One of the many great things about the Upper Valley is the number of local organic farms that reside here. This past weekend the Co-op took advantage of that fact and hosted the first of its two Farm Tours, an opportunity for community members to learn not just the details of how farms run, but also the goals and philosophies behind them.
This first Farm Tour was actually a visit to two neighboring farms, Sylvia Davatz’s Solstice Seeds and Brian Stroffolino’s Heartland Farms, who focus on collaboration over competition. Brian, who rents his land from Sylvia, had little farming experience before starting Heartland Farms. In the two years that this farm has been running Sylvia has been his mentor. He’s adopted her enthusiasm for seed saving, working the land by hand, and using hay mulch for most everything. This similarity in their approach to farming encourages collaboration, while differing crops and goals avoids competition.
Walking onto Sylvia’s property, you will be taken in by her orderly gardens and orchard. The stone walled beds and the close quarters of a wide variety of plants gives the sense of a decorative landscape, but amongst these features are the functionary rows of crop. Some of these crops are for eating, but most are for generating seeds. Even many of the edible plants are left untouched to make sure that they produce bountiful seeds.
As Sylvia introduces herself, she explains why seed collecting is so important to her. There’s a value in having your own seeds to plant for the next year. It’s important to know how they were grown and processed. Things like how they were stored over winter can have a big impact on how well the plant grows the following year, or years down the line. There’s also the simple fact of knowing, without doubt, that this seed will do well in your particular climate.
That’s another one of Sylvia’s passions, and one of the philosophies behind her farm: experimenting with new varieties to find out what grows well in her climate. And she points out that her climate is not the northeast or even the upper valley, but Hartland specifically. This year she’s growing peas, and noting how each variety is doing as the season progresses. She’s also planted three varieties of peanuts, a borderline crop, to see how they’ll do.
Sylvia’s farm is basically a research farm, with experimentation a constant. Just next door, Brian’s farm is a food production farm. While he has a few crops that he grows for seed, or for experimentation, the majority of his crops are for Heartland Farms’ CSA. He often has four or five rows committed to the same crop, as opposed to Sylvia’s small row containing 12 to 20 plants. Many of these crops were grown from seeds that he got from Sylvia. Brian gets the assurance of knowing his crops will grow well, and Sylvia gets to see how the plants grow and mature, as compared to the parent plants. It’s an arrangement that benefits everyone. Farming is often thought to be a competitive business, but with the right set up collaboration can be extremely successful.
The second Farm Tour for the summer will be at Free Verse Farm in Chelsea, VT. This small community herb farm specializes in naturally-grown tisanes (herbal teas), culinary herbs, medicinals, and herbal remedies. You’ll be able to taste and smell all the herbs they have growing, and learn about the variety of uses for herbs. The tour will be August 23, from 11am to 2pm. If you’d like to register you can sign up in store or call 295-5804 or email firstname.lastname@example.org