Dan Gagnon and Janet Aardema are the owner-operators behind Broadfork Farm in the Richmond Metro area, Central Piedmont of Virginia.
Farmers are a busy bunch, but this pair might take the prize - full time farming, plus 3 kids under five years old, and Janet is part time Executive Director of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming.
Read on to hear more about their farming experience, their advice for new farmers, and what their guilty pleasure is.
Who farms with you, if anyone? My wife Janet and I share the work load. I primarily do the physical farm work and manage the growing operation, while Janet manages the marketing, outreach and sales. She also serves in a half-time position as the Executive Director for the Virginia Association for Biological Farming, which she is able to do from our home office. We have three young children and Janet does a lot caretaking that keeps her from participating more in the farm. I’m looking forward to the day (and I know she is too) where she is able to participate more fully in the production side of things. We had several part-time employees last year and looking for more full-time help this season.
How long have you been farming? This will be our third season farming commercially. We have eased into it. Before that we spent several years growing cover crops and building some infrastructure on this property. We were both gardeners for over ten years prior to growing for commercial sales.
What do you produce? Our specialty is greens and salad mix. We do offer a wide variety of vegetables, flowers and some mushrooms but concentrate on greens, including year round production.
What are your markets? We do most sales at farmer’s markets. We are starting a CSA this year and building our online order/delivery market.
Why did you get involved with CNG? We wanted a way to communicate our growing practices in a way other than USDA organic. I believe there is value in USDA organic for some growers but for direct to consumer I think CNG is great and is getting even better. We find that our CNG certification is a great conversation starter at market and allows us to connect to our customers. We are encouraging other growers in our area to participate in CNG.
Who are your mentors and heroes in the farming world? We certainly lean on Eliot Coleman quite a bit. Eat up any information Pam Dawling shares. And want to meet and talk (mon français est très pauvre) farming with the folks at Les Jardins de la Grelinette
What advice would you give to a farmer just starting out? Start small, minimize debt, and organize.
What’s your most useful piece of clothing for working on the farm? The Sun hat. When I think of all the things that I don’t want to be without, this is number one.
How did you choose your farm name? We love the simplicity and effectiveness of the broadfork (or grelinette). We feel that is a symbol of the emerging model of a profitable small scale farm that is good for people, environment, and community.
Favorite season? Why? Fall! By far. The hot summer is over and the coolness of fall is so very welcomed. Weeds have stopped growing, pests have retreated into hibernation to enjoy their post coital bliss, and greens and root vegetables become wonderfully sweet. Harvest is abundant but the oppressive heat is over.
Do you have any guilty pleasures? Torching squash bugs with a propane torch
Do you have any hobbies? Parenting. Oh, but seriously: Dan: Drinking coffee. Janet: Yoga. Parenting while practicing yoga. (Did I mention that we have three small children? Ages 1, 3, and 5. We think we’ll be able to return to our real hobbies in a few years. 10? 15? We’re not sure. We used to love camping, hiking, reading great books, attending excellent lectures, and listening to and playing bluegrass and folk music. Now we’re just appreciative for the quality children’s music that Dan Zanes records. We are active in our UU Church and homeschooling community. We practice meditation and hope to one day have a dedicated yoga and meditation space here on the farm for community gathering. Plus barn dances! We really love barn dances and contra-dances and would love to bring that tradition back to the semi-rural area in which we live and farm. And parent.)
How do you include customers in your farming operation? Our weekly blog/e-newsletter is a cherished way to share with customers what is going on here on the farm, what things look like, and what thoughts we are having. It’s also a great vehicle for sharing resources, links, articles, etc. that are of interest to us and likely also our customers. We also highly value our farm tours (4 per year) that allow our customers to see where their food is grown, what it looks like in the ground, and hear about how we do this crazy thing called small-scale, sustainable farming.
What hopes do you have for your farm in the future? Our hope is that we can become a successful model for future farms to follow.