Getting Started, Keeping Going – Day One | Eric Kampe shares experiences and perspectives on launching a small farm enterprise with a focus on both personal values and farm economics.
It’ll be marginal because it’s been damaged by irresponsible farming or conventional extraction-based agriculture. Or it’ll be damaged because it was maybe never suitable for farmland in the first place.
These kinds of land is what’s available. I would be pretty surprised to learn of a new farmer with the resources to get something that’s just really high-quality land. All the good stuff’s being used. And high-quality land is in terms of soil quality and ecosystem quality, but it’s also closeness to your market and accessibility.
But that’s not where we’re at. We’re using every square inch of our suitable production space, because we have a fair amount of acreage, but we have a very limited amount of land that because of the interaction with the water and where we can drain properly. We have a very limited amount of land that we’ve put in that effort to make productive for produce.
So yeah, we’re very tight. And any time we could plant at least a long season cover crop, we could have planted a cash crop. You know, if I could plant an overwinter rye and vetch, I could plant garlic same season. If I can plant a spring oats and peas, I can plant lettuce or any cool weather green.
And that’s crazy to me. That’s just one example. Most of the seed that we grow, seed can be pretty explosively productive. And so, if you get a harvest, you usually have such an abundance that it very much is worth your while.
It’s just one of those things of we exist in such a complicated agricultural economy. It’d be like a small market gardener growing their own onions. Like, please do. Onions are amazing. I love growing my own onions.
Like, we did cauliflower and broccoli, which people love. But the spacing of the crop means that we just can’t get as many dollars per square foot out of it. And we love those crops. But they just can’t economically compete with some of the others.
And so, we would reduce the bed space that we’re committing to those. A surprise we saw from that was, field tomatoes did quite well. And tomatoes are known to be a profitable crop. But they can be finicky in the field.
But we have some restaurants that have been great allies for a number of years that were able to stick with us. And we really appreciate them. And we are a part of the St. Joe Hospital’s collaborative CSA program. And that means that the CSA is managed by The Farm at St. Joe at the hospital there.
But the produce is grown by maybe a dozen different farms. And that aggregation is really, really wonderful. It helps us all provide for a CSA that’s bigger than any one single farm could manage.
And then you asked about seeds. 2020 was a very unique year for seed sales. Basically, right at the time when folks might be planning their gardens, we got a national lockdown order which almost seemed like, “Hey, everyone, stay home and order seeds.”
The timing was perfect. Everyone was uncertain about the future. Reasonably, it was and continues to be a scary time. And an oddity, that uncertainty tends to be good for the seed market. And so, as a result of that, the seed companies were swamped.
And I expect the other seed companies had the same issue as I did when the fall of ‘20 rolled around and we were looking at our inventory and our planning we were like, “Jeez. Like, where is everything?” And it’s a good problem. But you know, you build this multi-year routine of keeping your seeds in stock. And you can’t just reproduce it all in one season real quickly.
It’s awkward for me. I don’t know what to say or do. And so I’m kind of just waiting. But you’re absolutely right. There’s a lotta need. And I think there’s need for organization beyond the go-it-alone, cowboy attitude.
We need more farmers. We need more gardeners. We need more seed savers. And if that means people striking off on their own path and starting their own organizations, I’m all for that. I love it. But I think there’s this next level that is going to require organizing.
And that happens. But part of this aggregated CSA is then so, you know, as soon as we know something, we call the people at St. Joe’s CSA and we’re like, “Hey, you know, how we were going to do this thing.
It’s not going to happen. I feel awful.” And they’re like, “Yeah. We get it. We’re going to call the other farms. It’s fine.”