Harrison Bardwell – Bardwell Farm: EP8 | Show Notes

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Andy Chamberlin: I am your host, Andy Chamberlin, and I take you behind the scenes with growers who share their strategy for achieving the triple bottom line of sustainability. These interviews unravel how farmers are building their business to balance success across people, profits, and our planet.

 Today’s episode comes to you from Hatfield, Massachusetts, where we visit with Harrison Bardwell of Bardwell Farm. We start [00:00:30] off the episode with a tour of his greenhouses and check out a few of his experiments this year with early peppers and overwintered onions. After that, he shares his background that equipped him to build up and manage a 30 acre vegetable business, all while being in his mid-20s.

Harrison Bardwell: So my name’s Harrison Bardwell. I’m owner of Bardwell Farm here, in Hatfield, Massachusetts. We’re a 30 acre diversified vegetable farm growing over 40 different types of vegetables [00:01:00] and we’re year round production now, high tunnels and field work.

Andy Chamberlin: And this is The Farmer’s Share.

Harrison Bardwell: I just did a UMass tour here, actually. UMass Amherst, one of my former professors, actually, she started doing classes here three years ago, so I’ve got two or three UMass classes that come here every year, now. So we do a nice tour and whatnot so, yeah.

Andy Chamberlin: [00:01:30] You’re warmed up for it, then.

Harrison Bardwell: I’m good at public speaking. I like doing it.

Andy Chamberlin: Good.

Harrison Bardwell: I like sharing about what we do here, so.

Andy Chamberlin: Well, that’s important.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, we can, I don’t know, we’ll start down in the greenhouses or something.

Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.

Harrison Bardwell: And I know I wish the sun was out because it makes things look so much prettier. But we’re we’re just getting going. We picked asparagus this morning, that’s finally coming, we got like 50 bunches. We got a half acre across the river there, so that was nice.

 [00:02:00] Well, this is our propagation house. I hear you say that a lot in your videos there. We actually built this, this is our fourth season in here and it’s where we do all our vegetable starts. But these hanging pots right here, we’re actually just starting, we’re going to start putting out today. These are a proven winners collection.

Andy Chamberlin: Yep.

Harrison Bardwell: They’re different combo baskets, but this has been something we’ve been trying [00:02:30] to do to fill the space of the greenhouse to utilize the heat in the spring with how much propane’s costing.

Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.

Harrison Bardwell: But yeah, we’re filling up, we’re trying to get into the field now, so.

Andy Chamberlin: No, this is pretty. Yeah, I love it, too, because it’s so bright and colorful and.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, the smell in here when you walk in with the flowers is just, lightens you up, so.

Andy Chamberlin: Exactly.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, that’s been fun. We’ve been [00:03:00] in here, we start in here in 1st of March, but we’ll plant in here all the way until mid-late September, the high tunnel winter greens and things, so.

Andy Chamberlin: So you plant in the soil in here, too, it’s not just a prop house?

Harrison Bardwell: No, this one’s just a prop house.

Andy Chamberlin: Oh, okay.

Harrison Bardwell: We’ll continue walking down, those will transition into high tunnels. But I’ll show you these peppers. I’ll explain those in a little bit, but that [00:03:30] was an experiment, pretty much, I trialed this year and it worked, but now we’ve got a lot of, those are actually stock over. We had a lot of extra stock over, so we’re trying to see if we’re going to put those in the field or try to sell them. It’s funny; we pack all these flowers in here and then they start getting bigger and bigger and it actually starts shading out the transplants a little bit. So then they start dealing with leggy plants, so it’s time to start pulling these out and [00:04:00] selling them.

Andy Chamberlin: Right.

Harrison Bardwell: Opening some sunlight up into here again, but we’re getting there.

Andy Chamberlin: I see you’ve got a little wagon roadside stand. So do you bring those out there or do you let customers back here, right into the greenhouse?

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, so we actually just set up the frame the other day. But yeah, we’ll pull all these flowers out and we’ll just keep filling and stocking that stand. That little road, we can go up there later, that little roadside farm stand’s how I began my business [00:04:30] eight years ago, and we actually still use it in the spring for when we have smaller stuff. Come June time, we actually set up a pretty large tent, it’s like a 20 by 30 tent and we have a pretty good display for retail, so that’s cool.

 This is our high tunnel number two, we call it. This is the second high tunnel we built. This structure’s about three or four years old, now, [00:05:00] and we just actually planted these tomatoes not last week, the week before. So just about two weeks ago. These are all hybrid determinate red slicing tomatoes. I’m trying a steak system in here with a basket weave this year on these.

Andy Chamberlin: Okay.

Harrison Bardwell: Because we’ve figured that, we’ve realized that we don’t have time to trellis multiple rows of tomatoes a week. We don’t have the staffing to do it and it just [00:05:30] takes too much time. But I told myself I’m not growing a field tomato outside this year because we just have terrible luck. Every year is just terrible and the quality of tomatoes we get out of these tunnels is just worlds of difference. So I don’t know, it’s my first year trialing that, seeing what we get for a yield out of that versus the field and go from there, but.

Andy Chamberlin: I haven’t seen too many growers in the northeast with in the field.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah.

Andy Chamberlin: It’s like they’re in high tunnel or [00:06:00] they don’t bother.

Harrison Bardwell: I haven’t had the space to be able to do that, and we’re finally increasing our high tunnel capacity so I’m able to do that. But yeah, even last year with the drought, we went from no rain to five inches in one day and we had a whole tomato crop that just split, cracks, within two days and it was just, so I’m sick of that. You lose so much yield out of that. [00:06:30] So now we’re transitioning with this, but we do a heavy rotation where it’s winter production into summer production.

 Yeah, that’s this one tunnel here. None of these are heated. So we’re trying to grow, basically trying to grow those bigger plants in the greenhouse, get them in here earlier. This one we actually just re-skinned completely. I’ll show you the inside’s the same [00:07:00] as the other one. We’ve got more tomatoes, but.

Andy Chamberlin: Another ledge wood full of tomatoes.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, we started working with Ed, well, five years ago, and I just think it’s a really simple design. It’s really easy and we’ve manipulated the end walls to what we want to have our own design, but I think it’s an affordable price and-

Andy Chamberlin: And it’s fully covered by the NRCS program.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah.

Andy Chamberlin: I think that’s the thing.

Harrison Bardwell: That’s the nice [00:07:30] thing. Because I’ve done quotes from other places where it’s like rim all is like $50,000 to build one of these.

 This is something cool I want to show you. I don’t know if a lot of guys are doing this, but I’ve started experimenting. So this top layer is just regular poly plastic. You got the double layer here, but we actually have another channel here, now, and this is that woven poly plastic and this stuff’s supposed to have a 10 year life on it, and this is only [00:08:00] four to five. So this, I feel like it’s a little stronger material and it’ll last a longer, especially in wind and in the rolling up and down consistently. But we only have to change this once every two times we have to change this, so-

Andy Chamberlin: Makes it a little easier to skin.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, and it’s easier to deal with. You’re not dealing with bigger pieces of plastic down to the ground and having to deal with not ruining the end, the roll up side parts, walking on it and holding it, and [00:08:30] so I’m pretty happy with that. We’re learning right now, we have a double channel here and we actually have water seeping in this channel, so we’re trying to seal this up with caulk or something to mitigate that. We’re still experimenting on what’s working, but we tried that with the big high tunnel. We’ll walk out there next.

 But yeah, we’ve gotten pretty good at this so far. We’ve skinned five greenhouses, now. I pulled the plastic off myself [00:09:00] one evening and yeah, we got it re-skinned within two days. It was funny because we basically, we ripped all our high tunnel winter greens out, I deskinned it on a Wednesday, we had it fully re-skinned, everything, Saturday and we were planting by next Wednesday, and in between I was prepping.

Andy Chamberlin: Full flippage.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, so.

Andy Chamberlin: This doesn’t help you now, but I know there’s a company that makes a double track channel.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah.

Andy Chamberlin: Okay.

Harrison Bardwell: So we use that on [00:09:30] that greenhouse and it worked, but we already had the single channel here.

Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, right.

Harrison Bardwell: So I could have ripped it all off and then put the double on, but I’m like, what? It’ll work.

Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, I know.

Harrison Bardwell: But now I’m kind of like, maybe it won’t work. So we’re learning, still. We’re getting there.

Andy Chamberlin: No, I like that.

Harrison Bardwell: My father loves his grass so we try to keep the property pretty maintained. We just got a couple new wells put in with, we’re working with NRCS [00:10:00] on a lot of well irrigation projects and this is a new four inch well we just put in and been learning a lot about development of wells and cleaning them out so you can get the most gallons per minute flow.

Andy Chamberlin: Interesting.

Harrison Bardwell: So we started, we’ve got two here. We started at 50 gallons a minute and we’ve worked our way up to like 100 gallons a minute just by cleaning out the wells, so that was pretty cool.

 I’m trying lettuce on plastic this [00:10:30] year. This is actually, you know Salva Nova?

Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.

Harrison Bardwell: You ever heard of that variety?

Andy Chamberlin: Yep.

Harrison Bardwell: So we’re trying this on plastic at a high density for salad mix and hoping that we can harvest it more than once by cutting it a little higher and letting it regrow hopefully in another time.

 So I’m experiment with that and then I’ve got a small romaine, it’s like a baby romaine, I’m trying to, I’m [00:11:00] going to trial to do a similar thing as a cut and come again. I have no clue how it’s going to work, but that’s what we’re doing.

 I just got a brand new, I got a new-to-me 14 years old rain flow plastic layer and the thing’s got, it laid less than an acre of plastic in its whole life. Brand new, yeah, it’s sitting over there. We can go look at it, but I found it some-

Andy Chamberlin: It’s not too many things to wear out on those anyways, [inaudible 00:11:28] .

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, it’s showroom. The [00:11:30] paint is still pristine.

Andy Chamberlin: Nice.

Harrison Bardwell: We can, we’ll walk down here.

Andy Chamberlin: This is a big tunnel.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, this is a 200 footer we just put up last fall. This was through a NRCS project. Yeah, we had the space and the capacity so I said I want something bigger because we’ve got the area to do it, now. And we don’t have power out here, yet, which is we’re working on, but we do have the double layer and we got the separate roll-up side on this, now. [00:12:00] But we adapted or adopted the full length roll-up door system that Queens Greens has that in our area, and then is it Footprint Farm up in Vermont?

Andy Chamberlin: Old Road.

Harrison Bardwell: Old Road. Yeah. I actually reached out to him to get some advice on building it, too.

Andy Chamberlin: So that’s the Baylor end wall, I think?

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah. And honestly, it wasn’t that hard to construct once we figured it out, what we need to do.

Andy Chamberlin: That’s good. So [00:12:30] what’s the brand of this tunnel?

Harrison Bardwell: This is a ledge Wood, as well.

Andy Chamberlin: This is Alleged?

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah. it’s kind of hard to see in here, but these are, we’ve got 3000, almost 3000 high tunnel colored peppers in here. And you can walk in here quick if you want.

Andy Chamberlin: [Inaudible 00:12:52].

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah. We planted these on April 19th, that week took us about eight hours with [00:13:00] four or five people. So what I was telling you about in the greenhouse earlier, the experiment I was trying is I wanted to get a bigger established plant going earlier in the season, but these weren’t heated so we weren’t able to plant them in here early. So I did the reverse of growing them bigger in the greenhouse and then transplanting a bigger plant in the high tunnel so we can get [00:13:30] an earlier production, if you will.

 But these were actually seeded in the greenhouse in middle of January, and we grew them and I transplanted them into 128 cells and let them grow to a size, and then we transplanted in into those, they were like 30 cell trays that you saw in the greenhouse. But we had, these have actually grown a little bit since then, but they were a pepper plant and they’re already starting [00:14:00] to flower, some of them, actually. So we’re, hopefully, I want to be a month ahead of the field production wise, is my goal, so we’ll see.

Andy Chamberlin: Well this will be fun.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, it’s newer. So there’s 3000 plants in here. We’re going to stake all these and then we’re going to basket weave them because we’re going to train them, hopefully, to grow a little taller and vertical and not as bushy, but, yeah, so we’re-

Andy Chamberlin: And you’re mulching them with straw.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, [00:14:30] people are like, why don’t you lay black plastic? And I’d like to, but I don’t have the machinery to do it and I get worried about the drip tape getting moved around or broken or cut under the plastic. And we work with a farm down the road who does a lot of straw and we get a pretty good deal on it and we can recycle the straw into other things after. So I don’t know, we’re still figuring out the cost-effectiveness of it, but it does a pretty good job [00:15:00] of holding the weeds. We did this last year in our other tunnel and it worked pretty well.

Andy Chamberlin: Well, of course you’ve got your drip irrigation here, too, so you’re not flooding the whole walkways, so.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah.

Andy Chamberlin: You don’t have to worry about a flush of weeds everywhere.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, which is nice. And so we’re just mulching between the plants right now.

Andy Chamberlin: Okay.

Harrison Bardwell: We’re leaving the walkways bare because I assume we’ll probably be walking on it quite a bit and that’ll knock out a lot of the weeds. But [00:15:30] my goal is to have a small tractor to be able to manage high tunnel stuff, now, because we can physically drive in and out of these where other ones aren’t really able to do that.

Andy Chamberlin: I’ve seen a couple of these newer ledge woods that are beefed up from your other one.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah.

Andy Chamberlin: It’s taller and the pipes are bigger diameter, too, aren’t they?

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, these, so this is actually a foot taller than that other tunnel. So we could drive through with the tractor, and that gave us the [00:16:00] perfect height. The other thing is, it’s such a long tunnel, I wanted more head space to be able to flow that hot air and get more air flow. Our sides roll up another foot more than the other ones can, and so I’m really curious what… You can definitely tell the air sits in this one a lot more because it’s so long and there’s no circulation fans to help move that air along.

Andy Chamberlin: Yep.

Harrison Bardwell: We’ll see, it’s going to be an experiment. We’re either going to deal with a lot of disease pressure come August [00:16:30] or I’m hoping with these big end wall doors in the sides, it’ll be able to just ventilate itself like a field.

Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. You can get five, six foot of ventilation all the way around, that’s quite a bit.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, so we’re all experimenting. I have no clue how it’s going to work or what’s going to happen, but.

Andy Chamberlin: Well I don’t think it’ll be too bad.

Harrison Bardwell: So we’ve got this one, we’re actually, we’ve got a new one that just got delivered a couple weeks ago.

Andy Chamberlin: Oh wow.

Harrison Bardwell: So we’ve got that going up [00:17:00] soon. Has to be done by September. Which we actually built this, we started this one in July and we had to finish that by mid-September last year. We cranked it out and got it done. It was a push. So this is a crop I always like to show people, you know what these are?

Andy Chamberlin: Well, they’re an onion of some sort.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah. So these are an overwintered onion.

Andy Chamberlin: Okay.

Harrison Bardwell: They’re a specific variety. [00:17:30] We’ve got Bridger and Desert Sunrise, it’s a yellow and a red, and these are actually planted in the previous year. We start seeding them in the greenhouse in August, we’ll seed them, and then they get transplanted out in the field in September and they grow a little bit, establish themselves a little bit. And then once the season rolls around, we start, or once the season starts [00:18:00] winding down I should say, and it’s getting colder, we cover these with low tunnels, so we’re hooping them and then we’re putting a layer of remay over. And then once it gets colder late November into December, we’re actually putting plastic over these and we’re sandbagging the crap out of it. And so there’s some labor into it, but we’re able to get, we’ve got a nice full size onion. And these are still growing.

Andy Chamberlin: [00:18:30] Yeah, they’re coming along.

Harrison Bardwell: So these will still growing. But the cool thing about this product, we’ll peel down these outer layers here, and there’s a really nice color underneath, which is great, but we’re able to use this whole plant, you can use these as a scallion and then you’ve got a nicer, you got a sweeter onion here. And the even cooler part, so this is the first product, so we’ll sell these in threes, [00:19:00] as a bunch, for market. And then these are technically a storage onion, so when they get to their maturity, they’ll start acting like a regular onion. They’ll start falling over and turning into a storage onion, so.

Andy Chamberlin: So you pick them a little earlier for the fresh?

Harrison Bardwell: Yep. So we try to sell them as much as we can this way, but we end up, it was partly my goal, but we’ll end up having probably a little bit extra to sell as a storage onion [00:19:30] so people can put them in their pantry or something for a couple weeks. But we can have a full size storage onion in June that will hold for four to five months. And so it’s like a multi-use crop, you can get a couple different types of harvests out of them. But we’re also getting, wholesale, almost a dollar an onion right now, which is just, to me, it’s crazy,

Andy Chamberlin: For wholesale, that sounds like pretty good pricing.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, [00:20:00] and they’re great flavoring. I like to show people this. This is my third, fourth year doing this and we’ve perfected the system every year, but it’s a good way to increase your revenue early in the season, especially when you’re not making as much, obviously.

Andy Chamberlin: Right.

Harrison Bardwell: So it’s always something to think about. That’s that. We got some transplants in the ground over there that we just seed a couple settings of broccoli and cauliflower and stuff. But nothing’s [00:20:30] moving. It’s been chilly. It’s been very chilly, so.

Andy Chamberlin: How much land are you growing on?

Harrison Bardwell: So we’re 30 acres. We’ve got a lot of different fields spread out through town, and then we’ve got three high tunnels we’re producing in so I’m at max capacity right now. I could use a couple more acres, but land down here in the valley is very hard to find, so when you can grab it, you take it. But people are paying upwards to 600 [00:21:00] bucks an acre to rent.

Andy Chamberlin: Wow.

Harrison Bardwell: So it’s difficult to afford. We’ve got 30 acres we own. I actually rent half of that from my father and we lease out the other half, and then I rent 15 acres from other people around town. So yeah, we’re 30 acre, we’re year round production, now, and we’re just slowly scaling that up a little bit. Little by little every year [00:21:30] with more high tunnels, and the NRCS programs have been wonderful, in that sense, to help provide so we can bring in more revenue for the farm, which is awesome, so.

Andy Chamberlin: What’s your average crew size throughout the year?

Harrison Bardwell: So typically, in the height of our season, we’re running anywhere, our production crew is around six to eight people and we’re doing, we’re growing those [00:22:00] demanding crops like cucumbers and broccoli and sweet corn, things that we’re constantly harvesting. This time of year and through the winter we’re running three to four people, and then we’ve got a couple retail and managerial staff, so we’re like 10 people in the height of the season, which is quite a bit.

 But we do a lot of different things by hand, still. We don’t have the mechanization of harvesting tools and equipment. [00:22:30] We’re slowly expanding to that. This is the rain flow I got. I picked this up for two grand. And it’s like this is brand new. It doesn’t look brand new/brand new, but there’s nothing wrong with it. It sat for 12 years not being used and every bolt turned on it. There’s just a little bit of rust and.

Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, the paint’s not even wore off the-

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, I power wash. It was covered in mold and stuff and I power washed it and it [00:23:00] just came back to life, it was beautiful. I’m like that’s a good investment.

Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, that was a good find. I just picked up a mechanical transplanter. Mechanical transplanter brand plastic layer.

Harrison Bardwell: Oh, cool.

Andy Chamberlin: It lays it flat.

Harrison Bardwell: Okay.

Andy Chamberlin: So I’m going to experiment I think with bioplastic this year.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah.

Andy Chamberlin: Have you used that?

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, we have. We actually, so at the, we’ve been using Bio [00:23:30] 360 the past two years, which I haven’t had a problem with. The only thing I’ve noticed with that, that we’ve been getting the thinner stuff, which I think is 0.6 mil, is that if you lay it and you’re not planting on it for a month or two, it actually starts to break down from the sun and you start losing that, the plastic on top. At the New England Veg Conference, actually there was a company there in the trade show, Radical Plastics.

Andy Chamberlin: Yep.

Harrison Bardwell: I don’t know if you came upon them, but [00:24:00] I talked to the guy and I was explaining to him what we do, what we’re looking to do and they were selling plastic, they had a new product and he’s like, “We’re trying to get farms to trial it. Are you interested?” And the price was good and so we picked up 10 rolls and we’re trying that. We just laid some a couple weeks ago and it laid really good. It’s a 1 mil plastic, actually.

Andy Chamberlin: Wow.

Harrison Bardwell: And the price was, compared to the Bio 360, was the same price but 1 mil versus [00:24:30] the six mil, so that was pretty neat to do. But we’re going to try that out. I love the bioplastic. It actually breaks down pretty well in the soil. This is a blast cooler we just got through a food safety grant last year. We lack on cooler infrastructure, pack house infrastructure, we’re slowly building that up every year. But we just got that from a food safety grant last year, which is going to help us, we grow the sweet corn and the broccoli [00:25:00] and the stuff we grow that we need to suck down that field heat really quick, and that cooler’s actually designed to be able to suck field heat right out.

Andy Chamberlin: So does it got blowers in it and stuff?

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, it’s a pretty good size reefer. We can look at the little farm stand.

Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.

Harrison Bardwell: I wish I had the flower display up before you came, but this is our little roadside farm stand. We set this up from mid-April to June, 1st of [00:25:30] June, and then we open a big tent like I was telling you. But we do about $100,000 in sales through this on a given season, which is pretty cool for this little area. But we’ve been here for eight years, now, so we’ve been able to establish ourselves decently. And people ask me, you going to continue with the farm stand, yada yada? I said this is the heart of my business. This is where I started and so I’ll probably never get rid [00:26:00] of it, yeah.

Andy Chamberlin: It seems like it’s got good cash flow to support it, to.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, we’ve done well and we do the marketing. My office manager keeps up with the marketing and I like to have the community with the conversations with the communities and talking to folks and people around town of what we’re growing, how we’re growing things, and just having that relationship with people. So we got, I don’t know, 50 to 60 different products out here [00:26:30] in a given really the heart of the season. So it gets pretty busy. .

 But yeah, we’ll be filling this with flowers in the next hour here.

Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. Looks like it’s going to get nice this weekend, so.

Harrison Bardwell: I sure hope so. Yeah, that’s what we look like around here, it’s-

Andy Chamberlin: Awesome.

Harrison Bardwell: We’ve got a lot of different fields around town so it’s kind of hard to travel and show, but.

Andy Chamberlin: [00:27:00] What’s the spa from one side to the other?

Harrison Bardwell: I think our farthest field is like, it’s maybe a five minute drive from here, so nothing crazy.

Andy Chamberlin: A couple miles?

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, we’re a couple miles from each field, which is nice, but they’re all… So this area is filled with potatoes. There’s a lot of potato that’s grown around here and so they take up a lot of the large acreage, the big fields around here. And we’re smaller, diversified, so we [00:27:30] pick up all the small lots, the one acre, two acre, three acre lots, which I don’t mind. I like dealing with smaller fields and we can work around the curves.

Andy Chamberlin: Right.

Harrison Bardwell: And we’ve got a lot of fields behind people’s houses and stuff like that. And I like it because they’re spread out so we’re better at doing the rotation and spreading things out and having less issues with disease management.

Andy Chamberlin: Right.

Harrison Bardwell: And price management, so.

Andy Chamberlin: [00:28:00] While we were checking out the farm stand, he had to look at the iPad to set it up for the day, which they use for their point of sale system.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, and we run it as a self-serve through our square system. And it’s not like your legit self-serve system, but it works well because we were a fully manned farm stand prior to Covid and through Covid, and it was really good sales wise, but [00:28:30] I think that was partially Covid inflated that. So we tried the self-serve the year after Covid pretty much settled down and our sales weren’t as good as they were in the past, but our credit card sales were 60% of our revenue.

Andy Chamberlin: Wow.

Harrison Bardwell: So I had to figure out a way, how can we offer credit cards to people because we were going to be losing a lot, still, and so [00:29:00] we came up with this self-serve system where people can pay with a credit card and purchase their things.

Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, I’ve noticed a lot of farm stands doing the self-serve square system.

Harrison Bardwell: I don’t know if we’ve mastered it, yet, but we don’t seem to have issues with it, so.

Andy Chamberlin: Where are you doing your wash pack stuff now?

Harrison Bardwell: It was at barn. We didn’t really go in there, but we’ve got a tobacco barn we’ve converted it into a pack house. We’ve got a [00:29:30] wash line in there and a wash table and some lights. It’s very antiquated and minimal, but it’s the sure as hell better than working outside.

Andy Chamberlin: For sure.

Harrison Bardwell: That’s what we’re working on, investing in infrastructure for post-harvest things, but to build a, we’re at the point where it’s like we’ve got to build an actual building and we’re talking a million dollars to do that.

Andy Chamberlin: Right.

Harrison Bardwell: [00:30:00] We’re not quite there, yet.

Andy Chamberlin: With 30 acres of edge, you’re moving a lot of stuff.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, so we definitely are way oversized for the space we have, but blessed to have a indoor space we can use, and we pump a lot of produce out of that little barn.

Andy Chamberlin: You wholesaling a lot or?

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, so in the past years we were doing CSA, farmer’s markets, wholesale, farm stand, and we just ran into too many issues with not enough help, [00:30:30] and people calling out, and CSA wasn’t doing that great, and our wholesale was just steadily picking up and picking up, so I made the hard decision last winter pretty much. And I said, we’re cutting out the CSA, we’re cutting out the farmer’s markets and we’re just doing wholesale and the farm stand. So that’s our-

Andy Chamberlin: So that’s new this year?

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, which is, I’m looking forward to it because the CSA and the [00:31:00] farmer’s markets with a lot of added stress that we are dealing with every week, and it was disorganized because we didn’t have the proper people to help manage it. And so I’m, we’re circling back to our roots, if you will, and starting there and if things work out more in the future, we got better help in staffing and maybe we’ll consider. But our wholesale did really well last year and it’s expanding more, we’ve gained a couple new customers this year and [00:31:30] hopefully going to retain, so that’s where I see us grooving and moving.

Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.

Harrison Bardwell: We’ll see. It’s another trial. Every year’s a trial here with something, see what works, what doesn’t, but.

Andy Chamberlin: You’re eight years in, you said, now?

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, I established in 2016, but the farm’s been here since 1685, so I’m like ninth generation, [00:32:00] but the business was pretty much, it was partially retired when I picked it back up and it was large scale field corn and tobacco when it retired. So I’ve full circle, changed the model, changed the business, changed the crops, so that’s why we’re dealing with a lot of infrastructure that’s not built for what I’m doing now.

Andy Chamberlin: Were they still growing tobacco when you grabbed the reins in ’16?

Harrison Bardwell: They were not, [00:32:30] no. That was probably, that went out in the nineties, I think.

Andy Chamberlin: Okay.

Harrison Bardwell: The last crops that they were growing here were field corn and sweet corn, things like that. My grandparents had a good size vegetable garden that they were growing and that’s where I started learning and diving in. But yeah, I remember my vaguest memory of the farm actually in production, I was four years old sitting on my father’s lap and that whole field out there was all sweet [00:33:00] corn. I was out cultivating sweet corn with him on the tractor. So that was four. So that was like 2000. And so slowly after that we, it slowed down for a good couple years and I tell people, I say, “I don’t think the farm ever stopped because there was always farm going on.”

Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, there’s always something going on, right.

Harrison Bardwell: So that’s where we’re in a lot of building and improving infrastructure to a diversified vegetable [00:33:30] farm where it was just a large scale, not large, but it was more of a grain type business at that point, which requires different infrastructure, different equipment, different, all that. So I was blessed with land, and some equipment, and some infrastructure, but there’s a lot more I envision wanting and needing here to make the business where I want it to go, I guess.

Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. You plan [00:34:00] to scale it up more so than it is or?

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, I think my max is to be at 40 to 50 acres someday, and.

Andy Chamberlin: So keep finding other land around and?

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, we’re, I’m at capacity with the 30 acres that I can physically handle myself right now, so our goal is to, if the wholesale starts increasing, maybe increase acreage a little bit more, but I got to find a manager [00:34:30] that can help in the field production stuff, that way I can split up the tasks and do a little bit of everything.

Andy Chamberlin: You want to get to 40, 50 acres to meet an income goal?

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, I think a little bit of both and scale wise, 30 acres is good size, but we still grow a lot of, yeah, I’ve realized over the years, growing 100 foot bed of this and having 50 different varieties is just [00:35:00] not economical, and so I’m trying to figure out ways to. We grow a lot of different things, so either scaling everything to a point where it’s just more economical and, I guess, sustainable, and I guess the flow of how things are done it takes the same amount of time to set up the transplanter and get the water ready and get the plants on the trailer as it does to plant 200 feet versus an acre.

Andy Chamberlin: Right.

Harrison Bardwell: So if you’re taking that same amount of time to [00:35:30] go plant only 200 feet, you’re wasting so much where you can just get that extra volume there and push that out. So we’re, that’s where I’m going, and my end goal is to have maybe a different location farm stand and have a pretty decent farm stand, too. So we’re-

Andy Chamberlin: Adding another site?

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, we’re there’s couple farms in this area that got pretty decent farm stands that might be retiring [00:36:00] in the next 5 to 10 years.

Andy Chamberlin: Oh, okay, yeah.

Harrison Bardwell: There might be opportunity to jump in elsewhere.

Andy Chamberlin: For sure.

Harrison Bardwell: Maybe. Maybe not. I’ve always loved the retail. I really like doing the wholesale now, too, but yeah, I think there’s opportunity for both. So it’s such a rich farming community in this area and people really love that local, getting that fresh produce, so we try. [00:36:30] So a lot of our wholesale customers are within this valley. We try to, I like keeping that local knit community and making sure we’re delivering a fresh product within a couple days of harvest and that really shows with our quality and the product we have. And I think we’re able to get a little higher price point for getting that nicer quality, fresher product out the door, so.

Andy Chamberlin: You mentioned [00:37:00] that most of your farm is family land and then you’re leasing certain plots. Have you worked out a formal transition plan or are you on track to buy the farm or are you renting from your dad or what’s that look like?

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, honestly I don’t think, we’re not there, yet. He’s my father, he’s mid sixties right now. He’s not actually farming so the business is, the farm business is mine. [00:37:30] I’ve got two other brothers, so I’m sure it’s going to come down to probably buying out or paying out someone. But currently, it’s a leased agreement to use the property, to use the land, which I’m very fortunate to have that ability.

 But yeah, there’s, I think the transition is just going to come down to money, in the end, and that kind of thing. [00:38:00] It’s different because it’s not like I listen to a lot of these generational farms where it’s getting passed down from the parents down or the grandparents down to the parents and it’s-

Andy Chamberlin: There’s multiple siblings involved.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah.

Andy Chamberlin: Makes it complicated.

Harrison Bardwell: I think maybe I’m fortunate in that aspect, where we’re not, it’s just me, really. My father absolutely loves the farming, he loves helping, he loves being involved, [00:38:30] but at the end of the day, he owns the property and it’s my business. And so that’s where that separation probably makes it a little easier. But I’m sure he’ll live into his eighties or beyond, hopefully.

Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. Right.

Harrison Bardwell: So I’ll deal with that in a couple of years probably.

Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. But no, that’s great. And the fact that you don’t have to buy the whole farm right now.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah.

Andy Chamberlin: You’ve got some time to get [00:39:00] the business underneath you, get that cash flow going so when the opportunities do come up for this land, neighboring land, whatever.

Harrison Bardwell: Oh, definitely.

Andy Chamberlin: You’re in a good spot to absorb that.

Harrison Bardwell: And I think my brothers, I think they support what I do. They don’t, they’re never going to get into farming, so they’re not going to want this, and so I think that’s going to make it easier. But at the end of the day, it’s I’m sure things will get split three ways and just got to [00:39:30] figure that out.

Speaker 4: Yeah, you got to be fair, obviously, to a certain extent.

Harrison Bardwell: But cool. Yeah, so we’ll see. We’re going year, year by year here. Grow a little bit more with this, we figure out what we like doing, what we don’t like doing and really what sticks and what works and what can we do differently than other people or what can we get into that not a lot of people are doing just to get that extra curve.

 So baby greens is something, winter high tunnel greens, [00:40:00] baby greens is something we’re really trying to jump into and invest because there’s a lot of demand for it right now and it’s a great revenue source in the winter months when we’re not bringing in a lot of income. And it also keeps our crews busy, keeps our staff here so we’re not rehiring and having to retrain. And so that’s where my brain’s always spinning on the next, what’s the next coolest [00:40:30] thing we can do or what’s the next best thing we can do or how can we do this more efficiently and just make it work with what we got.

Andy Chamberlin: Yep. Where’d you learn to farm or run a business?

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, so when I was, I guess between the ages of 10 and 12, my grandparents had this pretty decent sized vegetable garden and at the time, I was a kid, I didn’t playing, it was summertime, I didn’t [00:41:00] like sitting inside playing video games or watching TV. I just loved being outside. And so around that timeframe is when I just started diving into the vegetable garden. I was always running out there picking vegetables, but I didn’t really know what it meant, what it was. And so between that timeframe, I started jumping in that vegetable garden with my grandparents and I really instantly fell in love with plants, the vegetables, the soil, and just working [00:41:30] with my hands and playing around. And within those couple years, I developed an interest and actually started working and my grandparents started teaching me how you plant seeds, how we grow crops, how we harvest different things and maintain them. And we were taught that was where the greenhouses are, now, so it was a very, very small scale.

 And so I did that for a couple years and I got my first job working [00:42:00] a tobacco farm in town when I was 14. And I did that for a good couple summers, and just in that timeframe from 14 to, I guess, 18, going to college, I was working on farms in town. There was a couple different farms I was working on. And then 2013, ’14 is when this was born, the farm stand was reborn. We ended up, we were just [00:42:30] having, we had too much produce is what was going on for our family. And I remember coming to my grandfather at the back porch with a bucket of cucumbers and saying, “What are we going to do with all these? We can’t eat them all.” And I had this light bulb and I was just a kid then, but I had this light bulb like, let’s sell them.

 And so the next year we actually put a little bit of a plan in place, and that’s where I say Bardwell Farm was reborn, the next chapter started. But I [00:43:00] opened it. It was a little farm stand with, literally, saw horses and a piece of plywood and we started selling produce out front. And my father, the next year or two after that, built this farm stand. He’s a finished carpenter, which makes life a lot easier out here.

 So learning, I went to Stockbridge School of Agriculture in the Sustainable Food and Farming program. I did that for two years, got an associate’s degree in that. [00:43:30] A lot of my education is just working on farms, working with the farmers in this town, just getting that hands-on experience and doing a lot of outreach, talking to extension services and other farmers in the area and other farmers in different states and just learning and developing, figuring out how does this person do that? How does that person do that? And just picking it up.

 [00:44:00] I think the traditional farming in this town is, it’s a little bit old school. People do things a little bit old school here, and I’m always looking for that new cutting edge of what’s going on. And there’s a lot of cool farms up your way that are doing some really neat things, and that’s why I love. That’s how I learned, too, is researching other farms, talking with other farmers, going to that New England veg conference. [00:44:30] You get so much out of that kind of stuff.

 So I don’t think I’m ever going to be done learning in this business. I think every year’s different, every year’s new, there’s always something new happening and there’s a million ways to do the same thing, so I see that as that’s always getting me the edge of, okay, we plant broccoli this way, is there a better way to do it? And I think [00:45:00] we figured out the systems that work well with what we have right now. That could change in five years, I don’t know. But learning, a lot of the learning has just been hands on and repetition and experience over the years. Really, I didn’t know how to run a business when I started.

Andy Chamberlin: Right.

Harrison Bardwell: I still don’t know how to run a business. We’re, that’s something we’re learning every year is managing people, and the finances, and [00:45:30] running the numbers, and how the cash flows work, how all that stuff was. It amazed me that the Stockbridge program didn’t have any classes for running businesses.

Andy Chamberlin: Interesting.

Harrison Bardwell: Which kind of blew my mind. I wasn’t physically able to take, I took one beginner business class in college and that it edged the surface of nothing to do with farming. I think farm businesses are so unique with how [00:46:00] our revenues come in, the times of year, the expenses we have to pay, and a lot of that’s just been learning every year of how these types of businesses operate. And I think they’re very different than a traditional small run business doing the daily. I know we’re different, that’s the one

Andy Chamberlin: That’s for sure. Every farm’s a little different, too.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah.

Andy Chamberlin: That college program [00:46:30] was an ag program. Was it about veg farming? Was it about soil? What kind of topics were covered there?

Harrison Bardwell: It covered everything. Anywhere from soil health to insects, pest disease, pressures, disease management, weed management, there was a lot of sustainable growing classes, organic veg classes. I feel like they had a lot of, when I was there, they had a lot of good [00:47:00] classes to give you both your conventional IPM and organic side. I think now they’re slowly leaning more and more towards organic practices, which is great, but you can really get a full circle there, and I think I really loved utilizing that because I got the classroom educational side of this is how plants actually grow and develop. [00:47:30] These are how insects grow or-

Andy Chamberlin: Some of that fundamental knowledge.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah. Exactly.

Andy Chamberlin: That you can’t learn by experience so much.

Harrison Bardwell: Right. And so I was able to take that fundamental knowledge and then my hands-on experience and mash it together. And that’s created who I am now, as a person, which I’m thankful for because Stockbridge Ag also gave me, I had, in this town, get the tunnel vision of this is what you learn, this [00:48:00] is what you know, this is how everyone does it, and then Stockbridge opened me up to this whole different, this world of farming that I had never seen before. And that opened my mind to, okay, let’s not do the traditional they’ve done for 60 years here. There’s better ways to do things, there’s different ways to work to run the businesses, to run the farm, and also, the connections you got, I got out of that, as [00:48:30] well.

Andy Chamberlin: That’s really good to hear because, I think, nowadays, with the price of schooling and all that, there’s a lot of, maybe I’ll just figure it out as I go. Maybe I don’t need that two to four year education. So hearing a good experience like that is a nice contrary, especially for farming, which is a lot like the trades.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah. I think for me, the two year program was more than enough because I had been farming already for a couple years prior, and so I had a lot under my belt, [00:49:00] but I think that gave that next step to help. And I suggest to everyone, you need that knowledge. You need to understand how crops are actually developing, the different, your [inaudible 00:49:13] stage is up to, and a lot of that’s probably buzzed out of my brain by now. But I learned a lot and it helped, and I think I can only speak to the Stockbridge program. I think, I know Cornell’s got a great program. [00:49:30] I know UVM and UNH, they’ve got decent ag programs, too, but I think it’s helpful.

Andy Chamberlin: It helps that educated guess of new experience, new experiments come together.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah.

Andy Chamberlin: It takes some of the risk out of your really early peppers because you know how a pepper plant is supposed to grow.

Harrison Bardwell: Right.

Andy Chamberlin: It’s an educated guess. It’s not just, well let’s-

Harrison Bardwell: Let’s just do it.

Andy Chamberlin: Put 3000 in a [00:50:00] high tunnel and hope for the best.

Harrison Bardwell: Right. And that’s, I think you got to use those, use that to your ability, and I know schooling’s expensive, I’m still paying off some loans, but it gave me a lot. Other people might be different, but it gave me a lot. And I see with these [inaudible 00:50:22] classes that come here is there’s a lot of green people, people that have never stepped foot on a farm, they’re just interested in [00:50:30] it. And I feel like the Stockbridge, that program, you’re getting that experience of going out on farms and seeing different areas and picking around, and I think you need that. You can’t just jump into farming and think you’re going to like it.

 And I tell people, this industry for everyone, you got to like long hours, you got to like to work hard and in the heat and in the cold and the rain. And I think it’s always nice to [00:51:00] dream, but reality is something big too, is a way to put it. And I think the ag programs, they give you that sense of, if you’re really interested, and I see a kid after kid, I love growing food, I think it’s really interesting, but they never done it before. Go get that little bit of experience and learn and figure out does that work for you? Does it not? And I think that’s why [00:51:30] there’s only 2% of the population is farmers or something.

Andy Chamberlin: That’s right, yeah. Another question is, sustainability is on three legs, financial stability, financial sustainability, environmental and personal. What stands out to you about what makes farming sustainable to you?

Harrison Bardwell: So financially, we’re still working on that leg of things of building up the business. It’s [00:52:00] a lot of working with your numbers, I think, to really figure out what’s the best avenue to go to keep the business afloat so there’s enough cash flow coming in. And it’s really how can we utilize grants to help improve the business instead of just taking out loans to improve the business. And so really, I work closely with a financial advisor to be able to figure out how much money are we projected we can bring in, what new crops can we sell, and [00:52:30] how can we, right now we’re working on how can we bring in more revenue this time of year where we’re not bringing in a lot of income, but we’re doing a lot of work, we’re paying a lot of bills and whatnot. So finding that bridge of where can we find sources of more income to be able to pay our bills so we have a more, I guess, level playing year all year.

 And then environmentally, I guess we’re really working [00:53:00] with the soil health, no-till operations, cover crop and crop rotation. I think combine that with the year round production to work with our soil on a more year round basis. But also, again, to bring in that more revenue stream of year round production. But we’re also really trying to dive into more no-till or zone tilled things with the climate changing and these crazy weather patterns we’re dealing with. [00:53:30] I’m really interested, I’m like, how can we less deserve our soil, be more efficient in actually getting crops in the ground and reduce our inputs and our cost and our time and still be able to grow that same crop and get that same kind of yield.

 So that’s another thing of we don’t have $200,000 to go buy all this equipment, so can we utilize grants, baby steps? What’s going to work a little bit year after [00:54:00] year? And just don’t throw everything in one basket and hope for the best, is try things at a slow rate and see what works, what works for you. And so we’re experimenting with that a lot. We’ve been doing no-till/limited till for a couple years and we don’t have all the proper equipment, but we’re experimenting. Some years it works, some years it doesn’t. But that’s my vision is my end goal would to, is to have this farm like 85% [00:54:30] zone till or no till, and then the rest being in a limited reduced tillage system because I just see so much benefit with that, personally but.

Andy Chamberlin: What’s your ratio now?

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah, we’re probably like 70. We’re probably 75 conventional and the rest limited no till. A lot of our sweet corn are our winter squash pumpkins, we’re doing on a no-till limited till basis. [00:55:00] The only no-till equipment I really have is a no-till direct seed planter MaterMacc planter, that video we did, but we’re, I really want to invest in a zone tiller, and I’m looking into those stone barriers a lot.

 I’m trying to figure out how can we reduce our passes and do more in one. Why do we need to be subsoiling and plowing [00:55:30] and perfecting and fertilizing and incorporated all into one? And I got guys, there’s no way you can do that, yada yada. And I’m like, why not? Has anyone done it?

Andy Chamberlin: Got to talk to Trevor. He’s got some tools that you can try.

Harrison Bardwell: Yeah. And then, I guess personal sustainability is I’m not that type of person that can sit inside, especially when the sun’s out. If it’s above 60 degrees and the sun’s [00:56:00] out, I’m outside. And so I think personally, for myself, I feel like I was born to do this because I just love being in nature. I love working with the crops, I love working with the soil, I just like, it just excites me. And I think I’m at a point where, I always hate to say this because I’m only 26, I’ve got more capacity to go work on my hands and knees for eight hours a day than anyone, [00:56:30] but I guess I have that ability, now, where the business is growing, so I’m able to bring in people to-

Andy Chamberlin: To bring in people to do the work that enables the business to grow. At least that’s where I think he was headed. Unfortunately, our conversation ended abruptly as he got a call from a crew member and had to step away from our chat.

 I’m Andy Chamberlain, [00:57:00] and that was the Farmer’s Share. I found that conversation inspiring, engaging, and thankful for the conversation that we had. Be sure to follow us on Instagram and subscribe to our YouTube channel so you don’t miss out on any of the free bonus content. You can also visit the farmersshare.com to check out more episodes and interviews. If you enter your email on our website, you’ll get the photos and videos right into your inbox when a new episode comes out.

 [00:57:30] This podcast is supported by the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Association and the Ag Engineering program of University of Vermont Extension. If you’re loving the show, I’d love it if you could leave me a review. It’s easier than you might think. In Apple podcasts, on this show, just scroll down to the bottom and there, you can leave a five stars and a comment to help encourage new listeners to tune in. Thanks for listening.