Ten Questions for the Ironwood Farmers

 
 
 

Ironwood Farm, just a few miles from us, is one of the two farms we buy most of our produce from for our farm kitchen here at Little Ghent Farm. We really appreciate that they are a new business like us and being able to support their efforts by buying their product is important to us. Mostly though we buy their product because it is wonderful and delicious. As a family we subscribe to Ironwood’s community supported agriculture (CSA) program. Their winter greens are such a joy when all around us is either brown, bare soil or white with snow and ice. We asked Lauren, Jenny and Aliyah a few questions to find out more about what they do and why.

When was Ironwood set up and why ?

Ironwood Farm is a collaboration between 3 women who support each other through business partnership, to feed themselves and the surrounding community. We have different skill sets and we work on different areas of the farm to make it all come together!

Please introduce yourselves.

Jenny (at right in photo):     My background is in sculpture, and I like farming because it requires the same aesthetic consideration and problem solving skills. With farming you can never be entirely in control of the form you’re creating. The design is there, the smart, sustainable skeleton, but then it takes on a life of its own and constantly surprises and challenges me. Farming is beautiful because I get to be an inventor, spend all day outside, and eat like a queen.

Lauren (Middle):     I made a move into farming from the non-profit sector in 2010 due to my love of being outside. I love interacting with our customers, the OCD of organizing vegetable sizes, and watching the family of hawks at Ironwood Farm swoop overhead during  the harvest. I look to farming as a way to bring my family and work-life closer together. Importantly, it also keeps me in touch with my basic human need for nutritious, happy and healthy food.

Aliyah (left):      I farm because it matches up with my values and passions in life, which are primarily eating well and keeping my body healthy and in motion. Farming gives me the opportunity to work outside and produce nutritious food that sustains both me and my community. I started Ironwood Farm alongside Jenny and Lauren because I value the support of our all-female team, and gain encouragement and inspiration as we problem solve together.

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Where did the name come from?

Ironwood trees grow along the bank of the North Creek where the farm is located. We were struck by their strength and elegance when we first toured the land here.  (side note: Little Ghent Farm is also located along North Creek)

What is your philosophy at the farm, key activities ?

We are always learning. We crawl around in the dirt a lot. We hope to maintain healthy soil as we make a living from the land. We try to provide good paying jobs to a few other dirt-crawlers every year, whom we are very thankful for! We harvest and sell beautiful vegetables, which we are also very grateful for… we live from their work as much as our own.

The Columbia Land Conservancy helped you in the early stages, how ?

We contacted the Columbia Land Conservancy early on in our land search. They pointed us to their Farmer/Landowner Match Program, through which we were able to interview several potential landowners and see different parcels of land with different soil profiles. There is such a diversity of needs for farmers and landowners, it was a great opportunity to find a situation that worked for us and continues to be a thriving, mutually beneficial relationship.

David and Joanna Tipple host Ironwood Farm on 8.5 acres of their land. They have helped us put in a new well, install electricity and build fences. These are in no way expectations of landowners – they have gone above and beyond to support us and see us succeed! We have a rent arrangement with helps them keep and maintain the land.

What have the most significant challenges been ?

The start up year was really challenging. Having no running water, no electricity, no shelter, no established customer base… and selling vegetables in this environment. We chiseled out every little aspect of what has made our farming experience much more fluid and able. We hauled water from other locations, sprayed carrot bunches on a spray table in our landlord’s driveway, used generators to run coolers and water pumps. Selling vegetables while we built the farm was hard but necessary.

We took out a capital loan during start-up and we each put in a small contribution of funds. Taking on debt together was daunting, but we’ve since moved into a place where the business makes monthly payments and the capital loan has allowed us to buy key pieces of equipment to make our business successful and sustaining. There were also challenges in learning how to work together as 3 business owners. When you own a farm, there are so many details that are critical to survival; it has been hard for each of us to relax into our own area and step back from trying to hold all responsibilities. Starting this farm together has been a great exercise in trust.

The farm is certified organic. How was that process ?

The process is complex but very doable. It was a benefit to certify from the beginning, on land that had not been managed conventionally… thereby avoiding the requirement of a 3 year transition period from conventional to organic. Our certifying body requires that we test our water yearly, chart out our crop rotation and cover crop plan, and keep good harvest records. As new farmers these requirements have helped us build good management skills into the business from the beginning. The USDA reimburses us (so far, at least!) for half of our application costs… so it makes the process a bit more affordable for young farmers. 

You offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares – can you talk a bit about them ?

We love CSA for many reasons! Customers pay upfront for 20 weeks of veggies in the summer and 12 in the winter. It’s a beneficial component of our income because it brings in money at times of the year (Spring and Winter) when other sales are lower. From a customer’s standpoint, CSA is a good option because in a bountiful year we give much more produce than the customer has paid for upfront… like a bonus to an investor. The food is super fresh. We like getting to have a local community participate in the farm. While some of our food is traveling to say, Blue Apron in New Jersey, distributed to folks up and down the East Coast, CSA keeps us in touch with the immediate resources and people that surround us and allow us to be farming in Ghent. We love providing produce of top quality to local people because its a way we can give back to these folks and help the local produce market thrive, for our futures and those of other farmers.

What is your favorite thing to grow or cook with from the farm ?

Lauren loves bitter things – broccoli raab with garlic on buttery toast and the Italian chicories Jenny sources from Italy!

Jenny loves tender, crunchy baby bok choy sautéed in sesame oil with our vibrant fresh ginger.

Aliyah loves winter squash. She makes paleo lasagna with butternut squash.  She slices the neck of the squash into half inch medallions, then layers the squash with a meat and tomato sauce and bakes it until the squash is cooked through. Yum!

What plans do you have to develop the farm in the future?

We are currently working on that vision – we will keep you posted! We are always interested in learning the best ways to put investment back into the farm to sustain the business into the future and provide stability for ourselves as owners, so we can keep doing this work and feeding folks. So financial planning is currently a goal.

How can people get in contact with you ?

Check our our beautiful website built by Lauren’s husband Jonney.

 

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