I am a contributing editor with Growing for Market magazine. An avid vegetable grower for 38 years, I have been farming as a member of Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia for over 20 years, where I lead the growing of food for around 100 people on three and a half acres and provide training for members in sustainable vegetable production. My farming experience includes caring for cows, sheep, goats, pigs, bees, chickens, ducks and geese; growing small acreages of wheat, barley, oats, field beans and hay, using old farm implements, and growing and cooking more than sixty different kinds of vegetables and fruits.
I was born and raised in England, and in my early twenties I joined WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and so started to learn the joys and tribulations of farming. I became part of a group forming back-to-the-land communes. At that stage, I was attracted to organic farming as a healthy way to live and an alternative to the capitalist hamster cage. I realized that solo farming was a heavy responsibility with little chance for time off, hence my interest in living and working collectively. Politically I was attracted to the fairness of sharing resources, and I had some youthful zeal and ideological self-righteousness about all this.
I learned a lot about life, especially people, agriculture and politics during the next seventeen years. I was no longer “experimenting” with alternative lifestyles – I was here to stay. Politically I had become committed to working where everyone receives the same pay, responsibility and decisions are shared, co-operation is encouraged, needs are provided for collectively, and everyone is expected to work a fair share according to their abilities. Sustainable food production, and vegetable growing in particular, has been my calling throughout. I have grown food in the balmy southwest of England, the rolling Shropshire hills and the wind- and rain-blasted moors of Yorkshire.
Drawn by the prospect of a larger, secular, egalitarian, income-sharing community, in 1991 I moved continents and transplanted myself in the USA, joining Twin Oaks Community, an intentional community and ecovillage of around 100 people. I have been the manager of the vegetable and berry gardens at Twin Oaks for 16 years. Our gardens are part of our organic farm, which also includes dairy, beef, poultry, bees, herbs, tree fruit, mushrooms, seed growing, ornamentals and forestry. The mission of our garden crew is to supply a wide variety of tasty, fresh, organic seasonal vegetables and fruit for our community, for as much of the year as possible. We also train members in sustainable vegetable production. Training people helps me learn how to explain tasks.
A big advantage for me, of living within a larger intentional community has been the chance to focus my work on growing food sustainably, while other people take care of the jobs I don’t enjoy. Since joining Twin Oaks I have learned about some new crops and many new bugs. I have learned how to grow food in Virginia’s humid summers and how to continue through the winter with cold-hardy vegetables. Because it is important to me to make best use of every small space in the garden, and every window in the calendar, I started to keep records of our successes and failures. With the help of a large hooophouse, we achieved several years of close to self-reliance in vegetables. To reach this point, I researched better methods, better varieties, better timing. It seemed natural to start writing up what I have learned.
As well as dozens of articles in Growing for Market over six years, my writing experience includes four Infosheets for the Virginia Association for Biological Farming, and six gardening articles for the Louisa Voice (a local paper). Two of my articles have been published on Johnnys Seeds website. I’ve made a presentation to 200 people at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group conference in January 2009, and shared presentations to the Virginia Association for Biological Farming Conference in 2008 and 2010. I was interviewed for an article in Organic Gardening magazine. I’ve also written many gardening papers for the Twin Oaks garden crew.