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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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.

Spring Work

Spring is here … or maybe summer I’m actually wearing shorts as I type this, hello 80 degree weather. This spring my workload looks a little different. I’m not sweating it out in the greenhouse but staring it out, at the computer screen.

I have been developing client’s 2018 crop plans, which involves meeting with them to discuss their vision for their farm or garden as well as determining their must haves, when it comes to produce harvest. After the meeting I spend time with spreadsheets calculating their seed and plant need, I figure out their seed and transplant order, then create their planting schedule, and draw up their crop map. All of this gives each of my clients a detailed plan of what to buy, how to prepare, when to plant, and an estimated date for their first harvest of each of their crops.

I have also completed my taxes … yay. Like most people preparing one’s taxes is a drag. But this year it went a lot quicker because I did I really good job of keeping up on my bookkeeping during the 2017 growing season. And I don’t naturally think “Oh, lets enter invoices instead of watching another episode of <insert favorite TV show>”. So to make sure I recorded my sales, expenses, and deductions in a timely manner, I created a daily habits tracker which included bookkeeping. When I completed the task I rewarded myself with a sticker … that’s right a sticker! Hey, what works to motivate preschoolers also works for 30-somethings.

With spring weather comes the urge for spring cleaning. I have sorted through my seed bins removing expired seeds and cataloging the remaining packets. I have been purging random farm supplies that I have been keeping for years even though I have not used them years. I have even taken the time to try to organize my office getting rid of old papers and filing others away, so I can actually find them when I need them. Even though I’m not busy mowing and tilling my field, there is something about spring that just motivates you to get ready and prepare for the coming year.

Another Season is Done

Now that it’s the end of the season it seems like eons ago that I was getting the field ready for the beginning of the growing season. Even though it was just 10 months ago that I was starting tomato seeds in the greenhouse and about 7 months ago that I was planting popcorn kernels in the field. Now everything has been mowed down or has been killed by the frost.

Tomato field past its prime

The growing season is always a whirlwind but it still has an undeniable rhyme. With the arrival of spring the daylight grows, egging you on to become more active and get outside to work. The heat of summer pushes everything to grow big and lush including your energy level. Fall shows up colorful but exhausted, encouraging you to slow down. Then winter with its cold short days shoos you inside to stay cozy and inspires you to reflect. Even though I may fight these seasonal urges at first, I quickly give in because it is exactly what my body is demanding my mind to do.

Popcorn field through the seasons

So as winter approaches, it’s officially 10 days away, I have started to review the growing season, celebrating my achievements and figuring out how to better address the challenges.

Whoa Those Are Big

Thursday as I began harvesting for Friday’s farmers market my focus was on cherry tomatoes. I had my day planned out; spend the morning harvesting cherry tomatoes, box up cherry tomatoes for the wholesaler, prep cherry tomatoes for the farmers market. Then in the afternoon get the truck loaded with seedlings and drop off the cherry tomato wholesale order on the way home.

Well as I finished harvesting all the cherry tomatoes I needed for the wholesaler, I was getting ready to harvest more cherry tomatoes for the farmers market when I spotted something big and bright pink a few rows over in the sprawling vine-y jungle that is the heirloom tomato patch. I walked over thinking I had found a lone heirloom tomato ripe before the rest. But as I picked up that big beautiful pink tomato I saw that the vines were covered with ripe tomatoes. And these tomatoes are huge, most of them are a solid pound with many leaning towards two pounds.

That puppy weights 1.5 pounds

So I ditched the pint baskets for big boxes and started harvesting heirloom tomatoes. They were so big they quickly filled the boxes and I started to realize I might not have enough room in the truck for everything now that I had heirloom tomatoes in the mix. With limited truck space and time speeding by, I opted to only harvest a few cherry tomatoes for the farmers market because the heirloom tomatoes have arrived and they are large and in charge.

Tomatoes at the market

Just a Bit More Planting

The field is almost completely planted. The corn is about six-inches tall.

Most of the dried beans have sent up stalks with two bright green leaves. The pumpkins should be germinating soon. And the tomatoes still need to be staked. The last few beds will be seeded with winter squash, this year I will be growing six different varieties. I’m also planning to do a late planting of tomatoes which I will probably start harvesting at the same time as the winter squash.

A heirloom bean variety known as Saturday Night Special

The greenhouse has been staying pretty full as I’ve been seeding fall and winter crops like brussel sprouts and broccoli. But don’t stress there is still time to get your favorite summer seedlings like basil, cucumbers, and melons. I’ve been busy in the cool mornings potting up lots of seedlings perfect for filling backyard gardens in June.

Everything is Growing

Crops love these long sunny days. The tomatoes are bright green and getting taller every time I turn around. I really need to get the stakes up so I can start trellising them. If this tomato season is anything like last year’s I should have some ripe tomatoes to taste in a month’s time.

The popcorn germinated fast, it went from a tiny green shoot just barely poking above the soil to two stalky leaves waving in the wind in like 3 days time. I was so amazed at the speed that I had to do a double take at my calendar to make sure I was reading the date correctly. I hope the popcorn continues to grow fast because the weeds have germinated too and I’d like the cornstalks to shade out the weeds so I have less wheel-hoe work to do.

Notice the tiny weeds next to the corn seedling

I’ve already done a few passes on the tomato rows with the wheel-hoe. It seems we have a transition from the planting phase of the season to the weeding phase, not this farmer’s favorite but I’m trying do a bit of weeding each day so at least the weeds don’t get as tall as me.

Seeding Popcorn

Now that all my tomatoes are planted, a quarter of an acre in total, I’ve moved my attention to another part of the field. The popcorn part of the field! I grow a total of a half an acre of heirloom popcorn. The field has been prepped and the beds have been made. So earlier this week I direct seeded 11 beds of Dakota Black (my personal fav) which works out to be about a quarter of an acre.

The rest of the beds will be seeded with Pennsylvania Dutch Butter and Smoke Signals (a new variety for me). After all the popcorn is seeded I have to cover each row with drip tape to provide irrigation, thats about 8,100 feet worth! Laying out drip tape can take some time but once the water is turned on the popcorn should germinate quite quickly.

I can’t forget about the tomatoes for too long as they are growing pretty fast and will need to be trellis soon. Trellising my tomatoes involves putting a series of t-post and stakes in line with the plants then weaving baling twine between them to hold the sprawling tomato vines up. Oh and the tomatoes need to weeded very soon too.

Wheel hoe in action

 

Something New

Like most farmers I build on my experience from year to year with the hopes that this year will be better than the last. So I tend to grow many of the same crops and varieties that performed well in previous years. It is comforting to know you have a crop that you are familiar with and for the most part you have an idea of what to expect throughout the growing and harvesting season. As you refine your crops and figure out what varieties grow well and taste great, you drop the ones that continued to have problems in the field or just didn’t taste great. Removing poor performing crops leaves space for something exciting and new.

This year my new addition to the farm is Aunt Molly’s ground cherry. A ground cherry grows similar to a tomatillo, a sprawling green plant that is covered in dangling paper husks. Once the paper husks drop off the plant you will find what looks like a golden-yellow cherry tomato inside, but this fruit is super sweet tasting like candy and often used to make jams or pies. I transplanted about a 100 ground cherries last weekend, so far the tiny plants seem to be growing well.