River Valley Co-op (RVC) and Grow Food Northampton’s partnership goes all the way back to when…
Beginning this year, we are leasing land to Diego Irizarry-Gerould, owner of Song Sparrow Farm. The 1/2 acre farm is located east of the Giving Garden, growing a variety of vegetables. Diego is no stranger to this land: he was our Giving Garden Manager in 2017!
Summer intern Charlie interviewed Diego to learn more about Song Sparrow Farm and his connection to Grow Food Northampton. Below you can read excerpts from their conversation.
What was your farming experience prior to starting this farm?
I’ve been farming since 2014, so a little more than 5 years. Last season, I was farming at Haydenville, but before that I was working at Red Fire Farm and working at a bunch of different farms. Just a few years ago I was in the Giving Garden, and then transitioned into farming on my own.
What is the mission of your farm?
There are different parts to the mission. There is the land and food growing part, which is to grow intensively in a small space in a way that is ecologically friendly. The way I do that is through no-till, which is a way of protecting the soil and increasing the soil health. Then, there is the human aspect of it, which for me is making enough money to pay my bills, be financially stable, and have food for myself and people I want to share it with. Also, giving food to other people and producing something for the community and selling to local partners aspect; which is really important to me – having some sort of personal connection and knowing where the food goes and people know where the food comes from.
What are your main types of customers and how do you interact with them?
My main customers are restaurants and small grocery stores. A couple restaurants, cafes, the Co-op, and more. I interact with them mostly on a weekly basis through communicating about what I have available and what they want. With all of my customers I personally deliver, and especially with restaurants it’s nice to have a relationship with the chefs.
How does your relationship with your customers affect what you grow and how much you grow?
Number one is that I’m only growing things that I know, or have a strong suspicion, that people will want to buy. There is a lot of produce I could grow that there is not a strong demand for. I grow things that are pretty standard like salad mix, slicing tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, slicing cucumbers, and carrots. It’s mostly things that people want and that a lot of different groups will want. Sometimes, I will grow specialty produce for some of my chef customers.
How many people spend (approximately) how much time working on your farm each year?
It is just me who works at the farm and I’m working in the field from April into late October/early November. Throughout the winter I work other jobs, but also am doing farm planning whether it be financial, crop, seed planning and ordering. There is plenty of that to do in the winter.
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?
The main thing I do is I don’t till. Not tilling is a way of preserving the ecology of the soil. The microbiology – the fungi, bacteria, invertebrates in the soil are all able to thrive more when you don’t till. I don’t dig into the soil, I leave roots to decompose, I take more time to transition in between more crops to let things rot and decompose in the soil. I’m using organic farming practices, so I don’t do anything that would disqualify me from getting certified although I’m not certified. Also, I practice long term crop rotation and use a lot of compost to feed the soil.
Do you have any areas of growth or special projects for 2019 you’d like to share with us?
Lots. I built the green house and built the wash-pack station. So those two building projects, but the greenhouse was huge. I’ve never had my own greenhouse before; the building itself was a big learning curve and it allowed me to do a lot more. Growing things protected in a greenhouse allows things to grow better, especially tomatoes and cucumbers and I can grow starts in there.
Does Song Sparrow Farm have any goals for the coming years?
I have a lot of goals in terms of production in the field, such as lessons I learned about growing seeds and crops and what to do better. Better ways to protect cucumbers from diseases and beetles, weed management, being on top of it so they don’t go to seed. Also, getting more customers on board, particularly for the salad mix. On a personal note, a goal is taking time off, taking time to have fun and spend time with people I want to spend time with.
Interview has been edited for length and/or clarity.