Episode Show Notes
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 three different locations in central Vermont, where we meet with Henry Webb, John Hirsch, and Taylor Mendel. These three young farmer friends of mine have been interviewed by me before, and this visit checks in to see how their spring is going so far. I visited the first week of April, and this episode shares some of what’s happening this time of year on vegetable farms. Our first stop? Old Road Farm.
Henry Webb: I’m Henry Webb and we’re here at Old Road Farm in Granville, Vermont. We’re going into our fourth season here. My partner Gabby and I own and operate the farm. We grow about three acres. We do a lot of lettuce mix and salad mix for wholesale through the Middlebury Co-op, [inaudible] Market in Waitsfield and a few other accounts. We also go to Shelburne Farmers Market. And this year, we actually dropped our CSA, which is exciting.
Andy Chamberlin: And this is The Farmer’s Share. As I hop out of the car and make my way to the greenhouse, I’m greeted by almost a foot of snow that they’ve still got in their valley. Knock, knock.
Henry Webb: Hey, Andy.
Gabby Tuite: Hi, Andy.
Andy Chamberlin: Hello, hello.
Henry Webb: How’s it going?
Andy Chamberlin: Good.
Henry Webb: Nice to see you.
Andy Chamberlin: I was just in the area, coming through, so I thought I’d stop in say hello and see how your season’s kicking off.
Henry Webb: Yeah, yeah. We’ve been busy. We can show you the greenhouses and I’ll just give you a little tour, I guess.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, that’d be great.
Henry Webb: I got to uncover the other tunnel so we can do that together.
Andy Chamberlin: Perfect.
Henry Webb: And we can see everything.
Andy Chamberlin: The first stop, the propagation house.
Wow. Look at these bare ground out there. Haven’t seen that in a while. Our fields at home are drying out.
Henry Webb: Really?
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Henry Webb: Little jealous. Yeah. We’re going to get these tomatoes planted and then just be sitting on our hands for two weeks waiting for snow to melt.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. You’re a zone colder over here.
Henry Webb: Yep.
Andy Chamberlin: Well, this feels nice in here.
Henry Webb: Yeah, this is nice place to be on a cold, wet day.
Andy Chamberlin: Flowers are ready for some sunshine.
Henry Webb: I know. Yeah, I know. Everything needs more sun than we’ve had this spring so far. Gabby’s been doing a lot of perennials and the flowers and stuff for early plant sale. So that’s kind of a fun.
Andy Chamberlin: Have you done that before?
Henry Webb: We did it last year. I’m trying to- I guess we’ve had this tunnel, this prop house for three years now. So yeah, it’s a learning curve. We’re figuring out how to do all that stuff for early plant sales. But yeah, it’s working. Germ testing all our lettuce seed.
Andy Chamberlin: Is there much variation or has it been pretty good?
Henry Webb: There’s quite a bit of variation because we have a bunch of old seed and the pelleted seed doesn’t last very well.
Andy Chamberlin: Have you made any changes to your hot box here?
Henry Webb: No. Well, I can’t remember what- I put all the insulation-
Andy Chamberlin: I don’t think it was insulated before.
Henry Webb: Yeah. So I put all the insulation in, which keeps light out of it too, so that really helps with it getting too hot in the summer. But I think it is pretty much the same. We still use the little waterproof space heater and that mister thing, and then a fan. It’s been working really good this year. We’re figuring out the timing of when to pull stuff. And then when we don’t put stuff in there because we don’t have room, it ends up crappy. So then I have to redo. We’ll have to prick out all these 20 rows for our broccoli and kales and stuff, because the first round didn’t germinate well. So this is my replacement.
If people want to put heaters on the ground on ground level, they got to keep in mind that it’s not like the direct heat on little stuff is not ideal.
Andy Chamberlin: No, that’s a good point.
Henry Webb: That’s my-
Andy Chamberlin: Shovel and a piece of cardboard to block the heat.
Henry Webb: Yep. I kind of wish we had hung that heater, but, oh, well.
Andy Chamberlin: Why did you decide not to?
Henry Webb: Mike wanted to do it this way. Mike Finer. I don’t know. I mean, listen, it’s fine. It’s nice. It’s convenient.
Andy Chamberlin: Easy to work on.
Henry Webb: It’s easy to work on. It’s right here.
Andy Chamberlin: Nice and low.
Henry Webb: I just need to probably figure out a better system than this.
Andy Chamberlin: The shovel. It’s working.
Henry Webb: It works.
Andy Chamberlin: Shovel and cardboard.
Henry Webb: Let’s see. Yeah, heat mats here.
Andy Chamberlin: Yep.
Henry Webb: Those have been good. We just pulled the tomatoes off those. All kinds of little flowers and perennials for Gabby that she’ll pot up.
Andy Chamberlin: Yep.
Henry Webb: We’re going to do a row of artichoke this year just for fun.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. Haven’t heard of too many Vermont growers doing that.
Henry Webb: Yeah, just we had an extra row. Bunch of paper potted peas. We pushed this plant seeding date back by three weeks when we saw all the snow out there. We were like, we’re not getting in the early April. There’s no way we’re putting peas in.
Andy Chamberlin: You’re liking the paper pot?
Henry Webb: For certain things.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Henry Webb: We actually are not doing any more paper potted Salanova, which we did a lot of last year. We’re going to do salanova and lettuce in plastic this year. Just trying that system out. The plants never took off the way I wanted them to. And then weeding is an issue and then, I don’t know. But for certain things, for the early peas, it’s nice to get a jumpstart. We’ve got some paper potted beets in one of the tunnels I can show you. But yeah, we were doing a lot with the salanova in paper pot last year and it wasn’t my favorite. I don’t know. Who knows. We may go back to it.
Andy Chamberlin: The next tunnel we visit has a roll up end wall, which Henry opens using a drill. We talk about this quite a bit in episode 54 of the Ag Engineering Podcast.
Henry Webb: So we had two pads built last fall for two more tunnels that are going up this spring.
Andy Chamberlin: Now, you’ve been growing stuff in full sheets of plastic like this for a bit now, right?
Henry Webb: This I think is our second- Two and a half years I think we’ve been doing this system. Because I think, yeah, we started with I think one house, not last fall, but the fall before that, and then really liked it and kept going with it. So we’ve got enough plastic burned now for all the [inaudible].
Andy Chamberlin: That it’s not too bad.
Henry Webb: It’s nice. Yeah, I like it. It makes transplanting- So transplanting is a lot slower than with the paper pot, obviously.
Andy Chamberlin: Are there any techniques or is it just hand to soil?
Henry Webb: It’s hand to soil. What we do is just use fingers as a dibble and drop plugs in.
Andy Chamberlin: People fingers.
Henry Webb: Yeah. So just poke, drop it in. It goes pretty quick because there’s not a lot of fussing around with each plant. We try to plant them high so that the stems aren’t sitting in a pool of water.
Andy Chamberlin: And what’s the size of your holes?
Henry Webb: The circle?
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. Three, two?
Henry Webb: I think it might be two or two and a half.
Andy Chamberlin: Two and a half maybe. Do you have to weed the holes at all or no because it just shades out?
Henry Webb: It depends. We have in a couple cases had two. I’ll show you one that has a bunch coming up through. In general though, no. It’s just the odd case where some flush of weeds comes in right at the wrong time.
Andy Chamberlin: Generally minor.
Henry Webb: But it’s better than having to weed everything. Because we tried doing the Pacman style planting a couple years, and just the weeding in that was horrible. I think this gives us a longer harvest window and a cleaner product too at the end versus planting in soil. So, it’s a little work up front, but it’s pays off in the end, I think.
Andy Chamberlin: So what are you looking forward to most for this season?
Henry Webb: I am excited to have those tunnels put up. Because that lets us just reserve these for shoulder seasoned lettuce. So we’ve got three houses planted like this to lettuce the spring. Usually we would have to do the juggle of putting tomatoes in there at some point. And this year we’re just putting tomatoes in the little house and in one of those houses when it’s done. So it gives us more room for a rotation. So the plan is in all these tunnels with the open end walls, we’re going to cover crop them in the summer and then do another round of lettuce in the fall. So I’m excited for that. I’m excited to try the salanova on plastic. I think that will kind of work similar to this system, but out in the field and let us keep good quality throughout the season.
I’m getting the cultivating tractor set up, so I ordered a bunch of stuff from Tilmore last fall. And that’ll be nice. So less hand work there. I’m excited about the way the prop house looks right now. All the starts have been looking really solid.
Andy Chamberlin: So overall, sounds like the season’s off to a good start so far.
Henry Webb: Yes. Yep. Nothing’s gone wrong yet, but it’s early April.
Andy Chamberlin: Good to start off strong.
Henry Webb: Yeah. Another thing we’re going to do this year is, so we’re doing permanent irrigation rows in this field, which is our direct seeded spinach and arugula and radishes and kind of quick succession stuff. We’re setting aside one row out of every five that’ll be just heavy irrigation set up all season so we can rotate. And that irrigation will be on a line of plastic that’ll have odd stuff like artichokes in it. So then we have the block of four beds, which is our weekly planting size for your arugula and spinach.
So the idea is not to have to screw around with moving irrigation every time you want to flip those beds, which is going to be nice.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, that sounds like a win.
Henry Webb: This is the weediest in here. I think this is still freaking lamb’s quarters coming up. These greenhouses have had nothing go to seed, black plastic like this, the landscape fabric for a couple years now. And it’s still, you time it, right, you just get a flush of lambs quarter. Someday maybe we’ll get the seed bank under control.
Andy Chamberlin: Overall, have you seen your bank go down? Or not really, because things go sideways?
Henry Webb: Yeah, in certain places, for sure. The road field there where we are doing a lot of quick turnover and doing a lot of tarping, I’d say yes. I would’ve said yes in these tunnels.
Andy Chamberlin: Except for that.
Henry Webb: Except for this nonsense.
Andy Chamberlin: Do you know what type of row cover you’re using?
Henry Webb: This is Dewitt, I think. We can talk about that when we look at the last house, because that has the TYPAR stuff that caused a big issue for us last fall.
Andy Chamberlin: Oh, yeah.
Henry Webb: Yeah. We’re definitely not using that stuff on our greens anymore. And I forget what all the weights are. This is, I think, the heaviest weight Dewitt.
Andy Chamberlin: Are you using just one layer?
Henry Webb: Depends on how cold it’s going to be. There are two layers in here.
Andy Chamberlin: Okay. Yeah.
Henry Webb: The other night when it was 15 degrees, I put both of them on and it stayed, I think, in the high forties in here. But usually I’ll just put one on.
Andy Chamberlin: Everything is so visually satisfying.
Henry Webb: Yeah. It is like a really clean, neat one.
Andy Chamberlin: Very clean, orderly. The tunnel’s clean, the crops clean. The plastic’s clean.
Henry Webb: Yep.
Andy Chamberlin: It’s awesome.
Henry Webb: Yeah. This stuff’s starting to grow. You can see the new growth on. This was the first tunnel we planted.
Andy Chamberlin: About that time of year, things will start to pop.
Henry Webb: Yep.
Andy Chamberlin: You leave the end walls open most of the day.
Henry Webb: Yeah. As long as it’s not windy.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Henry Webb: I leave at least this.
Andy Chamberlin: Let it get a little fresh air.
Henry Webb: Let in as much fresh air as I can. I irrigated yesterday in there. That’s why it’s so wet. But I definitely like to keep it drier than that.
Andy Chamberlin: It’s crazy the amount of snow you still have in this valley.
Henry Webb: I know. Yeah. Once it goes, things dry out so quick here though.
Andy Chamberlin: Right.
Henry Webb: So last fall we had all these tunnels planted the same way as those ones you saw with the landscape fabric and hoops and salanova and then row cover. And we’re using this row cover because I just like the heavier weight stuff. We ordered it custom size for the greenhouse, so it’s easy to manage. I think it’s two or maybe three years old, but hadn’t seen a ton of use. And it just starts kind of fraying. And we ended up finding those fibers in our salad mix, and some customers found them, and we ended up having to cut our season short and do a recall of some product. And it just was not a very fun experience all around.
Andy Chamberlin: No.
Henry Webb: So yeah, definitely being really careful when and where and even if I use this stuff anymore. I’d like to replace all of it.
Andy Chamberlin: Were the customers like, “Hey, we found something,” or were they pissed?
Henry Webb: Both.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Henry Webb: They thought it was hair because it looks like white hair.
Andy Chamberlin: Nah, I ain’t that gray yet.
Henry Webb: Yeah, that’s exactly what we had to say. No, no, it’s not hair. It’s just plastic, which I don’t think is any better.
Andy Chamberlin: No.
Henry Webb: But yeah, that was a bummer.
Andy Chamberlin: Just due to the type of cover it is, or do you think it’s just age finally?
Henry Webb: It’s only two years old, so I felt like it should last longer than that.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Henry Webb: Because this is pricey because it’s heavyweight stuff, so it’s not like, I don’t know. But yeah, I don’t know. I’m using it for this stuff that’s not like salad greens now because it is heavyweight and it’s a better size. It actually covers the whole tunnel. Those ones are 25 feet, which seems like- or 27 feet, which seems like the widest you can get, which barely covers our five foot beds. This is, I think we ordered it in a set 30 or 32 feet or something like that. So I don’t know. Noltz has since changed their supplier for the stuff. So I don’t think it’s TYPAR anymore. So I don’t know how that new brand holds up.
So here we’ve got, these are the paper potted beets on the outside edges and then direct seeded carrots that are finally coming up after three or four weeks in the ground. And I think they look pretty decent. You can see this is the cold end because I opened this side up more. But down there-
Andy Chamberlin: They’re popping up a little bit.
Henry Webb: They’re popping up pretty good. That’s kind of what we got going on these days.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Henry Webb: Dug that rock out this spring. That was a good time.
Andy Chamberlin: I was going to ask what that was doing there. It was in here?
Henry Webb: It was in here. Yeah.
Andy Chamberlin: You get a fresh crop every year.
Henry Webb: Yeah.
Andy Chamberlin: Well, fun.
Henry Webb: Yeah.
Andy Chamberlin: Thanks for showing me around a bit.
Henry Webb: Of course.
Andy Chamberlin: Checking in.
Henry Webb: Yeah, I don’t know. There’s not much else to see really.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Henry Webb: Pile of lumber that’s going to be some greenhouses and that’s about it.
Andy Chamberlin: Well, it looks like you don’t use too much lumber on your greenhouses.
Henry Webb: No, well, these ones are going to be ledgewood that are built in the same style as that one.
Andy Chamberlin: Oh, okay.
Henry Webb: Because they’re going to be like heated for tomatoes and cucumbers basically. So for that stuff, I’m not as worried about being able to get tractor in and out and because it’s not as many bed flips. We’re probably going to set them up more like that little tunnel.
Another thing we did last fall when we had the excavator here is we, this kind of drive road here, we dug it out a few inches so that no water is running back into the tunnels, which has made a big difference in terms of not having any dead spots in our beds in the early spring when all the snow’s melting. We didn’t do enough drainage when we put these in initially, so we’re kind of having to-
Andy Chamberlin: So does it drain to a swale before these houses a bit?
Henry Webb: These are raised up like a foot under the snow there. So the idea is that it’s going to come this way and then pool between the edge of where that one will be and the prop house in the little drainage area. Still have to do some fine tuning on all that drainage, but got to wait for the snow to melt. But I think, yeah, once we kind of button up this drainage, there’s a few small things that I need to fix this spring. You can see those stakes that far corner. We kind of did that whole field so that there’s nowhere in that field now where water’s going to pool. It’s going to run off either side. And because that’s such a high value field for us where we do all our direct seeded greens, I think not having any bad spots in there will make a big difference.
Andy Chamberlin: Were you worried about loss of soil at all with your grading or not really because you weren’t excavating?
Henry Webb: Not really. We’re not taking any soil from the field. It’s just from the edges. And then we’re pushing some of that edge stuff into the field. I am a little worried that that might create some fertility issues where there’s stuff that hasn’t been worked on top of the field soil for this year at least, but I think that’ll sort itself out eventually.
You want to look at the cultivating tractor quick?
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah.
Henry Webb: I mean it’s nothing. Oh, we’ve got some new fields turned over. That’s kind of a new thing. So, we’re going to try a bunch of sorghum sudan and just cover crop them all year. Try to get some organic matter built up in them before we rotate into next year.
Andy Chamberlin: You going to mow them or let them get tall?
Henry Webb: I think I’m going to mow them a couple times. So still in the process of setting this up, but we’ve got a bunch of Tilmor stuff for this old 140. Finger weeders and such. This is a good early spring photo shoot right here. I am still working on this. Tools literally laying in the grass. It’s going to be ready in three weeks.
Andy Chamberlin: Actively working on it, honest. Oh no, it’s perfect. In the shed with the dirt wet floor and the leaky roof with no sides. It’s right out of a storybook.
Henry Webb: Yeah. exactly. I did get the old horse manure cleaned out of the shed last year.
Andy Chamberlin: Oh, good.
Henry Webb: Makes it a little nicer to work in there.
Andy Chamberlin: Did you have any cultivating stuff on this before?
Henry Webb: No. Nope. It’s been a multi-year process of getting this all put together.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. So what kind of tools are you putting on these toolbars? Several things.
Henry Webb: So it’s going to be- I worked with Tilmor on the recommendations for cyto plastic cultivation because we’re trying to do more lettuce on plastic. So it’s spiders. I think it’s two sets of spiders on either side, and then a finger weeder on either side. And then I’ll have sweeps on the back, the wheel track.
Andy Chamberlin: Well, that’ll be exciting.
Henry Webb: Looking forward to it.
Andy Chamberlin: And with that, we go just down the road, literally, same town over to Clearfield Farm where we visit with John, who grows a lot less lettuce and a lot more storage crops. Unfortunately, spring hasn’t quite sprung in Granville. And my microphone got cold and shut off. Lucky for you, John did most of the talking, and you can hear me a little bit in his mic, but that’s why I’m a little soft.
John Hirsch: Hi, I’m John Hirsch, I run Clearfield Farm in Granville, Vermont. And we do root and staple vegetables. The whole farm is 56 acres and we farm about 15 to 20. We also rent some land and we are starting to get into grain, so that’s how I might introduce a farm next time. We’re a root staple and grain farm. But yes, that’s us.
Yeah, things are off to a good start. We actually just sold out of last year’s crops last week. So sent the last order of fingerlings to- this last one actually went to Boston. So that was cool.
Andy Chamberlin: Oh, nice.
John Hirsch: Because now we’re shipping out of state, so it’s kind of opened up more opportunities, which is nice. What do we have going right now?
Andy Chamberlin: So with that sale, obviously it’s good in the fact that you sold your product. But is that exciting because you were able to stretch your sales all through the winter?
John Hirsch: Well, that was the goal going into even last spring was to- We had already been doing that. We built that big cooler, I don’t even know how long ago that was at this point, maybe four years ago, three, four years ago. So we’ve steadily been building the sales base to fit that cooler. How much we could fit in there is how many customers we got. And then we’d stretch that out as long as we possibly could. But now we’re machine harvesting the fingerlings, so now we’re just kind of looking at it more like how much could we do, not how can we optimize the space that we have? So it looks like we’ve got demand for about what we were doing in a month. Now it’s looking like it’s going to be a week’s worth of demand. So now we’re re-figuring out the cooler and stuff.
Actually, let’s go over and look at the wash station, because that’s where we’re making a lot of improvements. But in here, this is the machine shed, I’m just reorganizing. It was just filled with trash for years. So I’m finally getting it all out. And I’m at the point now where we’re not getting a whole lot of equipment. We’ve got a lot of equipment now, so we’re just going to run with it. And my goal this year is everything with an engine is either going to get running or get out of here. Plow truck’s going. The combine, I actually want to get that thing out. That’s all set up for oats. And that was a running machine when we bought it, so that’s kind of been a bummer to let it sit.
Andy Chamberlin: Well, if it was parked running, there’s hope, right?
John Hirsch: Yeah, it was running good. We drove it onto the trailer. My cousin hauled it for me. So that. We’re doing grain. We planted three acres of wheat up the road. So looking forward to finally getting into grain, because I think I had told you when I got into this, I wanted to do corn and beans. I wanted to be like that kind of operation. I like the machinery, trucking. I love the farming aspect of it, but I was looking at it more like, I want to run a combine all day long, kind of thing.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, you’re an equipment guy.
John Hirsch: I’m an equipment guy. So it just makes sense that I’m working towards that goal because the reason we got into vegetables was it was easier to do that with a smaller land base than to get into growing a couple acres of grain. It’s not worth anything.
Andy Chamberlin: It isn’t set up for that.
John Hirsch: So really you have to get, unless you start out with a bunch of land, which I know there are operations that have a lot of land at their disposal, and it makes sense for them to get into grain. But for us, it was like it made more sense to do vegetables first and then slowly work into the grain.
Andy Chamberlin: So do you think you can get into specialty grains to try to keep that?
John Hirsch: I want to do wheat, and we’re talking with bean crafters to do-
Andy Chamberlin: Oh, okay.
John Hirsch: …To do beans. So not soybeans. And we’re not going to grow just shell corn here. But it’s cool prospect to be working towards, because it was the goal getting into it. So it’s neat that it’s finally coming to fruition. And there’s a guy that makes pizza just right up the mountain, kind of where the field is, the wheat field. And he’s like, “I’ll buy all your wheat for pizza.” So, at least I don’t have to worry about where it’s going, because he’s got all the milling equipment and everything like that. He already does this. I’m really excited about that. I’m excited about, last year was the first year with the harvester, with the fingerling harvester, and it’s actually just a multi crop harvester. It just, whatever is in the bed in front of it, it’s going to dig it up and put it into a truck. So it doesn’t necessarily have the clod clearing and trash clearing ability.
Andy Chamberlin: Is that a big chain digger you were working on last time?
John Hirsch: Yeah, I think so. I think we were putting the elevator on it last time when you saw. Melissa and I freaking fought with that thing for a week to get one bolt in, because the hinge that the boom is on is one bolt on the bottom and one bolt on the top, and then a U joint. So it’s like everything’s got to be exactly perfect getting this thing lined up. And we’re just using- the one tractor we were using has a flat tire. So we would get it into position and just start working, but we couldn’t move that tractor around. It was kind of funny, but it worked out. And then we were harvesting in September and October.
But we’re looking to do way more carrots and onions, which this machine in its previous life was on a pearl onion farm in Wisconsin, and we actually had it shipped out here. And since we’ve gotten it out here, there’s actually a bunch of people who have reached out, “Hey, if you ever want to get rid of that thing.” Yeah, I bet you want this. Watch this. It’s a little treacherous. This is the project. This is between this and fixing the concrete in here, this is the big project for next season or for this season to get some sort of arctic entryway in here, because this is how we get stuff in and out. And it just fills up with ice like this. It gets treacherous.
Andy Chamberlin: Rugged.
John Hirsch: It’s very rugged. So we’re kind of kicking around the idea, do we put work into this side and just keep using it? Or there’s a good spot for trucks to back in for a dock. And I think that’s what we’re going to end up doing. But all of it’s a ton of work.
Andy Chamberlin: It doesn’t matter what you’re doing. It’s a lot of work.
John Hirsch: This is crazy.
Andy Chamberlin: Because here you almost need to build an edge.
John Hirsch: Like a frame and then a roof on it.
Andy Chamberlin: Put a wall.
John Hirsch: Yeah, exactly.
Andy Chamberlin: Because it’s probably mostly the off the roof, right?
John Hirsch: It’s dripping off that- yeah.
Andy Chamberlin: Off the roof and landing here and freezing.
John Hirsch: It’s constantly getting heated up by the sun and just making a big ice patch right here.
Andy Chamberlin: On the north side.
John Hirsch: On the north side, so it doesn’t thaw out. And it’s a mistake having a bunch of stuff right here too. This should be wide open. Be able to get the bucket of the tractor in here and just scrape all this out. But I had it set up. The other big thing that’s going on this year is we stopped doing farmer’s market.
Andy Chamberlin: Oh, really?
John Hirsch: Yeah. So we’re going totally wholesale. We’ve got 10 or so crops, 11, 12, something like that. And some specialty ones and ones that are not so specialty and ones that are specialty. So like the gamut. We’re doing shishitos and broccolini and ground cherries. Those are three of the 12. But regular potatoes, fingerlings, carrots, onions, parsnips, that’s depending on whether or not we get a flameweeder. Going to do a bunch of parsnips. We’re trialing direct seeded onions this year, actually trying. Last year we just threw them in and they got so weedy and we were like, nah. Try again next year. But this year I’m actually going to do trials of different ways to manage. I guess I didn’t realize this with onions, but with flame weeding, you can flame weed them after their fifth leaf has grown, which I had no idea. I thought it was like you hit them before they germinate, and then what you get is what you get. But apparently it’s common for big growers.
Andy Chamberlin: [inaudible].
John Hirsch: Yeah, you just go right through and flame off all the weeds and the onions just- It’s kind of like flame weeding corn, like organic grain corn. They flame weed it, because the growth point isn’t the first leaf that gets hit-
Andy Chamberlin: By the flame.
John Hirsch: …by the flame, so it can live through it. So I don’t know. We’ll see. I’m going to try a little patch.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, right. Yeah. Don’t do it all.
John Hirsch: I know. That’s been the other big thing. It’s like do a little different every year. Don’t just totally do something different. So we started growing winter squash, direct seeded, bare ground, cultivating, that sort of thing. And before that, we were transplanting. We had done some transplanting into plastic mulch. I don’t like plastic mulch. We actually just don’t use plastic mulch at all except for in the greenhouses. And that’s not even- I had one roll that I bought when we first got here. Actually, no. I bought a plastic mulch layer off of Bob Gray from Four Corners, and that was the first time I bought a roll of plastic mulch. And it lasted me up until last year. And I got it in 2017, I got the thing. And last year was 2022. So it lasted me five years and I’m not buying anymore. Just no reason to.
But we went from, actually, we did direct seeded on bare ground. We had a big flood, so we were like, maybe that wasn’t the way to do it. So then the next year we did transplants on plastic, didn’t like that. Then did transplants on bare ground, liked that more, but we weren’t cultivating as much. So it got weedy. And then we were just running into issues with getting enough help to do the transplanting. So then we switched half transplanted, half direct seeded. And the direct seeded, it was a little less yield, but made up for it in less cost and way less time invested into it. Way made up for it. So then we just went to straight direct seeding and it’s just been good for us. It’s not good for everybody. But we’re doing that kind of thing, refining how things work best for us. Totally would not say what we’re doing here, anybody should model and get perfect results.
Andy Chamberlin: It’s what works for you, what you like to do.
John Hirsch: Yep. This was a huge improvement. This thing’s called a dirt table. So the harvester does not clear clods very well, and actually just puts a ton of dirt into the bin with the potatoes. So you have to run the potatoes or you have to run everything in the bin through this and then leave another bin over there catching the potatoes that come through because all the dirt falls through. Which, this is kind of set up a little like this I wasn’t thrilled with. But the dirt just goes on the ground and then you got to shovel it back into a bin, which that really sucked. What we’re going to do this year is you can buy this, this is called knobby belt or something like that. Knob belt. This is a Hain product. So that’s out of New York State. I’m pretty sure Hain is.
But yeah, it’s funny. These are just wooden dowels that you just staple this stuff onto. So our harvester actually has something similar to this, but it’s made out of stainless steel. This is what’s on the back of the secondary chain. So there’s the primary chain that gets everything directly from the share. What’s coming out of the bed goes on the primary chain, and then that’s the one that shakes around and bounces all the silt off of it. Then it falls onto another chain that’s supposed to suck the trash through. And then what’s on the chain goes onto rollers like this. But they’re smooth. Because in Wisconsin where it’s from, they’ve got just straight up sand soil and they need it to flow through that without much resistance, I guess. So I’m just going to put these on the rollers and do this operation just right on the machine.
And then the only thing that we’ll have to do in wash pack is sort rocks. And I’m thinking maybe a rock trap of some sort. Stuff goes over a little water bin to catch, because it’s not a whole lot of rocks. For Vermont, we are blessed. We’ve got- well, blessed, but there’s disadvantages to it too. But we’re in a real low spot here. So it’s just so many feet high of silt. You can just dig and dig and you’ll hit gravel, but it’s like five feet deep. It’s crazy.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. You’re not going to get that in typical cultivation.
John Hirsch: No. Even at Old Roads, I was just over there last night hanging out with them, and Henry showed me this huge rock in the one tunnel.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, we were looking at that.
John Hirsch: It’s like, “Oh my God, where’d you find this?” He goes, “The ripper pulled it up.” We don’t have that in our bottom land anyway. We’ve got a couple fields that are higher, and they are definitely rocky, but they just got a rock picker too. Which our tractor’s big enough to run it. So we’re going to run it down there. And then the trade off is, I get to run it here a little bit. So I’m going to pick rocks out of that field. And there’s a field up by the house here that I’m going to pick rocks out of too. So then this should be what’s left. That’s actually dirt.
The other thing is doing it when it’s dry is better. Doing my harvesting dry. Yeah.
In here, we’re going to make this wing into the next edition of the cooler. So this whole thing will be, the whole center will be a cooler. And then fixing the floor, make it all flat. Get the chain gutters out of here finally. And then be able to take pallets. And this will probably be a sliding door right here. So we’ll just still take pallets.
Andy Chamberlin: Concrete work some more?
John Hirsch: Concrete. And my dad and I are going to do it. Probably just fill in with rock a little bit and then slap some concrete on there. And I’m kind of thinking, yeah, we might mess it up, but I’ve heard of people paying for concrete work and it gets messed up, so why not.
Andy Chamberlin: Give it a go.
John Hirsch: I’m going to give it a go. We’re in an area where we’re competing with the second homeowner mason guys.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, they’re not who you need for the floor.
John Hirsch: Yeah. I got a quote for 10 grand just to do the floor fixing. And I think we can realistically do it for three. Not to say it’s not worth paying somebody to do something, but from what I’ve seen in agriculture, paying more doesn’t ever get you anything. Then you have to maximize yields or something goes wrong. It’s like the whole thing’s in a tizzy, and I would just rather save some money here and there. Do it good enough. The wash line is cap certified, the cooler’s going to be caps, so it’s all going to be done right. It’s just maybe slower and I got to do it myself. And that’s a reason that we stop doing the farmer’s market too, because I’m not making enough money at farmer’s market to pay for this kind of stuff to get done. So I have to just do it myself. And if the trade off is, I find more wholesale customers and get rid of the three days a week that we’re getting ready for farmer’s market and then the farmer’s market. I think that’s like the-
And I talked to some other bigger growers that I admire too, and they were like, “We start selling when we’re ready,” which is a different mentality than the farmer’s market. You got to sell when the farmer’s market starts. Otherwise, you look like a chump with two things on your table for the first month. You got to pile it high and watch it fly. And that’s just not exactly- It can be done. And we’ve done it, but it’s not sustainable for me, I guess with the type of business that we’re trying to grow. Because we’re trying to do multiple bins of stuff a day. Ideally, I would like to be able to process multiple bins, multiple thousands of pounds of stuff a day. And doing 60 bucks worth of this thing for farmer’s market, 50 bucks worth of this thing. And it’s like, doing all this hopping around. And I’m not making money on any of it. It’s just for people to buy at farmer’s market. Or picking kale just so it fluff. I call it table fluff. The stuff you bring to farmer’s market, and it doesn’t sell.
Andy Chamberlin: Decoration.
John Hirsch: It’s the decoration. People can sell a bunch of kale at farmer’s market, don’t ever stop doing farmer’s market. But we could only sell the real tough stuff like cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas before anybody else had them. It was the tough stuff. And I just want to get into getting the operations set up really well. I want to have really good processes for everything. Do a lot with machinery and all this kind of stuff. Getting the floors fixed and doing the construction stuff. You just have to have time to do it. So I’m feeling good about not being spread too thin with a really ambitious crop plan and having a good sense of what construction work we can get accomplished this year. And I think it’s going to outweigh what we could potentially make at farmer’s market too. Just being realistic.
Because if we were to pay for all this stuff, a lean to has got to be what if you pay somebody to do it anymore, but just lumber’s got to be a couple grand, so you got to be looking like 10 grand on a good farmer’s market year. That’s a third. And that’s one project that we can get done at a quarter of the cost. Just me. And I don’t know, these are my lofty goals. We’ll see what happens. But I’m definitely feeling there’s a weight lifted just focusing on what actually makes us money. I mean, it is a business at the end of the day. Everything’s got to make money. I was just talking to somebody about this Black River Produce isn’t trucking stuff because they’re passionate about it. I mean, yeah, there’s some passion involved. Sure. But it’s not like, I’m willing to lose money to drive this truck to Shaws.
Andy Chamberlin: They’re not going to do that.
John Hirsch: They’re not doing it. Why am I doing it?
Andy Chamberlin: Well, I remember, I think it was just a year ago, maybe it was two at this point, but you had made the decision to cut your crop count significantly.
John Hirsch: Yep.
Andy Chamberlin: And you were like, “A big weight off my shoulders.” Focusing now. You’re not doing 40 different things anymore. You dropped it down to probably 20 at that point.
John Hirsch: I think it was 20. Yeah, a little over 20. And that was a great idea too. And that didn’t make a difference at farmer’s market. It really didn’t. We just stopped bringing kale. We just didn’t have that table fluff. And nobody asked us for it. Not a single person. No Swiss chard. Nobody asked us for it. We would wet up one of those eight foot tables and fill the whole thing with sugar snap peas, and people loved it. And it made us as much money as doing all the whole gamut. Which I would listen to, I think it, was it your podcast maybe with the Wiz, Richard Wiswald where he was saying-
Andy Chamberlin: No, I haven’t had him on yet.
John Hirsch: No. Okay. He was talking to somebody about how they went from doing the whole whatever, a hundred crops, and they were getting burnt out or whatever the reason was, and they went down to just tomatoes and bedding plants or whatever it was, and they made the same money. And were not stressed. This is great. We should all be- to feed our area. And this is just in Vermont. We can ship food out of Vermont. Or ship food in, rather. But if we really want to do a good job of feeding our state, I think we all have to play off our strengths. And not every farm should be doing-
Andy Chamberlin: Everything.
John Hirsch: 40 crops. And they shouldn’t be doing start to finish. I mean, some should, but we should have a strong transplant growing sector of our vegetable economy. And then I know there’s talk of packhouse, like a centralized packhouse with weight baggers and stuff, all computerized stuff like that. We need that kind of stuff. And if everybody is doing this huge diversity and going to farmer’s market, and then you go to the grocery store and it’s like all Olivia’s brand greens are Little Leaf, I just think we could be doing better as a whole state if we all just focused on different things. I don’t know that. That’s just from what I’ve seen at our farmer’s market, which is definitely a tourist market. It is what it is. 70% of our customers are not return customers every single week.
Andy Chamberlin: Whoa.
John Hirsch: And it’s from our-
Andy Chamberlin: From your data.
John Hirsch: From our data. I don’t even have to make it up. I don’t even have to assume. Our data, because most people pay with the card now.
Andy Chamberlin: New faces every week.
John Hirsch: It’s first time buyers.
Andy Chamberlin: Wow.
John Hirsch: 70% first time buyers.
Andy Chamberlin: Mostly out of staters?.
John Hirsch: Mostly out of state. They’re in for a wedding.
Andy Chamberlin: Oh, I’m just going to check out the farmer’s market.
John Hirsch: Oh, I’m going to the farmer’s market. Yeah. What can I bring home? And that’s what they- So kale is out. They want a bunch of carrots with the tops, and then they want me to take the tops off.
Andy Chamberlin: Sell them with the tops.
John Hirsch: Would you mind taking them? And I’d have a couple of bins overflowing with carrot tops at the end of the day. It was hilarious.
Andy Chamberlin: Value added right there on the spot.
John Hirsch: At that point, I’m losing money on it because if they’re just buying top carrots, I can do top carrots way cheaper with way less effort.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah. There’s different ways to do that.
John Hirsch: So I may have a different opinion about how we should be feeding ourselves than maybe if people are doing a good farmer’s market where it’s really good community involvement. And it was like you’re seeing the same members of your neighborhood multiple times a season at least, or even every week would be cool. We just weren’t seeing that at ours, and we were getting more traction selling at grocery stores and stuff, which is why we went in the wholesale direction. And same with the CSA. There’s just not enough people right here. So we were bringing it to Waitsfield. And then there’s already other options in Waitsfield for CSAs. They do such a good job with it. So go ahead, you guys. But yeah, and feeling good about trucking stuff too. A truck comes to the farm now to pick up, and then they do the logistics. Which is, it’s just nice to play off of what other businesses are set out to do in a sustainable way, I guess. If we’re all just supporting each other, we need all these different businesses and all these different niche kind of things.
Andy Chamberlin: If you start taking out some of the marketing, you start taking out some of the trucking and let you focus on the growing and the harvesting.
John Hirsch: Maybe the carrots wouldn’t be so weedy.
Andy Chamberlin: Right.
John Hirsch: Yep. Melissa was saying, this seems like it’s going to be a pivotal year, which I feel good about. Because I thought last year was kind of pivotal, going from hand harvesting to machine harvesting. But going into the year not needing to figure out the machine harvesting is different than-
Andy Chamberlin: Got some experience.
John Hirsch: Yeah. So I don’t know. There’s just a good feeling going into this year. We can handle what we’re doing. We’re getting set up to do it well. Got strong wholesale connections and buyers already. It just seems like, and we moved in 2016 and it’s 2023 now. So how many years is that? 8, 9, 7.
Andy Chamberlin: Something like that.
John Hirsch: Oh, 23, 7 years. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. That makes sense. I was thinking it was like 10 years.
Andy Chamberlin: Not quite.
John Hirsch: I had done a couple years with my parents, and I always roll that into this, but it was like-
Andy Chamberlin: Ten years experience, seven years-
John Hirsch: Seven years established here. So not like the make a hundred grand your first year kind of thing that is getting marketed to people anymore. But it definitely takes time to get traction. But I’m feeling good about the traction we’ve got at this point.
Andy Chamberlin: The third stop in this show hops over the ridge line where there is no snow, where we visit with Taylor, who is focused on CSA.
Taylor Mendel: My name is Taylor Mendel and I run Footprint Farm with my husband Jake. We are in Starksboro, Vermont. Our primary markets are a CSA program, which starts in the beginning of April and goes through until Christmas. And we have about 150 members at once, about 200 members over the season. We also sell wholesale to local restaurants, caterers, and grocery stores. And our primary crop is year round greens.
We farm on just a few acres. We have an acre and a half in production outdoors, an acre that rests in cover crop, and about a quarter of an acre in unheated high tunnels.
Yeah, it’s been exciting. I feel like we’re kind of through, knock on wood, the COVID upheaval and this year feels like the first start where we are a little bit sure of our systems, but are refining them and making them more permanent instead of reinventing the wheel. We have a new, not entirely new, but about 50% new crew this year, which is exciting. Feels like a good time to solidify some of those systems. And growing wise, it was a weird winter, which maybe all winters are going to be weird now, but we had a really slow start to our spring greens because of the lack of sunshine. So they’re just starting to grow now, which is exciting because we started CSA this week and we needed greens.
Andy Chamberlin: Right. I was going to stop by the other day, but it was first day of CSA. How’d that go?
Taylor Mendel: It was good. Our spring CSA is really small. We just have four items, and we only had three this week, but that’s fine. And we were able to use some carrots that’s been sitting in the walk-in over the winter, which is nice. We’re small, so we don’t store a lot of crops, so that was exciting to have those. And things went pretty smoothly. We’ve been using Grown By for the past couple of years, and this was the first year where it just felt smooth. And that felt good.
Andy Chamberlin: What part of Grown By made it smooth?
Taylor Mendel: I don’t touch invoices anymore, which is really nice. We used to do all of our CSA signups through forms, Google Forms or Airtable Forms, and then I’d create invoices in QuickBooks and then send them out. And there was this big back and forth with CSA members. And now it’s a little weird because I don’t even know who signed up until we print out the signup sheets on the day of pickup, but it’s so nice that I can just press print and it says, this is what you should pack for the day, and it just works.
Andy Chamberlin: Oh, that’s nice.
Taylor Mendel: It’s really nice. We’re doing a few new experiments. I think the biggest one is that we’re dipping back into some cost of production studies this year. We’re using Know Your Cost to Grow, which is out of a few different organizations. The one that’s coming to mind is Oregon Tilth, and I think Oregon State and one other one created that program.
And so we’re doing specific cost of productions on our baby mustard greens mix, scallions, because those seem to take a really long time. So we’ll see how long they actually take to harvest. And then a comparison between paper potted carrots and direct seeded carrots.
Andy Chamberlin: Interesting.
Taylor Mendel: In the high tunnel. So that one’s going to be really interesting. We’re all a little bit nervous about it. So far, we planted both. And the paper potted carrots are germinating well, but it’s a little bit wider spacing. The closest you can get is two inches. It’s a little bit wider spacing than we’re used to. And there’s a lot of rodent activity in the spring, and so we’re realizing that, oh, maybe direct seeded is nice because they kind of thin it out. But if they go after a paper pot carrot, then that’s your carrot. So that might be our biggest takeaway so far. But we’re only a month in, so who knows.
Andy Chamberlin: Right.
Taylor Mendel: Another thing that we’re doing, our biggest crew wide frustration for the last few years has been our wash pack flow during our wholesale days, which I think is a common pinch point for maybe any farm. But having so many moving parts, and we don’t have a huge inventory, and so if we didn’t have enough for all of the chef orders, then it’s who gets what and things are moving around. We have to get to drop offs before restaurants open. It’s hectic. And so we’ve moved things around in our wash pack. We’ve put in a lot of storage stuff up high near the ceiling to get stuff out of the way. And we’ve moved around our wash lines, so they’re in different parts of the room to try to make walk ways exist. And so that’s been an exciting thing that’s been driven by our crew, which is great to have such a nice buy-in and excitement about an organizing project.
What else is exciting about this year? We’re in one of the Jack Laser, the Jack Laser soil health cohort through NOFA this year. And so we’ve been doing monthly meetups with other farms talking about soil health strategies, which has been fascinating. It feels like we’ve been so caught up in systems changes and being new parents over the last few years that we haven’t been geeking out over growing methods or soil health strategies for a few years. And so we’re really getting into mostly different strategies for cover cropping is what we’re excited about. But there’s a lot of talk about oxygen pathways in the soil and soil microbes and maybe the soil tests that we all do are not actually that informative. And there seems to be some really interesting research that’s coming out. And it’s partially validating because we’re realizing that we don’t actually, humans don’t really understand soil, which is kind of nice to have a little mystery in the world. But it’s also exciting because we have certain areas of the field where it just doesn’t make sense. Everything’s on point compared to a soil test, but things just aren’t growing. And it’s in sections. And so we’re really curious.
Andy Chamberlin: So the measured numbers are good, but the performance isn’t there.
Taylor Mendel: Exactly. Exactly. The nutrients are there, the macronutrients are there. Most of the micronutrients are there, but the plants are just unhappy for whatever reason. And we don’t have much space for doing a nice full year cover crop in between cash crops. So that’s another thing we’re trying to figure out this year on a small acreage, how do we get 50% cash crop, 50% cover crop?
Andy Chamberlin: You’re a pretty intensive production off of your available land.
Taylor Mendel: Yeah, exactly.
Andy Chamberlin: Farm planning always happens in the winter. It’s April. So far on plan? Or things going not to plan?
Taylor Mendel: If you look at our top priorities of the week right there, one of them is that Jake and I still need to sit down and figure out the last pieces of the crop planning. It seems like the winter is, we can do this, we should do this, can we do this? Let’s buy that, da da, da. And you get this exciting, nice long list. And then in February, March, you buy all the things to start that plan. And then in April, late March, early April, we’re implementing those plans. And so the last couple weeks have just been this flurry of activity, trying to get everything done before. And there’s a small window between, okay, there’s no snow on the ground, so we can start cleaning up the trash or moving the pile of whatever. And then we lose that project time because the season gets really crazy. So we have about a four to six week window where we’re trying to cram a winter’s worth of projects in. We have a lot of crew excitement and crew presence. We have more people working this time of year than we’ve ever had before. And so it feels like we have the people power to actually get some of those projects done.
Andy Chamberlin: Oh, that’s nice.
Taylor Mendel: Which is exciting.
Andy Chamberlin: How many people are on your crew this spring?
Taylor Mendel: We have two people working four days a week. One person working two days a week, and then we’ll have a fourth person. Everyone will be full-time in May, and we’ll have a fourth person joining us in May.
Andy Chamberlin: Wow.
Taylor Mendel: Yeah, four full-time this year.
Andy Chamberlin: That’s a lot. That’s more than ever before, right?
Taylor Mendel: Last year, it depended on the week. It was five to six, but all, not all, but mostly part-time, which was too much schedule managing. We as farm managers are trying to reduce stress this year, so we are trying to implement a lot more schedules that we stick to, which I say with a smile because I’m hoping we can do it. But we’re planning in time off during the week for myself and Jake, my husband, farming partner, so that we can actually get responsibility free time. So we’ll see. Check in with me in August and we’ll see if we’ve been doing that. But we’ve created some new crew positions that take on more responsibility than we’ve done before, which is why folks are working earlier, to get those systems down and comfortable before the season starts. And because it was so hectic managing the part-time schedules last year, we really tried to get folks who could work full-time this year and are very excited that we have a full-time crew.
Andy Chamberlin: You mentioned you’re fairly new parents. And I see on Instagram the daycare’s canceled a lot. So how much farming versus momming? What’s that ratio like this year?
Taylor Mendel: I have no idea. That’s the thing about it is that you just don’t. I think what I’ve realized, our son is two, almost two and a half. And I think what I’ve realized is that I love schedules and I just can’t have a schedule. And so part of our winter planning this year has been really looking at my responsibilities and trying to see what are the ones that I really have to do versus can I delegate? Can I hire a payroll service? What can I give to other people? And then the things that really I have to do, making sure we have childcare on those days or that we can do it on a different day or that I can squeeze it into nap times. So trying to create SOPs this time of year, so that things that take me a little, they only happen monthly, so I have to reteach myself how to do it every month. I’m creating SOPs right now, so I can do it in a hour long nap time. And I’m also not scheduled to be working on the farm this year. So we’re calling my position a unicorn position, meaning that if we have childcare and I’ve done those essential tasks, I can help in the field. So I’m this kind of floating-
Andy Chamberlin: Like a reward.
Taylor Mendel: Floating unicorn. Yes.
Andy Chamberlin: Bonus.
Taylor Mendel: Exactly. I’m a bonus pair of hands. And I’m a little sad about missing mostly the hanging out with the crew. But part of my list of important non-negotiable tasks are some farm field activities. So I will be there for trellising. I will be there for certain wash pack days. So the things that I really like to do, we made sure that those are on my schedule.
Andy Chamberlin: Because you are a key player in the skills of things like trellising or just part of what you really enjoy doing, so you don’t want to miss that?
Taylor Mendel: Both. A lot of the things, as we’ve gotten farther into our farming career, we have divvied up responsibility between Jake and myself. And when I say responsibility, I mean mental responsibility. So the knowledge of how to do it, where to get the supplies from, things like that. And so IPM is in my bucket, HR is in my bucket, tunnel management is in my bucket. And then certain wash pack systems have been in my bucket. And then Jake is more on the actual field, soil health, tractor work, planting schedule, wholesale management is on his side. So he doesn’t know how to do the tunnel management. And so it would be tough to replace me on that. And that’s when we were looking at that list of things that I do. That’s what we were looking at is what information lives in my brain and not in anybody else’s.
Andy Chamberlin: Right.
Taylor Mendel: And I like it. I do like it.
Andy Chamberlin: Well, that’s the important part.
Taylor Mendel: It’s important. It would be a bummer if the only farm work I was doing was the stuff I don’t like.
Andy Chamberlin: So it sounds like the season’s off to a pretty good start.
Taylor Mendel: Yeah. Hope springs eternal. It always feels really good until that second week of June when the weeds catch up. But I am excited. This is the first year in a few that I’m not inundated in mom hood. Our son is old enough now that he can hang out for a little bit in wash pack or he can play with his dump trucks while I’m seeding, for a little while. And so it feels like there’s some excitement about being able to get back into the farm work a bit. And we do have childcare lined up. It’s just touch and go about who’s sick and who needs vacation. And so we really take advantage of the days that he’s there.
Andy Chamberlin: Are there any significant challenges that you want to talk about as far as farm planning feels good for this year, but it’s just difficult to do because life happens and there’s a whole bunch of irons in the fire.
Taylor Mendel: Well, one interesting thing that I’m curious to see what’s going to happen, and I’ve heard this across a few farms, is that our hiring was a little bit different this year. Where we heard from multiple people who we were interviewing that they either didn’t accept a job or pulled out of the interview process because they couldn’t find housing. And I’m really curious to see how housing is going to influence farm labor in the future. It’s already a big discussion. Most of our crew lives at least a half hour away, and the commute is big, especially in the time of year when they’re having to get here really early in the morning. And rent is increasing in places like Burlington. And farm wages aren’t quite keeping up with that. We’re doing what we can. But I’m curious to see how that’s going to go. That’s going to be a bigger and bigger struggle, I think.
And then just the flow of getting the season planned and off the ground is really hard with kids. And it’s a balance between taking care of ourselves and taking care of the farm and taking care of our child. And I think over the last few years we’ve prioritized one over the other and we’re trying to prioritize taking care of ourselves more this year. So we did drop some of the wintertime planning, we just didn’t do because we said it’s more important that we go visit my family this winter instead of X, Y, or Z. Or it’s more important that I actually go see that physical therapist for that back issue that I’ve had for 10 years. So it’s been our, we’re calling 2023, the year of taking care of ourselves.
Andy Chamberlin: That’s good. That’s a good mantra to head into the season with.
Taylor Mendel: Yeah.
Andy Chamberlin: You’ve been a mom for two years now. Any advice you’ve learned? Taking care of yourself is what you’re prioritizing this year. So any words of encouragement to other farm moms that are hair brained about the start of the season?
Taylor Mendel: It’s so kid specific and it’s so job specific and it’s so parent specific. In our experience, it has been important for me to learn what it actually means to take care of myself. And I think it’s taken two years and I still don’t really know what rejuvenates me. Look for childcare when you’re pregnant. It is a big one. We’re realizing now. We’re still a year out from preschool and we’re realizing we’re behind on getting on wait lists for preschool, which is nerve-wracking. And something I had no idea how few childcare providers there are nationwide, but certainly in our area. And being flexible. That’s so cliche. All of it’s so cliche, but then you realize, oh, it’s cliche for a reason. Those sayings exist because you do not know what your kid’s mood is going to be like when they wake up in the morning or if they’re going to be sick or if childcare is going to have to call out because they’re having their own family issues. And having multiple backup plans has been really crucial for us. And doing that prioritization of what tasks do I really need to do and when do I need to do them? And making sure somebody else can watch our kid during those times.
And then trying to, and this is hard for me because I love working and I love pushing myself and being present with a kid can be tough for me and boring. As much as I love him. It’s such a contradiction because watching him jump off the same thing 30 times in a row can get boring. And so I’m really trying to learn to be present in the moment, which kids are good at forcing you to do, and remembering that he’s not going to be here hanging out with us all the time. And if we have people who we can employ to do the work that I can’t do right now and I can spend time with him, that really helps me mentally to not feel like, Ooh, I wish he’d just napped so that I could go seed in the greenhouse instead being like, okay, seeding in the greenhouse is covered. I can play magnatiles for a little bit.
Andy Chamberlin: Yeah, for a bit. That’s good. Yeah. Is there anything else that you want to share?
Taylor Mendel: Spring cleaning feels good.
Andy Chamberlin: It does.
Taylor Mendel: I’m just going to say that.
Andy Chamberlin: It’s funny that you highlighted that four week window because you’re so right.
Taylor Mendel: Yeah.
Andy Chamberlin: And I don’t know, maybe it’s a Vermont thing because we have winter, so we’re coming out of winter, and you’re right. The snow melts and you’re motivated and you can’t really get stuff going yet, so you can clean up. But then, as soon as second week of April hits, it’s kind of go time and then whatever you were able to clean up is done.
Taylor Mendel: Exactly. I know we have all these cleanup projects that have been like, well, okay, we get two weeks every April to chip away at that pile right there.
Andy Chamberlin: And with that, I hope your season is off to a good start just like theirs. I’m Andy Chamberlin, and that was The Farmer’s Share. 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 thefarmersshare.com to check out more episodes and interviews. If you enter your email on our website, you’ll get these photos and videos right into your inbox when the next episode comes out. This podcast is supported by the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Association and the Ag Engineering Program of the University of Vermont Extension. If you’re loving this show, I’d love it if you could leave me a review. It’s easier than you might think. In Apple podcast just click on the show and scroll down to the bottom. And there you can leave five stars and a comment to help encourage new listeners to tune in. Thanks for listening.