In addition to pumping out microgreens, the heart of the business, I’m on a mission to produce the very best salad mix in Duluth and the surrounding area. I have every advantage. Being close to Lake Superior, temperatures generally remain moderate in summer. Also, my farm (more of a market garden really) is so small that I have the liberty to obsess over this one crop. Most farmers, who have far more skill and knowledge than me, must manage 20+ crops, equipment, employees, etc, spread out over numerous acres. They simply don’t have the bandwidth to micromanage a single crop like I can.
With smallness also comes a greater degree of control. Last night, for example, severe thunderstorms and flash flooding were predicted. Rather than fret about my newly emerged lettuce seedlings enduring a pounding rain that might beat them out of the ground like a drum, I spent five minutes spreading out this row cover in an effort to provide a bit of protection. The big rains never came, but I slept without anxiety.
And so, I’m grateful for being small. Right-sizing the farm to what I can grow at our family home has thus far been the right choice for my family. Hopefully this continues to be the case. As the sun moves further down the horizon, I’ll ultimately lose a bed or two of growing space to shade. There are no guarantees this enterprise will work.
In the meantime, however, here I am writing a blog post in the middle of an 85-degree day just because I’m choosing not to work out in the sun right now. Additionally, I’ve had the freedom to go mountain biking with my son once or twice per week. Last year we didn’t go once. This is a major victory.
This has required, or perhaps provided, a fair bit of humility. My booth at the farmer’s market isn’t nearly as impressive as it once was. In addition to microgreens and salad mix, I have produced some gorgeous radishes like these..
This weekend I’ll have some Tokyo turnips, but after that it’ll be six weeks or more before I have anything more than the best salad mix of your life and my usual clamshells of microgreens. I’m avoiding radishes and turnips for a while, in an effort to encourage pesky flea beetles (source of the small holes in those radish greens) to move on to greener pastures.
Previously I reliably had other root crops like carrots and beets as well, which filled out my market booth nicely. With the move to such small space, however, I was forced to focus on one main thing.
Thus, my market booth is not necessarily a destination for the average person walking by. I sacrifice some sales. It has required fortitude to stand behind my diminutive booth on occasion, especially after I sell out of salad mix. Looking at the bigger picture, however, the humble look keeps me from burning out, while also allowing me to get really good at a smaller number of tasks. Additionally, farmer market sales are just one piece of the pie. Sales at the Whole Foods Co-op have been steady (Mt. Royal Fine Foods has been up and down, but I love working with them), and there’s also my wife’s art to add wind to our sails. Thus, I’m content to keep Tiny Farm Duluth small, humble, and profitable enough.
After a brutal spring of reduced sales at market, I delayed the building of a fancy grow house for the microgreens. I’m just about ready to make the commitment now, but it requires a leap of faith. Am I committed to this business or not? What else would I do? I’m eager to pursue writing as a craft with greater discipline, but I’ve given up any hope of using this as a path to income.
What freedom! I have renewed goals, such as the desire to write badly. Quantity leads to quality. I’ve seen this in my wife’s artwork. She has no qualms with painting over mediocre work. Shawna is succeeding because she devotes 50 hours to her craft every week. There have been tons of duds. Those were the stepping stones to the masterpieces you see today.
Given that I do other things, I’m not expecting to be as good at writing as she is at painting. Once again, this requires humility and awareness of the bigger picture. Every day in my Instagram feed I’m faced with this, as are you, dear reader. I follow lots of other farmers. Nearly all of them are more skilled at farming than me, and can produce absolute works of art at their farmer’s market booths. “Pile it high and watch it fly.” I’m continually in awe. The temptation is to shrink down into self-pity that I’ll never be as good as them (be it due to ability, necessary capital, land, whatever).
The fact is, however, that I am free to do what I can do, and do it to the best of my ability. I’m not going to change the industrial food system over here, but I do add to the lives of a hundred or so customers each week, and each of them directly enhances my life and that of my family.
On these hot days I’m never thinking, “Golly, I wish I had another 10,000 square feet or so of fields to weed.” Heck no. By being small and nimble, I can master the art of weed control. Perhaps I’ll have the opportunity to get bigger some day. This is unlikely, however. That’s ok. I need not aspire to be another Food Farm. I am free to love and marvel at what they are doing, having a bit of knowledge of what it takes to produce at that scale. Envy, after all, is one of the seven deadly sins.