Meet the farmers! Rachel Hershberger grew up in town but her family had a huge garden and canned a lot. Ben Hartman grew up on a 450-acre corn and soybean farm and started his first CSA the summer after graduating from high school. We met at Goshen College, where we both graduated with liberal arts degrees, and were married in 2003.
After college we worked for several growing seasons at Sustainable Greens, an organic farm in southern Michigan that supplied high-end Chicago restaurants with specialty produce. We started our own farm shortly afterwards and opened our booth at the Goshen Farmers Market in 2006. For the first three seasons we lived in Goshen and rented farmland.
In 2008, we purchased our current farmat auction. From 2008-2012 we put up four greenhouses, one per year as our markets grew. Our farm now supports a 50-member CSA and supplies area restaurants, the Goshen Farmers Markets, and the Maple City Market.
Our two young sons delight us, inspire us, and motivate us to be efficient with our time. Here's a typical day: breakfast, clean floor, change clothes, plant beans, nap time, harvest tomatoes, second breakfast, bag carrots, snack time, wash salad, lunch time, clean floor, nap time, pack CSA boxes, snack time, play time, supper time, bed time, quick go seed some more greens.
But who wants to farm alone? Besides kids, we have one employee and over the years many interns have given us their help and ideas. We use Kaizen, a lean production term meaning continuous improvement, to make sure good ideas bubble to the surface.
Our farm is set on five acres of clay soil in northern Indiana, growing zone 5b. Four greenhouses cover nearly 1/4 acre of land and we farm an additional 1/4 acre in the open. (That's right, we make our living on about 1/2 acre of land.) We purchased the former Amish Mennonite dairy farm in 2008. Former pastures now grow vegetables and the milking parlor is now a produce packing room.
Our goal in farm layout: keep lines of work straight, short, and intuitive. We use intensive growing methods so that every square inch is used for as much as of the year as possible: when one crop is removed we re-plant as quickly as we can. We call the practice Kanban farming, a term borrowed from lean manufacturing.
To save soil prep time, we covered the entire growing area with compost. We established 100 permanent raised growing beds, each measuring 30" x 65'. (We chose the length for psychological reasons: at 65' we are ready to quit picking beans.) We reshape once each year with a Kubota tractor and compact bed shaper. The system means that our soils are soft, fun to touch, and contain lots of organic matter (10-12%). We don't spend a lot of time loosening stiff ground. Fertility management is simple: we replenish with an inch of compost if soils need help (no liquid or granular fertilizer).
We now transplant all of our crops except for carrots and baby greens, which we direct seed with a precision seeder. We love multi-plant plugs: 4-6 seeds of a crop planted into one small cell. We transplant these clumps of 4-6 seedlings together, usually at a 10" x 10" spacing between clumps. We use this technique for spinach, mizuna, turnips, beets, green onions, and radishes, among others. The plants grow away from one another. This cuts transplanting time in half and ensures crops are ahead of weeds and off to a good start. Of the many wastes that creep onto farms, defect waste (where your product doesn't make it to the finish line) is perhaps the most damaging. This practice nearly eliminates it.
We got into farming because we love the work--the sun on our backs, the dirty hands, the planning and plotting--but also because we love the vegetables. Some of our favorites: Joi Choi bok choi, Hakurei turnips, White Cherry tomatoes, and Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes. But it's also hard to turn down golden beets, sweet winter carrots, and fresh arugula.
Our farm specializes in greens and tomatoes. We grow a seasonal salad mix containing specialty romaines and baby leaf lettuces during warm months, and Asian greens, spinach, and baby Tokyo Bekana cabbage leaves during cool months.
We seed our tomatoes in January to ensure a long harvest. Our favorites are old standbys: Cherokee Purple, Yellow Brandywine, Prudens Purple, and French heritage varieties.
For home use, we grow a wide range of vegetables and are always trying out new varieties. To determine what to grow (and what not to grow) for customers, we use the lean practice of Genchi Genbutsu--"close observation to gain deep understanding." We send out surveys, talk to chefs, interview our customers--whatever it takes to figure out what foods customers want, when they want them, and in what amounts. The more precisely we answer those questions, the less waste there is our production.