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Little Seed Gardens Tour and Why We Do What We Do
This week, in the soft light best known to autumn afternoons, the crew at Community Markets went walking with farmer Willy Denner. He toured us through his certified organic farm, Little Seed Gardens, near Chatham, NY. We peered into the greenhouses and walked the fields, all led by a man who shared at one point, “After eighteen years of picking bok choy, you get to thinking.”
What Denner is thinking about is nothing short of what it means to earn one’s livelihood from nature. “I try to meet my needs on a piece of land and have the land be in better shape when I’m done living,” he says. Together with his wife, Claudia Kenny, and their children, the family got their farm up and running on land that was once nearly barren.
“When we first got here, we dug thirty-five holes, each five feet deep, for soil profiles. We did not find a single earthworm,” Denner explained.
Today they grow intensively on fifteen acres that are supported by another twenty acres home to horses and cattle, compost piles and cover crops. Their farming method uses the skillful rhythm of crop rotation, including a succession of early crops, late crops, and fallow time for the land. “The cover crops match what’s going to come next,” Denner told us, as Kenny held up a small batch of pea shoots used as nitrogen fixers in the field. They also explained that they harvest their crops “bit by bit,” so they don’t pick everything from one spot all at once.
“The rotation helps ensure you’re not doing the same thing year after year. It’s the opposite of industrial agriculture, where you have the same crop, in the same place, on the same schedule and things just keep getting worse and worse,” Denner said.
As the shadows grew long across the fields, we all sat down to share dinner at one big farm table. We broke bread, along with cheese and savory pastries and beef stew and more. And we were reminded of something Denner had said about his experience as a vendor at the farmers market: “People value connecting with other people around what they do. If you care about what you do, and it shows in your actions, people respond to that.” On behalf of all of us at Community Markets, we respond to Willy, Claudia, and all the people at Little Seed Gardens, with a toast of gratitude.