Who: Me- Shannon of Broadfork Farm and Del from Side by Each Farm in Amherst, NS
What: a road trip and farm field trip
When: Monday, April 25th (just over a month ago now…)
Why: Steph, the farmer at Twisted Brook Farm is a highly skilled seed grower and has become my official Seed Mentor (and Del’s too) through ACORN (the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network) and the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security.
Through the Seed Mentorship program, we get to connect with Steph in person at our farm or hers, call or email her throughout the season to ask questions that relate to our own seed production, and have our very own seed cheerleader, encouraging us along the way! Plus, we got an awesome binder from the program with resources and learning outcomes.
Twisted Brook Farm is very different from many farms I’ve visited. Primarily, because seed production is such a major focus. Steph grows seed crops and sells them through Hope Seeds, Annapolis Seeds, Seedy Saturdays, and her Annapolis Royal farmers’ market stand.
Steph grows a lot of seedlings, in particular tomatoes, to sell at farmers’ markets and she also contract grows them for other farmers.
In addition to all the annual plants that Steph grows, there’s a lot of perennials growing too….including nut and fruit trees. A lot of them are fairly unusual crops too like hazelnuts, elderberries, currants, and Sea Buckthorn.
Steph is growing sweet potatoes by taking cuttings from a variety she found at a local Seedy Saturday.
She uses raised beds in wooden boxes to grow some of her annual and biennial crops but also perennial crops like raspberries, strawberries (she cuts off the runners and pots them up for sale), asparagus, and herbs. It looked nice and tidy and really helps her manage the weeds.
Her greenhouse was abundant and diverse, despite being so early in the season, with crops she had overwintered (like chard and kale), spring-planted crops (lettuce, spinach, Hakurei turnips), as well as perennials like French Tarragon (yummm).
Steph is an amazingly generous person, offering us a delicious lunch of greens from her greenhouse, baked beans from the vast collection of dried beans she’s passionate about growing, and homemade buckwheat bread with only 2 ingredients: buckwheat and salt.
She sent us off with seeds and plants from her farm to contribute to the diversity of our farms (I brought home some elderberry cuttings, hazelnut seedlings, sea buckthorn seeds, and black locust seeds. And the most valuable: her hard-earned knowledge and her precious time. She has been an inspiring and great mentor so far this season and I know that our farm will benefit so much from her presence in our lives.
THANK YOU STEPH!
If any of you readers are lucky enough to be able to purchase the regionally-adapted, Certified Naturally Grown seeds, seedlings or vegetables that Steph grows for the Annapolis Royal farmers’ market, don’t miss the opportunity!
I’m super stoked about the Seed Mentorship Program because growing vegetables, herbs, or flowers to seed is not just about waiting around and picking the seeds before they drop. Seed producers need to be on top of things the whole season! You need to know what that crop might cross with and how far it needs to be away from anything it could cross with (really far in some cases!). You need to know how your crop is pollinated. How long it will take to produce a good seed yield (not the same as harvesting for fresh eating in many cases). How many plants (or population size) you need in order to have a good representation of genetics. At every stage of development, you need to be removing any plants that are different from what you want (so that you can keep the variety consistent for the long-term).
Bryan and I aren’t interested in doing a half-assed job at seed saving. We want the time (ours as well as the time in the field) and effort we spend on seeds to grow really high quality seeds that are more resilient and adapted to the qualities our farmland and our customers want. We’ve seen such wonderful success this spring with the arugula we’ve been harvesting for market. Two generations of that seed has been saved on our farm and it’s amazing to see the difference (most organic arugula seed in the market is grown in Israel – very different conditions to us here!).
We’ve also noticed that learning more about seed production has helped us be better farmers overall. Thinking about the whole life cycle of a plant, noticing qualities we like or don’t like and thinking about how those could change over generations, knowing which plant diseases can be stored in the seed and how to manage for that….these things all really interest us!
For all these reasons and more, it’s so great to have someone more experienced in seed growing than us, who we can call on anytime for advice!