When I first ventured out to take a look at Cottage View Farm (located a few convenient steps from my office door), I found one half of the farm couple, Mark, padding around in work boots and thick woolen socks, despite sunshine and 85 degree temperatures. Clearly you can take the boy out of Vermont, but you can’t take Vermont out of the boy. At least not in a matter of weeks.
Mark and his partner, Melissa, are the newest addition to the Local Food Hub team, having transplanted themselves to Virginia’s moderate climate (and red clay) from Burlington, Vermont this past February. These two beginning farmers are helping to pilot an exciting new project here at Maple Hill: our Incubator Plot Program.
Officially launched in March 2012, this program is designed to give young, ambitious agriculturalists the support and hands-on experience needed to eventually start their own farm — something that’s challenging by any standards, but especially in today’s economy. The Incubator Pilot Program offers young farmers a one-acre plot of land, along with housing, equipment-sharing, and a wealth of educational resources and networking.
So far, Melissa and Mark are out of the gates running. Drawing on diverse academic backgrounds (environmental studies, philosophy, religion), and creative instincts honed in their Vermont backyard garden, these two have a greenhouse full of plants and lots of seedlings already in the ground.
But why am I still typing? You should get to know Mark and Melissa yourself! Check out this little Q&A we put together and next time you see them out, say hello and welcome! You can find Cottage View Farm plants at Rebecca’s, and this season they’ll be selling their vegetables at Scottsville Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and Meade Park Market in Charlottesville on Wednesdays. Follow them on Facebook to keep up with their adventures!
Local Food Hub (LFH): Welcome to Virginia, you two! Tell us a little bit about your experiences in gardening — what makes your farming urge tick?
Melissa: I have fond memories of gardening with my grandmother in our small suburban backyard as a child. During and after college, I volunteered on a variety of farms, including WOOFing, and ultimately ended up with my hands in the dirt in Burlington, VT. For four years, a community garden plot meant I was an urban gardener, but I wasn’t satisfied as I couldn’t grow the quantity or quality of food I wanted. When Mark and I bought our house in the summer of 2010 we immediately converted the back and front yards into garden space, and sold the excess at a local farmers’ market under the name “Yellow House Gardens.”
Mark: As a kid, some of my most vivid memories involve my (Italian) mom sending me to the backyard to grab basil for the pasta sauce she was making, or starting bean plants from seed in the first grade.
LFH: Why have you chosen to pursue farming?
Melissa: There’s something innately appealing about growing food for myself and others. Growing food for myself ensures I do not take it for granted. Growing food for others increases the challenges, and ultimately, the rewards.
Mark: Every day is an adventure, a truly dynamic endeavor that brings into play millions of factors both within and outside your control. It provides something that is one of our most basic needs as well as a primal source of pleasure. You have to bring both science and art to the table, and get to be outside while you’re at it.
LFH: What kind of things do you have planned for your acre this year?
Melissa: We are planning a lot of diversity within our acre plot. I think we’ve got A through Z covered: from arugula to zebra tomatoes. We’re growing this diversity not only because we enjoy eating a variety of vegetables, but also because we’re in an experimental phase, learning what works and what doesn’t in a new climate.
Mark: I had jokingly told Melissa last year that I want a half-acre tomato farm. It’s a much better statement when said seriously.
LFH: What are you most excited about growing?
Melissa: I love husk cherries (also know as ground cherries). If you’ve never heard of them, you’re not alone! Let me be the one to introduce you to them. These amazing sweet fruits are related to cherry tomatoes and tomatillos and taste like a mix between pineapple and strawberry. Despite the fact that they are time-consuming to harvest, I’m excited to grow husk cherries on a larger scale and introduce people to this amazing fruit because the taste is well worth it!
Mark: See above: tomatoes! Even more so than the final product, the entire process: a low tunnel to protect them, trellis structures, pest and disease control. It’s a labor of love, and worth it.
LFH: What’s your favorite vegetable to eat?
Melissa: You’ll notice my “Eat More Kale” bumper sticker prominently displayed on my truck (not far from my Local Food Hub sticker). Kale is great raw, sauteed, steamed, or even baked. It’s flavorful and super nutritious. I hear it grows well here though it will bolt in the summer heat (not something we had to worry about in Vermont!).
Mark: I think as a farmer your favorite vegetable is always the one that is about to finally be ripe, and your least favorite is the one you’ve been eating non-stop for the past 3 months…
LFH: Any favorite books or websites for farming information and inspiration?
Melissa: I find inspiration from all kinds of sources: Mother Earth News and Acres USA magazines, websites and forums on farming and gardening, authors like Eliot Coleman and Joel Salatin.
Mark: We drew a lot of inspiration from the books of Joel Salatin and Gene Logsdon, and from autobiographical accounts such as Kristin Kimball’s “The Dirty Life” and Novella Carpenter’s “Farm City”. We have not looked much at books recently, though, because we are constantly inspired by this incredibly tremendous opportunity. There is so much going on, or that we want to do, and we believe strongly in the incubator plot concept. We have seen it be successful at the Intervale, and know there is much potential for collaboration between farmers, especially old-timers and new blood. This opportunity is so unique and valuable that inspires every time I think about it in that way.
You can find Cottage View Farm starter plants at Rebecca’s Natural Foods, and at Scottsville Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and Meade Park Market in Charlottesville on Wednesdays. Follow them on Facebook to keep up with their adventures!