Todd Nichols is the head grower at Nichols Farm and Orchard in Marengo, Illinois, about 65 miles northwest of Chicago. Founded in 1977 by Todd’s parents, Nichols Farm currently produces about 260 acres of vegetables and forty acres of apples. Nichols Farm markets to some 200 restaurants, fifteen farmers markets each week, and a 450-member CSA.
Todd digs into what a farm this size looks like, and the sorts of investments they’ve made in equipment and infrastructure to ensure that they can complete the large amount of work that often needs to be done in a short period of time. We talk about the low-density approach to cropping at Nichols Farm, the workflow they use to provide outstanding service to their restaurant and farmers market customers, and the ways their four different farming locations create advantages for disease management and coping with the weather.
Nichols Farm is certified to the Food Alliance Sustainability Standard, but is not certified organic. Todd shares his reasons why, how he farms differently because of it, and some of the other ways that Nichols Farm has taken a green approach to their agricultural production.
Shiloh Avery and Jason Roehrig own and operate Tumbling Shoals Farm in northwestern North Carolina. With three acres tilled and almost half an acre under plastic, they gross about $145,000 selling certified organic vegetables through a CSA, three farmers market, a cooperative CSA, and a few restaurants.
Shiloh and Jason were very intentional about where they chose to start Tumbling Shoals Farm, and the smaller cities that they chose to market in. They share the factors behind locating in northwestern North Carolina, the advantages of marketing in smaller markets, and how their marketing decisions have shaped their production strategies. Jason and Shiloh tell us about the ways they’ve made use of high tunnels and Haygrove polytunnels to increase the reliability of their cropping systems.
We also dig into the lessons Shiloh and Jason have learned about the power of having enough labor to leave them time to manage the farm, and the changes they are making based on some in-depth business planning as they move into their tenth season on the farm.
The Farmer to Farmer Podcast is generously supported by Vermont Compost Company and BCS America
Curtis Millsap farms raises two acres of vegetables, with 22,000 square feet under plastic, at Millsap Farms, just outside of Springfield, Missouri. He and his wife, Sarah, make a living from the farm with the help of their ten kids, a full-time farm manager, and another employee.
Curtis shares how his farm grew over the years – and then how it shrunk on its path to profitability and a more family- and faith-focused life, shedding most of its livestock and farmers markets in favor of production that they can stay on top of, and the addition of a major value-added enterprise with their pizza club.
We dig into the pizza club, why they’ve structured it as a membership program, and how that works on a farm that’s wired for community. Curtis shares how they have leveraged seconds and family labor – including Sarah’s skills as a pizza magician – to grow the enterprise and make it work.
Curtis also lets us in on how they’ve created a farm that allowed them to take five full weeks of vacation last year. We talk about the routines and management systems they’ve built to support Curtis’ quality of life goals, including the fundamentals of Curtis’ paper-based system to stay on top of tasks and projects. He also shares the good and the bad about the Chinese-style solar greenhouse they built.
For episode 100, several listeners requested that I either do an interview with myself, or get somebody to interview me. So I invited my good friend Liz Graznak to do the job – Liz was also the first guest on the podcast, so it seemed to me to have some nice symmetry.
Liz reached out to many of the previous guests on the show to get their input on what to ask me, and we dig into what I’ve learned from interviewing over a hundred farmers since the show’s beginnings during a drive to a field day in Minnesota.
We explore how I came to farming in Iowa from an urban childhood in the Pacific Northwest, and Liz gives me a chance to share how my farm grew, the challenges we faced, and what led me to leave the farm behind to pursue my current work as a farm educator.