~ from Alicia, Countryside Public Market Site Manager ~
Every week I get the honor of working with local food producers and learning more about their businesses and the products they grow/make. I thought it
would be fun to interview some of them and share their stories, their struggles and why they do what they do.
This week I spoke with Jimmy Myers from Front 9 Farm in Lodi. Front 9 Farm has been a vendor with Countryside Public Market since we opened in October of 2018 and is owned and operated by Jimmy and his wife Casondra.
Alicia: Tell me about the name of your farm.
Jimmy: Our name, Front 9 Farm, references the nine hole golf course which previously stood on our property. The mound where the ninth green was located still sits in the center of our farm. Our name embodies the before and after of our property- land that was once a monocrop golf course has now become a lush dynamic farm which emphasizes plant and animal diversity. Our farm embodies the changing philosophy many people recognize is needed to turn the environmental tide- progression from environmentally degrading land use towards ecological conservation.
A: What was the step-by-step process that you went through to get to where you are today?
J: We purchased the ten acre property in fall 2013 and spent the first year renovating the 1700 square foot clubhouse into a residence. This took a long time because the clubhouse was a warm season building and was in complete disarray but throughout the remodeling process we learned a lot about construction which has payed off around the farm. We always intended to begin a farm on the property, but it took us until spring of 2015 to form a business plan which would be profitable. We started small the first year with a 1000 sqft garden growing about two dozen different crops, 20 broiler chickens and five laying hens. Every year since then we've increased our garden acreage, up to the one acre we farm now, and we've increased and diversified our livestock to include laying hens, broiler chickens, sheep, and goats, and sometimes pigs and turkeys.
A: Can you tell our readers a little about your growing practices? Why are these practices important to you?
J: Our approach to agriculture is zero sum, in that every acre of land we use to produce food crops is one less acre we can devote to a permanent ecologically diverse, carbon-capturing system. Therefore, one of our main objectives is to conserve land usage by maximizing produce yield per square foot. We try to achieve this goal a few ways, one of which is growing most of our crops from transplants, which allows us to turn over crops quickly, and gives us great plant stand. We also assign all crops we grow to be either main crops or inner crops depending on their harvest size, and we plant inner crops surrounding all main crops. We stagger transplant and harvest times to give both groups of plants time and space to mature. We plant everything on a grid system which is laid out over permanent landscape fabric with 4' beds and 2' aisles. Once the beds are in place we don't till or use tractors to cultivate. A bulb planter removes soil plugs which are replaced with compost, other organic matter, and large transplants grown in 38 count trays. Drip tubing irrigates all of our beds and allows us to add supplement fertility based on individual crop needs. The largest fruiting crops that we grow (tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc.) are nearly all grown as vertically as possible in our high tunnels or staked in the field. This not only improves yield but reduces pest and disease pressure, and results in cleaner, higher quality produce.
We don't spray any pesticides or herbicides on our farm. We live on our farm, so anything we add to our farm system we are adding to our home, our bodies, and now our baby's little body. The landscape fabric which covers all of our production space reduces a lot of weed pressure, but our system does require a lot of hand weeding, which is a tradeoff versus other systems which use mechanical cultivation. We prefer our methods because we're able to produce more food on less land than conventional vegetable production systems.
A: Can you tell us about what you grow and how much acreage you farm on? Why did you choose to grow/raise these things?
J: We grow nearly all of the most common vegetables, everything from tomatoes to lettuce to beets, and many less common vegetables such as turnips, pink banana squash, and unique herbs. All vegetable production is done on one acre. Buildings, driveways and transition zones occupy about half an acre, which leaves eight and a half acres of our property for our livestock to graze and our bees to pollinate.
A: If your younger self walked up to you and asked you for advice but you only had a few minutes to give him your best tip, what would it be?
J: I would tell my younger self to marry Casondra earlier. We are a very powerful team because we compliment each other so well. We have come so far in a short amount of time, and if we would have started our lives together earlier we would be that much further towards reaching our goals. Plus Annabelle would be older and she might be helping out by now. I can’t wait for that free child labor.
A: What are your plans for the future – do you want to expand your farm operations? If so, is this with new types of produce/livestock or more of what you already grow?
J: I could get really long winded with this answer but basically we want to keep offering our CSA* and produce at the farmers markets but on top of that we would like to offer vegetable heavy calorie dense meals where everything in the meal comes from our farm. These meals like our CSA* would be part of a subscription based program that runs year round.
A: What roadblocks do you have for your farm?
J: The biggest roadblocks for us is labor. A lot of work around the farm is seeding, transplanting and harvesting. It has been a challenge finding people to fill those positions at the right time and managing the labor. We are improving at this every day.
A: What farms or other local businesses do you look to for guidance or inspiration?
J: There are a lot of very popular farmers that inspire me like Joel Salatin, Eliot Coleman, Curtis Stone, and Jean Martin Fortier. We love connecting and have a lot of great relationships with the local farms in the area. It is always amazing to me how willing all of these local farms are to share information. There are too many great farms in the area to mention them all but two that come to mind are yellow house cheese and lettuce heads farm. Kevin and Kristen from Yellow house have been a huge form of support for us. They are always willing to answer any questions we have about our small ruminants and often they will come out to the farm to help us. Kurk and Nick from lettuce heads have become great friends over the years. Even though we grow and sell a lot of the same things we are always willing to share information with each other. The farming community in this area is a very friendly group.
A: How do you see farms changing in the next 10 years? How do you see the way you sell your produce in the next ten years?
J: I hope that people start paying more attention to where their food comes from and farms become more diverse.
A: What three things can folks in NE Ohio do that will help support your business and other local farmers?
J: The biggest thing folks could do to support us and other local farmers and businesses is to shop at farmers markets and sign up for a CSA*. Like Michel Pollen says every time you eat you cast a vote on what agriculture should look like. Other ways of support would be liking and sharing our social media post and just spreading the word about local farmers and food producers. Most farmers are very busy and advertising becomes an afterthought especially during peak season so the more people spread the word about the local food movement the better.
*CSA stands for Community-Supported Agriculture. Community Supported Agriculture consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation
with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.
I’d like to thank Jimmy and Casondra both for all of the hard work they do and for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’d like to do more for
the local food movement I hope you’ll help spread the word about Front 9 Farm and all of the other local food entrepreneurs at Countryside Public Market.
Cast your vote with your fork and I’ll see you at the market!