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.
Shawn Kuhn of Vitruvian Farms raises about five acres of vegetables with his business partner, Tommy Stauffer, in McFarland, Wisconsin, just outside of Madison.
Vitruvian Farms raises a little bit of everything, and a lot of salad greens, so we dig into the ins and outs producing 1,200 pounds of salad greens a week, from bed shaping and weed control through harvest and delivery. Shawn shares the ways they have – and have not – mechanized their salad production, and how they make this intensive level of production work on a small scale. We also look at the key success factors for their other main crops, oyster mushrooms, tomatoes, and microgreens.
Most of Vitruvian Farms’ produce is sold through 45 restaurants in Madison, and Shawn shares how they got started in that marketplace and how they maintain those relationships. We dig into what quality really means when selling to restaurants, and how Vitruvian Farms gets top-notch produce to demanding chefs in a crowded marketplace.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/kuhn.
Sam Hitchcock Tilton studies weed control at Michigan State University, where he went to study after two years of pushing a wheel through clay soil on his own farm, and more years of working for other farmers. His graduate-student work on in-row weed control in vegetable crops has led him to explore the various elements that go into setting up for weed control success.
Sam draws on his experience on farms, a visit to Europe to learn about and evaluate precision weed-control tools, and his work in his experimental plots to provide insight into more than just the cool tools that make weed control work. We look at the foundations of mechanical weed control, starting with soil preparation and seeding the crop through blind cultivation, flame weeding, tool carriers, and selecting the right tools for between-row and in-row weed control.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/tilton.
Ruth Chantry raises a little under four acres of vegetables, plus eggs, pork, and beef, with her husband Evrett Lunquist at Common Good Farm, just a little way outside of Lincoln, Nebraska. With sales to their 65-member CSA, farmers markets, and wholesale accounts, Ruth and Evrett make a full-time living on twenty acres of ground.
Common Good Farm is certified organic and certified biodynamic. Ruth spells out the practical implications of biodynamic farming at Common Good Farm, how it fits into their marketing, and how she and Evrett make the biodynamic farming prescriptions work for them.
We also discuss the practical steps Common Good Farm has taken to integrate their livestock into their vegetable operation to help control weeds and insect pests, as well as the challenges of operating vegetables and livestock as significant parts of the farming operation. And we dig into the nuts and bolts of the egg operation, from feed supplies to washing and delivering the eggs.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/chantry.
Barb and Dave Perkins raise 30 acres of vegetables at Vermont Valley Community Farm in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin, where they’ve farmed since 1994. Packing 850 CSA boxes each week, Barb and Dave work hard to keep their CSA community active in the farm with festivals, community days, and worker shares.
We take a deep dive into how their worker share program functions, and how it fits into their overall labor strategy – a strategy that includes two adult children in management positions on the farm. Barb and Dave dig into how they’ve structured their workdays to work for employees, and how they are starting the discussion about transitioning the farm to the next generation.
Dave takes us on a tour of the seed potato business, including how it fits into the labor, marketing, and business aspects of Vermont Valley Farm. We also discuss the basics of the business planning that led Barb and Dave to operate at a large scale in a short amount of time, how the mechanized the operation from day one, and how they manage mulching with their own hay and straw for fertility and weed suppression on a large acreage.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/perkins.
Jeff and Elise Higley of Oshala Farm in southwest Oregon’s Applegate Valley raise 37 acres of medicinal and culinary herbs for the wholesale herb market, as well as for direct- and value-added production.
Jeff and Elise provide insights into their business model for working with medicinal herbs, and how they went about getting the business established. We discuss how they balance labor needs, infrastructure utilization, and production cycle for over 70 annual, perennial, and biennial crops, and how they have developed processes that provide their products with stand-out quality and a significant “wow factor” – something that’s surprisingly important even in the wholesale market that forms the economic backbone of their business.
We also discuss property selection for medicinal herb production, how they’ve used regulatory changes as an opportunity to grow their business, and employee management in a business that is even scratchier, sweatier, and dustier than vegetable production. We also dig into the impacts of the “green rush” prompted by Oregon’s legalization of marijuana, how that’s affected their farm economics, and how they’ve adapted to those changes.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/higley.
Laura Davis farms about two-and-a-quarter acres of vegetables at Long Life Farm in suburban Hopkinton, Massachusetts, with her husband, Donald Sutherland. Laura started farming after she was laid off from her 30-year career in the medical device business, and she and Donald farm full time, selling their produce to a CSA and two farmers markets.
Laura was attracted for farming through a passion for soil science, and has put a lot of effort into re-mineralizing her soils. We discuss her approach to improving the soil in order to improve her crops, and the reduced insect and disease pressure she’s seen on her farm as a result. Laura also shares her experience with a recent foray into no-till production.
Laura is also an organic certification inspector, and we discuss the ways that being a certified organic farm from very early on fit into Long Life Farm’s business strategy. Laura shares her tips for record-keeping and staying in your certification agency’s – and your inspector’s – good graces.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/davis.
Anne Cure has farmed at Cure Organic Farm with her husband, Paul, since 2005. Six miles east of Boulder, Colorado, Cure Organic Farm’s 15 acres of vegetables, 85 pigs, and eggs from 300 laying hens are sold through a CSA, restaurants, farmers markets, and an on-farm store.
Anne tells the story of how she and Paul started as full-time farmers with four acres of vegetables, and how they gained expertise and built infrastructure as they expanded their vegetable production and the diversity of their enterprises. We talk about how she and Paul financed their startup operation, and the keys that helped them convince a lender to believe in them, as well as how they found a land-tenure situation that allowed them to start farming on the outskirts of booming Boulder.
We also dig into how Anne trains and manages the interns, crew leaders, and additional employees on her farm to take responsibility, and the realities of delegating to interns and crew. And Anne reflects how having kids has changed how Anne relates to the farm, the changes she’s made to bring more balance between farm and family, and the ways the farm’s demands have changed since its early days.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/cure.
Chad Wasserman owns and operates Chad’s Organics in Hilo, Hawaii, on the west side of Hawaii’s Big Island. After farming up to an acre outdoors, Chad recently moved his entire farm indoors, focusing on 5,000 square feet of production under plastic to provide himself with a living from the herbs and vegetables that he markets to stores, restaurants, and a very small CSA.
With over eighty inches of rain each year and no frost – or even cool weather! – to kill off or slow down pests and diseases, Hawaii can be a challenging place to grow vegetable crops. Add to that the cost of bringing fertility inputs over 2,500 miles from the mainland, and you’ve created a situation that could try the best of farmers. Chad discusses what he’s done to ensure that his farming operation succeeds in the face of these challenges.
We discuss how Chad has developed a market for his products since he started his farm in 2010, how he’s changed his production in response to business growth, market development, and weather; and how he’s developed a worm-based composting system that brings him fifty to sixty pounds of compost each week with a minimum of effort and off-farm inputs.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/wasserman.
Chris Jagger is the owner and operator of Blue Fox Farm, an organic vegetable farm in the Applegate Valley of southern Oregon. He is also the owner and head consultant for Blue Fox Agricultural Services, a full-service agricultural supply and consultation company focusing on ecological solutions for the modern farmer. Both his farm and his agricultural services use living soils as a foundation to scale farming operations efficiently and profitably.
We discuss the changes Chris has seen in the organic and local marketplace and labor environment, and how Blue Fox Farm has worked to downsize in response to those changes. Chris shares how he has worked to determine what makes money with a sensible approach to crop budget analysis.
We also dig into how Blue Fox Farm is getting better crops on a smaller piece of land, the economics of scaling up and scaling down, salad mix production, and mechanization and the choices Blue Fox Farm has made around that.
It’s worth noting here that Chris rounds out his involvement with the agricultural community by hosting the Living Soils Symposium each March. The symposium is an interactive conference for farmers, interested in regenerative farming techniques, to exchange knowledge and gain insight in a peer-to-peer environment.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/jagger.
John Stoddard and Lindsay Allen work together at Higher Ground Farm, a rooftop farming operation with two locations in Boston. John is the founder of the business and operator of the site at the Boston Design Center, and Lindsay runs the new site at the Boston Medical Center. Higher Ground sells to restaurants and direct to consumers, and provides produce the Boston Medical Center cafeteria, patient food service, and a preventative food pantry.
We dig into the fundamentals of rooftop farming, including options for different production systems and why Higher Ground has opted for their system. John and Lindsay provide insights into the surprising of ecology of rooftop farming – including weeds and seagulls! – and discuss soil fertility management and irrigation systems.
John and Lindsay also ruminate on how to find a roof to farm on, what it takes for an urban farm to survive, and how they’ve leveraged the rooftops to create relationships with customers and clients. And we examine the two different business models that Higher Ground uses to make their operation work – growing food for sale, as well as operating a rooftop farm for a management fee.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/higherground
Brendan Grant raises six acres of vegetables plus laying hens, Highland cattle, and a hundred acres of hay with his wife, Marcelle Paulin, at Sleepy G Farm, just east of Thunder Bay, Ontario, on the north shore of Lake Superior. The only certified organic farm for 500 miles around in Canada, Sleepy G’s produce is marketed through a 150-member CSA, grocery stores, a farmers market, and a small on-farm store.
Brendan shares his techniques for bringing new land into production, and delves into the ins and outs of tillage and mechanical weed control on raised beds. We also dig into marketing in Thunder Bay, an isolated city eight hours from other metropolitan areas with no history of market farming, as well as the impact of their isolation and extreme climate on production and input choices.
We also discuss how the farm survived a serious accident two years ago, the impact that accident had on the farm and on Brendan, and how they managed their way through the crisis. We also discuss the pieces that Brendan and Marcelle had in place that helped the farm survive.
Pictures, show links, and more at farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/grant.