Farming in Florida

We’ve grown more sunflowers this year than ever before…and more bees (let’s just say one of us got stung by a bee sometime after we took the photo!)

Yet another season begins to fade into summer as we approach the end of our sixth year cultivating the earth at Little Pond Farm. I had to jot down on a piece of paper which crew was with us for all those years (that’s how we distinguish the seasons) to even believe it myself. In a sense it seems short and in a sense long! Since it has been months since we last sent a newsletter, I will try to stick to just a few highlights, although so much has happened!!

You may have noticed new heights in abundance from our market booth this season. This year was definitely our most bountiful year so far. Much of that is due to the hard work of cultivar trials we performed carefully over the past six years, and this season we have really gotten to reap the benefits of some good old-fashioned plant breeding and trialing. Organic farming in Florida is still a relatively new frontier and most varieties that are commonly offered are bred for diseases, pests and climates of the northern United States where organic farming is most commonly practiced. Many farmers growing a diversity of crops will experiment with multiple varieties for years and select only the best to grow moving forward. Florida farmers have a special challenge – to find the gold standard varieties for our challenging climate, day length and disease/pest resistance (constantly in flux due to our location, a stepping stone between Central, South and North America).

Petra harvesting lush bunches of crunchy celery for market and wholesale.

Thankfully, plant breeders working through universities and the private sector are constantly conducting trials to select for improvements (i.e. disease resistance, appearance, production). We found this cool illustrated video of how plant breeding works, check it out here if you’re curious! It is a totally natural process, guided by the careful eye and observation of a plant breeder. In the video the narrator compares plant breeding to dog breeding. Labradoodles, for example, are basically a cross between a Labrador retriever and a poodle. Plants similar, breeding two parents with desired traits that result in new offspring that are a mix of these traits.

In the case of plants, once a seed breeder is happy with a new variety they might release it into a seed catalogue. Then we get to try them out in our own fields and see how they perform in our growing conditions. We’ve found cultivar trials to be one of the most fun and rewarding parts of our jobs! We get to compare different qualities (colors, flavors, sizes, textures, production, resistances) against each other in our fields and document which thrive, noting our personal favorites along the way. We get to watch the hard work of plant breeders play out before our eyes. A well bred variety is a gift from the seed breeders to the growers. Growing in Florida has been a real joy because of these challenges (we like them!), and this year we really saw our hard work pay off in terms of production, flavor, and diversity.

If you know Cole and I, you can’t really expect us to stick to the script. We are never going to stop experimenting. We will always continue to trial new varieties, even just a few feet of them, alongside our favorites in hopes of discovering a star! One of our favorite stars this year was All Blue, the stunning purple inside and outside potato that you may have noticed at market. We’ve loved the creamy flavor, the vivid color and the buttery texture of this potato. What a gem!

This year we also got to partner up with High Mowing Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds to plant out a few experimental cultivars in our fields and report back on how they performed in our Florida landscape before they release them into their seed catalogue. This feedback helps them as they curate their seed collections and/or continue breeding out those new cultivars, attempting to improve them even more before they are released to the general public. As they say themselves, Florida has been a bit of a blind spot in plant breeding, and they are hoping to improve their offerings adapted to the South.

Another wonderful partnership for us this year has been with a fellow organic farmer in Gainesville, Jordan Brown, of Family Garden. We had heard that Jordan was a well-established and extremely knowledgeable organic farmer with 15 years experience farming organically in Florida under his belt (a rare feat – farming in Florida is hard!) We called Jordan in January with a few irrigation and budgeting questions hoping he might be able to consult us. Right then and there, he offered to be a farm mentor for us and help us out, and suggested a field trip to his farm. We cannot turn down a farm field trip. We love the creativity and uniqueness of farmers, seeing that reflected in their farm and being able to learn from the choices each farmer makes on what they grow, what they build, how they hire, how they enrich their soil, which equipment they purchase, how they process their produce, etc.!

We are thankful for our farm mentor and had often talked about the lack of farm mentors in our state before. One amazing outcome we are really excited about has been ordering new strawberry planting stock with Jordan. Most strawberry farms order plugs from Canada but you have to order in quantities that are prohibitive for small farms like us. So we went in with Jordan on an order for plugs this year and we are so excited about it because it means strawberries at least a few weeks earlier this coming season if all goes well! We are trying some new Florida bred varieties too and can’t wait to see how they do.

With just one more week left of market, all I can say is we are so excited for the summer – a time of rest for the farmers and the field (the fields will be seeded in a luscious green leguminous cover crop for summer time when it is too hot and wet to grow most veggies). We will start seeding for next season in July and by August, we will be back planting in the fields.

huge thank you to our beloved friends and customers who come out and shop with us each week and to our farm members who committed to our farm this season. And those new (welcome!) and returning members who are on board with us again for next season! We wouldn’t be here without your support, and the amazing work of our crew both in the field and at the market, who have worked so hard to make it all possible! We hope you all have a relaxing and fantastic summer and we will see you on the flip side (if not this Saturday at our last market!)

Your farmer,

Leave a Reply