna do is hand out beautiful, bite-sized snacks in order to highlight the joy of eating fresh and local.

And you know, it IS a joy.

All the more so because of the cheer and kindness evident everywhere you look. I'm so proud to be a part of that energy, and so grateful for its presence. 


If only I could bring back enough turquoise for everyone. 

 

www.moondogfarms.com

We're beat to a pulp but oohing over fragrant blossoms. It must be spring.

I've been eating my lips. 


It's true.

It's gross, but also sorta 100% true.


Working in the 40 mph winds that strangle across the farm during this season not only leaves your body feeling like it lost a very gnarly fight with some well-muscled 18-wheeler, but it also gifts me some very dry, blistered lips crisped from the sun and wind. Which then means that as my lips work desperately to heal themselves, I've got this dreadfully scary witch's maw that keeps flaking into my mouth.

Our new farmdog Petey is always there to console me when I have a witch's maw.

Of course, a hilarious peanut gallery (whose members constitute one McFarmer and one slobbering pooch new to the family) works tirelessly to make sure we all know just how freaky my windworn lips look. It must be said in Petey's defense that he is completely nonjudgmental and has never said one word about my crispy lips. Not one. The bipedal member on the other hand--well, teasing is kinda in the McFarmer's wheelhouse. It's a good attribute in a farmer, we both believe. Even if my peeling kisser is the butt of the joke. Especially if my kisser and a butt can be part of the same joke.

You just wouldn't believe the lip I have to deal with around here. 

I'm not the only one ravaged by the constant gusts, not by a long shot. There's Alex of course. As the one who goes out to the farm every single day no matter what, he gets the most consistent abuse. He stumbles into the house at the end of the day with the look of a newborn foal who just dropped from the sky. And didn't land well.

 Unfortunately, we've lost a number of our healthy and newly-planted squash, cucumber and tomato plants within the last week as well. For the tomatoes, sometimes their viny necks just aren't strong enough to hold up to the incessant blowing across our prairies. It becomes literally a breakneck wind that snaps them off right at the ground. We can replace some with transplants we hold back just for this reason, but that can only ameliorate the situation if the winds finally abate soon----long enough for the plants to establish themselves and stand up to the stress of the real world. (It's no joke how human these plights are sometimes. All us living things just need to beg "uncle" sometimes, even the invertebrates. When you're made of cellulose, even.) 

We've chosen to use large amounts of "floating row cover" this year, especially with our Spring crops. If you're unfamiliar, these are long swaths of a light, woven agricultural-use fabric called Agribon that farmers cut to fit their beds. Sometimes the fabric is simply laid across a bed, resting upon a directly-seeded bed of carrots, but most often a small tunnel is created over your long beds by using curved PVC, wire, rebar or the like and affixing the fabric over these arcs, over the plants. This allows for air circulation and light to move through your crops while keeping a physical barrier against insects and other pests. It's an incredibly effective method for multiple reasons: slightly raising the soil temperature, keeping off pests, reducing risk of fungus,etc.  Of course, wind is not ever a problem with this set-up. Like, ever. 

Which is really lucky for us, considering the aforementioned windy situation we've got at Moon Dog Farms. (Insert finger-hook into collar here, yank and add nervous grimace.)

Let's just say, at this moment, there's a reason I have no good photos of our row-cover setups. Let's also just say McFarmer is not feeling solid on the floating row cover at this point in time. We've done a lot of chasing fabric, to be sure, but I'm still incredibly optimistic that the benefits we'll see in our yields and crop quality will make the shouting at the wind gods worth it in the end. (Did you know in ancient Greece they were called Anemoi? Alex and I argue and plead--ahem, I mean converse politely-- with them frequently.) You can check in with me at the end of the season for row cover updates.

Spring is breakneck for everyone, not just the baby tomatoes. Farmers of all stripes have been putting gears in motion for weeks and weeks leading up to those days when the sun is out a little longer. It looks different depending on where you are, but farmers are moving fast and tackling page and pages of to-do lists (seemingly insurmountable, in our case) regardless of whether there's snow atop their greenhouses or if they're eating the skin off their lips and trellising outdoor cucumbers in March.  

The frenetic chaos of Spring included planning and managing a new fundraiser for Galveston's Own Farmers Market, The Egguinox. Hosted at our friend's patio restaurant, Smooth Tony's, the party was a real Spring celebration.  It was a great hit, and allowed me the opportunity to deliver a box full of our eggs and take this sublimely dorky picture.

We're still figuring out how to best meet our own personal, physical, fiscal and mental needs while also maximizing crop yields, acreage and profits.  A little better here, a little better there. We have a lot to learn, just as always. And it can't be said enough how much better a place we're in this year than we were last year. Mere coincidence, El Nino and unlucky-for-us yearly patterns left us swimming for almost the whole of 2015. Farming last year felt a lot less like farming and a lot more like developing an intimate relationship with stinky mud and our own bad moods. As of March 24th, with a dog at my feet and more crops in production (and moving towards production) than we had at any time last year---this go-round is feeling pretty good. We've already bungled some things. We have no clue what's around the corner. But now, NOW is good. 

  Let's see if we can protect some tender nightshade necks for a spell and hold gently to our current fortune.

 And pass the lip balm, would ya? 

Joe Cocker was so, so right.

Sometimes, you really can only get by with a little help from your friends. 

And before you say anything, the bulk of the thanks should be for John Lennon for writing his fantastic lyrics that ring ever-so-true. It's just that I really like the idea of Joe Cocker asking me and theMcFarmer for a lil' help, followed by a few beers as the sun goes down to toast our hard work.  Plus, I was a huge 'The Wonder Years' fan. 

But truly TRULY, our thanks belong to the brilliant-hearted folks who came out to the farm last Saturday to help us with a very large task.

These people donated hours of their lives,  sacrificed their hard-earned Saturday cartoon-watching, dog-walking, relaxing and brunching time, got very well-acquainted with 5 gallon buckets and the ick of fish emulsion, all to help us plant apple trees in our orchard.  And I tell ya, I can't remember the last Saturday that was as much fun as that day. 

www.moondogfarms.com

A combination of trees delivered a little bit earlier than we planned, market harvest and the longest stretch of sunny & rainless days we've seen in a while (about a week! egads!) meant that we finally had a chance to get the tractor tilling, discing and making beds for Spring, on the weekend that we also had to harvest, prep & plant 80 new trees and work on some house construction.

Basically, last Saturday had a lot assignations. An all-too-familiar fidgety feeling has been creeping over us over the last few weeks, as it continues to be Soggy Dog Farms around here. El Nino is real, y'all, and we have no idea what to do about it apart from take it in the face, keep making plans and adjust them, constantly. The spring crops started in the propagation greenhouses  have been patiently waiting in the greenhouse as their projected planting dates go 1, 2,3 and 4 weeks delinquent, and they need to get in the ground, post haste.  

So, when it was Friday and I realized quite how many things we had on the docket, I though to myself, "Gee whiz. How are we gonna swing this one?" 

And then the answer came, swift and borne by the farm angels of wisdom, fluttering in on a breeze from the duck pond and smelling oddly like granular fertilizer. 

"Ask for help."

We haven't done a very good job with this idea in the past, the McFarmer and I. It would be nice if I could blame it all on a stubborn mix of independence and refusal to burden anyone else, but that would ignore our wariness at being the folks telling others what to do because it weirds us out. We're sometimes afraid it will expose our true nincompoopness.  As first-generation farmers, there are large gaps in our knowledge; our combined 5ish years of working on other farms before coming to Texas means we learned a lot and also that we didn't. We frequently balk at the idea of instructing others how to do a task when we've only just learned it ourselves, or are learning it at just that moment--or, that we're making it up as we go along

www.moondogfarms.com

But, needs must. Fears gotta be conquered at some time, and so it was that our friends Cate, Heather, Christina and Jennifer journeyed out to Moon Dog Farms on a bright, golden Saturday and helped us get 80 apple trees installed in the orchard. True pals that they are, they brought along kumquats and beer. Then, old friends Emily & Zach joined the pack to help me with the market harvest and Alex with other construction plans. It felt like a never ending conveyor of generosity.

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I wasn't prepared for how touched I'd feel at seeing customers and friends--new and old--working side by side to help us out. They were in good spirits, the day was a special kind of winter perfection, and it felt really, really good.

Community is a word that gets liberally sprinkled into articles and conversation when talking about local agriculture, (I alone probably use that word a minimum of 47 times a day when swapping between my market manager & farmer hats), but I was moved to see our community, our people, support us so physically.  We got those trees installed, fertilized, clipped and watered in less than 3 hours, and each woman who shoved her hand in a bucket of greensand and compost did so with a smile on her face. And no one called us on being nincompoops. Yet. 

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We're very thankful, as we plunge headfirst into the busiest time of the year, to have such good eggs to call on. I kept making the joke that all the people present last Saturday were like Lego people, with job titles that fit neatly into one simple word: photographer, dietitian, astronaut (yes, really), architect, doctor. And there we were doing something so simple, so ancient--tree planting.

 And it really is funny to me, all our highly-educated Lego friends (and I still don't know what they're doing being friends with me and Alex) wearing ugly gloves and squinting in the sun, all of us together.

It is simple, I suppose. And not just because of the one-word job titles. 

We really do get by with a little help from our friends. 


And everyone liked the kale salad.

We're thankful for big skies, dinners consumed before 9:00, belly laughs and starting over.


Particularly that last one. The idea of  beginning anew is one that I think all us humans hold dear, no matter which season or time of year it comes along.  Each day is a fresh start, a new chance to enjoy the crazy luckiness of being alive.

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If we mess up planting dates, we'll get a chance to do it again in days, weeks or months time. If the flood rains come for weeks and inundate our baby carrots, giving us a less abundant Spring harvest, we'll get to try several times over in the Fall. If we drink too much coffee in the morning, act like a total spaz and snap at our partner over the kale bunches, we can recognize our mistake and start over. Not like that ever happens, of course.

We love starting over here. It means we're learning. It means we're living, and trying. It's not always easy--in fact, it's often not.


Honestly, the fact that we're allowed to concern ourselves more and more with how to grow better and how to start over with engines blazing each new season and NOT with what we'll do when we have our products---well, that's just fantastic. People here want fresh, clean food from squares like us. Y'all are invested and interested in eating well and supporting a small family farm in your neighborhood. 

From Day One, you folks have looked us square in our dorky mugs and said, "So, what's next? What can we do to help? When can I get my next bag of salad?" It's  100% spectacular.

As we find success in this business, it is entirely due to the care and enthusiasm demonstrated by y'all with each dollar, email, note and voiced (and unvoiced) sentiment of encouragement. We are grateful for you---the customers, the readers, the friends, the family--who support this crazy muddy adventure. We're trying our best to make you proud and keep ourselves as close to the path of good choices and restful nights as we can. Our community has done nothing but show us love, interest, faith and none too few well-timed pats on the back. They mean the world. You keep us going.

 2015 is fat with experience.

The months of making nearly zero profits while our fields were all underwater to the winning of grants and the gaining of chickens (and the loss of some of said chickens) and a zillion other personal & farmish achievements and struggles, it's been quite the year. Not the year we expected, and thank goodness for that. Alex turned 30 and I turned 29 this year. If we were able to predict how our year would go at this point in our lives, I don't even want to imagine how disgustingly bored we would be. The whining from me alone would be interminable. 

photo courtesy of The Urban Exodus, 2015

At Thanksgiving, we traveled to Austin to visit family. A lavish spread of food was provided, but we brought along a huge kale salad, a cooler of bok choy and several dozen eggs. ( What can I say? Everyone in the family already knew we were stalk-eating weirdos.) The salad was gobbled up. I felt inordinately proud of how well-received it was. Those leaves were picked by hand, from our fields.  Alex put it together, and we hoped it would taste good enough to eliminate any lingering cliche of the two liberal-arts grads who went to start an organic farm and love quinoa and--of course--brought a kale salad to Thanksgiving. And I think it did.  Or maybe it didn't. But it didn't matter, because it felt good to have our family ask for more of something we grew and put together just for them.

More importantly, I'm happy to be that quinoa-eating goober, and I'm lucky to do it with the best person I know. And moreover, we're lucky for this life and damn lucky to have folks around who care, invest and support us.  We won some kind of cosmic lottery with our customers, our friends in the flesh, our friends from the wacky-yet-sincere internet, our fellow farmers young and old, and our dear, dear family. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy New Year and gladness to everyone.

Cheers to y'all, because it wouldn't be any fun at all without you. 





Farming in an 80's teen movie.

So much of this year has been spent longing. Vast stretches of time were spent gazing at walls of rain, wordlessly drifting from cautious optimism to fatalistic  gloom. I've sighed 1 fablillion times. I've patted Alex on the back (in what was intended as a reassuring gesture) so much I've worn even more holes into his already cheesecloth workshirts.  Basically, I've really been working on my repertoire of woeful faces. I've even done the old "blow-the-hair-out-of-my-face-exhaustively-while-I-roll-my-eyes-to-the-heavens" look.

 I had previously thought that move was reserved only for bad 80's movies where the lead girl has overprotective parents but a penchant for fun on the edge.

We've faced a lot of moments where we had no clue what to do to salvage our  prospects (which seemed dismal) and didn't find any one of our options appealing. We've thrown our hands up countless times (and shook our fists just as many). For a shameless teacher's pet always eager to prove myself, this year has been humbling. For a calm and flexible rock-of-a-man like Alex, this year has proved endlessly trying. 

The essential truth of farming we know; it's so, so hard, but damn fine & important work if you can get it, keep it and stand it. We've both maintained for the past 6 years that the difficulties of this path were never lost to us, but it hasn't been until this year that the question became whether we'll be able to match that harshness with a toughness of our own. I imagine that jury will still be out for years to come.

 I'd love to think that eventually there will come a time when we say, "Ah. So this is it. We've figured it out. Turns out, farming's easy." It seems more likely that if we're lucky (and a little smarter each season), we'll learn to bend and sway so that we're easier, and we've simply figured out how to deal better with each challenge, dream, devastation. 

Last year's pear harvest was over 1,000 pounds. This year we clocked in around 65. Yeesh.

I feel we're on that road now, but we're far from feeling confident that we know what we're doing. Summer has a way of beating the optimism out of you, for farmers all over the country (even in dreamy, lupine-tinted Vermont and Maine, I imagine). The heat, bugs and humidity here tend to cloud your sweat-covered brow solely with thoughts of how hard everything is. (Obviously. Just look at all the caterwauling I just got through writing.)

But wait, there's more. 

I think the Bummers of 2015 had to happen. Over 60 inches of rain and consequential multiple seasons of shoddy harvest were more-than-adequate teachers of grit and perseverance in our 3rd year of farming for ourselves. We felt so accomplished after the growth we saw from our first to second year, and knew we were lucky for hitting the ground running with only the most manageable of blips (cucumber moths, low potato yields--who's worried?).

www.moondogfarms.com

Before we even arrived in Galveston County, Alex and I divined that we'd have to give this dream at least 3 years before we'd have any idea of what we'd gotten ourselves into. It seemed realistic to think that at some point within those first three years we'd have good ups and downs--enough to suss out our patience, abilities and potential breaking points. We were eager to be as prepared as could be, and anxious to wrap our heads around it all and gain some answers. Oh, brother. And thus, right on time, we called down our own soggy fates in Year 3, ensuring we got the full gamut of experiences we anticipated.

Okay, come on.

Of course we didn't cast a spell that caused rainclouds to call the real estate above our farm a near-permanent home.  That's life. I nor Alex know nothing beyond the veil and are no more sage-like than the next goob. Everyone knows that what comes up must come down, and most of the time we're just balancing it all to maintain the center. A gnarly, tough year was in the cards for us (dealt not by us, no way) and so we've... well, dealt. Sometimes well and sometimes not at all. 

This little firecracker was sooo happy at market last Sunday. Here she is holding her brand-new book from the Kids Corner activities tent.

In fact, you could easily tell the story of this year the other way-round, and all my kvetching about incessant puddles and rotting kale stems are just the moanings of a sweaty girl who wants her way:

We received our first farm grant this year (thank you, Texas Dept. of Ag!), baby chickens arrived in boxes who then grew up to be adults who now spread manure, eat bugs and give us eggs, our local farmers market that I manage has done great work with awesome programs for SNAP and WIC customers, all kinds of folks and publications still think we're a-ok, we'll soon have a small house out at the farm which will allow us to have a year-round on-farm intern (that whole process will need it's own sitcom, I imagine), and we still, after almost 3 years, have incredible support from our community, from our dear friends, and from our family--who don't get to see us enough, yet do nothing but reinforce our choices with love and patience.

Life is good. Life is hard. But y'all, life is good. 

(And here we insert the 80's dance party complete with open-mouthed grins and wild drumkits because rebellious, sullen teens and their overdramatic exhalations weren't the only thing to come out of those movies. )

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