Sauvie Island Organics started in 1993 with one small acre and two hard working women. We sold our vegetables at the Portland Farmers Market and to three area restaurants. As our experience grew so did the demand for locally grown produce. In 1996 we expanded to three acres, bought our first tractor and incorporated a 30 member CSA into our marketing mix. Today we grow on 25 acres, employ dozens of hard working crew members and own 4 tractors. We nourish hundreds of households through our CSA program, deliver to dozens of area restaurants and several college campuses and in the winter can be found at the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market.
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
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.
One Straw Farm is the largest Food Alliance Certified vegetable farm in Maryland. Lovingly tended by Drew and Joan Norman since 1983, One Straw Farm supplies families, restaurants and wholesalers with the finest certified produce. The goal of farming is more than simply growing a satiable crop, but also the responsibility of safeguarding the integrity of the land we cultivate. Each week we promise thew provision of sustainable produce with a responsible ecological footprint. We extend our value base into the creation of a strong relationship with our market customers and our members through interaction and communication on a daily basis. From our family to yours, we invite you to enjoy our gorgeous home-grown vegetables either through our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, the following farmers markets:
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 & Kira’s is a Philadelphia based confection company owned and operated by John Doyle and his wife Kira Baker-Doyle. John talked with me about his rise from creating chocolate delights in his studio apartment to his current muti-million dollar chocolate manufacturing facility. Through the good fortune of a meeting with a magazine editor, John & Kira’s growth exploded.
The candy business is seasonal. John tells me that John & Kira’s does half of their yearly sales volume in the November-December holiday season. We have a revealing conversation about manufacturing chocolate for a peek sales season of just four weeks a year.
Marketing is a big part of the confection business and John & Kira’s does marketing really well. John talks about differentiation in the chocolate business. With beautiful packaging and extremely creative, earth and nature inspired chocolates J&K product stands out in what could easily be argued is a commodity industry.
This interview is a really good lesson in good business practices that can be applied to virtually any industry.
Here’s their story from their website:
John & Kira’s is a socially innovative chocolate company dedicated to both making and selling world class confections and promoting positive social change.
Co-founders John Doyle and Kira Baker-Doyle both felt the itch to start an entrepreneurial venture back in September, 2000. John, after a short stint in banking, made a career switch into the kitchen at various restaurants in Manhattan and Philadelphia. Kira was completing a Masters in Education at the University of Pennsylvania and working closely with an urban school garden project.
After over a year of research and experimentation, the pair developed an all natural line of chocolates so delicious and unique that Gourmet Magazine placed them on the front cover of their publication in 2003, and praised them as their ‘favorite chocolates’. John & Kira’s quickly became nationally known as a premiere gourmet chocolate company in the United States, both for their fresh confections and their pioneering social mission.
The signature line of chocolate ganache squares features ingredients from sustainable artisan food growers local to their Philadelphia chocolate studio, across the country and around the world. They highlight:
– fresh mint grown in urban school garden programs in Philadelphia that teach students about nutrition and agriculture
– honey from family-run Draper’s Apiaries in PA paired with organic lavender
– lemongrass from a biodynamic & organic farm preserving heirloom crops in CA
– ginger from a biodynamic & organic farm on Molokai, Hawaii
– shade grown coffee from a worker-owned Fair Trade cooperative in Chiapas, Mexico
– pistachios grown, harvested & roasted on family owned & operated Eagle Ranch in NM – organic earl grey tea from a Sri Lankan employee-owned cooperative.
Since the 2003 Gourmet Magazine article, John & Kira’s concept and the company have grown steadily. They have expanded their chocolate line to include chocolate ladybugs and chocolate filled figs from an organic, family-owned farm in Spain. Their chocolates, recently featured on the Martha Stewart Show and in Oprah Magazine, are available online at www.johnandkiras.com or by calling 800.747.4808.
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.
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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Annmarie and Sam Cantrell join me on this episode.
Sam runs Maysie’s Farm Conservation Center. He’s a conservationist at heart and a dreamer too. Sam started his CSA in the ’90’s. We talk about some of the history of the CSA movement including Sam’s 1980’s brush with one of the earliest adopters of the CSA concept in the USA. A look at history I think, is a look at change. From my experience, small farmers are changing their businesses more frequently than most. Face it, farming is a commodity business where it’s quite difficult to differentiate one farmers products from the same ones another farmer is growing.
With this challenge of differentiation comes the need to tweak your business more frequently than most, I think, and you’ll hear how Sam has done that to keep himself afloat. You will hear about the ever-present stress of the business coming from both managing perceived customer expectations and managing the labor to meet those expectations.
Annmarie has worked as an educator her entire adult life. She currently operates Cucina Verde providing culinary wellness training. She also sells her own fermented foods at local farmers markets. Annmarie is a founding member of GMO Free PA where she advocates for food labeling policies.
I mention the book: [amazon text=Tomorrow’s Table&asin=B00BR5LC72] by Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak. This book discusses the practical juggle between the need to supply the world with food and the need for environmental and economic sustainability for the farms that grow your food.
Thanks for listening and subscribe to JACK’S FARM RADIO on i tunes.
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.