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Know Your Farmer: Village Acres Farm And FoodShed

Mifflintown, Pennsylvania

Hannah Smith-Brubaker: That’s what it’s all about, right?

The organic label is about building soil and there isn’t in my mind a debate about that.

I’m Hannah Smith-Brubaker.

Debra Brubaker: I’m Debra Brubaker. We are owners of Village Acres Farm and FoodShed in Mifflintown, Pennsylvania.

We’re a certified organic vegetable farm. And we do raise some pastured poultry as well. We have about 35 acres total in rotation.

Hannah: We run the farm business, which is about 40% CSA and 60% selling through Tuscarora Organic Growers Co-operative and Radish and Rye Food Hub in Harrisburg and some local restaurants.

Debra: We sort of have a very diverse product as well as diverse markets, which I think is important in our success and to continue to evolve.

It’s an ever changing ecosystem we farm in. It’s an ever changing kind of business landscape as well. So you have to be highly adaptable.

Hannah: I actually work off-farm as the Executive Director of PASA, which is the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.

We focus on education and research. So we do on-farm research in areas like soil health and nutrient density and financial viability.

I am also a farmer representative to Rodale’s Organic Farmers Association (OFA) on their policy committee. So we’ve been working on issues like hydroponics, livestock rule, the strength of the NOSB.

When we first heard about the Real Organic Project it sort of seemed like this is really standing for many of the areas that are under debate right now in organics that we want to stand on the right side of.

I’m not too much of a person really to be pounding on what we shouldn’t be doing. But there are some things I know we should be doing.

And you know Debra mentioned that we raise poultry on pasture and the organic label has to stand for animals being on pasture. It just has to!

And so my work with the Organic Farmers Association and through PASA, we just really believe that we need to sustain our soils in order to be able to grow far into the future.

We’ve gotta be feeding our soils. And I’m a big believer that animals on pasture is part of that answer.

Debra: Living in East Africa in an area where many folks were food insecure, the idea of producing food for people became very important to my dad, as what he wanted to do when he came back and producing it in a way that maintained the health of the soil and the land and the ecosystem around was hugely important, too.

So he, like my grandfather, really believed in having food that had integrity, and believed that to have food with integrity you need farmers with integrity.

We do have about 35 acres and we only grow in a given year, we have probably 10 to 12 in vegetable production.

So we have a long rotation that includes both perennial cover crops as well as trying to put in short season cover crops wherever we can.

My father was a strong believer, and I agree with him, that organic farming should not just be input substitution of conventional farming where you’re just applying off-farm inputs in order to keep your plants having the fertility they need, but fertility needs to be provided from the roots up building the soil quality and organic matter and using nitrogen fixing cover crops for your plants.

So we do have both a long rotation, which helps with having plant material that’s returning carbon and nutrients to the soil as well as we do integrate livestock whether that be our herd of sheep or poultry.

Normally we just have two years in vegetables and then we’ll plant in clover grass mixture and we’ll be grazing for a couple of years.

And we do some of our own on-farm composting, too, that we apply prior to planting cover crops where we’re normally doing off-farm compost for crops we’re planting and harvesting in that year.

But for really getting a good cover crop stand we often apply our own compost ahead of those plantings.

Most people’s parents want them to go off and be a lawyer or a doctor, but my parents really I think I’ve said it once before, but I do believe that they believe that being a farmer is one of the highest callings that a person can follow through with and devote oneself to.

Even if it’s a long day of weeding carrots.

Hannah: She loves to weed carrots, it’s like her favorite thing to do!