Alex Brown and Vanessa Campbell of Full Sun Farm were our gracious hosts at the second CRAFT tour of the season, May 19th. We were greeted by beautiful weather and had a great turnout!
The topic for our second tour was “Equipment for 5-10 acres of Vegetables,” and with 15 years of farming experience Alex and Vanessa had plenty of insight into farm equipment to share with us all. We thank them again for inviting us to their farm and shedding some light on the complexities and mysteries of small farm equipment!
Full Sun is an 18-acre farm located along the beautiful and fertile bottom land of Sandy Mush and has been operating since 1997. Assisted by their two daughters and four seasonal interns, Alex and Vanessa market their vegetables, berries and cut flowers at two tailgate markets and through a 60 family CSA.
We started our tour with a walk through the greenhouse where Alex and Vanessa grow their transplants for market and for the farm. Moving on to their two high tunnels we saw their young tomatoes and over-wintered flowers already well on their way.
This year Vanessa and Alex are experimenting with a Tomato Rollerhook Assembly – a simple device used to string up tomatoes. The string connects to a plastic loop around the bottom stem and as the tomato grows it can be lowered to open more space for the tomato to keep right on growing.
Between their greenhouses and fields Vanessa and Alex cultivate four acres of vegetables with a collection of farm equipment they have carefully compiled over the years with a mix of thoughtful research and ingenuity. Our first stop along the array of equipment was their 1948 Allis Chalmers G Cultivator tractor, followed by their two Massey-Ferguson tractors and their various implement attachments for cultivating, planting, and harvest.
Once they are ready to plant they hook up their water wheel transplanter – making planting easier on their backs, saving time, and resulting in an even, consistent planting. Alex stressed that if you plan to cultivate mechanically you will also need to plant mechanically so that your rows are parallel, creating consistency between each stage of the growing process.When cultivating their fields, Alex explained they first mow the cover crop with a flail mower. After that he discs once or twice to incorporate the cover crop then returns across with the disc harrow to even out the soil, and a rotary spader to form raised beds.
As a way to make laying bio-degradable plastic easier Alex showed us how he rigged up conduit along the front of the Allis Chalmers G Cultivator to hold the roll of plastic and set the hilling discs in the rear to roll soil onto the edges as he moves along the row. Alex also shared how he modified a single row cultivator, once used for tobacco, by welding a double tool bar on it, and now uses it for the second hilling of potatoes, and to undercut their garlic and onions. Proving that with a little creativity and a touch of cleverness there are all sorts of ways to make your farm tools really work for you without breaking the bank in the process!
The tour then opened up for an engaging conversation on investing in farm equipment for the beginning farmer. Several farmers threw out their advice and lessons learned with farm equipment.
A few key points emerged:
- Ask yourself will this work with my cultivating, growing, and harvest system, my soil type, and my terrain?
- Is it a multi-purpose tool: if you decide to change crops or methods will it still be useful?
- Try it out: See it in action (watch videos online), if possible try it on your farm before you buy.
- Look for used or demo equipment, and remember there is a learning curve: be patient with yourself and the equipment!
Alex and Vanessa rounded out the tour by showing use their newly planted mixed-nut orchard which they were able to start with grant funding from the WNC Ag-Options program; explaining their irrigation pump and drip tape system; sharing their plans for experimenting with no-till growing methods this spring, and a visit to their well-laid out packing shed.
Alex and Vanessa shared a wealth of farming knowledge and creativity and we just scratched the surface of all the farm wisdom they have to offer!
CRAFT is a year-round farmer training collaborative that offers farmers and their interns networking and learning opportunities. Membership is rolling, so join anytime! For more information or to join, click here. Or contact Cameron Farlow, OGS Farmer Programs Assistant at 828.338.9465 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are two CRAFT tours coming up in June.
- Sunday June 3rd at Bluebird Farm led by Marie Williamson and William Lyons: Integrated Animal and Vegetable Production.
- Saturday June 23rd at Looking Glass Creamery led by Jen and Andy Perkins: Operating a Small-Scale Creamery. Join us!!
Agatha Hannah holds a degree in Environmental Studies — Sustainable Agriculture from Warren Wilson College. She has more than twenty years of experience working with non-profits focused on farmer education and sustainable and regenerative agriculture at the local and national levels. As a farmer, mother, and community activist with an off-grid homestead in Floyd, Virginia, Agatha has a deep commitment to cultivating a vibrant agriculture system based on thriving family farms.