Lesson Three – Build Relationships

At the Brooklyn Grange other members of our group

Start talking to everyone.

Your neighbors, the produce guy, people at the farmer’s market, your local health food store, even your favorite chefs. Become an expert in local food consumption. Learn everything you can about what grows well, what do you like to eat most and who produces or prepares it, and what’s the most challenging food for your climate.

MAKE SURE YOU FIND OUT THESE ANSWERS:

What’s the last frost date in the spring?

This is important because many seeds can’t be planted before this date like tender annuals including zinnias, green beans and corn. Peas, lettuce, and sunflowers, on the other hand can take a frost and should go in as soon as the soil can be worked.

What’s the first frost date in the fall?

This date is important because if your first frost in the fall is Sept 7th like ours, you need to make sure green beans, basil and cucumbers are planted in time to harvest before then. Nothing is sadder then waking up one morning and all the plants you’ve been nurturing along all summer are suddenly gone.

Mike has like a natural alarm clock that seems to wake him up when the temp drops the most, usually right before daylight and we will run down to the garden and cover as much as we can with every available blanket, sheet, tarp we can find to make it through the night in case we end up getting an extra two weeks of warm fall days to let crops ripen!

Do you have any local seed to share?

This is important because local seeds will be adapted to your climate increasing your likelihood for success, and sharing seeds is a way to sustain crop diversity and will save you money!

Make sure you do a LOT of listening!

If you’re thinking of doing this for a business you want to make friends with your fellow marketers, a farmer’s market it only successful if there are multiple farms, so find out what need is missing and think about growing that. MikeinCorn

Relationship Building Checklist

Start collecting names and contacts for anyone you can who has a relationship with gardening, food and/or cooking on this Relationship Building checklist.

  • neighbors
  • friends and family
  • landscapers
  • beekeepers
  • garden clubs
  • community gardens
  • extension agents
  • local nursery
  • farmers
  • florists
  • chefs
  • market managers
  • local co-op
  • Facebook Groups

OK, so you’ve got your list of Favorite Recipes, your Produce Checklist of produce you eat, Garden and Landscape Goals!

Let’s develop a plan!

The relationships you build with other foodies will be invaluable. You’re headed out on an adventure to meet some like minded people many of whom will become lifelong friends both online and off.

Brooklyn Grocer

In the neighborhood

Your immediate neighborhood gardeners are going to be your biggest source of knowledge because they know your microclimate. But you are also going to learn from all sorts of different folks. Garden clubs, community gardens and local nursery’s are full of people who love to share what they grow well.

Listen with a grain of salt, and learn from their experiences. Simple tips like, put the corn in a square, plant your broccoli in the fall, or get your sunflowers in the ground by Earth Day will get you off to a successful start. Just be wary of anyone who insists you use pesticides or chemicals to be successful.

One of my listeners, Angel Garbarino shared in episode 239 that instead of planting Kentucky blue grass in her new home’s yard that required constant watering and was filled with dandelions, she said

“I think I would have gone with goat fescue which I had never heard of but I heard from local gardeners. ”

Frequently new gardeners have lessons that are fresher so listen to new and seasoned friends.

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Claudia from Claudia’s Mesa teaching us how to cook lentils, an important pulse and soil building crop.

Chickens in the Burbs

Have you started thinking about getting chickens yet? I mentioned Teresa’ Loe’s podcast about chickens in LA but here’s a great article she wrote recently about getting your neighbors onboard about your chickens.

Your Local Extension Office

You might not even know you have a local extension agent or what they could ever do for you but they can not only help with your soil test an essential for efficient production over the years, but they can teach master gardener courses, have access to data at a local University and a whole range of information that will make your garden journey successful.

Grocers and Cooks • Friends and Family 

Everyone likes to eat and most people like the flavor of their food.

You’ll become fast friends with your produce manager, local farmer, and co-op deli server. Conversations about what’s growing well or tastes freshest will be on the lips of friends and family new and old.

Remember if you want to listen to these conversations right now tune into your favorite podcast or youtube channel and be inspired!

 

Connecting Online

I think connecting with like-minded people on the internet is one of the greatest phenomena of the 21st century. Because of my podcast I have met so many amazing friends near and far. I’ve only met some online friends in person but many started out in a Facebook Group or an online course and before you know it we were having coffee or sitting next to each other at a local workshop.

I certainly can’t mention every resource here, but I feel that there are couple of blogs, podcasts and Facebook groups that are essential for my gardening journey that I wanted to share. If you want to become a market farmer I definitely think you need to get Jean Martin Fortier’s book and invest in one of his classes. If you want to be a flower farmer, Floret’s blog is invaluable, even if you just want to grow more blooms. Megan Cain is great for inspiration, knowledge and best of all strategic planning so you get the most out of your time in your garden. Joe Lamp’l also shares secrets to growing in the Southeast.

I personally can’t recommend taking online courses enough. I love learning and I feel like a lot of times, you learn more online. When I sit in a classroom, I’m embarrassed to raise my hand, there’s only so much time to talk, and of course it means I can’t do it in my pjs. Haha, but seriously, I love learning in person, but I think I prefer online classes.

Anyway here are just a few resources I feel are ways to build relationships online.

Some of my favorite groups include:

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Well of course the Organic Gardener Podcast Facebook Group. Many of my guests are there and share their advice to help you with all of your garden questions. And there are people from all corners of the earth in there! It amazes me gardeners in Africa, Australia and Russia frequently chime in to different questions!

Low-cost Birdseed Sunflower Tip!

Plus I love the cover photo because I actually planted those sunflowers that year reaching my goal of planting 750! Now if I can just grow 750 a week for this summer I’ll be a success! I found low cost bird seed worked about the best and it feeds my birds if I remember to harvest the blooms before they get to them!

Floret Farm Blog

For a decade or more Erin Benzakein has been sharing her journey as a flower farmer and how they grow more blooms per acre on their little 2 acre square in Washington.

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Creative Vegetable Gardener Blog

Megan Cain focuses on the essentials so you can enjoy an oasis in the middle of suburban Wisconsin.

Her books are spot on!

Insect Identification Facebook Group

The Insect Identification Facebook Group

Backyard Fruit Growers - Russ Medge

Russ Metge’s Backyard Fruit Growers 

Russ has been one of my most downloaded and popular guests. He shares his extensive knowledge for growing healthy fruit trees and how to prune them (which FYI is different from pruning flowering trees) He’s always there to answer your questions and help you grow the healthiest fruit trees possible. He’s got great photos, videos and diagrams to help you follow the best Cultural Practices for Fruit Tree Pruning Care.

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Joe Lampl’s Joe Gardener Facebook Group is full of amazing like minded gardeners headed by the Atlanta celebrity himself who I know teaches me a ton almost every weekend on TV.

Market Gardening Success GroupFBPage

If you have a profitable Market Farm you would like JM Fortier’s Market Gardening Success Group with over 20,000 members!

But you can’t go wrong with your local buy and sell groups/farm and garden groups just type in garden groups and your location and some local choices should crop up. When looking for new Facebook groups, I usually join about 5-6 and then see which ones stick, who’s posts do I find I like and comment on the most.

Do your friends belong to any garden groups?

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I have spent many hours in the Flower Farmers Facebook group and that’s where I met Julio Freitas who was an incredible inspiration on my show. Denise and Tony Gaetz were also amazing guests who frequently post in that group. Just be advised the group’s admin is not always 100% organic/pesticide free.

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Although he doesn’t have a Facebook group, Dr. Nate Story who I interviewed in episode 138 after building relationships in PARIS of all places, has a very popular Farming Course with a strong focus on Vertical Gardening, Aquaponics, and Developing a Strong Business Plan.

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Remember, you can always listen to the Organic Gardener Podcast and hear stories from neighbors and experts who share their garden journeys without leaving the comfort of your own backyard. There are lots of great podcasts out there on everything from raising llamas to no-till permaculture techniques, and everything in between.

Grocers and Cooks • Friends and Family 

Everyone likes to eat and most people like the flavor of their food.

You’ll become fast friends with your produce manager, local farmer, and co-op deli server. Conversations about what’s growing well or tastes freshest will be on the lips of friends and family new and old.

Now get out there and start talking!

Start making connections. Start cross referencing. Is your farmer’s market open? Can you see any of the food on your produce list for sale. Start asking around about what is available.

One of the big things I have learned is that some things are better to buy. Don’t get me wrong. If you want to grow something and it will grow in your area then by all means grow it.

Mike grew these delicious yummy mini-watermelons! Amelia Schimetz another listener shared her story pampering sweet potatoes in Billings, MT. There’s a greenhouse in North Dakota that’s using amazing geothermal technology to grow citrus and all sorts of things through cold snowy winters. But at a cost of course.

But if you live in Montana you might not be successful growing an avocado, if you live in south Texas you might struggle more with cool season vegetables like broccoli and peas.

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My mom had great success growing a Meyer lemon tree in her suburban NY home! So, it all depends and things are changing all the time.

Lots of market farmer’s have talked about the cost associated with growing vegetables and they all agree, potatoes might taste good but if the farm down the street is focusing on them it’s best to let them do it.

 

Other things just take a lot of care. If you have a full time job and you just want to have some fresh garden tomatoes, pints of raspberries or blueberries during the summer or even a low maintenance perennial landscape the more you learn the more success you’ll have.

I would set a goal to reach out to at least 3 people a week. Talk to your local neighbors especially. If you are growing crops or heirloom vegetables that cross pollinate you will need to know if your neighbors are planting corn and other things that require large distances between crops.

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One person every time you go to the grocery store. It could be the person standing next to you online at checkout, the produce person putting the fruit and vegetables in the bin, or even buying some fresh blooms at your farmer’s market from a vendor you never noticed before.

Start simple:

Ask These Types of  Questions

  1. Do you garden?
  2. Did you grow this?
  3. Do your cows eat “weed free” hay? (aka chemical laden toxins you can’t use the manure from)
  4. Where do you get your manure? Your dirt?
  5. Do you sell a lot of that?
  6. What are you cooking with that?
  7. What’s your favorite way to prepare that?
  8. Anything you want to know? Go where your curiosity leads you.

MAKE SURE YOU FIND OUT THESE ANSWERS:

  • What’s the last frost date in the spring?
  • What’s the first frost date in the fall?
  • Do you have any local seed to share?

People love to share their knowledge.

They get excited that you are interested in them. So make sure you listen carefully. The best thing you can do is be curious and ask questions without being too nosy but trust me you will learn something from everyone. Whether it’s a new recipe, an interesting new way to cook an old favorite or be surprised something grows locally you never even thought possible.

Be prepared for your senses to become heightened.

You’ll smell things you didn’t smell before, you’ll notice produce is brighter, you’re ears are listening better and your tongue is delighting in the new delicacies it’s trying and tasting.

Hands On Experience

If you are dreaming about becoming a market farmer I cannot recommend enough doing an apprenticeship or internship. Many of my guests who are professional farmers have said this was key to their success.

Everyone from Jean Martin Fortier who got his start with his wife running a farm in New Mexico, to Todd Ulizio who recommended the ATTRA resource National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, Anna Peach from Hawaii who talked about volunteering at the Brooklyn Grange and Jes Pearce who started volunteering at the Jeavon’s Center for Research and Education.

I think it’s important if you are wanting to become a market farmer that you learn from someone so you can see what it’s really like. You might enjoy the work in the farm but the business side may not be your forte. On the flip side you might enjoy the farmer’s market at much as JM Fortier when you’ve got some of the best quality produce to share with your raving fans!

I do think all of my guests agree that no one looks forward to doing the bills and accounting part but Richard Wiswall’s Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook has been recommended by many of my guests.

Mandy Gerth did say her and her husband decided they would be their own interns, because they had small children at home.

WWOOFing It – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms

I think the best story of WWOOFing it though is from Jeremy and Neke who traveled all over South America hopping between farms, staying for 2-3 days up to two weeks at time and learning a variety of strategies. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOFing)

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Sarah Manuel from the Streatery in Havre, Montana said that most WWOOFing opportunities require 20 hours a week labor in trade for room and board. Meals can be cooked or they might offer staples and a kitchen. Room could even include basics like a tent. She recommends looking into different farms and finding the right experience for your unique situation.

People love to share their knowledge.

They get excited that you are interested in them. So make sure you listen carefully. The best thing you can do is be curious and ask questions without being too nosy but trust me you will learn something from everyone. Whether it’s a new recipe, an interesting new way to cook an old favorite or be surprised something grows locally you never even thought possible.

Be prepared for your senses to become heightened.

You’ll smell things you didn’t smell before, you’ll notice produce is brighter, you’re ears are listening better and your tongue is delighting in the new delicacies it’s trying and tasting. Plus the bland taste of commercial produce will be disappointing over and over.

What if I’m an introvert and I don’t like to talk to strangers?

All the better. The new research says that introverts are great listeners and actually are better at building stronger long lasting relationships then extroverts who tend to talk more then listen. Follow your curiosity and I guarantee you will meet friends for life. Whether it’s your local garden fair or workshop, watching Peaceful Valley on YouTube or reading the incredible blog by the Empress of Dirt get out there and start connecting today!

And don’t forget to share your knowledge too!

Is there a school with students you can inspire? A workshop you want to teach?

Lesson Three Recap

Start Building Relationships:

  1. Start talking to everyone right away. 
  2. Keep track of who you talk to and what advice they give you.
  3. Listen to your senses.

 

Just checking! How’s your herb doing? Is it still alive? Does it need watered?

Take our Quiz on Lesson Three Here

Whatever your weather it’s time to start designing those beds.

Move on to Lesson Four: Design your Organic Oasis be it an earth-friendly landscape, organic garden beds, or natural market farm

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