I’m so happy that the second Farm to Table Mystery, Put Out To Pasture, is out in the world. This series is so much fun to write, and so many of aspects of farming in the book, I’ve learned through our farm. Enjoy this sneak peek of the novel!
It was a crisp mid-October afternoon. The weather was perfect for sweaters, light scarves, and riding boots. The air smelled of apple cider, hay, and pumpkin spice. It was my favorite time of year. Autumn in Michigan was something I had missed the fifteen years I lived in California. Despite the beautiful day, a knot was pulled as tight in my stomach as the ropes that tethered the boats to the dock on Lake Michigan.
Cars, minivans, and pickup trucks lined the half mile-long driveway as they waited to park in the open pasture next to my barn. When I came up with the idea of Fall Daze, I never for a moment thought I would have this level of response. It was overwhelming, and worse, I was underprepared.
I wasn’t the reason all these people were here either. I had done my part by putting flyers up around town about the event, made an event post on social media, and bought a tiny ad in the local paper. However, my best guess was seventy percent of the hundred-some vehicles in my pasture were there because of my best friend, Kristy Brown. When Kristy endorsed something in Cherry Glen, people listened and lent their support.
Kristy managed the Cherry Glen Farmers Market. It was one of the most popular farmers markets in the region outside of Traverse City. She scored a spot on the local television station to plug the market, which she did, but she also spoke about Fall Daze at Bellamy Farm, calling it the best fall festival of the season. By the looks of it, people listened, and now I had to live up to her claim. That was a tall order. Fall in Michigan was serious business. It seemed that every town, city, and farm had a festival, and every weekend until the first snow was packed with autumnal activities. If everything went well, I had a real chance to save my family farm. If it went poorly, I might drive the farm further into the hole. No pressure.
When I was a child, Bellamy Farm was composed of four hundred acres. When my grandfather died, he divided the farm in half between his two sons. Years after my uncle died, Stacey, my cousin, sold the half of the farm she’d inherited from her father so that she could pursue her real passion in local theater.
She sold the land to a developer for a pretty penny, but then the development company landed in some trouble. As a result, that portion of the old Bellamy Farm was left to waste. As far as I knew, the development company still owned the property but had made no changes to the land. I wondered if it was just biding its time until the housing market boomed again and the second half of Bellamy Farm could be transformed into a subdivision. A subdivision on our family’s land would make my grandfather do somersaults in his grave, and it made me a bit queasy just thinking about it. Ideally, I would have the money someday to buy the land and put Bellamy Farm back together again. However, since I didn’t even have enough money to replace the shutters on the farmhouse, it wasn’t looking good.
My father, Sullivan “Sully” Bellamy, stood next to me, gripping the arms of his walker. In his early eighties, he was perpetually cold and had a sour disposition that occasionally the right person could crack and make him smile. I was rarely that person. At the moment, he wasn’t pleased with me at all. There were very few things my father enjoyed less than being around large groups of people. Hundreds of people invading his sleepy farm was his worst nightmare.
My father wore a black stocking cap that was pulled down over his bushy, gray eyebrows. The cap gave him a bandit-like appearance. He glowered at me. “How on earth are you going to feed all these people?”
It was a good question. My fawn-colored pug, Huckleberry, stood at my father’s feet and cocked his head as if he considered this too. Then he glanced around with his wide-eyed pug stare. It looked like his round, brown eyes might just pop out of his head. I leaned over and scooped up the pug and hugged him close. I knew when my dog needed comfort. Maybe I needed some too.
Dad shook his head. “You’ve turned the farm into a circus.”
“Dad, this is great PR.” My voice was a tad shaky.
“Not if these people go home hungry. I’d say that’s terrible PR. In fact, that’s the worst PR that you can get. I don’t know what it’s like in California, but when someone shows up at an event in Michigan, they had better not leave with an empty belly or there will be hell to pay. I can tell you that!”
I glanced at the food table that was becoming sparse. When the festival began two hours ago, it had been piled high with plastic containers and bakery boxes of my organic baked goods. I used the festival as an opportunity to test my organic recipes. I had always loved to bake, especially with my Grandma Bellamy while growing up, but when I had been in LA, I had little opportunity. Too many people in the Golden State avoided carbs, myself included. Since returning to Michigan, my passion for baking had returned and I had wild dreams of someday having a bakery and café on our property that would serve real, organic farm-to-table fare that was produced right here on Bellamy Farm. The dream was a long way off, but the festival was a start, and I had truly believed it was a good start until it began.
I thought I had baked enough for the two days of the festival. There were over three hundred items ranging from cookies to muffins to cakes, but it would never be enough.
My assistant, Chesney Stevens, made a face at me. She was a tall and strong woman in her late twenties with brown hair that just brushed the top of her shoulders. She always wore a cloth headband to hold the hair back from her face. Chesney was a graduate student whom I had hired a few weeks back when I realized I couldn’t do everything I needed to at the farm myself. She only worked as much as I could pay her, which admittedly wasn’t a lot, but having her help for the ten to fifteen hours a week I could afford made a huge difference.
She was the perfect candidate for the job. She was getting her MBA with a concentration in agricultural business at my old alma mater in Traverse City but lived right here in Cherry Glen. She rented a small house in town with her younger sister. The little money I could pay would help her get by and supplement the stipends she received from the university for her graduate program. It all sounded too good to be true, so being me, I expected that it was.
Imagine my happy surprise when she turned out to be just who she said she was. There was no way I could have pulled off Fall Daze without Chesney’s help. The last few weeks we worked tirelessly to make the worn-down farm presentable for this big event, and now it might be ruined because people would go home hungry.
I swallowed. “I have enough apples to make more apple cider,” I told my father. “And I’ve called in reinforcements. They should be here soon. There’s more to Fall Daze than food. There’s the corn maze, yard games, and the hayride—plenty for everyone to do while they wait to eat. Don’t worry, Dad. I’ve got this handled.”
“Looks like you do,” he muttered and shuffled away.
I sighed and went back to Chesney at the food table.
Chesney handed a customer her change. “Enjoy your cherry strudel!” she said with a bright smile.
The customer walked away, and while the next person in line considered what was left on the table, Chesney whispered to me. “We’re running low.”
“I know. I called a friend. She should be here soon with more food.”
“You have a friend who is an organic baker?” Her blue eyes went wide.
“Shi!” a friendly voice called to me from the pasture. Kristy Brown walked toward me, weaving in and around the people standing in front of the barn waiting in line for food.
Kristy pushed a double stroller. She was a new mom of twin girls, and she looked quite pleased with herself. “Look at this turnout! You did a great job getting people to come!” Her dark eyes sparkled. She wore a brightly colored handwoven scarf around her neck. The scarf was yellow, orange, pink, red, and lime green. The colors should have clashed with the rest of her outfit, but the intricate geometric pattern of the scarf just worked. I knew the scarf well. Kristy had had it for over twenty years, a gift from one of her aunts in Mexico.
My eyes went wide. “This is because of your spot on TV. I had very little to do with it.”
“Don’t be modest.” When I didn’t say anything, she studied my face. “What’s wrong?”
I set Huckleberry on the ground. He walked over to the stroller, put his forepaws on the side of it, and peeked in at the sleeping twins. Huckleberry looked back at me with a whimper.
Kristy laughed. “Looks like he wants a little sister.”
I frowned. “He has plenty of little sisters and brothers in the barn cats. There are the chickens too.”
She rolled her eyes. “Your chickens do not qualify as siblings for Huckleberry. They are more like a street gang.”
“That seems a little harsh.”
“Shi, one of the chickens chased a woman through the corn maze until a volunteer caught and locked the chicken up.”
I winced. “I thought they were all in the coop.”
Hearing this news about the chickens, I was more grateful than ever for the high school volunteers who were helping Chesney and me out with the event. All of them were members of the high school’s Future Farmers of America chapter. To be honest, they were probably a lot better at chasing chickens than I was. There were thirteen high school student volunteers in total. They guarded the corn maze—from wild chickens apparently—drove the hayride, supervised the pumpkin picking in the pumpkin patch, and helped park the long line of cars. I would be in a lot worse shape without them, including having to deal with a lawsuit over a chicken attack.
“I bet it was Diva,” I said. Diva was a chicken who more than lived up to her name. “She’s my most disobedient hen.”
Copyright Amanda Flower 2022. All rights reserved.
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There’s fowl play afoot on the farm
Shiloh Bellamy has saved her family’s farm from financial ruin—but now what? She’s barely scraping by on the farm’s new organic business model and the fall festival she organized to drum up business comes to a screeching halt when the body of a prominent townswoman is discovered underneath a scarecrow in a nearby field. Worst of all, the evidence points to Shiloh’s childhood best friend, Kristy, as the prime suspect.
Between cooking up delicious treats made with her farm’s produce, convincing her cantankerous father to let her do things her own way, and dealing with a newcomer in town who could be serious competition for her customers, Shiloh doesn’t have time to wade into a murder investigation. But with a killer on the loose and suspicious activity circling closer and closer to Shiloh and the people she loves, she realizes there’s nothing to do but roll up her sleeves and get down to the dirty work of finding the killer and clearing Kristy’s name once and for all.
Happy reading! ❤