by Jules White I’ve spent the past five autumns in New England, but the reds…
As part of Grow Food Northampton’s mission, we lease land to farmers who use sustainable farming practices. Since 2013, we have leased land to Susan Pincus, owner of Sawmill Herb Farm. The 3.5 acre farm is located adjacent to the Community Garden. Over the course of Susan’s six seasons, she has shifted to a focus of growing exclusively culinary and medicinal herbs, expanded her land, and continues to grow over 100 different variety of herbs!
Our Summer Intern Charlie interviewed Susan to learn more about Sawmill Herb Farm and their connection to Grow Food Northampton. Below you can read excerpts from their conversation.
What was your farming experience prior to starting this farm?
I worked at a couple of different vegetable farms and then I did WWOOFing in France and Australia. Those were different types of farms, not necessarily vegetable farms.
What is the mission of your farm?
To serve the community within the region with herbs and also an understanding of how to use herbs for health. Also, building a relationship with herbs and perennial plants and helping people learn how to use and grow them. We offer workshops that help and internships where there is a lot of education involved.
Who are your customers and how do you interact with them?
We have our CSA members which are the fresh, medicinal, and culinary herbs CSA members; I interact with them as they pick up here. For our members who are not picking up here it is mainly through email or phone. I also send a newsletter out every two weeks before every share. Other customers are people who are getting dried herbs or fresh herbs from us are wholesale people – restaurants and cafes. Usually, I drop those off personally so that I have a relationship with a lot of the people. There are people we ship stuff to and people that just come here as well. We also interact through workshops and such.
How does your relationship with your customers affect what you grow and how much you grow?
The CSA is the main thing that we do. Ever year we send out a survey and I get a lot of responses so I change things based on those responses.
How many people spend (approximately) how much time working on your farm each year?
We have one employee.
As part of your lease with Grow Food Northampton, you agree to use sustainable farming practices. What practices do you use to maintain this agreement?
I am certified organic, and I don’t put down any chemicals; I barely even use anything that is considered organic, I’m adding compost and leave mulch. I use pretty much no till practices. I plant a lot of perennials which in general are better for the soil in terms in not turning the soil over more. Use a lot of cover crops and I use a lot of compost tea types of things as well.
In what ways do you interact with Grow Food Northampton’s education and food access programs, or use your farm to promote similar goals?
Last year and this year I go to the Neighborhood Markets with Michael a bunch and I bring herbs and talk about them. I’ll do that a bunch of times this season. Other GFN stuff, when people are on a tour they stop by here. I give tours a lot and work with Smith and professors who bring their classes here. There are other student groups that come here and I give education workshops. In the past, I have harvested a lot of herbs and given them to Michael to give to the Mobile Market or to include in Giving Garden deliveries.
Do you have any areas of growth or special projects for 2019 you’d like to share with us?
The elder field, working with Regenerative Design Group to plant a little less than an acre of elderberries under a SARE Grant. That has been pretty big, so right now we have about 250 that are established in the field. Other things are trying to do more education programs that are more about weaving in herbal medicine with systemic oppression and trying to work on a bigger scale of reaching more people that come to the farm and expand our reach.
Does Sawmill Herb Farm have any goals for the coming years?
Continuing to work with a no-till system and figure out how to dial in doing that better. Try to figure out how to use cover crops in a perennial, no till system which is pretty tricky. Also, to reduce weed pressure, increase our CSA membership and increase plant starts to sell more and provide gardeners with.
To learn more about Sawmill Herb Farm you can check out their website here!
This interview has been edited for length and/or clarity.