Book Review Many Hands Make a Farm, by Jack Kittredge and Julie Rawson

Front cover of Many Hands Make a Farm, by Julie Rawson and Jack Kittredge, Chelsea Green Publishers

Book Review

Many Hands Make a Farm: 47 Years of Questioning Authority, Feeding a Community and Building an Organic Movement, Jack Kittredge and Julie Rawson, Chelsea Green Publishers, November 2023. 208 pages, 6 x 9 inches, with an 8-page color photo insert. $24.95.

This little book is not a how-to-farm book, but a very readable memoir-plus-life-philosophy of two activists who also raised a family and farmed organically, built their local community and served in founder and leadership roles in the Northeast Organic Farming Association. They favor minimized external energy use, natural healthcare and debt-free living. If you have some of the same goals, this book could be inspiration and encouragement. As well as the Many Hands Organic Farm CSA, their paid jobs on the board of NOFA and Jack’s job as a board game designer kept them afloat financially. Somehow they also found time to engage in music and theatrical arts and social justice work. They wrote their book in their separate voices, as interwoven sections. It’s usually easy to tell who is speaking.

The foreword is by Leah Penniman (co-founder of Soul Fire Farm and author of Farming While Black), who became a farm intern at Many Hands in her late teens, and was praised as “no question the best worker on the farm”.

Julie and Jack met in Boston in 1976. They shared values of trusting in nature, surrounding themselves with life, using their talents, respecting details, and staying skeptical but open. Each of the authors had many years of organizing and political activity under their belt before they met and moved in together in Boston, where they made a small garden, complete with compost bin and rabbit hutch. They ate well, sold 10,000 copies of one of Jack’s board games, saved money, had their first child, and after five years, planned to move to the country. They bought a 55-acre parcel of a 400-acre ex-dairy farm near Barre, Massachusetts.

They camped there, read, planned, and planted fruit trees, and had their next child. They needed to build a house, which would require saving for a year. They wanted to use the sun and earth for heating and cooling, wood for cooking and hot water, greenhouses and root cellars. They designed matching their dream, foregoing a furnace in favor of woodstoves; earth-berming the basement; running all their plumbing in a central column far from the external walls to avoid freezing; and building a basement root cellar with fan-assisted air circulation.

Their house has three floors plus an attic, providing maximum living space for minimal foundation structure. Despite such careful planning, they do see some flaws. If starting over, they would include barns and sheds attached to the house, under the same roof. When the electricity is out, the well-pump doesn’t work. They had not planned a secondary water source. Condensation of warm moist air on cold pipes and walls came as an unpleasant surprise.

Learning that half the total cost of a house was for labor, they decided to provide that themselves. Also learning that half the total cost (these can’t both be true, can they?) was for interior finishing (flooring, walls, insulation, cabinets, and trim) they decided to do that too. Wisely, they brought a mobile home to the site to live in until the house had electricity, hot water and a septic system. They organized construction weekends for their friends. They wrote a weekly newsletter to boost morale and keep the workforce up-to-date. Julie and Jack worked as hard as they could (Jack leading the construction, Julie leading the cooking and childcare, not so revolutionary, but efficient for the short term).

In December, after 5 months of amateur construction work with a bit of professional help, the shell was closed in and they moved into the house (having spent one-quarter of the total cost). By then they had four young children. Moving into a shell of a house turned out to be a good decision for them, partly because they could change plans as needs became apparent. For example, adding a window in the north wall so they could see from indoors just what was happening outside. It was to take them ten years to finish the interior work, and it was better to live with daily improvements than to wait a long time for the perfect home.

Jack learned computer programming, took contract roofing work and did odd jobs locally, to repay the emergency family loans for closing in the house. Julie, meanwhile, together with neighbors, started the Barre Farmers Market, where she sold her crops.

Julie had left college early to save the world, and married young. When she met Jack she knew she had to leave that marriage in order to start a family with Jack. This was morally difficult for her, even while emotionally imperative. Children came along quickly (four in five years), born at home. They were raised to do chores, go to bed when told, do their best at school, tell the truth, treat others with respect, and suffer the consequences of inappropriate behavior.

Julie Rawson, author of Many Hands Make a Farm. Credit Clare Caldwell

All the children went to public school, as much to learn socialization as to get an education. Conversations round the dinner table expanded the scope of their education, as did talking in Spanish, encyclopedia quizzes and maps as wall décor. The NOFA community provided models of farm family life, including expectations of children doing chores. This gave them a good work ethic, leading to chances of paid jobs on other farms as they grew older.

Other children and young teens were drawn to the household as frequent visitors or as temporary residents. Julie calls them “children of the heart” and was happy to offer them a sanctuary from which to navigate their first rough transitions in life.

On the farm, Julie and Jack built up their soil at every opportunity, gathering organic matter wherever they went. Initially they fed themselves from a quarter-acre. After a few years, they expanded to sell at the farmers’ market. Later, Julie started a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture system) with 25 members, growing on an acre and a half, with hired workers, and a work-share option of four hours per week for a full share. They bought a Troybilt rototiller and wore out a complete set of tines every year in their rocky soil. This method worked for 30 years, upgrading to a wider tiller that could be pulled behind the four-wheel tractor they had bought, and a bed shaper. Julie calls herself a tillaholic, enjoying the results while becoming aware of the longer term damage happening.

In 2014 she became convinced by an impassioned talk by Graeme Sait, to focus on maximizing carbon in the soil as part of addressing climate change. Avoiding the oxidation of soil that comes with fluffing it up with a rototiller helps sequester carbon and reduce erosion. Julie became a convert to no-till, despite opposition from some of the workforce, and sold the tiller. Using mulches and more perennial crops are key parts of this strategy. They bought lots of rock dusts and added them to their fields, following the teachings of agronomist William Albrecht. By-then-grown son Dan was a big part of making this change happen.

The operating principles at MHOF are:

  • Cooperate with nature, focusing on building good soil, not on eliminating pests.
  • Healthy soil microbes are the highest goal, and the foundation of a strong farm.
  • A healthy plant is resistant to insects and disease. [Yes, healthy plants are those that are not diseased. That’s a tautology. It is agreed that a plant requires all three features of the disease triangle: a susceptible host, the presence of a disease-causing organism (the pathogen) and a favorable environment for the disease. But, is it your fault if your plant does not resist the disease? This statement seems to blame the victim for problems that occur.]
  • Exceptional health leads to exceptional results, another example of a statement proving itself.
  • Biodiversity is key, providing resilience and strengthening the farm as a whole.
  • Help the land grow nutritious food, by attending to soil fertility: test soils and amend as needed.
  • Mulch matters, adding organic matter, feeding the soil micro-organisms, keeping the nutrients cycling round.
  • Healthy natural landscapes include both plants and animals, and farm landscapes also benefit from animals.
  • Cover crops have many soil benefits and many uses.
  • Green growth is essential for feeding the soil micro-organisms year-round, as well as adding to the carbon in the soil.
  • Silage tarps are valuable to suppress vegetative growth. Yes, the plastic is not a sustainable material. But many growers have concluded that on balance silage tarps can do more good than harm. The time on the soil is short (March to May at MHOF) and the impact is less than tilling, or leaving the soil bare. The worm casts seen on the soil surface when the tarps are removed seem to prove no long-term harm.

About eight years after the kids had grown and left home, in 2007 MHOF started working with Almost Home, a program for former prisoners of the county jail, who had addiction problems. They raised money to pay these people. Two or three at a time stayed for some years, and became friends. Julie was happy when the physical work, fresh air and hearty healthy food brought about positive change in the lives of some of these struggling people. After eleven years of this challenging work, they decided to retire from the stressful work with the ex-prison men, some of whom relapsed into addiction, including two who died of overdoses.

MHOF also hired Clare Caldwell as Julie’s farming partner, and some more full and part-time staff. Clare brought breakfast sandwiches to the ex-con workers, and is got along with all kinds of people. She has been at MHOF since 2008, including birthing and raising three children in that time. She and Julie work together very well while competing in the nicest possible way to do the hardest work.

Jack Kittredge, author of Many Hands Make a Farm. Credit Clare Caldwell

The farm has an implicit guide for farm managers:

  • If you can’t say anything nice about someone present, don’t say anything at all. It’s OK to rag on those absent, with the understanding that “what’s said on the farm stays on the farm.”
  • Never ask someone else to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself (within your physical limitations).
  • Do exercises and affirmations before the crew arrives. Put a smile on your face. You’ll feel more alert, calmer and more open to what happens.
  • Be sure each day is well organized in advance. Have a written task list posted for those who forget.
  • Good morale follows from being occupied in something you enjoy or are good at. Know each person’s skills. Be ready to switch people around if your first estimate doesn’t work out.
  • Change things up. An hour is long enough for most people on any one task. Have contingency plans for different kinds of weather.
  • Give people as much authority as they want and can manage. Silently “interview’ workers for their next potential role on the farm.
  • Organize yourself out of a job. Hand over and move on. Line up the next task. Jack and Julie are now shedding overall responsibility for major parts of the farm management.
  • Hold a high standard for all your workers. Be clear about job descriptions and remuneration.
  • Distinguish between long-term workers, working shareholders and volunteers, making expectations clear.
  • Make it fun. Some like to sing, play word games or discuss thorny topics. Others do not.
  • Celebrate birthdays and important events. A cake, some music, a mention in the newsletter.
  • Eat together. Offer breakfast, have someone make lunch for the crew. Expect all to help with cleanup.
  • Offer incessant honest praise and appreciation.
  • Don’t be afraid to apologize and own your mistakes. This builds trust.
  • Resolve conflict by immediately addressing it in a non-judgmental way. Make agreements about future interactions.
  • Take all comers, at least once. Give everybody a fair chance. Half a day, or a day.

My reviewing came unraveled when I read that Julie and Jack did not support Covid distancing, masking or vaccinations. They believed their immunity levels (and existing intake of supplements) were strong enough to protect them from this newly emerged virus, as it does for flu. I’m happy for them that when they got Covid they both got mild cases. And may have avoided spreading it to people more vulnerable than them. Not everyone has been so lucky. Some of us have lost family members, or got Long Covid. My sympathies go out to the bereaved and those with chronic illness. I don’t get why anyone would choose to ignore the scientific evidence (once it started to emerge). Clearly the authors do believe much medical science and do take treatment for other conditions, and add preventative supplements to their fantastic diet. As they say, the politicization of the disease didn’t help us. Nor does demonizing people with different opinions, who may be living in a different situation.

After selling to a hotel chef, then a small health food store, then the Barre Insight Meditation Center every time they held a retreat, they finally had a lucky break as CSAs became more widespread and well-known.

In 1990, the federal government appropriated the word “Organic”, setting up a national inspection, certification and labeling organization. The individual statewide organic organizations joined in the National Organic Program. Soon Organic standards were allowing fudges to organic food production, such as outdoor “porches” for laying hens in densely packed poultry sheds.

Both Jack and Julie were working for NOFA, Jack on the financial and campaigning sides, Julie on coordinating the bulk organic supplies order and gathering volunteers. The NOFA Summer Conference included people from seven northeastern states, and had been run by the Vermont chapter. Sadly, it owed lots of money to two Vermont colleges, and some other chapters refused to share the debt. Julie and Jack saved the conference by finding a good location in Massachusetts, and persuading the MA chapter to host the event from 1987. They were able to get the conference back as a money-earning event and repay the Vermont loans.

They also revived publication of a NOFA newsletter, gearing up from one issue per year to six. Controversial issues were fearlessly aired (mosquito-eradication pesticides, sewage sludge as fertilizer, the industrialization of farming, big farm subsidies from taxes, the national expectation of cheap food, GMOs, and animal ID chips (dropped by the government after huge resistance from farmers).

The newsletter editors also ran seminars from 2008-2018, in conjunction with the Bionutrient Food Association, where Dan Kittredge worked. Interest in nutrient density of food lead into thinking about carbon sequestration, and no-till farming as a way to reduce carbon burn-up (carbon dioxide build-up).

Around 2015, Jack (in his mid-seventies) started to retire from NOFA/Mass involvement, and in 2020 Julie retired from her role as director. Their graceful exits were marred by a major disagreement with the NOFA Interstate Council at the end of 2020. Jack focused an issue of the newsletter, The Natural Farmer, on whether or not hydroponics should be allowed within Organics. Jack’s openness to airing dissent brought forth a blistering criticism from those who thought this idea unworthy of the newsletter.

For the conference, Julie proposed a debate about Covid vaccination and the New York state law closing religious exemptions. This idea was seen by many farmers as pointless and divisive. Instead, the topic went to an issue of The Natural Farmer, edited by Jack as his final issue. Some readers wanted to pull the issue, but it was too late. Is it censorship to exclude controversial topics, or is it avoidance of unhelpful conflict in order to focus on moving forward on agreed topics?

After 36 years working for NOFA, Julie (now 70) was happy to return to full-time farming, and continue educational work through a weekly farm newsletter and the Many Hands Sustainability Center, with weekly hosting of boys from a school providing for those recovering from sexual abuse; and seven workshops per year for members of the public. Jack is preparing to pass on their legacy, the farm, to a land trust. This means that their 55 acres cannot be further built on, and remains available to future buyers at a lower, non-development price.

Here are two people who were clear in their goals, applied themselves with gusto, achieved all their important aspirations, wrote it up, and roundly deserve to rest on their laurels.

Book Review Compact Farms by Josh Volk

Compact farms by Josh Volk, front cover

Compact Farms: 15 Proven Plans for Market Farms on 5 Acres or Less, Josh Volk

Storey Publishing, 2017. 226 pages, 8” x 10”, full color photos and illustrations, charts. $19.95.

This book will be very useful to those preparing to buy or rent land for a small vegetable or flower farm, or those expanding, or downsizing, or re-thinking their small farm model. It is both practical and inspirational. The photos are treasure troves of beauty and ideas. The main part of the book consists of 15 well-organized presentations of a small farm, offering a range of possibilities. The same format is used for each, making comparisons quick and straight-forward. The intro page gives the “vital statistics’ of area in production, location (including whether urban/peri-urban/sub-urban/rural), crops grown, markets and year started. We meet the farmers, and hear a potted history.

The introduction to the notion of thinking small (or “compact” as Josh teaches us to call this scale) explains that compact farms are easily manageable, with many tasks done with hand tools. Start-up and operating costs are reasonable, and money can be invested as success builds. They help build a sense of community, by virtue of being small enough for non-farmers to understand. They usually rely on a diversity of crops to spread risks, rather than an arsenal of pesticides to kill all the problems. The author lists the keys to success for compact farms as paying attention (to the land, crops, weather, seasons, markets, and maintaining resilience); setting yourself apart from large scale growers by growing appropriate crops and adding value; and developing stable systems that work (making improvements over the years, tied to the particulars of the farm and farmers).

Josh Volk, author of Compact Farms

The area in vegetable or cut flower production ranges from Josh Volk’s own 0.15 acres in Oregon to Peregrine Farm’s 4 acres in North Carolina, and includes 2.5 acres of rooftops in New York. Some of the farms also include fruit trees, poultry or bees.

For each farm there is a two-page spread with an attractive hand-drawn farm map with the important items tagged. These layouts will be a big help to anyone pondering how to efficiently pack in all the growing space and facilities needed. A compass North would have been helpful, but usually this can be deduced from the alignment of the greenhouses and hoophouses. If you buy the paperback book you could cut it apart and spread the maps round a table for direct comparisons.

The next, very helpful item is a big chart of the crops harvested each month. Here there is a lot of diversity. Some sell nothing till April or May, and close again at the end of October, some are almost year-round. Some have a full page of crops; one has lettuce year-round and coffee and 5 other crops (that’s in Hawaii). One sells winter crops, because their land is too wet to make an early start in spring. Many ways to produce healthy local food are demonstrated.

After each introduction, there are sections on customers and markets; labor; water; fertility; tools and infrastructure; greenhouses and propagation; seeding and planting; crop care (weed control, season extension, pest and disease control, trellising and pruning); harvesting and post-harvest; sales, communication and record-keeping. Studded throughout are the gems that tell how each farmer has adapted to their situation. Sidebars explain some practices with a bit of detail. How to do flame-weeding, make use of WWOOFers, learn useful skills, make use of hoophouses. Photos (worth more than a thousand words) demonstrate details of cart designs, root washers, a car port used as a wash-pack area, and rods welded onto the hood of a rototiller to mark rows.

The back of the book includes a section called “Nuts and Bolts” with gathered thoughts on planning and designing a farm, all the way from clarifying your goals, listing what you need as a minimum to achieve those goals, what you want to be doing on a day-to-day basis (managing a big crew or having your hands in the soil?), on to what you need to make your farm work (land, location, water quantity and quality, storage, roads, greenhouses, hoophouses, harvest, packing and storage space and equipment, livestock, retail space, office, a restroom near the fields, and housing. Lastly there is a chapter on making it work financially.

The farmers in this book tend towards organic, sustainable, socially conscious, ecological, biological, regenerative. This tendency is always a work in progress, not perfect. We know tractors pollute. These farms consider and value the “triple bottom line” of people, planet and profit, as the three pillars of sustainability. Crop rotation develops healthier soils, stronger crops (therefore potentially profit) and healthier people compared to pesticide-farming. Sustainability does not seek a static state, but continual improvement, so that we leave future generations at least as well off as we are.

Josh Volk was inspired by John Jeavons’ book How to Grow More Vegetables. . .
Photo by Penguin Random House

John Jeavons of Ecology Action and the ground-breaking book How to Grow More Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains and Other Crops than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land than You Can Imagine, was an early inspiration for the author. Jeavons promoted sustainability, soil fertility, food with high nutritional density, while using as little space and as few resources as possible. The many detailed charts in his book have been used by generations of growers since, to plan their small farms. Although we might not favor double-digging, as Jeavons once did, his biointensive methods are used around the world to maximize production of healthy local food.

Devising a system that will work very well for your farm will be helped by studying these 15 examples and learning how a decision about one aspect leads to a particular decision about another aspect. The details of each farm might set you thinking about aspects you had not yet considered, or might reassure you that what you see as a major obstacle can be overcome or side-stepped. Tractors are not essential. Pasture for a horse may use as much land as the production area. Don’t plan to farm alone: all the farms in this book have at least two workers. Everyone gets sick sometimes, or has to take a day to go to the city for a dentist appointment.

I wrote a short summary of each farm, but there isn’t space for all that here, so I’m shortening my notes right down. Most of these farms offer 24-36 crops during the season, grow on raised beds, have at least one hoophouse, and a wash/pack area. All have at least two workers, most also with seasonal help. Most use three markets: CSA, farmer’s market, restaurant or wholesale. Here, I’ve focused on the diversity.

Josh starts with his own compact farm (Slow Hand Farm) in Oregon, the smallest in the book, at 0.15 acres. Josh wanted a hand-scale operation where he himself tended all the crops. Josh focused on specialty crops that gave high yields from small spaces, and could take a few days without attention, as he was only on the farm two days a week He designed a CSA with small shares, based on salad crops and a few other items. Deliveries were by a leased Bullitt cargo bike with an electric assist.

Four Season Farm, from their website

The second example is Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch’s famous Four Season Farm in rural coastal Maine. There are two acres in crops and 8 acres in chicken pasture. Eliot is well-known for his ground-breaking books. Employees learn by working with mentors. Poultry are used in rotation to provide fertility for the soil that will later grow vegetables to sell year-round. Everything is very well-thought-out – you can read more in Eliot’s books.

Stephen Cook of the 0.75acre Cook’s Garden in a peri-urban setting in Ohio sells vegetables, plant starts, strawberries, cut flowers and honey. The farm layout has very little unused space. The vegetable beds have 2.5ft paths (considerably wider than most bed systems). Crops are sold May-October, plus asparagus in April. The farmstand has a bell to summon Stephen on his bike. He custom-harvests the vegetables. Stephen does not use winter cover crops, but instead sows buckwheat in empty beds in August, providing forage for his bees until it gets frost-killed. He uses tarps. Initially, he used landscape fabric and old hoophouse plastic that he already had. He is moving to just using landscape fabric. Wide beds require a way of reaching the center: he has a low-lying transplanting cart that straddles the bed, holding the plants and the farmer, moving backwards down the bed, kneeling on the cart while planting.

Linda Chapman, Jocko and the golfcart

Linda Chapman at Harvest Moon Farm in rural Indiana produces vegetables, cut flowers and bedding plants on 2.5 acres. As she already owned the land, her start-up costs were minimal ($400). She enclosed her porch with plastic to make a greenhouse and used an old Gravely garden tractor for tillage. The farm includes blueberries and woodies (cut flowers with woody stems). Linda focuses more on the 39 flower crops in the warm season, then 24 vegetables in the cold months. Almost all annual crops are transplanted, from starts propagated in a 16x30ft well-insulated solar greenhouse attached to the barn. Linda uses an electric golf cart to move trays of plants to the garden and harvest buckets to the barn.

Peregrine Farm, from their website

Peregrine Farm in rural North Carolina has 4 acres in production. Alex and Betsy Hitt grow vegetables, cut flowers, and blueberries. The Hitts created a corporation with 18 friends who invested $80,000 to start the 26acre farm. After the farm started to make a profit, Alex and Betsy were able to buy out all the other shareholders. They continued to live as if they weren’t making money, and now have a retirement fund. Their farm includes twelve seasonal Haygrove tunnels with sets of legs installed in multiple places, enabling rotation. Their 34 vegetables provide crops year-round. Water comes from two ponds, a creek and a well. They used to run 100 turkeys through the quarter-acre rotational blocks, depositing 500lbs manure per block during each stay. This great system had to stop when the local poultry processing plant closed.

Jeff Frank and Kristin Illick operate Liberty Gardens in rural Pennsylvania, growing on 1.5acres of family land which they use for free. January has no sales, and the other eleven months’ production involves 34 crops, peaking in September and October. Cover crops provide the basis of their soil fertility plan. They also make compost from leaf waste and crop residues. Orders for New York are shipped next-day delivery with UPS.

Kealaola Farm, from their website

Kealaola Farm in Hawaii sells lettuce, other greens, beans and coffee grown on 3.8acres by Barry Levine and his rotating crew of six WWOOFers who stay in a row of tents. The crop calendar is very different from other farms in the book: seven year-round crops, with full-size and baby lettuce providing nearly all of the income and occupying most of the space. A bed can grow 6 crops of lettuce in one year, or 18 crops of baby lettuce. Unsurprisingly, there are no greenhouses or hoophouses here. Seed germination happens inside a tent, and seedlings grow to transplanting size on outdoor tables. Living on a remote island, Barry has to improvise when the unexpected happens, or supplies run out sooner than planned.

La Grelinette farm family.
Photo from their website

Les Jardins de la Grelinette in rural Quebec is run by Jean-Martin Fortier and Maude-Hélène Desroches. Jean-Martin is well-known for The Market Gardener, training classes, and work researching and teaching at La Ferme des Quatre-Temps. At les Jardins de la Grelinette, the farmers produce vegetables on 1.5acres. The map shows a very tightly-packed layout of 10 plots of beds, 4 hoophouses, a beeyard and chickens in the orchard. They are pioneers in tarping as a sustainable method of weed control and no-till soil preparation. They have 27 crops for sale from June to October, and a few in November. Purchased compost is used, with many beds growing more than one crop a year. A ten-year rotation plan helps ensure care of the soil. Their delivery van runs on straight vegetable oil.

Zoe Bradbury at Groundswell Farm, OR.
Photo from Ecopreneuring

At Groundswell Farm in rural Oregon, Zoe Bradbury grows 2.5 acres of vegetables, berries and flowers, and 1.5 acres of orchards, leasing family land alongside her sister’s salad greens farm and her mother’s greenhouse business. The women work like a producer cooperative, marketing together. They share a tractor, and handle CSA and restaurant orders, and deliveries collectively. Zoe has a full-time year-round foreman, and does some of her field cultivation with a Belgian draft horse. 32 crops are available during the February to early December season. They water from the creek, using pumps and drip irrigation. The greenhouse has a 4x32ft germination table with water pipes buried in sand. Thermostatically-controlled propane heat the water. Their cool summers mean field crops needing extra warmth are grown in chenilles (poly low tunnels covering two beds).

Mellowfields FArm, Lawrence, Kansas.
Photo from their website.

Mellowfields Urban Farm has 3acres in production in Lawrence, Kansas. Jessie Asmussen and Kevin Prather grow vegetables, culinary herbs and berries. Their farm is divided between two acres leased from the city and another acre at their home. The city’s Common Ground Program (owners of the land) aims to “transform vacant or under-utilized city properties into vibrant sites of healthy food production.” The two farmers took on a part-time harvest worker, and were able to increase market sales 40% above working alone, stay on top of things, and have more family time. Produce is available May to December. The Common Ground Program provides free compost made from city yard waste.

Full Plate Farm, Washington, CSA PIckup art from their website

Full Plate Farm in the peri-urban Ridgefield, Washington area, where Danny Percich grows 3 acres of winter vegetables. The land is very wet in spring, so Danny chose a November-March CSA. April is time off, before planting starts in May. The map shows an intensively used area, including his house, and beds of root crops, alliums, long-season greens, winter squash, fast-growing greens, and popcorn. If you think this limited season does not offer many crop choices, note that they list 30, including stinging nettles in March! Danny works about half- to three-quarters of his time on the farm, saving 4 hours daily for his three children and partner.

Flywheel Farm, Washington farm stand.
Photo from their website

Flywheel Farm in rural Vermont is run by Justin Cote and Ansel Ploog. They (alone) are growing vegetables, culinary herbs, eggs and rabbits on two acres. They negotiated a five-year rolling lease with the owners, and decided to start on half the land and do that well. They live elsewhere. Their crops are available late May to early November. The farmers built a well-designed compact wash/pack area, including a 5x7ft cooler. Ansel has included a page “Why We Farm” that explains how they aim to be part of a vibrant sustainable regional agricultural economy. Receiving appropriate financial compensation for farming work (done efficiently) is one of their goals.

Box of melons from Leap Frog Farm.
Photo from their website.

Leap Frog Farm is 2.5acres of vegetables and 3 acres of fruit trees in rural California, farmed by Annie Hehner. She keeps goats for her own dairy supply. She lives in a simple house on the land, and pays rent to her parents for the cultivated land. The space includes a hay field, and orchards of young almonds, peaches, Asian pears, plums, and walnuts. Annie hires a friend to work full-time with her. Sales have a marked seasonality of 15 January-May crops, 14 June-December crops and several that mature in November. Annie borrows farm equipment from neighbors, and does a lot of improvising. She built a straw bale cooler that uses a CoolBot device in summer.

Cully Neighborhood Farm banner

At Cully Neighborhood Farm in the city of Portland, Oregon, Matt Gordon grows vegetables on 0.5 acres for restaurants, a 40-member CSA and a juice company. He found some open land belonging to a church and school, and arranged a lease, including delivering some excess produce to the church’s food pantry. Matt works 40 hours a week during most of the season, and 20 hours from December to February. June-August he employs an apprentice for 30 hours a week. There is an outdoor classroom and a children’s garden of 12 boxed beds, run separately, but supported by the farm. Matt (and apprentice) grow 36 different crops, distributed May-late November.

Brooklyn Grange Farm.
Photo from their website

Brooklyn Grange is a rooftop farm in Brooklyn and Queens, New York, growing 2.5 acres of mostly intensive vegetables. The farmers are Ben Flanner, Anastasia Cole Plakias, Gwen Schantz and Chase Emmons. At last! I was uneasy that all the photos of farmers so far in the book are white! Here we have a large diversity of farmers. Not particularly visible in the book, because the profile has no farmer photo, and the photos of workers all look white. But the Brooklyn Grange website shows many workers, and is worth a visit to see the roof top farm videos too.  Their first rooftop, in Long Island City, is 6 stories up, and the second (in Brooklyn Navy Yard) is a dizzying 12 stories above ground.  Everything goes up and down in freight elevators, although during construction they used cranes. They sell microgreens year-round, and 22 other crops May-November. There are 4 full-time farmers and extra seasonal workers. The 12” deep soil is light and fluffy, so hand tools do most of the work. They do sometimes carefully use a rototiller. A shipping container on the roof provides office space and a cooler.

This is a very practical book, and as I often say about farming books, the price of the book will steer you towards success and save you costly poor decisions.