Growing Partners: Golden Earthworm Farm
This article is part of Growing Partners, our new series focusing on the farmers, gardeners, seed growers, breeders, vendors and non-profits we work with that are demonstrating leadership in environmental and social stewardship. We’re so invigorated by their trail-blazing work, we want to share it with the world–and hopefully inspire the real food leaders of tomorrow to follow in their footsteps.
Maggie Wood and Matthew Kurek (featured on the cover of our 2016 catalog, at right) own Golden Earthworm Farm, a certified organic vegetable farm on Long Island, NY. They have been growing with High Mowing seeds since 2007 and this year they're celebrating 20 years in business!
HMOS: First off, please give some background about your history, location and how you distribute your produce.
MW: Our farm is located on the North Fork of Long Island. We farm two parcels of land, one adjacent to Long Island Sound, and the other near the Peconic Bay. Surrounded by water, we farm in a relatively temperate climate with a great long autumn. It is increasingly dry and the soil is sandy loam to loam, so we irrigate a lot, but our soil is mostly gravel-free, making it excellent for growing root crops.
We currently have 75 acres in annual crop production, growing vegetables, strawberries and baby watermelons for a 2,100-member CSA and three farmers markets. Matthew started the farm on a half acre in 1993 and the farm was officially named, “The Golden Earthworm Organic Farm”, in 1995, so, like High Mowing, we’re celebrating our 20th year in business!
HMOS: Why did you start Golden Earthworm, and how has it grown or changed over time?
MK: I started the farm after several years working as a natural foods chef in Manhattan. I’d spend hours at farmers markets in the city talking with farmers, and became interested in growing vegetables myself. I started out planting tomatoes in my backyard in Brooklyn, learning as I went, and it quickly became clear that I belonged in the field, not the kitchen. I began the farm to provide nutritious organic food for people, to provide meaningful, rewarding work with a distinct purpose for myself, and to improve the health of our environment by farming in an eco-friendly manner. And it seemed like it might be fun!
We started out selling to restaurants, which was the world I was familiar with, and then gradually shifted to a mix of farmers markets, wholesale and restaurants. But after learning about CSAs in 1999, we decided to give it a try, starting with 15 members. We were intrigued by the idea of a community-supported farm and selling directly to the people who were going to eat our produce.
HMOS: What is the mission of Golden Earthworm? What makes it unique?
MK: Our mission is to grow exceptional quality organic produce for people at a reasonable price. We hope to bring people closer to their food and environment through their experience and relationship with our farm.
MW: We also want to show that farming can be a viable business, blending the best of traditional farming practices with developments in technology and crop nutrition research to farm efficiently.
HMOS: What is the relationship between Golden Earthworm and your local community, and how do you foster this relationship?
MW: As the largest CSA on Long Island, we serve dozens of communities from Queens to the East End of Long Island (where we're located). We're longtime sellers at 3 farmers' markets and work with the United Way of NYC and Just Food to bring our fresh organic produce to food pantries and emergency food programs in Queens.
In general, we have a very practical relationship with our CSA members and take the CSA experience very seriously. We provide farm updates, recipes and cooking advice through our weekly newsletter and comprehensive website, helping members get the most out of their weekly shares. Members and their families are invited to the farm in June for farm tours and for our annual CSA Harvest Fest in October, where they connect with their farmers and other members of our farm community.
HMOS: What are the biggest challenges with your business, and what innovations or technology have you embraced to overcome them?
MW: Like most farmers, securing reliable labor is a big challenge. We're constantly looking for innovative tools and equipment that will make us more efficient and less dependent on manual labor. These efficiencies also help us keep our costs down and allow us to deliver our crops at a reasonable price to our customers.
HMOS: How have your priorities changed over time, and how have these shifts affected the farm?
MW: A big shift happened in 2010 with the birth of our first child. Until that point, we never really thought about creating a healthy work-life balance, it was just all work, all the time!
Now with two little boys, we have to plan for more time with them. Last year we cancelled our winter share to regroup and make up for lost time during the growing season. This year we’re easing back into a winter season CSA, but will only deliver through early winter so we can have family time in January and February.
HMOS: What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
MK: I suggest getting a few years of real farm experience to gain the necessary skills, attend as many good conferences as possible, thoroughly research future marketing options, and save some money!
HMOS: What are your goals for Golden Earthworm Farm, and how do you envision the future?
MW: We are content with our current size and only want to keep refining our farm. We’d like to secure more land so that longer rotations and field resting can become a more central part of our planning. As we strive to be better stewards of the land, we continuously refine our farming practices to be as ecologically-friendly as possible.
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Maggie & Matt grow: