Nestled in the San Pedro River Valley, just outside of Cascabel, Arizona, lies 75 acres of farmland with over a thousand chickens, a couple of goats, five WWOOFERs and Debbie, Adam, Clay, and CJ — the dynamic quartet who own and manage Sleeping Frog Farms.
Starting with a row of fava beans and a greenhouse nabbed from Craigslist for $500, Sleeping Frog Farms first broke ground four years ago on a small parcel of land–a former horse pasture–north of Tucson, Arizona. Within two years, Adam, Debbie, Clay, and CJ went from direct-marketing radishes (and not much else), to distributing produce at Tucson restaurants, offering CSA shares and selling an impressive variety of products (dates, vegetables, and eggs, to name a few) at a farmers’ market on Tucson’s north side. They soon realized they would reach capacity on their small farm and decided to look for a larger plot of fertile land that could support increased production and an even greater variety of products.
In May 2010 Adam, Debbie, Clay, and CJ bought the 75 acres of land outside of Cascabel. For several months they grew and harvested vegetables at both locations, making a gradual conversion to their new farm. Since August of 2011, on this land flush with water from three domestic and two agricultural wells, Sleeping Frog Farms has been operating full-throttle.
The rapid growth of Sleeping Frog Farms can be attributed to the collective experience and vision of the four managers. Together they bring to the table a unique set of skills and experiences, including non-profit work (Debbie), produce management (Adam), farm and irrigation know-how (CJ), and business management (Clay). They share the same mission: to feed as many families in Southern Arizona as they can while preserving the health of the landscape by nurturing soil and animals without the use of pesticides. As Adam put it, they would like to “close the loop,” using fewer off-the-farm inputs. In other words, they would like to create a self-sustaining production cycle. Adam explains that this can be achieved by using effective microorganisms and creating a balance with plants, animals, and insects, which negates the need for chemical applications and pesticides. Think permaculture, or “permanent agriculture.” As CJ put it, “If you have a healthy soil…the plants already know what to do. It’s engrained in the enzymes in the seed—you give it good water and healthy soil, they do their thing.”
Their experience has not been without strife. Unpredictability is inherent in farming. The daily temperature range is wide, there are many frosts and the wind corridors can be brutal. Furthermore, the four managers reinvest most of their earnings back into the farm. While they sell produce to high-end restaurants in Tucson, Arizona, their paychecks don’t afford them the luxury of eating at those same establishments. But these financial difficulties do not dampen or halt their progress. They look toward the future: They hope to grow their CSA from its current membership of 105 to as many as 500 members by eventually farming 20 acres, with two-thirds in production and one-third in cover crop. They are also interested in small-scale grain production; over the next 20 years, they hope to grow enough grain to feed their own chickens, further closing the loop.
This week Sleeping Frog Farms will harvest broccoli rabe and sell multi-colored eggs to Tucson omelet aficionados at the St. Phillips Sunday Farmers’ Market. If you live in Southern Arizona, you can support Debbie, Adam, Clay and CJ by buying their produce at the Food Conspiracy Co-Op, or by visiting their stand at the farmers’ market. They welcome farm visits, too. If you can’t make it out to Cascabel, check out this video (produced by Arizona Public Media) to experience, vicariously, what Sleeping Frog Farms is all about and to meet four champion growers who are investing in their land and in the future by growing good food—for both eater and land—for Southern Arizona.