By Emily Buehler
Debbie Donnald and Audrey Lin never take a break. The founders of Two Chicks Farm in Hillsborough spend their summers growing produce in the fields and in shade houses, and their winters growing in hoophouses and ramping up production of their preserves: fermented krauts and kimchis, pickled vegetables, and their infamous Pepper Jelly. They attend several year-round Farmers’ Markets and additional markets in the summer. And as of 2012, they have added the Farm Tour to their schedule!
Debbie and Audrey moved to North Carolina from Texas and began Two Chicks Farm in 2008. Debbie had worked at a plant nursery where she learned about organic growing; they knew they wanted to start some kind of farm. When they discovered the Triangle’s active local food movement, they decided to grow food. Now they are both full-time farmers.
They bought ten acres close to downtown Hillsborough; coming from Texas, they were tired of driving long distances to get places. The trade-off was they had to clear the land, but they now have a few acres cleared, a large open area in a ring of tall trees. “We don’t want to clear anymore,” Debbie says. “This is it.” Large garden beds fill most of the clearing, some planted with rows of onions, beets, cabbages, and the farm’s popular carrots, others filled with cover crops of flowering clover or oats. Two hoophouses contain rows of tomatoes, cucumbers, arugula, chard, and lettuces. This summer, they’ll roll up the sides of one house to let the tomatoes and summer plants grow in the open air. The other house will become a “shade house” to protect greens traditionally grown in spring from the summer sun and extend their growing season.
Two Chicks farm uses a variety of organic methods to grow their vegetables. Cover crops and crop rotation renew the soil. The health of a cover crop can also indicate nutrients that the soil needs. They make their own vermicompost and get additional compost from Brooks, the company that Weaver Street Market uses to compost food waste and PLA containers. They make their own potting soil in an old rotating composter; Debbie demonstrates the “soil block” press she uses to create soil blocks in which to start seeds. Debbie and Audrey do foliar feedings, spraying the leaves of plants with nutrient-rich mixtures (made with ingredients like seaweed). They’ve sprayed nematodes (tiny beneficial critters that kill garden pests) and released ladybugs. Bluebirds nest in the bluebird boxes surrounding the fields, as well as in the house on a pole intended for purple martins. A beehive near the house is kept by a friend in Durham who doesn’t have the space.
Debbie and Audrey take food production a step further by preserving many of their vegetables. They’ve rented a kitchen space near town where they can leave their jars in a temperature-controlled room; they share the kitchen with bakers. In the winter, when chores on the farm slow down, they spend time in the kitchen. Currently their fermented products include sauerkraut (plain and caraway), kimchi (spicy and mild), Cortido (Latin American sauerkraut with onion, carrot, cabbage, and oregano), dilly carrots, carrot pickles with jalapeno, sauerruben (pickled turnips), sour beets with caraway, ginger carrots, fermented carrot relish for the holidays, dill pickles, and a salsa that tastes fresh because it is not heated. They also make pickled beets, bread and butter pickles, and pickled squash, and imperfect peppers are turned into pepper jelly. They are just now reaching production levels that keep up with demand.
“We’re busy, but we like it,” Debbie says. They don’t have plans to expand the farm or diversify with animals, although they might add a third hoop house so they could do more winter growing.
You can find Two Chicks Farm at the Eno River Farmers’ Market on Saturdays and at the Fearrington and Southern Village markets in the summertime. They also bring their pickled and fermented products to the western Wake and Chapel Hill Farmers’ Markets twice a month. And you can stop by Two Chicks Farm during the Farm Tour for a spectacular example of year-round farming using hoop houses and to give the soil-block maker a squeeze. If you’re not familiar with fermented vegetables, now is your chance: sample their fermented products and watch Audrey’s sauerkraut-making demonstration.
Watch a video of our visit to Two Chicks Farm on Youtube. Visit Two Chicks Farm’s website at http://www.twochicksfarm.com/ .