40 farmers under 40: Readers' choice (21-30)
You nominated your favorite young farmers, and here they are: Forty of the nation's brightest green thumbs, quietly nurturing a food revolution from their own back yards.
Thu, Sep 24 2009 at 10:22 AM
21) Rebecca Lay, 29
West Brattleboro, Vt.
Rebecca Lay runs Ten Speed Farm in West Brattleboro, Vt., where she grows vegetables and herbs for a modified CSA program as well as local restaurants. Since she works alone, Lay focuses on small-scale farming — she has an intensive crop rotation on roughly half an acre of land borrowed from a generous retired dairy farmer. Lay's specialties are salad mix, green beans, field tomatoes and garlic, among other crops. Her CSA members don't pay any money up front; instead, Lay sends a "harvest list" e-mail to all her customers every Monday morning. They e-mail back their orders, and on Wednesdays, Lay harvests everything that's been ordered, and her customers come to the farm to fetch their bags of vegetables.
After working at two different farms (Guidestone Farm in Loveland, Colo., and then Sidehill Farm in Ashfield, Mass.) that featured both dairy cows and vegetable-growing operations, Lay says she'll work up to such a model for her own farm. With livestock, the farm can produce most of its own fertility, while feeding the local community nutritious veggies, eggs, meat and milk. She hopes to add a small dairy herd and pastured laying hens in the near future.
The name, Ten Speed Farm, is in honor of Lay's commitment to local, pedal-powered agriculture; she often commutes to and from her farmland by bicycle, and she delivers fresh produce to local restaurants using a bike and trailer every Friday afternoon.
22) Casey Kulla, 30
23) Katie Kulla, 28
Grand Island, Ore.
Both Northwest natives, Casey Kulla grew up in Lincoln City, Ore., and Katie Kulla in the Seattle area. Before moving to Yamhill County, Ore., in 2006, the couple lived in Bellingham, Wash., where they trained for two seasons on another organic market garden, Cedarville Farm. They both hold graduate degrees in nonfarming subjects from Western Washington University.
Casey and Katie started their Oregon Tilth certified organic farm, Oakhill Organics, in 2006. They started by growing vegetables for a 48-member CSA and a farmers market on a rented acre of land outside of McMinnville, Ore. In 2007, they moved their operation to a larger piece of land they purchased nearby and have since expanded their CSA to 125 members. They grow a wide range of vegetables, from asparagus to zucchini.
Casey and Katie use no synthetic chemicals, pesticides, herbicides or genetically modified seeds at Oakhill Organics. Instead, they use cover crops and natural sources of fertility and have divided their field in half, only cropping one piece of land every other year to allow for a full fallow period. To combat pests, they employ barriers, plant spacing and carefully bred plant varietals. To address weed pressure, they use a restored 1946 Allis Chalmers cultivating tractor that runs on biodiesel. With every growing choice Casey and Katie make, health and sustainability are their top priorities.
24) Martin Lemos, 26
Martin Lemos was born in Uruguay and immigrated to the United States early in life, growing up with his family around Newark, N.J. His relatives back in Uruguay lived in rural provinces, and whenever he returned he got a taste of the agricultural life.
Halfway through college, Lemos took a summer internship at a biodynamic farm in New Mexico and came away thinking he'd like to pursue farming. So after five years of working at farms in Portland, Ore., and eastern and western Massachusetts, he landed at the Green Earth Institute in Naperville, Ill. Founded by Steve Tiwald, it's a suburban farm on conservation land surrounded by housing developments. The 14-acre farm uses a CSA model to bring food to people in the neighborhood.
"It's definitely not the hip urban farm project that makes the New York Times salivate," Lemos says. "[But] maybe radical in its own way. The farm, perhaps by being so engulfed by suburbia, has integrated itself into the community. ... People live in the area, there's a farm nearby and it's the best place for miles for great produce."
Naperville is an economically privileged community, statistically speaking, so the farm certainly has an easier time than most finding a consumer base. But Lemos believes the Green Earth Institute could be a great example for showing how a sustainable farm can work in suburbia.
25) Matthew Hall, 30
26) Terra Sorrenson, 34
The story of Nebraska's Rhizosphere Farms began when Terra Sorrenson was in the Peace Corps in Mali, volunteering as an "agriculture agent." She quickly learned that the people in Mali knew far more about how to grow food than folks back home, and they did so without pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers.
Fast-forward a couple years and Sorrenson is living in Oregon, where she tried a short stint in activism before deciding to give organic farming a try. She found a farm outside Eugene called Horton Road Organics, and quickly bonded with the farmers, mentors and teachers she met there. She started as an intern the first year, when she met Matt Hall, who lived just down the road and was on the farm's staff. Sorrenson and Hall worked markets together and soon became friends; Hall had been interested in plants most of his adult life, and was particularly fascinated with soil science.
After Sorrenson's first year she was asked to return as a staff member and spent the next two years soaking up as much information and experience as she could. Due to the cost of living in Oregon and to be closer to their families (Hall is from Omaha, Neb., and Sorrenson is from Council Bluffs), they decided to try farming in the Midwest.
Sorrenson and Hall now lease a little acreage in Waterloo, in the nutrient-rich Elkhorn River Valley, and say they're having a blast being part of the local food community. Their first year has been successful, and they hope to continue growing as farmers in seasons to come. The farm is certified naturally grown, and the owners strive to bring the best food they can to markets, restaurants and CSA members. Their focus is on heirloom varieties — nearly every crop they grow is the product of a long lineage. They also hope to move toward a permaculture model of living and farming and eventually include chickens, ducks, sheep and pigs.
27) Matt Cadman, 27
28) Jerica Cadman, 24
29) Dave Wolff, 32
30) David Sanders, 27
TrueFields started as a dream shared by four friends: Matt and Jerica Cadman (pictured, left), Dave Wolff and David Sanders. These LeTourneau University alumni all wanted to see the naturally raised food supply increase in East Texas, where mass-produced fried-chicken restaurants abound and many people suffer from common U.S. food-related ailments like obesity and diabetes. Matt was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2003, and having been told that the medical answer was either drugs, colon-removal surgery or both, he and Jerica started seeking out more favorable solutions. They're both engineers and weren't satisfied with "That's all we can do." As it turned out, it wasn't.
The Cadmans first began buying organic groceries, and then learned more about the importance of food source and preparation, such as sprouting grains and buying locally raised, grass-fed beef. They got involved with a farm in Hallsville, Texas, and soon an opportunity opened up for them to start gardening and marketing the produce. Wolff (left) and Sanders quickly jumped on board, and it was a successful effort by the four — every day or so after work, they'd come out and prune tomatoes, water beans and harvest cucumbers, taking it to farmers markets on the weekend or selling to friends.
The Cadmans soon began thinking about raising a family and what kind of life they wanted to pursue. Matt worked at a local satellite manufacturing company, and Jerica was finishing up her undergraduate degree in engineering with plans to go on to graduate school. But they agreed that a life with both of them home and available to their kids, and to each other, was much more appealing than the splendor of two engineering salaries. When they started looking for land, they quickly realized they'd have to take on a lot of debt to start a farm from scratch. The Cadmans, who are Christians, say they rely on a higher power to guide their lives, so they asked God to give them a farm. They saw no other way for it to work.
Their prayers were answered — the farm's owners began floating the idea of Wolff, Sanders and the Cadmans managing the entire operation, and offered Matt Cadman and Sanders (left) positions in January 2009. Wolff agreed to keep his computer-programming job at LeTourneau to maintain income for the company they formed (TrueFields LLC) while the market was growing, and Jerica was to be full-time wife, marketer, cow milker and garden planner. They now manage and market the grass-fed operation and own their own herds of pigs and milk cows. They also grow a garden each season and plan to begin raising poultry within the next year.