While working at Ferme des Quatre-Temps as an apprentice and then as farm manager, I was able to be directly involved in the development of year-round production methods. With several greenhouses sitting empty in winter, the initial idea was simple: why not make these structures profitable 12 months a year?
Many farmers market shoppers are food enthusiasts of one kind or another. Some really want to talk, discover and learn; they certainly want to know how to prepare unique and unfamiliar produce. Others are mostly interested in traditional produce but want to know your favorite recipes. Being able to give them one will help increase your credibility and connection with your customers.
“Oh, I remember when I was young and I wanted to start a farm co-op with my friends, too!” This was the common refrain my friends and I heard back in 2004 when we’d tell established farmers about the farm co-op we were starting. Our group met studying agriculture at McGill University’s MacDonald campus.
We had gone our own ways for a few years to work on and manage other farms. Now, we were to run our own farm. We decided to do this together as a worker co-op. A lot of what we were talking about excited established farmers, but then they followed up with, “But then I started a real farm on my own.”
To hoop or not to hoop? This is a question I’ve gone back and forth on with floating row cover and insect netting for decades now. There are obvious advantages and disadvantages both ways and as with most things in farming over time I’ve come to believe there’s not one right answer in all situations. In the past few years, I’ve come back to using hoops and they’ve been showing their value.
Many of our readers already support and encourage biodiversity on their farms. They notice insects and other wildlife as they move around tackling farm work. Many already have adopted biodiversity enhancing practices that we’ve written about in GFM: no (or reduced) tillage, hedgerows, alley cropping, cover crops, along with other agroforestry and conservation approaches.
Timing cut flowers to hit major holidays has been a huge boost to our bottom line here on our flower farm, Moonshot Farm, in New Jersey. On floral holidays, we often sell three to four times more in a single day than we do in a typical month. We prioritize greenhouse space for flowers that will bloom for holidays. We plan our whole year around meeting these one-day flower frenzies.
In our first season of growing flowers, we propped an old doghouse on stilts, painted it white, and called it a farmstand. A neighboring farmer said it might be a nice way to earn a little beer money. We promoted it heavily on social media, and on opening day had a line of cars down the street.
In the three years since then, our flower farmstand has grown to be one of our most lucrative outlets, accounting for nearly a third of our gross sales on our retail-focused flower farm. Each week we have customers drive from all over the region, often an hour or more, just to visit our little shack and grab some flowers. At the same time, it’s by far our easiest outlet as we set it up in the morning and then get on with our day. I think all farms should consider adding a farmstand. Here are some tips to make it work for you.
I’ve spent 26 seasons turning non-agricultural land into top quality soil, and my love affair with cardboard is stronger than ever. We are located in the North Quabbin region of Massachusetts, in the hills above a once fertile valley that was flooded in the 1930s to create the water supply for Boston. Many said we could never grow food on the land that is now Seeds of Solidarity Farm.
I grew up on a small farm about 12 miles from where I now farm in the high desert of Oregon (zone 6b). That farm was in the middle of the Grande Ronde Valley where there are 200 feet of “topsoil.” If asked about our soil, my mom’s joke was always, “I found a rock — once.” It was a dream to garden in and to dig a post hole. I thought that’s just how soil was — friable, rich, and deep brown.
A friend sent me a link to the video Small Axe Farm posted on their Instagram of a little rolling bed marker they had just made from wood scraps and a piece of threaded rod. I’ve been using rolling bed markers for over 20 years, and even wrote an article about them in Growing for Market all the way back in 2009. The one Small Axe Farm made was the smallest I’ve ever seen, and it was also something I’ve been thinking about making for myself for a long time but just haven’t ever gotten around to doing. I reached out to the farm and had a nice chat with Evan, the one who put the thing together, and got a few more details about their farm and the tool he built.
Spring has sprung, hopefully newly emerging crops are sprouting forth with youthful vigor, spurned on by your abundant soils’ sweet succor. I had the opportunity in a recent issue of this illustrious ag-mag to share with you some tips on weeding tools (Tools and strategies to reduce time spent weeding from the October 2022 GFM). While knives, hillers, finger weeders, and other ways to physically control weeds are neat-o, they are but bits of metal.
Back in the mid-1990s, I was at a SSAWG (Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group) conference in Austin, Texas. I’d been hired by Potomac Vegetable Farms (PVF) in Virginia to develop a satellite property with organic sweet corn as the main crop. That goal daunted me: 15 acres of organic sweet corn on ground that had not been improved.
Learning to farm vegetables for market requires balancing: you want to follow successful models and stick to a plan, but also be flexible as you respond to your unique conditions. There are wonderful books that share specific, well-defined systems of machinery, spacings, crops and their sequences, soil management, and marketing. Clear models from experienced farmers can be very helpful, but at the same time we want farmers to see the underlying principles behind each model – because seeing that bigger picture can give you more clarity to make deliberate decisions as you react to problems and grow your farm (each a unique organism).
In 2017, Pasa Sustainable Agriculture invited us to join their Financial Benchmark Study for Diversified Vegetable Farms. We described our first year results in the October 2020 GFM article, “Sobering Financial Benchmarks for Vegetable Farms.” This benchmarking project helped us to see some of the strengths and weaknesses of our operation.
Last summer I joined four other farms in Oregon’s high desert to do field research on irrigation management in no/low-till vegetable production. The project lead, Katie Swanson of Sweet Union Farm in Klamath Falls, Oregon, invited farms to measure plant-available water differences over one growing season between beds with no- or low-till preparation and beds prepared with tillage.