Updated: Aug 29
Series 2: Farming During COVID, Episode 2
Food insecurity as a result of COVID has spurred folks to hoard supplies and food. But it's also had another effect. Consumers are scrambling to get into a local farm share. They are planting gardens of their own, raising chickens and even homesteading. The result is a closer connection to farmers and fortified communities. Find a little inspiration for yourself here, on how to do your part to support farmers in your own back yard.
Hear about how farmers are selling out of CSA shares and how that impacts their bottom line. What about their seed supplies as they shift from selling to restaurants to selling to consumers? How are farmers inspiring consumers to walk a mile in their shoes? Victory gardens, an idea that is a century old, are popping up in back yards across the country. And, believe it or not, it's hard to get baby chicks right now. Whether you are starting a windowsill herb garden or want to get in a little bit deeper, Talk Farm to Me's five amazing guests will give you some ideas and maybe a little push.
Have a listen. When you're done, please head over to iTunes and give the podcast some stars and a rating. The numbers have been off the charts of late and it will only get better with your help. So, send a little love my way... for the farmers!
xoxo Farm Girl
IN THIS EPISODE
This episode is also a little longer than my usual 20 minutes 😬 ... but we all have a little more time on our hands and my five impressive guests deserve a little more time. Also, if you are like me, you have been doing a lot of dishes. So I figure this is the "spoonful of sugar" to help the chores go by more painlessly.
Carrie Sedlak, Director, Fairshare CSA Coalition, Madison, Wisconsin
Gretchen Kreisburg, Co-CEO, Johnny's Selected Seeds, Winslow, Maine
Kendra Higgins, Customer Service Specialist & Podcast Host, Meyer Hatchery, Polk, Ohio
Angela Fanning, Homesteader, Axe & Root Homestead, Whitehouse Station, New Jersey
All of the music in this episode is by Lobo Loco.
All Night Long (ID 774) and Spencer Bluegrass (ID 1230)
All of the photos were provided to Talk Farm to Me by episode guests. Gracias.
All of the links above will give you more information about this episode's guests and their organizations, companies and farms. For more content and connections to these resources and others, follow this podcast on @talkfarmtome on Instagram.
If you are looking for a CSA to join in the Hudson Valley, on Saturday, April 11th, the Hudson Valley CSA Coalition is hosting a CSA Fair on ZOOM! Find out more here.
If you have new chickens, you might want to check out The Coop with Meyer Hatchery podcast for how-tos and other fun stuff.
Always thank you to the amazing farmers and farm supporters who said "Yes!" to an interview. You are so smart and generous and interesting. I learn something new every episode and have so much respect for what you do and how you do it.
For those of you who cannot listen to the podcast or prefer to read it, here's a full transcript. Please forgive any typos.
Talk Farm to Me, Season 1, Episode 7
Narrowing the Gap - COVID Brings Farmers & Consumers Closer
Farm Girl (00:10):
Welcome to Talk Farm to Me. I'm your host Farm Girl. On Talk Farm to Me, the farmer takes center stage and we find out what they do and how they do it. No matter how you spend your time, I'm pretty sure you have more in common with farmers than you think. So sit back and relax and I'll bring a farmer and maybe a cow or two right into your living room for a chat.
Farm Girl (00:53):
It has been nearly a month since the United States declared a state of emergency in response to the novel Coronavirus pandemic. Grocery stores shelves are consistently bare of many essentials; disinfectants, bread, toilet paper, vegetables and fruit. On some items people are taking matters into their own hands where they can. They are making their own hand sanitizers, face masks and even starting gardens of their own. In response to COVID-19, folks are trying to quell their food security anxieties by becoming a little more self sufficient.
Farm Girl (01:31):
So how is this manifesting itself across the country? Folks are buying seeds for gardens, from window sills to backyards and bigger, baby chicks are in high demand. Families in rural and urban areas alike are joining farm share programs in record numbers. Others are still seeking a self sufficiency that can be achieved on a small scale in a homestead where you produce much of what you eat to develop some independence and security in a time of frightening food insecurity. What does this mean for farmers?
Farm Girl (02:11):
Certainly growing window sill herbs or even a little backyard garden is not going to yield enough food to prevent anyone from shopping for food. But it feels good to put a tiny seed in the ground and to harvest it for yourself. Even deeper than that, farmers now heralded as essential workers are getting deeper respect from the public. Walking a mile in a farmer's shoes by having some chickens to lay eggs, some tomatoes and salad greens gives many a new respect for farmers and the critical role that they play in our society, our community, in our lives.
Farm Girl (03:01):
Over 90 farms in the Hudson Valley along the mighty Hudson River, from Albany, New York to Westchester County, just north of New York City have banded together to help each other. They are the Hudson Valley CSA coalition, a program of the Glynwood Center for Regional Food and Farming. The coalition is a farmer-led effort that has been using collective marketing to build revenue streams and support for farmers since 2016. I spoke with the director of regional food at the Glynwood Center, Megan Larmer, about the 90 farms and the coalition in the context of the COVID pandemic. Megan reported that the coalition had conducted market research about CSAs, Community Supported Agriculture, an economic model that also Have the farmers in the coalition share.
Farm Girl (04:02):
The research came about because farmers were having trouble finding enough customers to purchase all of their CSA shares. The research showed that only 2% of the population in the Hudson Valley knew what a CSA was and how it worked. And so don't be worried if you don't know. For starters, you as a customer would buy a share in a farm at the beginning of the season, and get a share of the harvest as the season progresses, often on a weekly basis. Here, Megan explains why it's important to farmers.
Megan Larmer (04:38):
So what's appealing to farms about Community Supported Agriculture is that you get an infusion of cash at the start of the season when you were putting out your greatest expenditures and have guaranteed customer base for your crop as you grow. So that makes planning much easier. Certainly the financial strain is- is reduced some ... and it also provides an opportunity to really connect with the people that you're feeding because it is a direct relationship between the farmer and the CSA member. So that's really of high value to all the farmers I speak with.
Farm Girl (05:09):
The 90 farms in the coalition represent a wide range of sizes and product offerings.
Megan Larmer (05:16):
There's everything from CSAs that are offering around 20 or 30 shares to CSAs offering over 1500 shares. So it's, it's quite broad in range and what they're offering in their share also varies quite a bit. We have herbal farms that are doing medicinal CSA shares. We have livestock farms, doing meat and egg shares. We have whole diet farms that are doing everything. Vegetable CSAs, fruit CSAs, it really does run the gamut.
Farm Girl (05:50):
The Hudson Valley started with farmers worrying about whether there were too many farms and too few customers to fill their CSA shares. Now in the month since the United States officially declared a state of emergency in response to COVID, many don't have enough shares to meet customer demand.
Megan Larmer (06:11):
Right now as we see what's happening with CSA in the midst of this pandemic, Glynwoods farm has already sold out of shares almost a month ahead of- of any time in previous years that we would have sold all of our CSA vegetable shares. And talking with just the farms near here, many of them have- have ... their sales have accelerated far beyond what they normally would be at this point in the season. So the demand has really just gone through the roof for CSA. And I know that that's true nationally as well. They are all seeing just huge, huge uptick.
Farm Girl (06:46):
This news is underscored by a recent report that Yelp released on search terms that have been popular over the past several weeks. Inquiries for the term CSA increased Over 450% in just two weeks. With increased interest in subscriptions to CSAs, Megan and the farmer sheet works with are hoping some of this activity will be lasting on a regional level.
Megan Larmer (07:16):
There really is no silver lining to what's happening right now. But there is also a moment to recognize that that demand is there. When people pause and think about how they want to feed themselves and have the chance to pause and think about that. This is a model they want. So there's some optimism to be had, I guess from this moment.
Farm Girl (07:41):
Megan has a unique perspective. She operates in the space between farmers and consumers hearing from both groups about what they need. Customers are looking for food. They are looking for food close to home. They are intensely focused on being safe and secure in their communities.
Megan Larmer (08:02):
As humans were so good at forgetting trauma, it's like one of our best survival skills and most aggravating ones also. So it's hard to say how long it will last. But what I'm hearing is a strong interest in supporting local economies. I think there's probably two pieces to that. One is this blatant example we have right now that the global economies are so fragile, we think of them as being really robust, but they're actually very, not very resilient. They can break quickly and the results can be catastrophic.
Megan Larmer (08:40):
So I think there's a desire for that. I think there is an interest in some of the pivots that farms are making right now. A lot of them are moving to home delivery. Obviously, people are very interested in home delivery.
Farm Girl (08:59):
And farmers have needs too, to hear from farmers and to address their concerns, The Hudson Valley CSA coalition started having conference calls the week before the national emergency was called. Farmers gathered often 70 or more on the phone to talk about financial models and budgeting, about deliveries, about safe protocols and to share innovations. The coalition invited experts to disseminate information and to answer questions. The coalition also allowed time for farmers to support one another during the crisis.
Megan Larmer (09:39):
Several of the farms were expressing either gratitude at the farmers markets in New York City have stayed open. So they still have that very important sales outlet. But B, the deep anxiety they were experiencing about going into the city once a week and coming home to their family and trying to figure out what the safe way was to do that.
Megan Larmer (10:00):
One of the people who had joined us is a couple who have restaurant tours that we work with quite a bit in the city. This woman said, the farmers market ... that for her living in Brooklyn, the farmers market feels like the safest place in her whole life right now. And that the ability to get that fresh food is like such a source of joy and a time that is so scary and traumatic and isolating. It's like just to have that chance for them to hear each other and say, "I care about you and I'm going to keep being there for you." Like it was very important and intense.
Farm Girl (10:47):
CSA Coalitions exist across the United States. From the Hudson Valley, let's head west to Madison, Wisconsin. To the FairShare CSA coalition. FairShare has represented organics CSA farmers in sizes from 10 shares to 1000 shares that are based in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois for the past 28 years. They host conferences and grower education events and respond to the needs of farmers. They also help consumers find farms and food. Efforts on both the farmer and consumer sides are now heavily focused on COVID-19. I spoke with FairShare CSA Coalition's director Carrie Sedlak about what's happening in the upper Midwest.
Carrie Sedlak (11:37):
From the consumer side, we're seeing very high increased interest in CSA and that's I think, being seen nationally. We're hearing that from a lot of our partners that are also CSA networks or organizations and other technical assistance providers that support CSA growers like it's just a pretty consistent data point that farms are selling out faster. There's much more interest from consumers than there was in the prior year or years. Farms are certainly selling out faster than they have, at least for the last four or five years. So it's really amazing seeing this resurgence by the population in local food and specifically in CSA.
Farm Girl (12:18):
CSAs are not just offering access to fresh meat, eggs, fruits and vegetables, but they are offering safe pickup or delivery as well.
Carrie Sedlak (12:29):
Consumers are really interested in CSA right now, particularly because it allows them contact lists, pickup, whether that's at a job site or through home delivery. Additionally, consumers are really interested in CSA because they can trust that they're going to get a consistent supply of healthy fresh produce over a predetermined period of time, which is really throughout the entire growing season into the late winter. People are going into stores and not seeing the kind of supply of fresh produce that they're looking or for fresh products that they would like.
Farm Girl (13:02):
A third element that customers are looking for is how to support their own local communities in times of economic downturn.
Carrie Sedlak (13:11):
They want to know that it was grown locally, because of course now more than ever, people are understanding the importance of supporting local businesses and our local community. And really CSA embodies all of those values that are coming to the forefront right now for people.
Farm Girl (13:29):
Farms and consumers are really hyper-focused on safety protocols right now. And a lot of consumers are finding peace of mind that food from a farms CSA share has had minimal points of contact before it reaches them.
Carrie Sedlak (13:45):
All the farms in the coalition are and I believe this is pretty much universal too. At least in the US the farms are doing a really great job of communicating with their members have had in the past and then people that are looking to join. They're communicating about what their safety protocols are, what their practices are on the farm, how they're keeping themselves safe, their employees safe and how they're going to keep their consumer safe. And so that transparency is also very unique and special and appealing to consumers right now.
Farm Girl (14:16):
Carrie and FairShare are in touch with the farmers on the front lines dealing with communities shaken by COVID.
Carrie Sedlak (14:24):
Farmers are just innovating like crazy. It's really incredible to see ... and because many of the farms in the coalition offer market shared pickup for example, well, farmers markets may or may not be open. And they may or may not be open at whatever point in time, we don't know. And there may be adjustments to how the farmers markets are set up. And so the farmers are like, well, we need to move on this fast because our deliveries are about to start in just a couple of weeks here. Some have already started actually. And so really within a matter of days farmers have researched different online ordering platforms so that people can ... if they're signed up for a market share, they can go online and see and pick which products they would like. And then they've also ... the farmers have figured out how to effectively hopefully do home delivery. So they can assemble those shares for folks and get them direct to their doorstep.
Carrie Sedlak (15:24):
It's encouraging. It's exciting that farms can do that. I think it really underscores how nimble a local food system can be.
Farm Girl (15:32):
The fact that farmers are nimble is helping communities across the nation. But Carrie warns us of the dark underbelly. We are grateful farmers can shift to get the food intended for restaurants to us directly. We are relieved they can turn on a dime and offer deliveries when we are nervous about contact. But we all need to think about what this turn-on-a-dime, heroic work costs them.
Carrie Sedlak (16:03):
So the local food system is just really ... It's incredible to see the farmers responding in this way ... able to respond in this way. It is also something I think we should be, just as consumers cognizant of that these solutions are great, but it also has meaning higher time investment, and also financial investment in like those online stores the additional cost of doing home delivery. And so it's fabulous that they have workarounds, but in order ... We're going to have to continue to support these growers into the long term in the long run in order for folks that are already financially and time strapped, to make this work in the long run to be a sustainable solution.
Farm Girl (16:49):
One other issue to consider Carrie warns is that even though farms are offering their wholesale orders, intended for restaurants direct to consumers, it doesn't really work perfectly. She's concerned and rightly so that farmers are still going to take a big hit, where they can't afford to.
Carrie Sedlak (17:09):
Sales outlets are not as viable right now, like wholesale restaurants et cetera. And so CSA farms are responding by offering a greater number of CSA shares. They're able to kind of adjust course a little bit and protect themselves financially a little bit that way, but not entirely, because COVID happened when after farmers had already purchased seed and come up with their crop plans. So wholesale looks different in terms of what seeds they've purchased and how they've planned their fields to be planted et cetera. They're able to adjust course a little but not entirely, what's our role and what's in our ability to support growers and ensuring that they are able to be a financially solvent business this year.
Farm Girl (18:01):
Seeds are an interesting part of the COVID response equation. As we just heard from Carrie, the farmers in the Midwest and across the nation have, for the most part, purchased their seeds for the season. But now that wholesale outlets like restaurants are closed, farmers are having to shift. They need new customers for their products, new delivery systems, and in a lot of cases, a shift in what they are growing for CSA customers. One seed company, Johnny's Selected Seeds in Winslow Maine, is trying to balance its commitment to farmers and to home gardeners.
Farm Girl (18:41):
At the end of March, Johnny's suspended orders to home gardeners in order to be able to fulfill the orders of commercial farmers who are trying to grow food for everyone. Johnny's sells seeds, plants, tools and shares growing resources with farmers home growers across the country. They have seen a major uptick in their business since the onset of the COVID pandemic from farmers as well as home gardeners. I spoke with Gretchen Kreisman, the co-CEO of Johnny's to find out how COVID is impacting them, the farmers they serve and what they are seeing from the home gardening front.
Gretchen Kreisman (19:25):
We just saw this very sharp uptick immediately in our website traffic. If you saw a graph that looks sort of like a stairway to heaven right off the graph. And we've had a two and a half time close to 300% increase in home garden orders. So this is the time of year when we have more home garden orders than commercial farmers. The farmers tend to place the bulk of their orders in January and February. So the biggest increase has been in home garden orders since then. If our average total orders for the company for any given week around this time of year was 2000 is running between 4,000 and 5000. So it's been a lot.
Gretchen Kreisman (20:08):
The biggest growth is in vegetables and they're ordering the most popular types of crops that home gardeners tend to order, think all the elements of a salad, green beans. We can tell from the order values there, they're about normal. It's just that there are more people ordering, and far more new customers, new to Johnny's.
Farm Girl (20:27):
All of these new orders means more time packing small envelopes of seeds. So the demand from the home grower end was interfering with Johnny's ability to deliver to farmers in a timely manner.
Gretchen Kreisman (20:41):
We have plenty of seed inventory, but we also fell behind on packing the seed from the bulk into packets for home gardeners or five or 10 pound bags for farmers. We had to restrict orders to home gardeners in order to allow us to catch up on that backlog of all of that seed rush, the orders rushing in. But what we were concerned about was that our farmers who really depended on our seeds to serve all of their customers that they were getting caught up in this huge rush of home garden orders. So we wanted make sure we got all of their orders out. And we are not just about now starting to catch up on the commercial orders.
Farm Girl (21:22):
New protocols for safety distancing when packing seeds was also a concern.
Gretchen Kreisman (21:28):
Because of the safety concerns of the current virus, we also needed to slow things down in order to remap out our entire process for picking the orders off the shelf, make lanes like one dimensional, make sure people really were keeping six feet. We have an old fashioned warehouse and everything's very ... there's nothing robotic.
Gretchen Kreisman (21:50):
So we had people just were getting too close to each other to pick orders in a rush.
Farm Girl (21:55):
The words Victory Garden have been floating around social media since the novel Coronavirus started to look like it was heading to pandemic proportions. The words Victory Garden had been floating around on social media since the novel Coronavirus started to look like it was heading to pandemic proportions. The Victory Garden harkens back to the 1918 Influenza pandemic, and coincides with the aftermath of World War One when families were called upon to grow their own food to help with the food shortage and to minimize transportation for food.
Farm Girl (22:34):
Now, 100 years later, Victory Gardens are having a comeback. And Johnny's has the seeds and the knowledge to help first time growers be successful.
Gretchen Kreisman (22:46):
What we do want to do is make sure that people who try this summer and who want to have a Victory Garden going forward, we want them to be successful at it. So our next thing we're concerned about is, do these people really know what they're doing if they're starting and how can we get them the YouTube videos you love, the kinds of things that will help them really have a bountiful yield from what they're planning.
Farm Girl (23:10):
While the new home growers are important to Johnny's, farmers need to come first right now. They are having to pivot, and once that is underway, home growers will be able to order seeds again.
Gretchen Kreisman (23:23):
Some of them have put a lot of their business operations into supplying restaurants and they become maybe less diversified in terms of who they're selling their produce to. And so we could see how that has been for many farmers a very successful plan, but you can see when everything abruptly stops and that's a risky position to be in. So they are now reaching back out to either building back up there CSAs.
Farm Girl (23:55):
One of the trends that Gretchen is very hopeful about is that home growers are gaining a better sensibility and sense of empathy for our nation's farmers. She hopes for a stronger appreciation for a local food economy.
Gretchen Kreisman (24:10):
I hope it will build up a greater appreciation amongst all of us and buy that food, have what it takes to really create food and that you shouldn't be relying really on food that is coming all the way from California, if you live on the east coast. And that you really need to support your local farmer so that they're there in times of crisis like this. They're a vital part of the foods system in America. I think for the home growers. I don't think they are at odds against our commercial farmers. In fact, I think it makes them more appreciative of their local farmers.
Farm Girl (24:54):
Across the United States households are connecting with their local farmers more than ever, farmers markets through CSAs, and they are taking inspiration from farmers focusing in a hands on way on their desire to have a local dedicated food source in times of anxiety. That desire has manifested itself in gardens -- from the window sills of New York City's high rises to backyard patches everywhere.
Farm Girl (25:27):
Victory Gardens with tomatoes, lettuces, green beans and squash will be sprouting up all summer. But there's another trend afoot. Chickens, especially egg layers. I spoke with Kendra Higgins at Meyer Hatchery in Polk, Ohio. Kendra has been with Meyer, one of the five biggest hatcheries in the United States for three years and has worn many hats. on the front lines of customer service. Kendra hears from customers about what they want in need.
Kendra Higgins (26:02):
Meyer Hatchery has been in business for 35 years. We're a family-owned business, which I don't think a lot of people realize. It was founded by Karen Meyer. She started out with just a handful of breeds and over 35 years, we now offer 160 different varieties of breeds. Obviously chicks, ducks, geese, turkeys, started pullets, we shipped throughout the United States year round. Our minimums change seasonally. So right now we have a three chick minimum for orders to ship.
Farm Girl (26:35):
Meyer offers local pickup in Ohio. But most of the birds and chicks are shipped through the United States Postal Service. On a weekly basis Meyer mails from 20,000 to 43,000 chicks. That adds up to about 1.5 million chicks a year. Those numbers have spiked recently in the context of COVID as folks want more food security.
Kendra Higgins (27:05):
So usually spring is our busiest season, February, April, March, we see an increase, typically, with COVID this year we're seeing that double. So everything from sales to traffic just in our website, our retail store, our call center have all doubled. Our revenue alone for March has doubled compared to last year.
Kendra Higgins (27:30):
And one of the first things to sell out for us was started pullets. So we do offer a couple different breeds as started pullets, which are hens that are 16 to 20 weeks in age. And a lot of customers bought those up because they're at the age where they're ready to start laying. So they'll be producing eggs soon. So those were the first to go for us. There's a huge waiting list on them right now. We're hoping we'll have more in August but that was the first demand and then from there we started seeing the chick sales increase. For chick sales those definitely have increased to a point where we're not completely sold out, but the hatch dates have been pushed several months ahead. So if you were looking to order for some today, you might not be able to get the breeds you'd want, you might have to wait until August or September.
Farm Girl (28:22):
Folks who can't get their hands on a started pullet go to chicks. And when chicks run out, they turn to fertilized eggs for hatching. But some egg orders were canceled initially.
Kendra Higgins (28:34):
We get a lot of teachers in the spring that order hatching eggs for their classrooms. So a school shutting down. Obviously they were calling in to cancel those orders, which we were happy to do for them. But then, within a couple of days, we saw pretty much a 360 where now teachers are reordering and they were doing live streams from their own homes for students to still participate. And we've had a lot of parents get involved in want to hatch at home as an activity for their kids. And I will tell you having chicks now myself is a welcome distraction.
Farm Girl (29:12):
Since the novel Coronavirus outbreak started, Kendra has seen a lot of new customers come to Meyer Hatchery.
Kendra Higgins (29:20):
I mean, really, it's not surprising because you do see a shift in people trying to be more sustainable and grow their own foods, you're seeing more Victory Gardens popping up. And chickens really are an easy buy in. They're inexpensive, they produce eggs and meat. So we've actually seen about a 50% increase in new customers in the month of March versus last March in 2019. And from previous years when we're looking at stats, typically our increase in the spring months is closer to 10% to 15% for new customers. So it's quite a large increase in new customers coming to us.
Farm Girl (30:03):
And with new customers -- first time chicken owners -- come a lot of questions.
Kendra Higgins (30:09):
We're answering a lot more questions regarding just poultry care in general. They feel the need that this is the right move, which I think is almost instinctual. But I feel like they're also receiving that box of chicks and then panicking because they're ... what did they just get themselves into. You know, now we have to raise these and brood them. Like, oh, crap moment almost.
Farm Girl (30:33):
But that instinct Kendra mentions is coming through loud and clear. Chickens are a part of a nationwide plan to quell food anxiety.
Kendra Higgins (30:43):
They're looking to be more sustainable. They want a reliable food source of their own. And it really does come down to eggs and meat. So a lot of the urban customers we're seeing are getting more chickens for eggs feeding their family for breakfast or reliable source of protein. And then you do have some customers are starting to venture into meat birds. I would say for layers are most popular for a brown egg layers are Golden Buff and the most popular for white egg laying is a White Leghorn. And those are our two highest producers as far as eggs go. So they're the ones that are typically laying five to six eggs weekly.
Farm Girl (31:22):
That's around 300 eggs a year per chicken. That's a lot of omelets. Still, new chicken owners won't see eggs from their chickens for about 20 weeks. And in that time, they have a lot of questions, a lot, all the time. When you have new chickens, you worry. That's why Meyer Hatchery started a blog some years back. They also have a help desk and all of their customer service reps have chickens of their own.
Farm Girl (31:54):
Just recently, Meyer Hatchery started a podcast called The Coop, Kendra is one of the hosts.
Kendra Higgins (32:01):
Our opening line on the podcast is "inspiring crazy chicken keepers and educating future flock owners." And that's really what we're setting out to do in this new platform as well as kind of give you a behind the scenes look. We recently launched a series that's called A Year With Chickens, and it focuses on chicken care in that particular month. So we're walking you through hatching, brooding, putting them into the coop, transitioning them integrating into an old flock, the egg laying process. We're taking you through every step, as in depth as we can possibly get to educate and then we also just have some fun behind the scenes.
Farm Girl (32:44):
Angela Fanning is a homesteader. I know what you're thinking. But no, she's not dressed in a Gingham smock or drab flowered dress like Laura Ingalls Wilder from Little House on the Prairie. Even on a bad day, she looks good. Angela dons skinny jeans and cute shirt and her muck boots and gets down to business growing food for her family. She has the spunk of Laura Ingalls Wilder, but with a little bit of a modern flair. Angela turned to homesteading, after postpartum depression forced her to revisit her personal and family values. She longed to be outside instead of at the computer her graphic design business demanded.
Farm Girl (33:28):
She transitioned gradually dropping one client at a time until she was full time on her land, growing her family's food. On six acres in New Jersey, Angela works the land of her historic 1775 homestead, Axe and Root Homestead.
Angela Fanning (33:47):
I strive to grow as much as my own produce and consumables for our family as I can. So we aren't really a seller of our products so much as we are just trying to be self sufficient. I started homesteading about seven years ago now, maybe eight. And I'd always had -- always -- a small vegetable garden, but I never imagined I would be a farmer. I'd never held a chicken. I always bought my eggs from a grocery store. This is a completely foreign concept to me. When I started homesteading, it was kind of a weird shift. It just kind of became me questioning what was real, and what I valued in life and what was more superficial and what maybe I didn't value so much.
Angela Fanning (34:35):
And so I had to ask myself some difficult questions and I made the shift and decided that I wanted to be outside, I wanted to grow fresh food. I wanted to be able to spend more time with my son rather than answering deadlines and client calls.
Farm Girl (34:49):
Angela started from scratch.
Angela Fanning (34:52):
I didn't know where to start. I'm not from a farming family. So it became like going back to school, poring over books, YouTube videos, talking to farmers. every single night and I'm still learning. We now do a very good job of growing the majority of our own food and I mentioned we tap trees for syrup. I tend and I learned how to keep bees. So we now have honey. And my dream was to get Clydesdale horses and now we do have two of those. And so I am teaching myself to plow and they will be helping me till my soon to come bigger fields for growing vegetables.
Farm Girl (35:28):
All of that may sound like a lot, but Angela makes it fun and accessible. She shares what she has learned in online classes, how-to diagrams and on her popular Instagram account. But more importantly, her kids are involved.
Angela Fanning (35:43):
I really try to give them ownership in the farm as much as I can. And I think the best way to do that is to have them with me. Now they're helping me pull weeds. They're planting in the garden. They collect the eggs, they know how to tap trees. My kids have bee suits and they're in the hives with me. They are I think getting an education that is in addition to the classroom. And they get so excited when we have visitors. They are showing them around the farm. They are saying, "Oh, hey, this is how ... this is where eggs come from," or "Hey, did you know this is a blackberry and this is a raspberry?" And so they they get excited about that.
Farm Girl (36:20):
Angela's enthusiasm is contagious. She loves what she does so much that it makes you want to do it too. And she recognizes that folks are stressed and want to feel more food secure now.
Angela Fanning (36:34):
If somebody is looking to gain some self sufficiency or sustainability, now is just as good a time as any. So I think any amount of self sufficiency ever, whether there's a pandemic or not, is important. And I'm trying to instill that in my children. If you can have some sort of a self reliance, it sort of helps to cushion the shock of when something like this happens.
Farm Girl (37:02):
Angela has advice for you too. She's happy to be a part of the solution. And if you follow her on Instagram, you will no doubt be inspired to grow some food, to make some soap, and to try some sourdough bread baking, and maybe to take some pretty pictures like she does, but good luck. She makes it look all too easy.
Angela Fanning (37:25):
There's a lot of online courses, YouTube videos, books, it doesn't mean that you have to jump all in, it doesn't mean you have to trade in your business to go outside and now be able to grow your own food. But you can start small, you can start with something which is better than nothing. You can find those resources. I have online classes. I get a lot of questions about gardening, how to make your own soap and how to grow your own food. I've got a beginner's beekeeping course, a beginner's all natural soap making course. And then how to learn to grow your own food in 60 minutes or less. So I think there just needs to be a ... just give yourself a little push, give yourself a little confidence, start small, there are resources out there to help you. And it's okay to not know how to do everything.
Farm Girl (38:14):
Now that Angela is comfortable with her homestead and confident in her abilities, she is taking a big step forward under the influence of COVID. She knows her community needs her, and she's stepping up her game to provide more resources.
Angela Fanning (38:30):
Now, there is a need, I think, in our immediate neighborhood for people to be able to purchase produce in an open air setting, not necessarily having to go to a grocery store or an overly populated farmer's market. So we have a little farm stand where we do sell duck eggs and we've sold those duck eggs since we moved to the farm here about four years ago. Now this spring, we will be setting out produce for the first time you know we've had a few tomatoes or whatever we've had excess of here, but this is going to be a produce source that hopefully our community can count on. So a third for us, a third for the farm stand. The other third will just be donation to the food pantry.
Angela Fanning (39:12):
As a lot of people know this Coronavirus has resulted in a lot of layoffs, and job loss, unfortunately, with all the business closures for people. So with that comes a need for food at a discount, if not free. And we will be making sure that a third of what we grow gets donated to the food pantry which is just three miles down the road. And I think that for me, at least, there's a major feeling of helplessness that comes along with the whole COVID-19. I want to help, I'm not a nurse or a scientist, I don't really know what to do. And so that's where a lot of these efforts came from with offering some of the free classes, creating the seed library, putting free flowers out at the farm stand that people can just come by and take. It's something that isn't going to have as much impact as a nurse or a doctor might. But if we can help in any way that we can and this is really the only way we know how I think that that's better than nothing.
Farm Girl (40:13):
Anxiety and food insecurity is a big issue. We all feel it. Some people have taken to hoarding. But more are thinking about how they avoid this feeling all together now and in the future. Local food economies are moving up the priority list. Folks are thinking critically about who's in their backyard and how they can be more connected as a community. Shares in farms Community Supported Agriculture programs are on the rise. This causes farmers and customers to feel and actually be more secure, win-win.
Farm Girl (40:55):
For the first time folks are taking the leap and buying seeds for gardens and even chicks to raise for eggs, the result is feeling more secure and also developing a deeper respect for farmers. And some folks are taking it a step further to develop their own homesteads to foster both an understanding of food production and to inspire others to take the leap.
Farm Girl (41:19):
Wherever you are, whatever you are feeling, take a moment to think about your next move. What will it be? How will you become more food secure? Let me know by leaving a comment on talkfarmtome.com or shoot me a note on Instagram. I would love to hear about your new chickens or your window sill herb garden. We can all take a step closer to our farmers. Let me know what you decide.
Farm Girl (41:51):
It's been great to have you along for this episode of Talk Farm to Me. Special thanks always to our farmers who are talking farm and doing what they do best. For more information about this episode, including a look behind the scenes, head on over to talkfarmtome.com. This season's music is by Lobo Loco. You can find more episodes as they come out on talkfarmtome.com or subscribe to the whole season wherever you get your podcasts.
Farm Girl (42:22):
Either way, please share your feedback right on the website or give us some love on iTunes. I'm your host Farm Girl. Stay tuned for a new episode every two weeks when I bring a new farmer and maybe a cow or two right into your living room for a chat.