The WNC Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (WNC CRAFT) is a farmer network dedicated to training the next generation of farmers by building community, collective education, networking, and support. There is a place for every level of farmer in CRAFT, whether you are an aspiring, apprentice, beginning or experienced farmer. Each year WNC CRAFT hosts an Apprentice & Farm Hand Orientation. It is a way to bring farm apprentices and farm workers together to get to know one another, honor the work they do, and introduce them to CRAFT’s network of support. It also gives them the chance to hear from beginning farmers about their transition from apprentice to farmer.
Transitioning from Apprentice to Farmer
This year we met at New Roots Market Garden, a low-till, no spray farm in Marshall, NC. Krista Fayette and Stephen Rosenthal launched their farm in 2016, and are starting their third season this year growing for farmers markets, and continuing to host small CSA. They lease their land at Bend of Ivy Retreat Center, a cultivate about an acre of mixed vegetables. Krista & Stephen apprenticed with Goldfinch Gardens in the Spring and Summer of 2015 which kicked off their time in WNC. Since then, they have participated in the OGS Farm Beginnings® Program and as panelists in workshops OGS has held surrounding land access and enterprise development. The apprentices and beginning farmers that participated came up with a list of questions that they wanted answered as we began our farm tour, which are pertinent to all people just beginning their farming journey.
What have you changed since last year?
Farmers are always transitioning in and out of practices and crops, and beginning farmers are never an exception. There’s a lot of settling in that needs to happen! New Roots was lucky to land on a niche crop (baby greens) their first year which they have continued to grow more of each year. Mostly, this year Krista and Stephan are focusing on hiring farm hands. They know that they can grow more food with more hands, but they’ve been conscious not to hire farm help until they had enough money in the budget to pay them well. They’re excited about adding another farm employee to their payroll this year. There was a good discussion regarding how apprentices want to be treated and managed, from the visiting farm hands to the new farmers.
Why low till and no spray?
As apprentices, Krista and Stephen both knew that they would never spray their crops. And, with influence from Goldfinch, low till also came into the mix. Generally it has to do with their connection and understanding of land. They want to grow the healthiest plants so they are naturally resistant to insects. For them, this means building the healthiest soil, which also means less tillage. But doing no till on leased land means a lot of infrastructure development in the beginning. In the long run however, the permanent raised beds mean less bed-scaping and more drainage potential, which is important on their small scale in order to use every bit of land they can. They currently grow in an area of the field that was previously considered not cultivatable due to lack of drainage. But, using no till techniques, the permanent raised beds that are now in this area help hold the water, as well as prevent erosion year after year. Everything is cultivated by hand using cobra heads, scuffle hoes, broadforks, and 4 row seeder. They shape their beds initially using a rotary plow on their BCS.
How do you NOT use plastic?
As beginning farmers with important core ideals that includes the preservation of the land, New Roots tries to use as little plastic as possible. They never use single use plastic, and rely on things like silage tarps that last many years out in the sun. They use the CRAFT network extensively to find used equipment. And, they always critically examine what it is exactly they are using plastic materials for, and try to come up with solutions to replacing it. But, if you have a big piece of plastic that you’re not sure what to do with, there is a plastic recycling program for agricultural plastics.
How do you stay so happy as a couple who farms together?
Krista and Stephen are both undeniably cheery people, both often found with wide smiles. And, on top of this, they are very open and deliberately kind to both people and plants. It comes through, so they are asked… “How do you do it?!” They both laugh. “We know what we’re each good at,” Krista explains. They’ve almost entirely divvied up responsibilities to play to each of their strengths. Krista is in charge of some things, and Stephen is in charge of others (this even applies to their two employees!) And it helps to have the same goal of a thriving and healthy life, in all aspects, from the farm to the home.
Author: Sera Deva
Sera Deva has a B.S. in Microbiology & Agroecology from The Evergreen State College. She is the former Director of Programs & Systems Design at OGS, is the President of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) Board of Directors, and is the Administrative Director for The Firefly Gathering. When she’s not geeking out over genetics, systems theory or soil hydrology, she spends her time growing and eating food in the South Toe Valley in Burnsville, NC.