The Sample Hour Stops by Seminary Hill Farm
Drew Sample, from the Sample Hour podcast, stopped by Seminary Hill Farm to talk to our farm supervisor, Noel Deehr. Settled on two haystacks, the two had an interesting conversation about local food, the successes and failures of small-scale farming and what it means to provide good food to the community of Columbus, Ohio. They also discuss what it is like working directly with the chefs at Dunn Dining Hall, in an effort to provide a complete farm-to-table experience. Here are some quick excerpts from their conversation. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to listen to the complete interview.
Drew: You decide you want to be a farmer and you graduate early from high school, what made you go about your next step?
Noel: I knew I wanted to be a farmer basically since I was twelve years-old. That was something I knew I wanted so I started out doing my own raised beds and just growing things for my own family. I graduated high school when I was sixteen and got my first job at an orchard. I immediately started college pursuing my degree in Landscape Horticulture. It just kind of spiraled from there into taking the leap and going for it.
Drew: I'm kind of overwhelmed by everything. There is a lot here... so you are currently farming five acres now, how many people are doing that?
Noel: Between our dining hall team and our farm team, we have six full-time employees... So right now, we have an executive chef and a sous chef and throughout the week, they are basically just in the kitchen. Then the rest of the team is out here with me. If we have an event though, we may be out in the morning harvesting and and then we are in the dining hall serving lunch to one hundred and fifty people plated for a special event we are having. We do have some farm apprentices and we do have some part-time student workers. We have to work around their schedules because they are students. We have an interesting mix of people but just six full-time employees between the dining hall and the farm. It is a little insane. We do a lot of stuff.
Drew: So who were your biggest influences? You are using hand tools, it looks like Elliot Coleman...
Noel: Tadd (the farm and food manager) and I both went to Michigan State University and graduated from their Organic Farmer Training Program and a lot of the books we read were from Elliot Coleman.
Drew: Did you shut down in the winter or did you still have production in the high tunnels?
Noel: We never shut down. We produce twelve months a year. We still do salad mix, radishes, carrots, beets, and all of that kind of produce for our dining hall during the winter. We also do the winter's market at New Albany.
Drew: What are your goals for this season?
Noel: Well, there are a lot of things that we would like to do. We are looking to expand our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program to reach more folks and provide for more people with food. Another thing we would like to get into... so we grow all our own transplants here. Except for a few things, we transplant everything... carrots, beets. The other hope and dream is that we will actually be approved to build a transplant production greenhouse this year. We really need it. We are doing probably one hundred and fifty to two hundred trays of transplants every week. Trying to figure out where to put those is challenging.
Drew: Its just so much for five acres. There is just a ton of stuff going on.
Noel: Its a lot of food. Its a lot of intensive planning and rotation. That is a lot of what we do during the winter. We do crop evaluation. So we sit down and we discuss things like how did this variety do. how did it compare to this, what was production, what was taste and then based on that, we design the crop plan. Basically the whole team, we sit down and figure it out. Chef Brian will come to me and say "I really liked those touchstone beets that you grew but I wasn't really crazy about the turnips. Can we do a different variety?" Then he will go to his seed catalog and he will be like, "I saw this one variety. Can you grow it for me?" I will see if it fits into the plan. I mean, we do some fun stuff.
Drew: What have been the biggest hurdles?
Noel: Well, there have been a lot of hurdles. In general, things we come up against out in the fields are deer... they are one of the biggest problems we have. That is why we have Pup, the farm dog. He chases off the deer, gets rid of the mice, chases off the geese. In general, patrols the farm.
Drew: What have been your biggest successes?
Noel: I would say our team. We have farm apprentices that come in and out every year and that has been the most rewarding thing. Seeing folks come in and then whether they choose to stay on with us or go on to other places, we have been able to be here and be a resource for them. One of our original apprentices, Owen Needham, started out here for us as an apprentice and then we were able to bring him on as a full-time crew member. Now he is back in Chicago where he is running an urban garden for a Jewish Synagogue. He has really been able to take everything that he has learned here and give back to the community in a way he is passionate about. That I think is the best thing. Its our people that are our greatest success because they are going to go out and make the change that our communities need, that our food industry needs.
Drew: So if people wanted to follow the work that you do here, the cool stuff that you guys do, how would they do that?
Noel: The best way would be to follow the Seminary Hill Farm Instagram account. That is a good way to find out what we are doing. We post pretty frequently there. We also have a new website that just got launched a couple months ago at SeminaryHillFarm.org.
Drew: If people are local and they want to sign up for your CSA (Community Supported Agriculture program), where do they need to go?
They can sign up at SeminaryHillFarm.org and our first CSA distribution is May 4th... We are changing our model this year is because we know that people want options and choices. They don't want a farmer mystery box of ten items that are in season that week so we actually changed our style of CSA starting this year. Its going to be kind of our launch starting in May. Its more farmer's market style. Based on whether they have bought a half CSA share or a full CSA share, they get anywhere from 25 to 40 credits depending on which size they have. Each crop will have a credit value assigned to it. Its like going to farmer's market and being able to pick out two bunches of carrots and a bag of salad mix and a bunch of radishes, etc... Instead of it being like here are the ten specific items going into your box, you actually have the option of what you get to choose... We will have twelve different vegetables, fresh bread that we are making in our dining hall, and eggs.
Please listen below if you would like to hear then entire podcast. You can also visit TheSampleHour.com to download more interviews from Drew Sample at The Sample Hour podcast.