Following is the first installment in our series 'Featured Farmers". Samantha O'Byrne (SO), director of O'Hara Commons, poses questions about the 2017 growing season with SweetRoot Farm (SRF). We will feature a different Bitterroot Farm every week. A fun way to get up to date with our local produce growers.
SO: Let’s start with your winter recess. What was the highlight of your winter?
SRF: Our highlight may have been attending a farmer exchange in Idaho a few weeks ago. We spent three
days talking with and learning from about 30 other small organic farmers, comparing notes on everything from hoop house layout and crop varieties to how to farm in ways that are personally sustainable—ideas for how to keep the farmers healthy and happy in the long run, as well as keeping the farms productive. It was just so inspiring to be around a group of people who are all so passionate about good food and farms.
SO: As you gear up for the 2017 season, do you have plans for C.S.A.s? Can people sign up now?
SRF: Yes! We are currently signing people up for our farm memberships. We have several options, including a weekly veggie-box subscription picked up at the farm on Tuesdays, and a “feed bag” option where members chose their own produce each week at the market or farmstore. We relish strong connections with our farm members, and do everything we can to make sure people know how to use all of the food we grow. Members get recipes, advice on vegetable prep, samples of new varieties, and are welcome to call us at any time with questions. (contact: email@example.com)
SO: Which Farmer’s Markets will you be attending?
SRF: We are at the Hamilton Farmer’s Market every Saturday, on the East end of Bedford. We are at market every single week all season, no matter what: sun, rain, smoke, or snow, you can find us there. We’ll be part of the extended season markets in Legion Park the last two weeks of April and October this year as well.
SO: Many local farms are developing farm stands, will you have one? When will you be open and what are the directions to your farm stand?
SRF: We do. Our farmstore is open through the winter for our farm-roasted coffee, eggs, and information on farm memberships. We’ll have produce again in mid-April, if not sooner. The best way to know what we have in stock is to sign up for our email newsletter or follow us on Facebook. We’ll be trying to keep in our info current about what is available. The farmstore is self-serve, and open all the time. You can find directions at our website, but we are just two miles from downtown Hamilton.
SO: Looking forward into the 2017 growing season, do you have any new crops with which you are experimenting?
SRF: We have not grown Brussels sprouts or shallots for a few years, and are excited to have them in the plan this year, after several customer requests. We’re also adding quite a bit more space for cut flowers and herbs, and trying several new varieties of some of the old favorites, including tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. And we’re determined to get better at growing cilantro this year!
SO: What is your most exciting development for 2017?
SRF: We are very excited this year to be able to offer financial assistance to people who are interested in a farm membership, but are concerned about the cost. We’ve been fundraising for what we call our eatership program to help make memberships more affordable. It’s basically like a scholarship for food, because we know that many of our neighbors are on tight budgets, and it can be hard to make the financial commitment to a farm when there are lots of other costs to cover in your life. If anyone has hesitated to join a farm program because of financial constraints, we encourage them to contact us or visit the website to fill out an application for an eatership. The eatership fund has already helped 3 households join up as farm members, and we are excited to extend the help to more.
SO: Do you have any other news or announcements?
SRF: We took a big step this winter, and researched and purchased a newer used tractor. Our little Russian tractor from 1982 has a lot of character, but “Belarus” is just not quite up to some of the tasks we really want to do on our farm. That includes having a front bucket to turn compost, and enough horsepower to pull an under cutter bar to help us harvest bulk quantities of root crops like carrots and beets this coming fall. It’s not just the tractor that was a big step for us. It also represents a commitment to investing in the systems that our farm needs in order to develop at a scale that can provide us a reasonable living. Upgrading to this tractor required taking on our first bank loan. While financing is daunting and a big responsibility, we could clearly see that without that investment, we’d be stuck trying to do too much work by hand to get ourselves to the level where our farm can meet our basic living needs. We are encouraged by the support of our customers, farm members, and community, and hopeful that you’ll all help us continue to raise our farm.