In addition to weeding, mulching (and sweating) through the hot South Florida summer days, we have spent much of the past month researching ways to increase production in our current space. The goal is two-fold: To serve more of the people who want to join our CSA program and to donate more Fruitful Field fresh and nutritious greens and vegetables through community food pantries and soup kitchens.
The end of July, I attended the annual conference put on by Florida Organic growers in Gainesville. Sessions focused on soil health and detailed the findings of UF researchers on a variety of cover crops and no-till systems here in Florida. Other sessions focused on incorporating permaculture practices on production farms, produce food safety, and weed control for organic farms. Lots of great information and even more reinforcement that cultivating healthy plants is all about developing healthy soil.
While visiting Beth and Flavio at their new home in the mountains of North Carolina, we toured four small farms in the Hendersonville and Asheville areas. Every farm and farmer we visited offered new ideas, new crops to try, and new methods of growing.
At Holly Spring Farm near Hendersonville, Paul Shoemaker and his wife Simone took time out from harvesting and preparing that afternoon’s restaurant orders to show us their tomatoes. Paul is definitely a specialist in heirloom tomatoes, their cultivation, and their diseases. (We enjoyed a salad of watermelon and Holly Spring heirloom tomatoes that evening at Sierra Nevada Brewery.) He shared a few new varieties he thought we should try growing this season (which we will!). Not to mention an ingenious and inexpensive way to use shorter stakes as the tomatoes grow tall.
We also want to thank Jessica Spiegel of the strictly organic Terra Lingua Growers, who showed us around the two greenhouses where she grows incredibly lush tomatoes, cucumbers, hot peppers, arugula, and other crops for her farm market sales. The Asheville area offers some interesting opportunities for growers, like these leased greenhouses that had once been part of a large flower-growing operation. After that business went bankrupt, the greenhouses have been revitalized to house a variety of small, local, sustainably-focused business including growers like Jessica, woodworkers, and light manufacturing. Jessica recommended another tomato variety that we’ll try this season in South Florida.
At the Veterans Healing Farm, John Mahshie and Justin, his farm manager, showed us the tools and facilities they use to serve veterans from across the country. This garden is unique in donating the vegetables, fruits, and flower bouquets they grow to veterans and their caregivers free of charge. We really admired the new building that will allow the organization to house and teach veterans from all over the country at no charge, including an upcoming beekeeping class. This farm also places a great emphasis on creating a beautiful, healing environment for veterans and local volunteers to work in together — a real inspiration!
We also enjoyed seeing Susan Sides again, from The Lord’s Acre, another “garden that gives” that is focused on volunteers who grow a wide range of organic produce for donation. In addition to showing us what they grow, Susan shared many of the communication methods and tools that the Lord’s Acre uses to communicate garden tasks for volunteers and staff, together with all the information needed to complete them. The garden is a lovely balance between vegetable production, flowers, herbs, and teaching/demonstration, including a vibrant children’s program called “Sprouts.”
Together, they’ve given us so many new ideas and inspirations to continue to grow the Fruitful Field. We appreciate their generosity in sharing their time and knowledge. As Susan noted, “We all learn from each other.”