Reflecting Back

There has been lots of change this year, most of it planned and expected but surprising and exciting nonetheless.

I started this year with the decision to take a sabbatical, to step back from my 10 year long farming operation and really analyze my business. This analysis included running the numbers as well as taking time to check in with myself as the founder and operator of Quarter Acre Farm to see what I wanted both professionally and personally. In farming as with any small business it’s easy to get tunnel vision and just stay on the hamster wheel working tirelessly as the seasons and years roll by.

My analysis lead me to the conclusion that I wanted to continue farming but needed to secure long-term land access in the form of ownership. I also wanted to increase my take-home income, which for me means a farm larger than 1 acre. With these realizations I could not figure out how I could achieve this in the San Francisco Bay Area and remain a financially sustainable business.

With my farm and personal goals in place I began looking for a region that I could make those goals a reality. As many people know from my accent, I’m from Maryland, which I left at 18 to pursue a study in agriculture and sustainable living. I never figured I would return for more than a visit but for the benefit of family I figured I should look at Maryland. It quickly became apparent that the Eastern Shore had everything I wanted; lots of farmland, reasonable driving distance to metropolitan areas, county/ state support for new and established farmers, a community with a budding interest in organic agriculture, hot summers, and an affordable cost of living.

So we made the big cross-country move to Maryland, landing in Easton for now as we get our bearings and figure out where on the Eastern Shore we would like to eventually buy land. In the meantime I have been connecting with the local ag community who have been extremely welcoming and I have had the opportunity to participate in an array of different programs, tours, and seminars for farmers in the region.

This coming year I will be leasing a small plot of land to grow tomatoes, pumpkins, popcorn, and seedlings; selling at a local farmers market. After over 10 years on the west coast I need to get used to growing with rainfall in the summer, warm nights, east coast pests, and Maryland’s seasons. Also in 2019 I will be participating in the Future Harvest BFTP which gives me the opportunity to be mentored by Vic Priapi at Priapi Gardens, an awesome operation growing organic vegetables out in the field and under cover plus a nursery operation. During this coming season I will begin the search for a “perfect” piece of farmland to call my very own. I’m really looking forward to what 2019 will bring.

 

Wishing you all a happy, healthy new year filled with adventures and possibilities.

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Meeting our New Ag Community

One of the main reasons that we moved from California to Maryland was land access. After a decade of farming in California, I could not get secure long term land access on leased land. The prospect of purchasing farmland in the Bay Area of California was just not a sustainable business option for us.

 

After extensive research we decided that the Eastern Shore of Maryland could provide us with what California could not; affordable cost of living, and support to establish and grow an agricultural business.

 

Since arriving in “the land of pleasant living” we have definitely experienced the affordable cost of living. Here you don’t need three jobs to survive; a person can actually live on wages from one full time job. We are still looking for farmland (if you have any leads let me know)! But what has surprised me the most is how welcoming and supportive the agricultural community has been.

 

From local food non-profits, to government agricultural resources, to individuals; everyone I have reached out to has taken the time to offer advice, information and guidance, to me a stranger in these parts. I have been amazed at how many people have taken time out of their busy schedules to meet with me over a cup of coffee so I could pick their brains on starting a farm here.

 

I’m impressed with the University of Maryland Extension’s programing. Recently I attended their Food for Profit entrepreneurship training program. This day-long training went through the ins and outs of starting a food business, legal regulations, food safety, labeling, and more. They did a great job of breaking down the complex paperwork involved in bringing a food product to market. It gave me the motivation to actually want to create a value-added farm product.

I have also found there to be a ton of agricultural conferences, summits, and seminars within a two hour drive of where I live. Just last week I spent the day at the Delmarva Soil Summit put on by Future Harvest an awesome non-profit providing loads of educational programing for farmers. This summit covered not only the importance of soil health but how to improve your soil and how to monitor its health. What impressed me more than the great information and resources I was gaining that day, was the diversity of the attendees. In their first ever Soil Summit they had brought together large commodity growers, direct market farmers, students, service providers, and even home gardeners.

There is still lots I need to do before I start farming again next year, but the community support I have received thus far is incredibly encouraging and reinforces the excitement that we have in making the Eastern Shore of Maryland our home.

Getting Settled

After a whirlwind move we are finally settling in to our new apartment in Easton, MD. We moved in just over a month ago but its been hard to catch my breath, let alone get into a normal routine. We have been doing lots:

The shipping container arrived with nothing broke and everything stayed exactly where we had put it, we should have won an award for our excellent packing skills. There is no space for my farm equipment at our place so my father has graciously allowed me to temporarily store all things farm related at his workshop.

Setting up the apartment and getting the various odds and ends that we need has taken the most energy. I do not enjoy finding a place for everything, I wish it was like in the movies where you open the box and your things just float on over to their rightful place. Unpacking box after box is in progress, we still have to unpack office stuff and wall decor plus my record collection continues to be confined to wine boxes.

 

With all the unpacking and moving-in paperwork we have not forgotten the fun part, checking out the local sights. Boat rides on the bay, exploring the many tiny towns, tasting the local food, and visiting the Atlantic ocean. It has been great to have my parents as tour guides, cause I don’t know where anything is.

Choptank riverboat

Farm fair

Soft shell crabs

Brigantine beach

Also being away from the east coast for over a decade there are certain things we forgot how much we missed like thunderstorms (seriously we sat on the porch and watched it like it was movie), lightning bugs (they make you believe in fairies), green grass in the summertime (water falls from the sky here), warm nights (no need to wear layers) and of course the option to put Old Bay on everything (Maryland restaurant tables have 3 shakers; salt, pepper, and old bay)

Soft shell calms aka longnecks

So over all everything has been going really well moving into Maryland. I’m just ready to know where everything is and to finish unpacking the last of our boxes.

Packed Up and Ready to Go

We have downsized, gotten rid of stuff, and consolidated as much as we could. Of course it is surprising how many possessions we actually have.

Everything has been packed and too our surprise the moving container had empty space leftover … to think we could have kept more stuff! But as many people told me, it is so refreshing to part with items we are no longer using. It allows you to have a clean slate for your next adventure.

I’m excited and invigorated for the change, it doesn’t feel like a struggle or even stressful it just feels natural, like a change in the seasons.

We have said our goodbyes to Sonoma, but I never look at goodbyes as final, just until we meet again. We will soon begin our journey across the country by train. You can follow along via instagram!

 

Downsizing

This month I have been busy downsizing and getting rid of stuff. I’m amazed at how much stuff both at the farm and in the house, I have accumulated over the past dozen years. I mean I’m not surprise I come from a long line of pack rats (just one side of the family tree not both 😉) As I have been going through my possessions and unearthing things I didn’t even know I had, I was surprise by how quickly I realize that I didn’t need it or even want it anymore. I kinda thought it might be emotional or traumatic but it was so easy to decide that an object was ready to move on.

Beginning of the second day of our garage sale. Now most of this stuff is long gone.

Now I’m no minimalist, I’m still keeping a bunch of stuff. But early on in the downsizing process I had decide that I would only keep things with sentimental value or in regards to the farm, tools and supplies that I had regularly used within the last two years. There has been a few tricky items where it has been tough to decide, do we keep them or do we let them go, the deciding factor is how much of the limited 830 cubic feet of space will that tricky item take up? We are using one moving container to go cross country and everything that wants to enjoy a Maryland lifestyle has gotta fit in that container.

Since I like to research concepts to figure out the “best” way to do something. I spent quite some time on youtube watching video after video of packing tips. With this newly acquired knowledge, I’ve been packing up breakables in lots and lots of packing paper. As well as securely boxing up winter clothes and shoes. We still have about 4 weeks until our actual move day so right now the focus is on packing up stuff we definitely won’t need anytime soon.

Nothing is left at my farm and the house is pretty empty too. It feels like a throwback to college days cause I’m using milk crates as side tables and a few wine boxes as a nightstand. My garage has become the staging ground for the big move with a tape outline of the container space, which is slowly filling with boxes and farm equipment.

 

New Adventure

Over 12 years ago I moved to California with hopes of following my passion for local food systems and working in the field of agriculture. I started off creating edible gardens for restaurants and private estates. I hung around farmers markets to meet producers and fellow local food lovers. When the opportunity to lease land appeared, I jumped at the chance to start my very own farm. Through 10 seasons and many different parcels of land, I honed my farming skills to bring tasty organic produce and seedlings to my community. Through hard work and a bit of luck I was able to achieve my goal of becoming active in the sustainable agricultural scene in the Bay area.

Over the years my passion for agriculture has continued to grow and my dream of becoming a lifelong farmer has never wavered. Farming is a business and when you look at your farm operation as a business you realize how important stability is to your continued success. Without financial sustainability, no farm is truly sustainable.

I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I can have a secure farming future. I came to the realization that I can’t continue to farm in California on leased property and as a farmer I can’t afford to own land here. This July I will be moving back east to Maryland, where I have the ability to purchase farmland.  I will begin farming again in 2019 on the Eastern Shore.

It is bittersweet to leave the west coast where I refined my farming skills and where I have met so many wonderful people (including my husband). But I am excited to return to my home state to start a new farm and continue my agriculture adventure!

I will continue to make blog posts along the way and share my new discoveries so keep reading and keep in touch. If you are more of a picture person, follow my adventure on instagram.

Resiliency

The smoke has started to clear here in Wine Country. My home and farm were not damaged by the wildfires but that seems, to just be by luck or a random change in wind. These wildfires have been devastating, I know many people who lost their home or business and sometimes both. As I talk to friends or strangers in the parking lot the stories we share are similar; waking up in the middle of the night to fire reports, sights of glowing mountain tops, buildings reduce to ash, and the anxiety of waiting to hear more news.

The threat of fire loomed for so many days, I like many was glued to every screen watching the news, listening to the radio, and scrolling through social media to figure out where the fire was and where it might be going.  I felt lucky to have time to pack up things before we evacuated.  

As a farmer, I have always been humbled by nature, knowing full well that I am not the one in control. But the strength and speed of these wildfires were unbelievable, many people had no warning.

We may not be able to control nature but we can control how we react as humans. Giving back is a great reaction, this of course can involve donating to a nonprofit* but even just being kind to another human being is generosity. So remember be patience with one another, call your loved ones, take time to talk to your neighbor, smile and acknowledge a stranger. We are each a tiny piece of this larger community we call home.

*If you’d like to make a monetary donation check out these organizations:

  • Just and Resilient Futures Fund resources from this fund will be provided to victims of fires, especially those suffering losses not covered by insurance or traditional relief services, and to support initiatives that build more just, healthy, and resilient communities and that better prepare us for future catastrophe. With immediate focus on relief funds for those fire victims who were already living on the margins.
  • Redwood Credit Union is accepting financial donations to assist fire victims and aid relief efforts. 100% of your tax-deductible donations will go directly to support those affected.
  • La Luz Center has the mission to be a catalyst for change in Sonoma Valley through health, education and financial security. During this time of devastation and crisis they are focusing on the following services: ‘disaster unemployment assistance’ as well as ‘individual assistance disaster relief funds’ application assistance, rental assistance referrals, and job placement referrals. They are also providing hot meals and basic need items for families that have been displaced, are without electricity, or need a safe day space.

Racing to Harvest

Lately it seems like everyday is a race. A race to pick as many tomatoes as possible before it gets too hot. My race day starts the night before, I load the truck with boxes, pint baskets, snacks, and water. To figure out when to wake up, I look at when tomorrow’s sunrise is, so I can plan to be out in the field as early as I can. Sunrise is getting later and later, right now it’s happening at 6:38am to be exact, that is not much time before 12 noon when it becomes too hot to pick tomatoes (cause nobody wants soft pre-cooked tomatoes). I would like to start harvesting before 6:30 am but as you can imagine harvesting in the dark is hard. So I start harvesting at sunrise and I fill the flats that each fit 12 pint baskets as fast as I can.

Sometimes I have cat supervision

This time of year with the plants aging and the heat wave happening a lot of the fruit that is hanging is split or soft, so it’s a bit like an obstacle course. Cherry tomato harvest in late summer is not as fast as earlier in the season so you really feel the time speeding by as pint baskets slowly fill.

Once the day has become too hot for picking, I go inside to start sorting the tomatoes removing damaged fruit and mixing the colors. By the time this is finished it’s time to prep for tomorrow and load the truck with supplies. It may be a race but it won’t last forever.

Being Present

What can I say, I’ve just be picking tomatoes since we last spoke. It’s true my days are measured by how many flats of this tomato variety or that tomato variety I have harvested.

I shuffle through the tomato rows quietly bobbing up and down as I pick tomatoes. I sometimes listen to music but I find more enjoyment just listening to what is going on around me. The rumble of tractors in nearby vineyards. The cooing of mourning doves flying into the trees. The dull roar of the trucks going down the road. The quail signalling to each other from the bushes. The screech of the red-tail hawk soaring overhead. The rustle of leaves as a lizard runs away.

A dragonfly resting on a tomato stake

I delight in being aware of my surroundings, present in what is going on. I find that I need this time and space to get away from noise. To eliminate the digital audio distractions that fill most of my day from car radio, to my smart phone, the videos on my computer, or the movies watched at night. Just being outside, in the world unconnected is important for me.