By Hannah Sargeant of Forager Farm
Unlike many other young farmers, we had access to land even before we made a concrete decision on whether to grow vegetables or not. We were fortunate enough to have family and friends willing to rent us a slice of land. Ultimately, we decided to rent land from some of our friends. This option allowed us access to some equipment as well as a place to live.
Renting versus buying, whether land or equipment, allows us to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. We realize now after operating for a few months, that the tractor we’re renting doesn’t fit all of our needs. The wheel spacing prohibits us from using the tractor for cultivation and weeding and limits the size of our raised beds.
We realized that hand weeding and using wheel-hoes and stirrup-hoes isn’t enough, especially when you get just under three inches of rain in one night and a continual rainfall for the next 10 days, amounting to double the average rainfall for the month of June. Let’s just say, once it dried up and we were no longer drowning in water, we were drowning in weeds. With that said, going forward we’d like to invest in some sort of mechanical weeding equipment, which we feel is necessary until we can get the weed seed bank under control.
Another thing we had going for us was the basic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model. This model allows for funding or capital up front at the beginning of the season, directly from the very people who will be consuming our food. Our members take a financial chance on our farm and us and we grow their food. Without this model, we would not have been able to operate at this level.
In addition to this model and opting for renting versus buying, we were eligible for a grant-loan specific to sustainable farmers in North Dakota through the Grants to Grow program at The Foundation for Agricultural and Rural Resources Management and Sustainability (FARRMS). It is a grant loan combination with two-thirds of it a loan (with the first three years interest free) and one-third of it a grant.
These fortuitous circumstances have afforded us with a strong beginning to Forager Farm. Yet, we’ve come to understand that the first few months of your first year of operation really shine a light on where you excel and where you need to improve. This is to be expected of any new venture, but it has felt exceptionally harsh thus far.
As previously mentioned, we had a lot of precipitation in a very short time pushing us out of the field for a good two weeks. Everything was drenched and muddy. We weren’t sure of the long-term effects, but we recently felt them.
Last week, our supposed third week of deliveries, had to be postponed. The short version is we simply didn’t have much to put in our CSA boxes. Our first two weeks were filled with assorted lettuce, some tatsoi and pak choi, garlic scapes, and a bit of dill. By the time week three came around we had cut our lettuce supply low and almost all of our crops were stunted and still recovering from all the rain.
We felt so disappointed by the weather, but mostly by ourselves. We know you can’t control Mother Nature, but it’s a major blow to have to call your members and tell them you just can’t deliver this week.
However, we are so lucky to have the members that we do. Absolutely everyone was supportive and understanding of our situation, and it has really only lit the fire underneath us to supply them with a bountiful harvest to come.
You see, nothing is dying or a complete crop loss (except our spinach), it’s just very slow. We’re so grateful for this and know things could be much worse. We are hopeful and optimistic for the coming months. Tomorrow we’re expecting highs in the mid-90s and as long as things are irrigated properly, it’s grow, baby grow!