Monthly Archives: September 2013

Meet Janet and Dan.


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They operate Broadfork Farm in Mosely, where they raise their three children and lots of vegetables. Visitors who step onto the property at this time of year are greeted by bright rows of vivacious greens, carrots, and kohlrabi. It is no surprise that the fall crop is doing so well, considering the hard work Janet Aardema and her husband Dan Gagnon have done to create nutrient-rich soil that supports multiple produce plantings and harvests each year. P1070655 (1024x768)

Broadfork has been in existence for several years and has entered its third year as a full farm business. Many customers are taking advantage of its ability to serve as a “CSA,” or “Community Supported Agriculture” program. CSAs are not incredibly common in the greater Richmond area, but they are becoming more popular. Customers pay in advance for a weekly or monthly subscription to the farm, and in return, they receive bags and boxes of in-season farm goods. The CSA system helps consumers build deeper connections to agriculture, and according to Janet, “Risk can be mitigated well for a diversified farm like ours.” After all, subscribers invest in the farm’s products and therefore also invest in its success. Janet and Dan are working on expanding the CSA program, but they also take their produce to local markets. P1070643 (1024x768)

P1070667 (1024x753)The growing season is not over at the end of the summer. Although tomatoes and peppers are winding down, the farm is host to a plethora of cold-hardy cool-season vegetables including broccoli, radishes, carrots, lettuce, kohlrabi, collards, and more. The farm has plenty of unique crops like frisee, escarole, and microgreens, and this summer Dan and Janet experimented with a tomato grafting project. On the side, the farm helps with programs and field days for the Virginia Association for Biological Farming, an organization for agriculturalists that promotes sustainable practices. Janet is their executive director.

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P1070651 (768x1024)Broadfork Farm relies on research, test data, and sustainability guidelines to govern its farm management decisions. Both Janet and Dan are self-described “soil nerds,” and as such, they rely on soil testing to determine levels of micro and macro nutrients and percentages of organic matter in their fields. Dan spends much of his time studying ways to improve his soil and in turn improve the quality of his products. His ultimate goal is to increase the organic matter on parts of his farm. Why? Organic matter increases the water-holding capacity of the soil, releases plant-available nutrients, and helps form soil aggregates that lead to better soil structure. Soil with good structure is more water-permeable.

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Dan studies the cation exchange capacity of the soil on his farm as a means of making his fertilizer program more efficient. The higher the cation exchange capacity of a soil, or CEC, the more positively-charged ions from elements like calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium the soil can hold, store, and exchange for plants. Clays and soils with high organic matter tend to have high cation exchange capacities, so Dan uses compost and organic materials to build soils with higher CECs. Knowing the traits of his soils allows him to target the areas that need the most fertility help.

P1070616 (1024x768)Produce from the farm is “Certified Naturally Grown,” meaning that it is produced under a specific set of management principles and the farm undergoes auditing in order to ensure that it continues to meet the expectations of the program. Janet believes that the certification has been a helpful marketing tool. Without it, she used to explain the farm’s practices to customers but could not use any special labeling or branding programs. Now that the produce is certified in this program, she can point to a specific, consistent set of guidelines that governs the way the farm grows its produce. The “Certified Naturally Grown” program is quite similar to the nation-wide “Certified Organic” labeling program, but it differs in the fact that it is designed to uniquely suit the needs of small farmers and direct-market producers like Janet and Dan. Large farms that sell to large outlets are better suited for the “Certified Organic” program, although all producers have access to it. P1070662 (909x1024)

P1070624 (1024x716)Broadfork Farm has been successful in providing high-quality foods for their customers and Janet and Dan look forward to the possibility of expanding the CSA portion of their market. They estimate that they have produced enough food to feed one hundred families each year over the past two years. The future holds some additional greenhouses and storage facilities, an increase in acreage, and new adventures in specialty crop production. The family is especially thankful for a chance to serve the needs of the community and work together to turn their passion for local foods into a viable business. P1070663 - Copy (1024x702)Additional Resources for Readers:

Certified Naturally Grown Program Webpage

Virginia Grown Webpage

Vegetable Production Resources and Guides

Broadfork Farm Webpage

Meet David Goode.

100_0874 (1024x768)He operates Piedmont Hops, LLC in Mosely along with Steve Brown, who runs the other part of the business at a site located in North Carolina.

David and Steve began growing hops for their personal use a few years ago, but the project quickly grew. Today, they supply hops to breweries who strive to include more locally-grown products in their craft beers.

100_0889 (1024x768)Growing hops in central Virginia has its challenges. Most varieties are designed to provide maximum yields under the day lengths, temperatures, and growing conditions of the states in the Pacific Northwest, where most of the hops production in the U.S. occurs. Why are there so few hops growers in Virginia? For one, growers in this area must select varieties that are better suited to Piedmont weather, soils, and growing conditions. Furthermore, the warm, humid summers in Virginia can be particularly conducive to the growth of certain diseases that prey on hops. For these reasons, David and other growers have turned to help from the North Carolina Hops project, an effort run by North Carolina State University faculty and specialists. Research data from this project helps Virginia and North Carolina growers choose varieties and growing practices that suit this region. If the market for local hops grows in Virginia, plant breeders may be able to make more progress towards developing varieties that suit local needs and resist local diseases. 100_0892 (1024x768)

David has enjoyed trying different varieties. This year, he had Cascade, Chinook, and Nugget. Next year, he plans to add a few more varieties and increase the total number of plants in the Virginia and North Carolina yards. His hops grow on bines—not to be confused with vines—that climb up strings supported by wires and cedar posts. New and aspiring hops growers may find that these trellis components are responsible for a large percentage of the input costs for starting a yard. Furthermore, growers need materials like drip tape for irrigation and weed cloth to start a yard. Labor is also a costly input, as it can take an hour or more to harvest one pound of hops by hand. Harvest typically occurs in late summer, although certain varieties differ. During the spring and summer, growers will spend a considerable amount of time working on weed control, training hops to climb the lines, and repairing any broken supports.

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Despite the challenges, hops production has been a worthwhile venture for David. He has had the rewarding experience of watching his hops go from the farm to the consumer. Furthermore, as is true in most business ventures, David has found networking with others to be a valuable use of his time. He has helped other growers with their yards, and in turn, growers have visited his farm to harvest hops and swap ideas. 100_0894 (1024x768)

What is next for Piedmont Hops? David is thinking of ways to address the labor requirements that come with an increase in acreage, and he is looking into some ideas for preventing and controlling any fungal diseases that may show up in the future. His work and the work of his colleagues may help turn hops from an impossible challenge for Virginia growers to a successful venture for those who are willing to learn and adapt. 100_0895 (1024x768)100_0883 (1024x768)Additional Resources for Readers:

North Carolina Hops Project

Piedmont Hops Webpage

Old Dominion Hops Cooperative Webpage