Lorien Carsey and Shea Belahi of Blue Moon Farm in Urbana, Illinois, raise vegetables for farmers market, restaurants, stores, and a CSA. With twenty acres dedicated to vegetable production, and ten high tunnels totaling just under half an acre of year-round production, Blue Moon Farm was founded in 1977 by John Cherniss and Michelle Wander, and now Lorien and Shea are in the process of taking over the ownership and management of the farm.
We dig into how Lorien, Shea, John, and Michelle are managing the nuts and bolts of this ownership transition, including ownership structures, roles in the transition (and how they’ve figured those out), tackling farm-life balance, and the challenges of managing employees through this transition.
We also discuss their homemade customized CSA program, which includes meat and eggs from other farms; a complex crop rotation that keeps ten acres of the farm in a combination of long- and short-term cover crops, and the ins and outs of managing a diversity of high tunnel sizes, shapes, and technologies.
Perennial support for the Farmer to Farmer Podcast is generously provided by Vermont Compost Company.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/bluemoon.
Elizabeth and Paul Kaiser raise a little under three acres of vegetables at Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastopol, California, where they have been farming since 2007. Their ecological farming model rests on a foundation of no-till production, but incorporates many more elements to build soil organic matter and soil biology to support an economically viable operation.
Elizabeth and Paul dig deep into the ecological and production principles that undergird their success, from soil management to transplant production and crop planning strategies. We take a look at their use of hedgerows for soil building, climate management, and insect management, including their tips for installing and maintaining these important ecological tools. And we discuss employee management within their complex, non-linear production system, as well as the economics of their production system.
Perhaps most importantly, Paul and Elizabeth emphasize the ways that observation and their responses to their observations provided the foundation for building what they consider to be an example, and not a model, of their ecological production system.
Perennial support for the Farmer to Farmer Podcast is generously provided by Vermont Compost Company.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/kaiser.
Stacey Carlberg and Casey Gustawarow manage The Farm at Sunnyside, with twelve acres of vegetables and eight of tree fruits in Rappahanock County, Virginia, about seventy miles from Washington, D.C.
We dig into the ups and downs of managing other people’s farms, including why they’ve chosen to do it and how the farm owners set expectations and provide oversight. Stacey provides insights into how they manage the financial implications, and we look at some of the other goals of the property owners and how those fit – and don’t fit – with a vegetable-farming operation.
Casey and Stacey share how they make the most of their spot at the high-quality, high-volume Dupont Circle Farmers Market in D.C., including strategies for standing out from the crowd, and how they manage their employees at the stand.
We also talk about how Casey has worked to fit cover crops into the vegetable rotation, and how they have integrated laying hens into the cover crop rotation – including the steps they’ve taken to ensure the safety of their fresh produce in the face of nearby chicken poop.
And Stacey and Casey share the steps they’ve taken to manage employees for year-over-year retention, from their overall staffing strategy to their day-to-day communications. Finally, we discuss their experience with Lyme disease among their crew, and the steps they take to try to reduce its incidence among their employees.
Perennial support for the Farmer to Farmer Podcast is generously provided by Vermont Compost Company.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/sunnyside.
At Beech Grove Farm, Anne and Eric Nordell manage six-and-a-half acres for vegetable crop production, with half of that in cover crop, and half of that in vegetables. And they do it with horsepower, next-to-no hand-weeding, and no irrigation.
Anne and Eric share their experience farming with horses, something that they’ve done since Beech Grove Farm’s start 35 years ago, and how they set the farm up from the start to be manageable for the two of them. We talk about their strategy for reducing weed pressure, including their reduced tillage system, and the year-on, year-off rotation of vegetables and cover crops that allows them to build soil while minimizing weed issues.
We also dig into their low-input system for making compost, their low-input wood-fired greenhouse, and the changes they’ve seen in their rural community.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/nordell.
Angie Raines and Miles Okal raise diversified vegetables, rice, and dry beans at South Wind Produce in Rougemont, North Carolina. With sales at five weekly farmers markets plus wholesale sales to restaurants, they have built a viable business in a short amount of time.
Angie and Miles take us on a deep dive into their rice and dried bean production, as well as how they market these crops and how they fit into their farm economics and overall farm agroecosystem.
We also explore how they stand out in the crowded marketplace of North Carolina’s “research triangle,” how getting the business started on an incubator farm let them establish a business with less up-front risk, and how they manage the potential chaos of five farmers markets a week on a small farm.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/southwind.
David Greenberg of Abundant Acres Farm raises about five acres of vegetables with his wife, Jen, in rural Nova Scotia, about an hour from Halifax. With four full-time employees in addition to David and Jen, Abundant Acres focuses on high-value crops, while also growing a bit of everything for their diversified market streams.
David takes a deep dive into the cooperative direct-to-consumer marketing arrangement Abundant Acres has with a few select food producers in Halifax, including how they use that storefront to host the free-choice CSA. And David digs into how he and Jen manage inventory and supply for the off-farm free-choice CSA, including everything from record-keeping to how that informs their planting choices.
Abundant Acres uses several different production systems, including tarped, deep-compost fields for high-value crop production, tractor-based row crop and plasticulture vegetables in rotation, mobile caterpillar tunnels, and heated greenhouse space. We take an especially in-depth look at the investment and returns on the deep-compost system, discuss the engineering behind the mobile caterpillar tunnels, and get some insights into the lessons-learned in the plasticulture system.
According to David, the farm succeeds in large part because of its reliance on radical delegation to employees. We discuss how David and Jen set expectations, guide their workers, and give and get feedback to improve performance so that they can rely on employees to take leadership and responsibility for the production on the farm.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/greenberg.
After starting out in 2008 on a homestead in the country that grew to a market and livestock farm on several different parcels, my guest Steven Beltram and his wife Becca Nestler moved Balsam Gardens to two large parcels right in the city of Asheville, North Carolina. They now farm on 30 acres of certified organic ground, selling their product to wholesale distributors.
Steven digs into how he has developed a large, efficient farm without any infrastructure. At Balsam Gardens, the crew field packs all of the crops, and Steven explains how they do this in a way that has helped them pass their GAPs audit while maintaining good quality. We also discuss Balsam Gardens’ plasticulture system, including how they manage weeds between the plastic-covered beds. And, Steven shares how they have worked to structure their crops and their labor pool to maximize their efficiency.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/beltram.
Howard Prussack of High Meadows Farm raises crops, potted herbs, and vegetable starts with his wife, Lisa, in 30,000 square feet of greenhouses as well as out in the field in Putney, Vermont. Howard has been farming since 1971, and High Meadows Farm was the first certified organic farm in Vermont.
We dig into Howard’s history and the growth of the farm, Howard’s early off-farm job and how that helped him learn the business, and the logistics of marketing to retailers. Howard also shares his tips about transplant production, training employees to water plants in the greenhouse, and the overseas education work that he has done.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/prussack.
Today’s show is a repeat of an episode I recorded in the spring of 2015 with Richard Wiswall Cate Farm in Plainfield, Vermont. Cate Farm has sold produce through a CSA, farmers markets, and wholesale accounts, and has been in business since 1981. Richard is also well known for his excellent book, the Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook. We take a hard look at the business side of vegetable farming, with some quick pointers for how you can start to understand the cost of production and marketing on your farm to inform better decision-making on your farm. We also take a look at framing both big-picture and day-to-day decisions on your farm.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/wiswall2.
Ryan Thiessen farms four acres of vegetables in two locations at Creek Shore Farms in St. Catharines, Ontario. With 110 CSA members in the summer and 72 in the winter, as well as farmers market sales, Creek Shore Farms provides a modest living for Ryan and his wife, Amanda.
While Amanda has been full time on the farm since its start in 2010, 2017 was Ryan’s first year with farming as his only job. We talk about the challenges he encountered while making the transition, and what he plans to do differently in 2018.
Creek Shore Farms is highly mechanized for a farm of its scale, and Ryan shares where and how he’s made choices about mechanizing, and how he’s taken advantage of farming two properties as a way to organize what crops are raised using what methods. Ryan shares his adventures with two-wheeled Planet Junior cultivating tractors and how they revolutionized weed control at Creek Shore Farms.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/thiessen.
Scott Chaskey is the Director of Quail Hill Farm, one of the original Community Supported Agriculture farms in the United States. Located in Amagansett, New York, on land donated to the Peconic Land Trust, the farm also delivers fresh food to local restaurants, food pantries, and the Sag Harbor Farmers Market.
Quail Hill’s 250 member families harvest their own food each week from the 35 acres of vegetable production, and Scott digs into the nitty gritty of how that process works. We also discuss the ways that Quail Hill works to keep the community involved in the farm through its advisory committee and other mechanisms.
Scott shares how he worked in the early years to build up the depleted soil at Quail Hill Farm, how they maintain it now, and how they’ve met the challenge of a nutsedge infestation. We also discuss the farm’s advanced apprenticeship program, Scott’s start in food production while living in Cornwall, and how Scott has made time and space for writing poetry and prose while managing the farm.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/chaskey.
Siri Erickson-Brown and Jason Salvo own and operate Local Roots Farm, fifteen acres of diversified vegetables in the Snoqualmie River valley thirty miles west of Seattle.
With sixty percent of their sales to restaurants, and the remainder going to a CSA and a farmers market, Siri and Jason take a low-tech, high-touch approach to marketing. We get into the nitty gritty of how they manage their restaurant sales, from crop planning to receiving orders and managing shortages and overages. Siri and Jason also explain how their multiple marketing outlets work together to sell a high percentage of what they grow.
All three of us dig into our Latin roots (yes, that’s a pun), and Siri and Jason tell us about how that’s influenced their choice of chicories as a major focus of their wholesale operation. We talk about how they use QuickBooks and other data to drive business decisions, and how they monitor business performance throughout the season to avoid surprises.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/localroots.
John Good farms with his wife, Aimee, at The Good Farm in Germansville, Pennsylvania. Ten acres of vegetables serve 200 CSA members plus farmers market and wholesale sales. 2017 was their first year farming on this land under this name, after eleven years of renting ground at the Rodale Institute where they operated their private farm business, Quiet Creek Farm.
John and Aimee took a very strategic and long-term approach to getting onto their own land. John shares how they developed their farm business on their rented land at Rodale, including how they prioritized their investments and built the markets and off-farm equity that helped them make the transition to their own land. We talk about how they developed their new infrastructure on blank ground, how they financed their land purchase, and how they found a piece of property that met their needs.
Before they started Quiet Creek Farm, John and Aimee worked at Food Bank Farm in Hadley, Massachusetts. Food Bank Farm ran an incredibly efficient, intense, vegetable operation, and John shares how he and Aimee have adapted the systems they learned there for crew management and operational efficiency, but without the intensity. And John shares how he has carried that farm’s maniacal focus on weed control forward to his own farming operations without a bunch of fancy tools.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/good.
Heather Secrist raises two acres of vegetables, as well as pastured pork and lamb, on sixteen acres at Suncrest Gardens Farm in the rural hills of Cochrane, Wisconsin – and turns it all into pizzas and other value-added foods. With sales on farm during pizza nights and a new “garden café”, as well as to a farmers market in Winona, Minnesota, Heather has developed a business model that works for herself and for her family.
Heather returned to the region where she grew up on a family farm to start Suncrest Gardens Farm in 2003, and has been making pizza for on-farm pizza nights since long before it was cool. She shares with us how she grew the farm and value-added operation to provide her with a full-time living, including developing the infrastructure, marketing to regular and occasional customers, and how she’s negotiated the regulations for her small-scale processing facility, as well as how her marketing strategy has evolved through the years.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/secrist.
Will Reed and his wife, Amanda, returned to Will’s home in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 2010 to start Native Son Farm with a walking tractor and an acre of production. Today, Native Son Farm has twenty acres of produce in two locations, and markets through its 200-member CSA, an on-farm retail store, farmers markets, and restaurants.
Will shares the story of coming home to Mississippi, and learning to grow and sell organic vegetables in a climate where everyone said it wouldn’t work. He shares how they manage the long, intense seasons, their strategies for marketing non-southern produce in the deep south, and his involvement in the policies and politics around organic and local agriculture.
We also dig into how his farm team and community rallied during health and weather crises that came just as the farm was really scaling up, and how Native Son Farm has worked to reshape the land they farm on and the community they farm in to make organic, local agriculture a resilient reality.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/reed.
Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seeds in Philomath, Oregon, supplies seed companies, farmers, and gardeners with seeds that are selected and grown in a real organic environment. With his wife and business partner, Karen, and five employees, Frank grows certified organic seeds on about eight acres. Wild Garden Seeds is unusual in the seed business because they grow everything that they sell right there in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Frank shares his story of getting started on his market garden in 1980, and how he developed a gourmet salad greens business that shipped salads to top restaurants nation-wide. This high-end salad greens business allowed and encouraged him to start selecting the best plants for organic salad production, as well as to begin to develop new, custom varieties for his farm.
We also dig into his on-the-job education in seed breeding, how he and Karen made the transition from salad growers to seed company, and how Wild Garden Seeds has worked with partner farms to grow their seed business.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/morton.
Dylan Strike has been the owner of Strike Farms in Bozeman, Montana, since 2014. In 2017, he increased production from four acres to fourteen in order to edge out national produce players in his local grocery stores. Strike Farms also markets through a CSA throughout the greater Bozeman region.
We dig into the nuts and bolts behind the dramatic expansion at Strike Farms, including how Dylan financed the expansion and associated land purchase. Dylan gets real as he discusses the challenges of putting together the financial package, managing staff and systems through the expansion, and the impact of what Dylan says was the “worst weather year imaginable.” We also dig into the changes in equipment and production approaches, and the administrative systems that allowed Strike Farms to grow, as well as crop rotations, distribution strategies, and breaking into new grocery accounts.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/strike.
Corinna and Kurt Bench raise a little under ten acres of certified organic vegetables at Shared Legacy Farms in Elmore, Ohio. With 400 CSA shares and a 78% retention rate, Corrina and Kurt have created a values-based business on family land that is supporting them in their tenth year of business.
We take a deep dive into how Corinna and Kurt create a connection with and market to their CSA members – a system that has resulted in them being 94% sold out seven months before their CSA program starts. We get some great insights into their focus on just five delivery sites, the customer research they’ve done to identify the mindset and practices of their long-term CSA membership, and how they’ve used that information to create a marketing system that attracts dedicated and highly qualified prospects to their CSA program. Then, we learn how they’ve created a system to provide new and renewing members with a roadmap to CSA success.
We also discuss the transition to full-time farming after years of splitting Kurt’s attention with an off-farm job, and how they’ve created – and continue to create – more downtime during the season to rest and rejuvenate.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/bench.
Marja Smets and Bo Varsano raise an intensive three-quarters of an acre of vegetables at Farragut Farm, located across a lot of water from Petersburg, Alaska. Selling vegetables for eight years in what may be the most remote and difficult-to-access vegetable farm in the country, Marja and Bo make a living moving their vegetables to market on a boat when the tide is high.
We dig into the details of farm management when local amendments are the only real option, and when you get 120 inches of rain a year because you farm in a temperate rainforest. Bo and Marja provide details of the mobile high tunnel system in their high-wind environment, dealing with Alaskan wildlife, and farming off of the electrical grid.
Marja and Bo also share how they maximize produce sales with visits to town on an irregular schedule, and how they are working to address food insecurity in Petersburg.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/farragut.
Wendy and Asher Burkhart-Spiegel raise about twelve acres of vegetables at Common Thread CSA in Madison, New York, in the central part of the state. With twenty years of experience doing CSA, Wendy and Asher have continued to emphasize CSA in their current operation, with additional sales at farmers markets and to wholesale accounts.
At Common Thread, Wendy and Asher maintain a community-focused vision for the farm. Prior to Common Thread, Wendy and Asher managed a non-profit CSA farm in Poughkeepsie, and we talk about how moving to their own farm had an impact on the experience of engaging with the community, as well as other aspects of their farming experience. We dig into their programs for subsidizing shares, their education-focused apprenticeship program, and the realities of an increasing minimum wage in New York.
Out in the field, Wendy and Asher share their development of a tractor-scale permanent raised bed system, and how they’ve sourced and modified tools to support that system. We also talk about the solutions they’ve found for successfully cultivating in their raised bed system, season extension in the field and the cooler, and the planning they do for CSA program that includes boxed deliveries and free-choice on-farm pickup.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/commonthread.
Today we’re digging back into the archives for one of my favorite interviews, our very first episode of the Farmer to Farmer Podcast, with my good friend Liz Graznak. This one was recorded in early October of 2014.
In 2014, Liz was farming a little over seven acres of ground in central Missouri, and selling her certified organic produce through a CSA, farmers market, and to restaurants and grocery stores. In her fifth year of running her farm, Liz reflects on the challenges and rewards of running a business, managing employees, and doing all of the other stuff that isn’t farming, but is absolutely integral to it.
We dig into some post-harvest handling, talk about winter production, and discuss how her two-year-old has changed life on her farm. Liz also shares her experience becoming part of her very conventional rural neighborhood.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/happyhollow.
Brendan Davison grows microgreens in over 4,000 square feet of greenhouse space at Good Water Farms in Bridgehampton, New York. Started in 2011 in the driveway of Brendan’s house, Good Water Farms sells its greens to Whole Foods Markets and a long list of Hamptons and New York City restaurants.
Brendan shares his spiritual and practical path to building Good Water Farms. We dig into many of the details of what makes Good Water Farms a successful microgreens operation, including Brendan’s marketing approach and how he manages production throughout the year. And we take a deep dive into how Good Water Farms’ implementation of a HACCP plan for food safety increased the operation’s efficiency and improved employee competence and confidence.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/davison.
Andy and Melissa Dunham own and operate Grinnell Heritage Farm in Grinnell, Iowa. From corn-and-bean ground and no infrastructure when they started in 2006, Grinnell Heritage Farm has grown to twenty acres of vegetables, marketed through a 250-member CSA, natural foods stores, multiple farmers market, and a new on-farm pizza night that they started this year.
Andy and Melissa share how they worked with New Pioneer Food Co-op to develop their skills as market farmers and to learn how to better serve the wholesale marketplace. We also dig into their CSA model, employee management on Grinnell Heritage Farm, and how they’ve changed their CSA to respond to the needs of both customers and employees.
We also learn how Andy and Melissa developed their farm infrastructure, created environmental enhancements to change the farm ecology and benefit the farm overall, organic weed control in asparagus, and how they’ve managed repeated pesticide drift incidents on their Central-Iowa farm.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/dunham.
Dave Chapman got his start at Long Wind Farm in 1984 with a team of oxen, a diverse array of vegetables, and a roadside stand in East Thetford, Vermont. Today, he only grows tomatoes – and lots of them!
With 2.5 acres of greenhouses, Dave and his crew produce certified organic, soil-grown tomatoes all year ‘round. Dave digs in to the nuts and bolts of producing tomatoes in protected culture. He shares the details of his high-tech greenhouse system, Long Wind Farm’s fertility management strategies, and how Dave learned to get out of the way of his farm’s success while managing business and personal goals that were often in conflict with each other.
Dave also shares his views on the current state of the National Organic Program, organic hydroponics, and the organic livestock rules, and talks about the action being taken to try to change the situation.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/longwind.
Kelly Kingsland and Russell Poe raise about an acre-and-a-half of produce at Affinity Farm in Moscow, Idaho. With sales to a farmers market, a small CSA, and restaurant and retail stores, Kelly and Russell have created a lean, smart, and profitable farm that has provided a “right livelihood” for sixteen years.
We dig in to the values that have informed their decision-making and market development, including their decision to farm in a the small-but-progressive city of Moscow. Kelly and Russell talk about how they’ve developed a CSA model that really works for them as farmers, their efforts to foster an active market farming community, and their recent diversification into seed production – and how all of that ties back to a philosophy of giving good weight to their customers and community.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/affinity.