southern-style pear salad

Wednesday, January 22nd
The Chastain Farms
Winterboro, AL
making breakfast hash with Chastain Farms sweet potatoes & eggs

Today Kristin and I teamed up and took on the project of re-covering the greenhouse with a new layer of 5 mil plastic sheeting. The old one was holey and falling apart, and the greenhouse wasn’t really retaining any heat as a result. Given the massive polar vortex hunkered down over most of America, this was a problem that needed addressing sooner than later.

the bowl that broke this window was left in situ as a leak block …


Since the old plastic was going to remain as a secondary semi-insulating layer, first we needed find new boards to pin down the sheeting along the roof. In the loft of the “Tool Barn,” we discovered a pile of bowed and somewhat chewed up old cedar tongue and groove floor boards that would work perfectly, and brought them down and cut 14 of them to the proper length.


Then we climbed up on the roof and got the new plastic sheeting spread across the peak of the roof and draped down both sides. We screwed the new slat boards down on top of the old ones, with long screws on those aligned with the trusses, and short ones where there was no solid support underneath. This also meant that we could only put our full weights on every other board. I was glad to have my skate shoes and not just the rubber muck boots I’ve been wearing almost daily since we came South, as we balanced across the roof, attaching boards and supporting one another’s tool and screw needs.


Once we had the top all secured, we folded, rolled, cut, and stapled the edges down, and put pieces of the extra plastic over the broken and missing window panes. As a finishing touch, we found a screw that fit to replace the one missing from the decorative aluminum flourish on the door, so it no longer rattled and clanked loosely whenever the door was used.

the dogs admire our handiwork

We helped shove three round bales f hay off the trailer and into the horse and cow pasture. While we worked, a brown cow who is notorious for such behavior (she’d gotten Billy last week) snuck up behind Cleo and headbutted her in the butt.

I forget her actual name; I call her Headbutt


Then we set several new foundation posts for the high tunnel greenhouse,  with a lot of attention paid to things being precisely even and level.

Nathan, nephew of Thor

We saw the wild cats and kittens that live in the semi-ruin of the Tool Barn; they were gorgeous and adorable, but completely uninterested in human interaction.

For dinner we went down Chastain Road to Kimm’s house, where we were introduced to the Southern food experience of “Pear Salad” – a  canned pear (canned on Chastain Farm) topped with mayo and shredded cheddar cheese. It didn’t sound bad, but I was still surprised at how well the three ingredients actually worked together.

Try it!

Alabaman day one

Tuesday, January 21st
The Chastain Farms
Winterboro, AL

We will be spending the next two weeks on the Chastain Farm, right off of Chastain Road, which is lined with land and homes of Chastains past and present.


The Chastain Farm land is owned by Jimmy Chastain. He used to have a dairy farm on the land, as well as a small grocery store. Then he sold off his cattle to some guy who offered him a great deal, and lost his store when the road out front was to be expanded into a 4-lane highway and they eminent-domained it out from under him.


He lives in a house on the corner of the land away from the rest of the buildings, works at the school across the road. He is around a lot and helps with various things, but the main point man on the farm is Nathan, Jimmy’s son-in law – although he may have an equal or superior in the main point woman, his wife Rachel. Both have full time jobs, although Nathan’s computer-work job’s hours are highly flexible. The General in the field is Kimm, the couple’s close friend and the Farm Manager in all but actual title (she says shes an Office Manager, but that is far too narrow a title). She probably has actual boots on the land here for more hours than the other three combined, from what we can see so far.

Then there are kids and dogs. (Cats too, but they are wild & unnamed.) Nathan and Rachel have a 7 year-old son named Coleman and an Italian Mastiff named Moose, Kimm has a 14 year-old son named Jason, and Jimmy has his wife’s deceased son’s deaf-and-almost-totally-blind-yet-still-active-17-year-old cattledog named Speck. There are two other WWOOFers here, 20 year old Etti and 18 year-old Billy, both from southern California.

kitchen Kim
Kimm in the kitchen



Morning reveals that the weather around us is changing yet again, as cold air moves in, via lots of intense wind. The winters in the South are not all that cold, but they are very dynamic. Windy weather means no greenhouse work – the plastic sheeting would fly away, perhaps with us attached.


Every morning the animals must be fed. First, we give 2 scoops of sweet feed and one little scoop of minerals to the sweet, elderly horse Blossom – living out her retirement from a camp for the deaf and blind.


Then a scoop to each of the three different groups of chickens, and whatever food scraps have accumulated for the four pigs, augmented by  a scoop or two of food as scrap volume necessitates.


If anybody needs water added or de-iced, we do that. If we can find where the chickens are hiding their eggs today, we bring them in (other than the questionably-effective lure egg in the easy to get to location)

That didn’t take very long, and was a nice way to connect with the space and the animals – I can see it becoming a fun morning pre-breakfast ritual, like our morning walk down to the chicken coop at Yokna Bottoms.

Next we cleaned up a few rows of the garden – removing dead weeds and bean plants from a couple plastic-mulch-stripped rows, and pulling up said plastic from another row.



Then we hiked back to the rear of the property, way back beyond the pigpen, to check out the “camphouse” – which we had hoped to be able to use as our sleeping quarters. However, it had no heat, no windows, and no electricity or plumbing – and it was getting cold at nights … while still well above zero, unlike the temps back home, they were still nothing we wanted to sleep out in. But the walk was pleasant, the woods were gorgeous – huge oaks with sparse pine understory and almost no undergrowth – and there was a scenic meadow clearing and pond beyond it.


After lunch, the four of us set upon some piles of corn stalks and dried up bean plants, using a variety of axes and choppers – our goal being to manually break it down as much as possible for  the farm’s use in compost. (We personally prefer a more laissez faire approach, back home.)


finely chopped corn stalks for compost
hey finely chopped corn stalks, can I axe you a question?

Kristin made chicken & dumplings with green beans for dinner, and Kimm made chocolate chip cookies for dessert.


We set up a box fan to blow over the woodstove, across the pipe, and toward our room in the back. Etti was sleeping in the “coffee shop” next door, so we pushed the bunkbeds together and made a blanket cave out of the bottom two, using sleeping bags, pads and blankets from the van.


It was a wonderful first day – we both went from skeptical to really liking the farm quite a bit, and being confident that we would enjoy our time here.


the internet password is cowspoop

Monday, January 20th
The Chastain Farms
Winterboro, AL

Kristin drove the van for the 4 or 5 hour trip to our second farm – Chastain Farm, in Alpine, AL, which was described on the WWOOF website as:

We have a 80 acre family farm near Talladega, Al. Previously a dairy farm, we are now focusing on rehabilitating this property for year round production.
We focus on a natural garden while learning new techniques and trying new crops every season. We also have lots of animals for both pleasure and consumption.
Along with everyday tending to animals and garden, we have many projects to complete including the camp house for WWOOFers, construction of Hoop Houses, new fences, new compost areas, property clean up and much more.
We have a converted barn with bedroom (for 2), shower, bathroom, and kitchen and a rustic bunk house in the woods.

As we drove, we watched the thermometer climb all the way up to 68 degrees. It was MLK Day, so we paid special attention to Birmingham as we passed through the city where King had penned his famous jailhouse letter.

We pulled into the new farm before 5:00 PM, surprised by its proximity to the four-lane highway. It was still warm, but temps are supposed to drop again this week … once more, we seem to have brought a MN chill along with us.

We met the two young other WWOOFers, the giant timid beastdog Moose, deaf & blind 17-year old dog Speck, the farmers Nathan & Rachel, Jimmy the landowner/former farmer (and Rachel’s dad), and Kimm the .. farm manager? We weren’t clear on her role yet exactly, but it was clearly a central one.

When we arrived they were working on setting the first posts for a high tunnel – the same kind of greenhouse we are hoping to get a grant to build this spring – the same grant they’d received. We joined them on the evening animal feeding rounds and met the many chickens and the horses and cows, but we haven’t meet the pigs yet.

They cooked us tacos and showed us our quarters – a small, undecorated cinderblock room crammed with two sets of bunk beds, in the back of their canning house/commercial kitchen (a converted milk processing barn).

The bathroom was something else – the shower was basically right in the main part of the bathroom, so you stand next to the toilet and sink to shower. You could even sit ON the toilet while you showered if you liked, it seemed.

This would be fine and dandy if the drain was at the lowest point – it wasn’t. The added-on bathroom had settled since being built, and now the low point was the toilet. So there was a puddle around the toilet corner of the room. And it was a dirty puddle –  since no one would set foot in tha dirty puddley floor without their shoes on, adding more dirt to the mix.


The other WWOOFers had both bought sandals to use for the bathroom. We were amused, bemused – and slightly apprehensive.

Kristin, skeptical, emerges from the bathroom after brushing her teeth.

The accommodations, while not at all bad, were definitely rougher than the plush conditions we had been spoiled by at Yokna Bottoms. Of course, there was electricity and gas and plumbing – all of which we don’t have back on our Farm, so our grins remained firmly in place.

We looked over their little greenhouse – tomorrow we’ll be working to add new plastic sheeting to it, and cover some missing window panes.

We slept strangely, on separate lower bunks, lulled by the rumbling and whizzing of the space heater.

gonna miss Mississippi

Monday, January 20th
Yokna Patawpha Bottoms Farm
Oxford, MS

Leaving was a bitter sweetness; we were excited about whatever was next, but sad to say goodbye … I’d somehow forgotten how sharply goodbyes can hit.










My eyes got leaky when we left this morning – especially after all the human farmers had gone about their days as we finished packing , and we went outside to get in the van and ride on – and were greeted by all of the Yokna dogs, laying in the grass around the van, waiting to say goodbye to us.


Yokna Bottoms Farm: we’ve loved you and we will miss you, until we meet again!

oak grove

Sunday, January 19th
Yokna Patawpha Bottoms Farm
Oxford, MS

We leave in the morning tomorrow; today is our last full day at Yokna Bottoms Farm. We intend to make it a good one.


So far today we’ve coffeed, showered, walked, fed and watered the chickens, retrieved 6 eggs, vented and watered the greenhouse, and discussed the mysteries of the universe and society with Doug. Its now 11 am.



The weather is the warmest and finest we’ve seen yet – light breeze and around 60 degrees Hmm, actually I just checked the weather and it’s only about 40, going up into the low 50s later … but man it feels like 60 out there. Just insanely gorgeous. The sun actually has heat down here – you can feel it on your skin, working its radioactive magic … I don’t think we’ve felt its warmth since September; at this time of year, the sun back home is brightest on the most bitterly cold of days. We almost didn’t make it back to the house from the chicken coop, so strong was the innate desire to lay down in the dry grasses and bask in the sunwarmth. Or maybe staying here really is turning us into dogs …


… <9 hours later> …

It’s 8 PM now, back at the kitchen table – for our last evening here. Kristin is making a leftover medley that smells amazing and is sizzling in the pan. We just finally came indoors, after spending a full day out on the Yokna Bottoms land.


We wandered, we set up a basecamp in the grove of wild-limbed, lichen encrusted oak trees, we dozed on our Mexican blanket, we built a fire as the sun set, we made popcorn with our cast iron hobo pie-maker and corn Kristin had grown and dried and pried and fried for us.




I can’t believe we’re really leaving tomorrow; this place – our room, the trails through the viscious blackberry brambles, the cypress swamps, the lichen crusted oaks, the menegerie of animals en masse and individually, the lightning-blasted cypress tree, Doug, Nathan, Tom From the UK, the kitchen, the hens, the screwdriver-operated coffee grinder, the book-lined carpeted study-den we’ve had for our bedroom – it seems impossible that I may not see it again.



living close to the ground