Jeff Boden welcomed me to Portland, Oregon with open arms. He treated me like an old friend. A very smart man, creative in how he manages his successful farm. A really good listen. Visit West Union Gardens website
The Schmidt’s are extremely active in the farm industry as advocates for agriculture in general and are focused on trying to dispel some of the myths they see as villainizing family farms and larger farm enterprises.
This is a fascinating conversation with the owners of an extremely large farm and believe me, it’s all about family. I think they think just like I do with just some extra zeros on the ends of their numbers.
In this episode I talk with Alison Howard of Homestead Farms in Millington, Md. Homestead Farms is a USDA Certified Organic produce and small grain farm. Allison shares her experience with starting Homestead with her husband, Luke.
This is a very good conversation which includes the subtle struggles of a true working farm: paying the bills through scale; the ego battles of the farmer with herself; the fact that farming is a commodity business and the mixed messages that consumers send to farmers.
John and Amy Good of Quiet Creek Farm are a true organic farming success story. I talked with John recently and he shared his enthusiasm and true deliberate journey in farming. John is an articulate guy and this is a really good story. Listen!
I talked with Mike Nolan from Earth Spring Farm recently.
Here’s his story in his own words:
Mike Nolan, Farmer
My farming days started back when I was a kid in 7th grade. My parents were friends with a local beef farmer who was also helping out with the Dutchess County 4-H club in New York. He wanted to help the club grow and approached them about having me join and raising a beef steer on our property. My parents have 15 acres and and 2 barns where they run a landscape company so it was pretty easy to set up an area for the steer. But the real love of farming kicked in the following summer when I was invited to work and live on a large farm in the next town over and learn how the whole process of raising your own food really worked. We were up at 5 and worked until dark cutting and baling hay, feeding and watering the animals and preparing fresh chickens for dinner. Plus the girls in the family were both top cattle show people in the state so I learned all about prepping the steer for the shows at the fairs. My brother and I raised cattle for 4 years before deciding that sports would take more time than I had for the farm.
Fast forward to college where I studied Landscape Architecture in anticipation to go back home. But towards the end of my studies I became increasingly more interested in the most practical aspects of design, especially after a semester in Denmark. Ideas like slowing urban sprawl, less cars and more bicycles, small scale urban food production were starting to set in and I knew I needed some time off after graduation to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life.
So I joined the Peace Corps! I was to be an agricultural extension agent in Togo, West Africa – where was that anyway?
Togo was just what I needed – I remember clearly when I realized what it was I would be doing. I was at the farm of an African friend named Leonard and saw how content that he and his family were (they had one of the best farms in the region) and thought, yes I need this too when I get home. Leonard and I did a lot of work together and created a school where other farmers could find out how they too could be successful with improved farming techniques.
After 3 years in Africa I found myself headed to Austin, Texas but with little planned – just thought I would check it out for a year or two. So for 2 years I hung out and worked a couple different jobs, landscaping mostly, did the wild 20�s thing and had a lot of fun in that great city. In the third year there, 2001, a friend invited me to live on an organic vegetable farm he owned and I moved in with his manager. It was a beautiful 9 acre plot in the city on Boggy Creek and close to the Colorado river that runs through Texas. It was really nice at Oasis Gardens Farm and the pace was perfect for me as I was unwinding and seeing more clearly about what it was that I was supposed to be doing. The manager, Visal, and I became friends and he taught me a lot about Community Supported Agriculture. He ran Oasis as a complete hands-on membership and every Sunday 20 or 30 people would show up at the farm and work together to plant, weed and harvest the produce at the farm and split it up. Once a month we had vegetarian potlucks and it was a very energetic and close community of people.
After 2 years Visal left Texas to homestead in Mexico and the reigns to run the farm were handed to me. For the first year I was clueless but managed to pull of the responsibility. By the second year I started to grow the CSA membership to include a delivery route in Austin. And by the fifth and final year, 2006, the hands-on membership was doing all the labor for the delivery members in exchange for their produce. I even met my wife there at the farm- and we had our baby there with our mid-wives.
More than anything, Oasis became a fun place to work, learn and teach about farming! I was hooked. We almost stayed there in Texas at Oasis. The farm was for sale but we couldn�t afford the purchase price. After having Sage, our girl we decided to move back East where we both had family and lots of old friends. About 9 months after we moved here I stumbled upon Earth Spring. It has a great location in Cumberland County right at the northern end of Michaux State forest. The forest is a real gem and the South Mountains are always within view of the farm.
So far it has been wonderful to be in Pennsylvania. The agricultural history and resources here are immense and we feel that being back East has already been a rewarding move. At least for me – I love the 4 seasons and all the snow again!
Diem Nguyen, Doctor of Oriental Medicine
Diem is the glue and grounding force here at the farm and at our home. She is mother to daughter Sage (4) and wife to husband, Farmer Mike.
Diem is originally from Vietnam and immigrated to Harrisburg in 1985 with her family. After successfully completing her High School studies she enrolled at Penn State for studies in Pre-med. But after graduating she became disillusioned with the health system that she saw working in an area hospital. And thus started her journey back to her roots in acupuncture and herbology under the auspices of Oriental Medicine. Diem, at about the same time as, but unbeknownst to, Mike, packed up her car and drove from the Northeast down to Texas to start her studies at the Academy of Oriental Medicine in Austin.
John Hopkins and his wife own and operate Forks Farm. They have been in the local food and grass based meat business for a long time.
Here’s their story in their own words:
In 1992 we grew our first batch of pastured chickens for ourselves and a few friends. Since then our farm has evolved from a simple newsletter and order form for pastured foods to a community-supported farmer’s market. On market day you’ll meet other local farmers who share our desire for locally-grown, chemical-free, nutritious foods.
Through your purchases on market day you become an active participant in the development of a successful, local foodsystem. Every time you buy a dozen eggs here you are not just supporting Forks Farm. Your purchases extend to a dozen other local family farms, providing the glue that holds this local food system together.
The land of covered bridges
Our 85-acre farm lies just upstream from the “fork” between Huntington and Fishing Creeks here in Columbia County, Pennsylvania. This is also the site of the famous “Twin Covered Bridges,” the only twin covered bridges in the United States. There are twenty-three of these historic covered bridges nestled within the rolling hills and farmland of Columbia County. While you’re at the farm, you can walk down to the Josiah Hess covered bridge, built by the Hess family in 1876, the original homesteaders of our farm.
Local, fresh, healthy, and sustainable. Our goal is to be your local source for fresh, clean, pastured poultry, eggs, beef, lamb, and pork of the highest quality using sustainable farming methods that contribute to the health of our customers, community and environment.
Pasture-raised with no drugs. Our animals grow to maturity on pasture without the heavy grain feeding found in feedlots and confinement facilities today. Pasture raising provides our animals a low-stress, high-quality life, improves the soil, and helps maintain the landscape. We don’t believe artificial fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, growth promotants, hormones and antibiotics belong in our food chain, so we don’t use them.
Best nutrition for us. Foods raised from naturally-enriched soils and forages without chemical inputs taste better, keep longer, and are more nutritious than the food products you can buy at the grocery store. Our pasture foods are lower in saturated fats, calories, and cholesterol, and are higher in essential fatty acids and vitamins.
Spiral Path Farm, owned and operated by Mike and Terra Brownback is a 200 acre plus USDA Certified Organic vegetable farm in central Pennsylvania. The Brownbacks recently erected 4 acres of high tunnels on a separate piece of property.
As with every operation I’ve talked with both large and small with Spiral Path it’s all about family. These are forward thinking folks that exude passion for growing vegetable organically. Very good business people, the Brownbacks have evolved Spiral Path into an extremely large and successful vegetable farm.
Spiral Path markets about half of their produce through a CSA concept. The rest of their production is sold via wholesale channels. They started their CSA in 1994.
This is a discussion with two pioneers in the organic vegetable industry who are committed to excellence.
You’ll learn a lot from this one.
Wild For Salmon is a local business that makes fresh/frozen wild Alaskan sockeye salmon available to you at a common good price. Because we are the fishermen and we are local, we are able to provide you with the highest quality, flash/frozen, Alaskan sockeye available. Wild For Salmon is owned and operated by Steve and Jenn Kurian of Bloomsburg, PA.
Wild For Salmon began as only an adventurous trip to Alaska in 2002 to do some commercial salmon fishing with a friend. Following our first fishing excursion, we arrived home with 2 coolers of salmon for our friends and family. This is when we quickly realized the uniqueness of the product and the possibilities that lie ahead. We have grown to serve individuals, buying clubs, local farm markets, restaurants, and health food stores. Because Wild For Salmon has increased its sales by an average of over 20% per year over the last 4 years, Steve and Jenn have recently purchased their own boat and commercial fishing permit for Bristol Bay, AK.
Our Boat – The R-J
June and July are busy months on the boat. The fishing season lasts approximately 5-7 weeks. Steve is the skipper of our 32’ boat, while Jenn, the first mate, and two other local men are deckhands. While on the boat, we listen to the satellite radio to hear the official fishing periods. As we catch the salmon they are kept in refrigerated holds, making sure the quality is preserved. Every 10 hours we offload our fish onto a larger crab boat which takes the fish in for processing. It is quickly filleted, flash frozen, and vacuum sealed to capture the “direct from the boat” flavor. After fishing, the salmon is sent back to PA where we sell the salmon at local farm markets and other venues.
We created this business to provide natural, sustainably harvested salmon products of superior quality, priced for the common good. We offer wild, Alaskan sockeye salmon because we believe the health benefits received from wild salmon are an essential part of our mind and body health.
As the fishermen, we are able to experience the beauty of Alaska and participate in the native culture of the land. As the demand increases for wild salmon and Omega3 rich diets, we are proud to be able to make this product available to you at an affordable cost. Wild For Salmon is delighted to be able to supply you with the best sockeye salmon in the world. Our tireless hours of commercial fishing are rewarded with your love for our product.
Steve and Jenn
George Brittenburg from Taproot Farm joins me in this episode.
Tap root is an 11 acre mixed vegetable and egg farm. He’s a thought full guy who’s built experience over time in different farm settings. George, his wife and kids live at this leased farm and you’ll hear an interesting story on how they found the property.
We kibitz about the nuts and bolts of farming including cover crops, raising egg layers, some economics, labor and more. This one’s pretty good. I pushed him pretty hard with the questions. Thanks George!
Today my cousin David Runk joins me to reminisce about the family farm. My mom grew up on the farm that David grew up on. We talk about David’s childhood and the farm stories he remembers about the good old days.
Not all food and agricultural businesses are outdoor, traditional farms; that’s for sure. There is a segment of farm businesses that supply retailers and other growers plants for resale and for growing on. Lloyd and Candy Traven at Peace Tree Farm operate one of those unseen businesses. Peace Tree grows nearly one million herb plants and various other flowering annuals in a 60,000 square foot greenhouse complex. They are USDA Certified Organic.
It’s a fact that you can make more money in agriculture selling stuff you can’t eat. Ornamentals, flowers, pumpkins and nursery stock all provide margins far superior to food items. Peace Tree Farm has evolved to some of both. Operating in a commodity business is extremely difficult. Farmers of all types must think about value added products to keep the farming business profitable. Think cheese, custom meat cuts, food processing, even the guacamole you see at local farmers markets. Take that raw agricultural product and turn it into something; that’s where the profit is. The Travens are doing just that by custom growing for a high end niche. They are a smart, hard working, successful couple in the agriculture industry.
Thanks for listening to JACK’S FARM RADIO!
Trey and Deirdre Flemming operate Two Gander Farm near Philadelphia, PA.
I drove to Two Gander, a 10 acre vegetable farm, late one evening to talk with them about their new or should I say old farm. Trey and Deirdre have accomplished a lot over the last year. This season they moved their farm operation about 25 miles to a new, more permanent location. As I drove in the long driveway I could see even in the darkness and through the high tensile deer fence the makings of a viable vegetable farm. High tunnels, 1000 gallon water tanks and an organized opperation all lay in front of me.
In some ways this episode revolves around land access. Trey has been farming for quite a while on different properties and for different people. He’s on his own now, with Deirdre of course, in a true family farm situation. The Flemmings had to move from leased farm property due to a sale. During their search for property they were introduced to the Brandywine Conservancy through an almost random conversation with a farmers market customer.
Access to land is a huge issue for all farmers. If you’re young you probably don’t have the capital to buy land. If you’re currently farming, rising land prices are an impediment to growth. Finding a way around land access issues occupies the minds of a lot of people in the farm industry right now.
Trey talks about The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture also known as P.A.S.A. This organization has brought him many opportunities.
Good Agricultural Practices or GAP in farm jargon is taking on more weight each year as a third party checklist to ensure that farmers and the supply chain they use practice safe food handling.
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Lindsey Shapiro and Landon Jefferies own and operate 3 year old Root Mass Farm in Oley, PA. This young, well educated couple work on a limited budget growing vegetables that they sell primarily at farmers markets in Philadelphia, Pa.
Lindsey and Landon really are doing this on a virtual shoestring. You’ll hear about the limited equipment they use, how they found a farm to lease and what they eat during the busy season. Lindsey and Landon sell their produce at Headhouse Square and The Frankford Transportation Center markets in Philadelphia.
If anything this discussion really points to the need for you to spend more of your food budget at your most local, Producer Only Farmers Market. Producer Only Farmers Markets are just that; the folks selling at those markets are growing and or making their own items to sell directly to you. In The food industry, the vast majority of profit typically goes to the wholesalers. Supporting your local farmers at a Producer Only Farmers Market is a really heathy decision for both you, your community and the producer. Shopping this way helps the farmer or producer capture more of the profit in the transaction.
Lindsey and Landon are a terrific example of the modest, hard working, idealistic food producers you’ll meet at your local producer only farmers market. These are the types of local food industry people you need to support. Hope you enjoy this conversation with Root Mass Farm.