April 24, 2015

Farm of the Month: North Tabor Farm

North Tabor Farm is a 6 acre farm in Chilmark run by Rebecca Miller and Matthew Dix who grow heirloom vegetables, shiitake mushrooms, flowers, and, their specialty, salad greens. Rebecca talked with us last week about salad greens and in general about experimenting with an ever-growing farm -- this year they will be expanding to a leased plot from Island Grown Initiative and hopefully featuring greens in juices at their farm stand and the farmer's market. How did you get into farming? I didn't grow up spending lot of time outside - I thought about it a lot - I just didn't have that kind of family. When I met my husband Matthew, we moved to the Vineyard together and I started gardening, I loved being outside. We bought our first house in Vineyard Haven, on 1/3 acre. We said, Let's turn our yard into a garden. I wanted to learn how to grow vegetables. I learned little by little by making a lot of mistakes. I'm definitely an experiential learner. Eventually we kind of outgrew our yard. We had every part of it planted that we could. We heard about this farm up in Chilmark being available. We said alright let's try it. This is our 22nd year. Matt has a job at the Land Bank. But he is very good at getting up early and working before he goes to work, and then working when he gets home. He is definitely part of all of this, but might not be visible during the day.

IMG_6245 What kind of salad greens do you grow? We grow 200 to 400 pounds a week of salad. We grow adolescent and baby greens. Some people want to use them for salad, others want to use them to cook. But mostly baby greens. We do arugula separate - cause people either love it or not. And we now do a lettuce blend. The nice thing about greens is that they are very popular and there are a lot of types of greens. We have been experimenting in the last few years with Asian greens. Last year for example we grew Tatsoi. We educated our customers about its similarities to spinach but how Tatsoi grew easier in the summer - it didn't bolt in the heat. But it has the same nutrient value as spinach and cooks the same. Every year I get so caught up in the seed catalogs. I like trying new things in our salad mixes. We usually try them out in the field first and then if I like it I'll add it into our salad mix. This year we are trying a new green called Amara. I'm proud of our salad because it's custom blend and it changes with the seasons. We put cress in in the off season, spicier things in the summer. How do you plant, harvest, and process? We plant our greens and three weeks later we pick them, because they are babies and fast growing.

We used to pick on our hands and knees with scissors for many, many hours. People would be so tired. Then about five years ago Matthew talked me into buying a walk-behind mechanical harvester. It can pick 100 pounds of salad in an hour. It used to take 3 people 3 hours at least. We also do it very early in the morning, so it's kind of a date thing for Matthew and I. Well, now we can seed so much more and sell so much more we are having to have the other crew there early, too. But it started as just the two of us going out in the morning while the kids were still sleeping to get it ready for the crew to process. And to process… we outgrew salad spinners. We use converted washing machines to spin. We take the insides out of them and they rotate round and round. We have three of them.

IMG_6252 Any new plans this year? We are leasing a 6 acre plot from IGI. It will be long and straight - everything around here is short and choppy. So we'll plant squashes and melons, try some other things out, onions and garlic. Things that don't require a lot of maintenance. We are trying to expand. And we are good at growing greens! So we are trying to do some juicing and hopefully sell it at the stand. But we are working with the board of health with our proposal. We worked over the winter developing recipes and the first one we worked on was greens with cucumber. The idea is to juice on site at the farmer's market. What is your advice for future farmers? I was smart enough when I began to hire people that knew more than me. And to ask a lot of questions. I went around to all the farmers and asked questions, got different responses. Some were supportive, some were protective. I kept trying and reading, went to a lot of conferences. Now that we are teaching people how to farm, I always tell them never be intimated, and start small. Because if we had started with this big farm and everything we do - I would have been way too intimated. But we started with a small area and put up a greenhouse, and if we made 50 or 60 dollars at the farmers market we were so happy. We started by ourselves, then having one person to help, and now we have our assistant manager, three full time apprentices, and our kids. The farm was our first baby. I do feel that it's part of the family. It's something we consider in every decision we make. Whether it's, can we go any place? Can we afford it? This is the baby that takes the most resources. And it's the first born.