Episode 45: Joyce Pinson | Friends Drift Inn | Sampling and other successful Farmer’s Market Secrets | Appalachia, Kentucky
Joyce Friend Pinson is a farm-to-table advocate. With a background in agriculture, media and small business Joyce shares real life stories about heirloom gardening, cooking and food preservation. A baby-boomer living in Appalachia, Kentucky. She is a local television host, writes a regional column and blogs on her website Friends Drift Inn. Full of fun, giggles and valuable information I’d like to welcome to our show the entertaining Joyce Pinson.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m 55 years old, grew up in rural Kentucky, in a community that was focused on family gardens, beef cattle, and dairy production. I’m an only child, I was active in 4H, I attended the University of Kentucky in ag-economics back in the 1980s. That was when organic farming practices and sustainable were pretty much considered folly by the academic community. I did an extension and then moved to private sector, and did sales and marketing. When I turned 50 I wanted to be out on the farm, and out in the fresh air. I started Friends Drift Inn incorporates my encore career, farmer, food writer, and media personality and advocate for Appalachian Ag and Food Waste.
Married over 32 years, we live in a big read barn. We live in the Eastern Kentucky coal fields. In addition to our Insurance business we farm about 10 acres, family farm which has been in the family for about 6 generations. We focus on Heritage breed poultry, heirloom fruits and vegetables from around the world. We open our farm up from time to time for school groups so they can see that farming in Appalachia can be profitable and how it can be done.
Tell me about your first gardening experience?
I was probably about 4 or 5 and I can remember, my mom was a gardener, all my family gardens, gave me a 10×10 spot, one of the seed companies was giving out little pails full of packets of seeds in them. So I grew this plot and it was kind of a hodge podge but it really inspired me and you know the imagination of a 4-5 year old. And I got hooked from there. And my Grandfather was one to save heirloom seeds, always like to grow something unusual or new and different and someplace that was far away from Kentucky! And he used them in his restaurant was called Friends Drift Inn, so I think I got my seed addiction at an early age from my Grandpa Friend.
Friends Drift Inn, double meaning, like come on in visit with me and sit on the porch and have some sweet pea, and it’s also my maiden name.
What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you?
For me one of the key motivators in market gardening is to preserve diversity for growing heirloom vegetables and what makes that variety special. While I’m not a certified organic gardener the growing experience is about improving the soil, keeping a bee friendly environment that avoids pesticides.
Who or what inspired you to start using organic techniques?
My momma, my was what I would call a granola in the 60s, she subscribed to organic gardening magazine and wore the hippy clothes, and she was the type when daddy ask her one time what do you want for your anniversary? My father was a mechanical engineer, and we had comfortable middle class life, but momma didn’t want jewelry or a new car or a dress she wanted a giant pile of compost and a big batch of strawberries to plant and that’s how I grew up and inspires me and even at age 77 my mom continues to inspire me in the garden and how to preserve the Appalachian soil.
How did you learn how to garden organically?
Pretty much from my mom, she was very much into the organic thing. My grandfather, in addition to the Friends Drift Inn Restaurant, we had a roadside stand, we had an orchard and bees, and a garden. So we would do the market garden, what wasn’t sold at the roadside stand was incorporated into the menu at Friends Drift Inn restaurant. So we were doing farm-to-table before the phrase was even coined.
Tell us about something that grew well this year.
Our best crop, our most profitible crop is Cowhorn Okra. It grows like mad here, we can pick it every day and never keep up. It’s really popular at our market here. Once you have fried or pickled fresh okra the ones you find in the store just don’t measure up.
What makes it your most profitable crop?
When you break it down. Sell in little produce crates like you would sell strawberries in, just a little quart crate $5-6 crate, turn all the ends up so it looks real pretty. It’s a real profitable crop, it’s labor intensive in that you have to pick it every day, but that’s my money maker. We sell it at our local farmer’s market on Tuesdays and Saturdays. You would be surprised at what sells well in Kentucky Appalachia. People love it. Once they learn about it they love it and that’s part of the mission of Friends Drift Inn is educating people about different foods and different produce and trying something different! I mean it’s exciting!
Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?
This year we made so many changes it’s hard to say, we did a massive planting of winter squash and pumpkins, we’re experimenting with sunflowers and zinnias, we’re transitioning to a French Bio intensive method with raised beds which is a new process for us. Our growing season is from Late May – Oct here in our zone 6B.
I have experience using low tunnels, but I think next year I am going to have to bite the bullet and put in some high tunnels for the beginning of the season and in the fall.
Low tunnel is really simple, use 2 metal poles, put some pvc pipe across to hoop them, the bed is about 5-6’ wide, then you put agribond over the top, looks a lot like pellon if you sew. In a low tunnel, you could do greens all year long, cabbage and cold crops, and greens. If it’s really cold you put plastic on top, and you literally just peel back the fabric and pick. A low tunnel that’s 5’ wide you could do for less then $75. So it’s a very economical way to grow.
Whereas a High tunnel is something you can walk in, probably has a 10’ ceiling, probably would be 10′ wide x 100′ long and so an investment of that would be probably be $3-4000.
“Low tunnels are the way of the future for Appalachia, no doubt.”
Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.
Craziest year, we went from having frost cover on the kholarabi to 90 degrees within a week, my kohlrabi bit the dust, my bok choy and some other asian greens got ate up by flea beetles.
Something that you find is easy to grow and is generally successful every-time.
Heirloom beans, and cow peas. Beans really sell well at our market, they’re something that is identified with the Appalachian dinner table.
I like to Preserve beans and can them, so when the snow flies and I open that can up, or cook some Leather britches, which is beans put on a string, leave in the pod and let em dry ad then rehydrate them later. So to me when I open that can I am tasting Appalachian summer and it is just the bomb!
Cow peas, a black-eyed pea is a cow pea of sorts. I grow a red cow pea that is really long that produces like a 2 foot pod, that’s Black and white called a Holstein, there’s pink eyed purple holes and red rippers and you can do them like a shell bean, or you can pickle them, you can literally shell them out like you do peas, and barely cook them on the stove in a sauce pot, cook em down with some water and a few herbs and they are wonderful.
We have what we call a greasy bean here in Appalachia. If you hold a bean in your hand it kinda has that fuzz on it, a greasy bean takes a little longer to grow, and it has a slick pod but it is one of the best beans ever. Welcome to any pot luck if you’re gonna bring greasy beans to the feast. Greasy because of the slickness of the pod, not the taste.
Something you would steer new gardeners away from that you find is typically challenging to grow in your climate.
There is nothing that I wouldn’t try with a little bit of planning and fore-sight. May have a 100-120 day which is really pushing it here in my zone of 6B but if you get them started under lights you can have a huge harvest. I’ve seen farmers here grow kiwis, asian greens, exotic melons, lychee tomatoes…mushrooms and they all crow about it. So from my perspective in Appalachia anything is possible if you set your mind to it.
Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.
In Kentucky we get a lot of pop up summer showers, nothing worse then have to go out in a long sleeve shirt and try to pick okra with all of those leaves it feels like your in the rainforest and you can’t breathe in the heat and the humidity. I hate picking okra in the rain. If you’re a market farmer, you have to pick it when it’s ready. Well you want to pick okra when it’s about the size of your pinky finger. Need to pick it when you pick it. You have to pick it every other day a lot of people pick em every day.
What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.
I like to plant and I like to nurture em. There is nothing better then seeing a new plant pop out of the dirt. We’ve got beans, corn, summer squash, lettuce beds and basil already up and going, We have cabbage & broccoli ready in about 2 weeks. Planted grapes and blueberries this year and so I’m excited. Got some volunteer sunflowers about 6 inches tall, but the ones I planted haven’t sprouted.
Tell us about the best crop you ever grew.
I never get tired of seeing cushaws out in the field – signature winter squash here in Appalachia, bulbous and has a crook-neck, white body with green pinstripes on it. It almost looks like an angry goose. Want to just put them out and use as a lawn ornament. It’s a legitimate delicacy. It makes the best pumpkin pie, cream brulet, bread with at. My absolute favorite crop, I love to see it in the field. Never fails to produce, resistant to bugs, doesn’t matter if it’s hot, if it’s a drought, it will produce for me everytime.
That’s what inspired me to do what I do, in the Friend family you did not have a garden if you did not have cushaw. They were everywhere when I grew up. There was a seven year span when I was taking care of family and in that time the seeds disappeared.
Had to contact Bill Best who is a seed guru – Sustainable Mountain Ag
Now have some commercial sources cause people are coming back around to heirloom seeds, but I was in a panic when I couldn’t find any cushaw seeds.
Cushaw has a little bit of a woodsy smokey background that makes it really unique.
Now I get my seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?
2 things I’ve been told.
1. Start small. There’s a learning curve and if you plant too much and you don’t know how much time and work is involved, you’re gonna get frustrated. You’re gonna where yourself out until you get a handle on it. Give yourself time before you build up to a bigger garden or a market garden.
2. Be patient. Plants grow on mother’s nature time, not mine and that’s frustrating.
Have you ever entered a fair? How’d that go?
I grew up in a community where harvest was celebrated at the county fair and the state fair. Just not part of the cultural fabric here. There are no county fairs, and I miss that.
Back in 4H I grew lots of agricultural crops, and entered them, potatoes, zinnias, peppers, corn, lots of prepared foods and preserved foods. I love a competition and I love a fair. When we compete we learn because we are elevating our craft and we are reaching out for excellence. I love a fair. One of my goals is to reintroduce an agricultural regional fair here in Eastern Kentucky.
I learn from my competitors, If I didn’t do something right and they did something better, then next year I’m gonna be better and we lift each other up that way.
A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.
We just bought a hoe. Every time you buy a farm implement it seems like it costs you an arm or a leg. Usually I go somewhere like Tractor Supply to buy a hoe, you know you work yourself silly. This year we spent like $125 for this hoe, but let me tell you when I go out in the garden and I just barely tap those weeds, and I can scrape those weeds and Im not disturbing the soil so the weeds are not gonna come back quick. It’s the best $125.00.
Steel forged… tractor supply.
Went to a conference and a vendor was there who said you just use this hoe like you do to sweep. With this new hoe you almost just sweep the weeds away. It’s so much easier.
Do you have any tips for eating or harvesting vegetables or fruit on time?
With harvest you learn by experience, you need to engage all of your senses, you touch it, you smell it, you look at it. Does it look like it is ready to eat? You taste it. Sometimes with fruit, if you leave it on the vine a few more days it gets a little more sugar content. You can tell. You even have to listen to your vegetables. Think about thumping a watermelon you how does it sound, there’s a creation little thud when you thump a ripe watermelon. I think you learn by experience and if you have a mentor, who’s done this before, that can help you learn.
If I’m pickin it, put it in the refrigerator. I don’t spin it till I’m ready to eat it. I’ve got a five gallon spinner for market. Cause we do a lot of kale, and lettuces and asian greens, and all of that has to be spun, I couldn’t do it for market any other way.
Do you have any secrets for preserving food-making it last?
For what I put up for my family, I usually can. It’s all about using it all. For instance I have a spiral apple peeler, with the crank, it takes the peel off and it cuts the apples into slices. So I can the slices for my apple pies and my deserts or whatever I’m gonna make.
Keep the peels, accumulate them in a big plastic bag, and I throw them in the pot and that’s what I make my apple butter out of. It’s all about using the whole vegetable.
In the community they talk about respecting the animal and eating from snout to tale. I think the same thing applies to Vegetables. A crazy idea I learned from Celebrity chefs, Bryan and Michael Voltaggio is to dehydrate carrot tops, and then you add a little season salt use the greens with a little salt as a finish on top of your carrots you’ve roasted in olive oil, and it’s wonderful it really makes things pop. It’s really about using the entire vegetable, we throw away too much of what could be eaten. You know you can cook beet tops down. And having a little imagination and play in the kitchen.
Do you have any special techniques for cooking weird or unusual foods?
I’m in a very unique situation because I’m a food writer as well as a farmer. So I’m blessed to have a lot of chefs as friends.
Jeremy Ashby in Lexington the chef’s let me play in his restaurant. So I’m blessed in that.
Probably some of the wierdest
Ed Lee was a former top chef at 610 Magnolia in Lousiville, KY has me hooked on Pickling Rhubarb. Rhubarb is very tart, and it stays crisp when it’s pickled and it’s an awesome accompaniment to charcuterie which is a meat and cheese plate. Victoria rhubarb is very pretty, it’s very red .
Nathan Breeding is a chef over across the mountain in VA who inspired me to pickle blackberries, the most fun garnish to prepared meets, like salami, or a cheese plate that gives it a little sparkle or something unexpected. I love unusual pickled items. I’m thankful about my chefs who give me the vision.
A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?
In the summer I don’t like to heat up the kitchen, so one of the things I really love is swiss chard. So I pick the swiss chard, and wash it, and lightly wilt it in a cast iron skillet with a little olive oil, grate a little fresh nutmeg over it, put a sprinkling of little red pepper flakes and an egg and that is it! And it’s beautiful on the plate.
A favorite internet resource?
She’s my friend, someone I admire the most, who has gone above and beyond what a blog should be is Cathy Rehmeyer Mother of a Hubbard, it’s won numerous awards best writing for a blog, better homes and gardens top ten blogs, she’s been recognized for her gardening abilities by numerous people. But what inspires me about Kathy’s blog is she literally shows how you can grow a ton of food on a 1/10th of an acre, she not only works with growing low tunnels and season extension but she also works with school kids showing them how to build gardens at the schools.
That would be a real opportunity for a lot of farmers is the summer feeding program.
A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can
I’m in love, he’s in Canada, with Jean-Martin Fortier for his 6-figure gardening tour. Spoke for literally 5 hours straight with a little break. His book is called the Market Gardener: A successful Grower’s Handbook for Small Scale Organic Farming how to make a good living using some French bio-intensive farm methods. He grows about 2.5 acres in Canada which is a much shorter growing season then what we have here in Kentucky. His method shows that you really can make good money on 2.5 acres, and in Appalachia that’s a real game changer because we don’t have a lot of flat land and with 2.5 acres and a 6 figure income it’s a very attractive proposition and it’s what Friends Drift Inn aspiring to show that it can be done because there’s a lot of nay-sayers that think you can’t do that here in Kentucky. It may take me a couple of years to figure it out, but I believe it can be done. He’s in Quebec.
His philosophy is to grow for 100 shares of a community supported agriculture (CSA). He tells you this is your raised bed at a 100 feet, this is what you need to do to supply a 100 shares, makes a plan, tells you when you need to start it, this is what we’re charging, this is how we’re putting our baskets together, it’s the most comprehensive, and easily understood market farming book I have ever picked up.
If you have a business to you have any advice for our listeners about how to sell extra produce or get started in the industry?
“I’m a personality, I wear a big red hat, so everybody sees me coming, everybody knows it’s Joyce. I make the circuit on local tv so I’m considered the local expert on farming.”
But everybody who is a market farmer, if you’re not doing sampling, you are missing sales.
I grow an Italian summer squash, zucchini. I’ve got a burner that sits right on my table. I’ve got a skillet on my table, I saute it in olive oil, and I serve it out. So while my competitors in the next booth can’t give away zucchinis 2 for a $1.00, I’m selling italian zucchini for $3/lb. It’s not a big production and look how good this can taste.
That’s how you sell a vegetable, by engaging all of your senses. So find out what your rules are for sampling in your state, if you have to take a simple 2-hour class not that big of a deal. It’s basically about hygiene, and keeping things covered, washing your hands. By adding sampling you can increase your sales by 40%, which is huge!
Final question- if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?
When I talk about Appalachia I think about the mountains and I call it my cradle, a lot of people when they think about Appalachia they think of the mountains as a the barrier, I think of them as my cradle. Because we have this cradle, we don’t have the contamination of a GMO pattern, or agricultural pesticide coming in because we’re not that big of an ag community. We’re kind of this oasis, the most bio-diverse place on the planet, according to National Geographic. So saving the beans, corn, seeds, that’s a big deal for me, and changing the way people thinking about Appalachia, instead of thinking of it as desolate, people who are not educated, we have a lot going on here, and we have a very proud history and we just don’t tell our stories because we are very humble. The big thing would be saving those seeds.
GrowAppalachia goal is to help folks learn how to garden again, to reintroduce them to the field about one generation away removed from when people were really doing agriculture. Goal is not just to start them with a family garden and then bring them into market production. And that is the most exciting thing in a post coal economy!
International Organization – Heifer International. They’re one of the most trusted organizations ever. How can you not love? If you are going to spend money on a charity how can you not love sending money to a farmer to help them produce their own food? How can you not do that?
Do u have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?
The most important thing for anyone is to find peace in their little corner of their world. To get in the garden and turn off the cell phone and connect with the cycles of life, reconnect to your dreams. Part of the solution not the problem.
How do we connect with you?
Im on Facebook at Friends Drift Inn Kitchen, and Produce and my blog.
Catch me on Facebook I’ve always got something going on!
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