Ater a ten year hiatus, we are pleased to again offer you the Crones’ Cradle Conserve newsletter, CROONS. Our last CROONS came to you just as we faced four hurricanes in a bit less than three months in the fall of 2004. Our gardens completely disappeared under torrents of water and wind, as did our chicken yards, playground, fuel tanks, the green house roof and other things that could not be moved or battened down.
With the arrival of knee deep water everywhere, desperate creatures struggled onto the small bit of high ground left. High ground grew scarcer and scarcer as water continued to pelt down. For weeks humans, two, four, six, and eight leggeds, slithery crawly ones, and anything else whose normal living space lay 28 inches under water, co-existed on a tiny area of dry earth. No one panicked; all recognized our common problem and all dealt with their own survival.
Daily procedure included paddling by canoe into our greenhouses to water plants which rested on tables above the water. Another daily chore: someone keeping a close eye on a measuring stick we had pushed into the ground. Had the water level risen to a marked point, drastic measures to protect buildings would be activated.
Huge trees sprawled over the farm; today remnants of some lay still where they fell. Others we cut from roads, paths, and near buildings. We burned our greenhouse and house heaters for several years from uprooted trees.
The physical cost loomed large; though no buildings were destroyed, many were dinged.
The rabbit pens suffered most when two large Sweet Gums crashed against them. Another enormous Sweet Gum crashed toward my house and came to rest with one small limb scratching against a window pane. The corner of the house required replacing.
All Survived, albeit a bit worse for wear.
Among the options, quitting loomed large. After days and nights spent weighing choices, it seemed like just more physical hard work, done in good time.
The psychic cost loomed largest of all. Since 1987 we had survived the loss of our conference center and home to fire, then an El Nino season one year and the Storm of the Century another wiped out our gardens. Try as we would, nowhere could we find assurance that disaster would not strike again. Oddly, that lack of security erased the question. Besides, where else could dreams and resolve be coaxed and enticed into reality.
Slowly we rebuilt. We chose V-joint metal roofing and built new garden beds. We replaced the greenhouse roof which had sailed northwest across the prairie on an especially vigorous burst of wind and rain.
Much has changed. A lot hasn’t in the ten years since the autumn of the Hurricanes. One consistent question, and quite pointed hints from friends and readers, however, keeps popping up in unexpected places. Many Croons readers let us know they wanted news about us – our changes. People who honor land and farms and fresh food needed to know we survived. Those who yearn for quiet and green wished reassurance that we still welcome seekers. Finally, it sank in. Perhaps all our supportive friends, loved ones, and others really, really meant that they wanted to see The Croons again. MOST LIKELY THOUGH – WE need your care and concern to assure us that what we do is worthwhile – beneficial – needed – welcome.
We’d like to be back in communication. We want to fill the cavity that once held all your reactions, opinions, congratulations, questions, advice, and counsel. Thank you to those who waited for The Croons to return. Our belief is stronger than ever that our farm can provide neighbors and friends in north Florida with organic, fresh, nutritious food. First hand, we realize people want knowledge about health and wellbeing. We’ve learned that we have a special, safe place where folk experience the earth and find themselves.
A new insight grew over the ten years and will amuse those who knew me long ago. I’ve realized that we probably will not change those who see the earth as only commodity. But, fervently, rock solidly, we know for absolutely certain that neither will those of us change who see the earth as community.
Join us as you wish – can – will for the journey – it isn’t dull.
Over Crones’ Cradle…
“… tidy, plump packages arriving from Johnny’s, Burpees, Peaceful Valley, Territory, Totally Tomatoes, Pine Tree Gardens, bearing kernels of the spring garden which, when sifted into the soil, later will be called tomatoes, lettuces, kale, beets, carrots, and radishes…
… thunderous thumps in the woods as huge trees whose support depends on solid ground finally tear from the soaked earth and crash…
… giddy March painting every plant with enough inimitable shades of green that the mind boggles to identify all the shades: Kelly, Forest, Lime, Teal, Aqua, Emerald, etc…
… blue bird skies, loud swirling winds, gentle, whimsical breezes, pelting rains, easy drizzles, long, afternoon sun rays, near freezes, beach warm afternoons, March weather at its best…
… growing soil” a constant process, adding the proper amounts of top soil, minerals, compost, and old hay to produce sweet, nutritious, gorgeous vegetables and herbs…
… watching a young deer pick her way across the yard just outside my porch screen, snatching succulent grass as she ambles…
… enjoying lush garden vegetables in various stages of maturity, reaching to the sun and water and creating delicious mind creative images of dishes for the next meal…
… sprightly kittens racing up and down trees with no care that they travel vertically…
… the lovely vagaries of March…”
THEN from my house, I trudged into the 100 acre corn field whose rows towered above my head. I dawdled in the sand road between rows, looking for rabbit tracks. I tried to see how deeply I could wiggle my bare feet into the sand and still move. I dragged a stick, drew pictures in the sand, made my own tracks, or swatted at the corn.
After taking as long as it took to cross the corn field, the hard road appeared, I crossed and walked around a squatty, rock, two story building. At the back, a wooden screen door opened into a cavernous room lit by several single light bulbs hanging from drop cords. Stoves, sinks, shelves, and bulky tables jammed the space, and pungent aromas spiced the air.
Several men in the room hurried to greet me, calling greetings; one picked me up and sat me on the biggest table. One of them would always say, “…getting’ your coffee little missy…” Shortly, with a face splitting grin, he handed me a thick, heavy white mug. It took both hands to hold the warm, sweet brew, but there was no thought of refusing it. Nor would I have missed those men laughing and teasing me, as they milled around, cut up food, stirred pots, washed dishes, mopped floors, and worked through their long chore list. I was never ready when one of them lifted me to the floor, walked me to the door and urged, “Go on home now, little missy, it gettin’ late.”
NOW, the answer to a life long question, “How did you grow up, given your family and geography, without prejudice toward black people?” An easy answer, that. Those weren’t black men whose kitchen work I interrupted (or gladdened) where they cooked for the prisoners at the county prison farm where my Daddy worked and we lived. They were Butch, Tiny, Jonah, Knife Man, and other prisoners who had earned trustee status into the kitchen and risked it all by entertaining a lonely four year old white child . I NOW realize the risk those men took, for a black man then could easily disappear.
NOW I figure that long ago “coffee” had maybe one or two spoons of coffee with heavy thick cream filling my mug, and at least three heaping spoons of sugar stirred in.
NOW I know that coffee comes in many flavors and people with many differences. The kindness and big grins and “real” coffee in an ancient heavy mug formed my judgment.
No coffee since has tasted the same.A reflection on early and present life in north Florida by native Floridian Jeri Baldwin -
Since 2004 we’ve achieved:
Non Profit Status – Crones’ Cradle Conserve was granted non profit status and became Crones’ Cradle Conserve Foundation in October 2010.
Solar – The biggest star has officially joined CCCF to share its amazing energy and offer utility cost relief. THE SUN now streams through a 25 KW solar system pumping electric energy.
It also pleases us to tell you that the frames and support system for our solar panels were built with harvested yellow pine trees from the farm in true sustainability fashion.
We are delighted to welcome our biggest star.
Expanded Gardens – Our gardens have expanded to cover almost three times as much space as we started with 20 years ago. Our marketing choices have also increased. We currently have a CSA program which we call Farm To Fare, a dozen Gainesville and Ocala restaurants purchase fresh produce weekly, several caterers use our produce, and our Farm Store does a quite decent business every week.
Bee Yard – We began bee keeping with two hives, and increased to nearly 50 recently. Our honey has proven to be beautiful and very tasty. We extract Gall Berry in the spring and wild swamp flower at the end of the year.
Most important is that our gardens are now being pollinated, thereby improving our vegetable and herb quality.
Restoration Projects – Our Wetlands and Yellow Pine restoration projects are almost done.
We signed a conservation easement agreement with the St. Johns Water Management District which bought total restoration of our wetlands and completion of the SJWMD’s restoration efforts on land they purchased abutting Crones’ Cradle. It was the first private-public conservation agreement signed in the state.
Our Yellow Pine project is ongoing. We timbered the Slash Pine then planted nearly 150,000 yellow pine seedlings. Our efforts earned us a Forest Stewardship Award from Florida State Forestry. Our work also gave the Gopher Tortoise, and other wildlife, a new lease on life.
Native Artist Gallery – Our farm store began to carry art work about Florida by native and near native artists. The art work is original and features paintings, photography, jewelry, wood turning, textiles, and sculpture.
Festivals – We added two food festivals where we, and guest chefs, cook organic food and folks flock for the food, music, store, and community – with old friends and many met for the first time.
Certification – Several areas of the farm have been certified by the appropriate Florida licensing agency/division: the kitchen, production center, egg processing, and honey house by the Florida Agriculture food division; the greenhouse by Florida Agriculture nursery division; and the bee yard by Florida’s Apiary division.
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