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.

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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.

Enjoying the Seasons

The tomatoes are still the star of the farm, requiring my full attention most every day.

But across the field a successor is lurking in the weeds. The pumpkins are growing well, the vines are curling up the tall weed stalks and sticking out past the edges of the field. I’ve even spotted a few orange ones already. There is also gourds and winter squash keeping the pumpkins company.

It is hard to think about autumn during the hot sunny weather of August but we are less than a month away from the fall equinox. The seasons move along at a quick pace, so make sure to take time to enjoy what tasty produce is currently at the farmers’ market, take a moment to soak up the warm weather, take a minute to watch bees buzzing from flower to flower, and take a deep breath of the summer’s afternoon breeze.

Before you know it juicy tomatoes will only be a memory and we will be pulling on our rain boots and cozy sweaters.

Tomato Plants

The tomato seedlings have been enjoying their time in the greenhouse but these tiny tomato plants have grown up and they are ready to be welcomed into their forever home. So at Friday’s farmers’ market I had my full selection of 17 different varieties of heirloom tomato plants for sale. With the likes of Sweetie, Gold Nugget, Cherokee Purple, and Garden Peach; just to name a few.

Some may ask, isn’t it a bit early for transplanting tomatoes? Well, that depends, if you are an experienced tomato grower and determined to have the first ripe tomatoes in the neighborhood, then now is a great time to transplant as long as you protect the plant from frost. Here in Sonoma Valley our last average frost date is April 15th. But if you are a beginning gardener or don’t want to wake up each chilly morning stressed that your tender tomato plant was attacked by frost, then you should wait until tax day, April 18th to transplant tomatoes.

Spring Greens

Things are heating up in the greenhouse. With the return of the sun, seedlings have been growing much faster than the previous grey rainy weeks. I have been busy potting up 6-packs full of lush spring crops that are begging to go outside into your home garden.

With all the rain some garden beds are still soaked making the soil too wet to work. To get some seedlings in the ground quickly remove any weeds or old plants from your garden beds, then put a thick 6-inch layer of compost on top of the existing soil and plant directly into that. The plants will get established in no time.

After enjoying this beautifully wet winter, I loaded up the truck on Friday and headed back to the farmers market. Since now is a great time to get your spring garden started I had lots of different leafy green seedlings for sale. Crops like collards, chard, and cress really enjoy these sunny but sometimes chilly and cloudy March days.

Seedlings for Sale

Yesterday I returned to the Sonoma farmers’ market. The last time I was at the Friday market it was a grey cold day in December, I only had pumpkins and popcorn for sale. A lot has changed in four months, the weather has warmed up and the sky is a bright shade of blue.

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I brought the contents of my greenhouse to the market. The tent was bursting with life, all my tables were overflowing with leafy green plants, excitedly waiting to head home to a backyard garden. I mainly had spring plants like kale, collards, arugula, lettuce and sugar snap peas but I did manage to bring a few summer crops.

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Provider string bean seedlings

When not selling seedlings or giving out gardening advice. I was cranking away on my antique corn sheller to keep the sacks of heirloom popcorn kernels filled. In the coming weeks I will have tons of tomato, pepper, eggplant, and melon seedlings for sale. The popcorn on the other hand is in limited supply. I’m getting close to selling out and when it’s gone, we will all have to wait until autumn for the next harvest.

There is Always Paperwork

With moving land this season the workload is more than just hauling my supplies to a new location and setting up a new field. There is the ever important paperwork. There is the lease agreement of course, the contract between the farmer and the landowner regarding what you can do with the land, what you have access to, and how much you will be paying for the term of the lease. As a certified organic farm, I need to have any new land certified organic. This involves completing an add acreage form to be included in my organic systems plan. Adding new acreage to an organic operation requires a statement from the owner of the land regarding its use for the last three years. Then that new land must be inspected prior to harvest and must be approved by your certifier before you are able to sell any of the crops as organic. So I have finished all of that paperwork, but there is still more.

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Since I sell at farmers’ markets I have another piece of paperwork to adjust, my certified producer certificate. The certified producer certificates are issued by each counties agricultural commissioner’s office and required for any farmer selling at a California farmers’ market. With the move, I am growing in a different county so it is not a simple update. I have to file all new paperwork with Solano county where I list not just the types of crops I grow but each variety of each crop. As a diverse vegetable farm my certified producer certificate is about 20 pages. I’m hoping to check off this next paperwork task this coming week.

Time for a Winter Break

Friday was my last farmers’ market for the year. The time has flown by since March when I arrived at the market with spring vegetable seedlings and green garlic. As the year progressed the vegetable seedling selection expanded and contracted; tomatoes arrived and left; pumpkins and gourds rolled in and finally the popcorn showed up.

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Even though I will be taking a 2 month break from the market that doesn’t mean I’m not doing farm work. After the holidays I will conduct a seed inventory then jump into the 2016 farm plan. The farm plan involves seed calculations, seed ordering, the planting schedule, harvest estimates, and a crop map. I will also be going to some agriculture conferences to continue honing my craft. Oh and I still need to clean and organize the greenhouse.

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Even though I won’t be at the Sonoma farmers’ market again until March 2016, there is still popcorn available for sale. This year for the first time you can order popcorn kernels by the pound online and I will ship it anywhere within the United States.

Expo East

Last week I returned from Maryland where I was attending the Natural Products Expo East. This huge trade show was packed with over 1,000 companies big and small showcasing natural and healthy living products.

Joel Salatin addressing the attendees

Joel Salatin addressing the attendees

I spoke on a panel about sharing the organic story online. I explained how I use my website and the various types of social media to engage the public. I was so honored to be asked to sit on this panel along with the Organic Trade Associationthe Kitchn.com, and Amy’s Kitchen. Afterwards I was thinking how I can reach more people, so I decided to add another social media platform to mix, Snapchat, you can find me getting snappy under the username: quarterafarm

Talking makes me thirsty

Talking makes me thirsty (photo courtesy of: Twitter handle @JoeWtmn)

At Expo East I was excited to see the show floor teeming with certified organic products but I was even more thrilled to see numerous North Bay companies displaying their organic products. Before I got to the show I figured I wouldn’t see many Bay Area products because, well the show was on the east coast. Boy was I wrong, every time I turned around there was a familiar business like Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery, Guayaki, Annie’s, EO Products, and so many more. These companies reach far and wide across the country but they continue to base their business in the North Bay.

Ran into the always awesome Jake of CCOF

Ran into the always awesome Jake Lewin of CCOF