Ten Questions for Jesse Tolz

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Contributed by Richard Beaven of Made in Ghent (10/9/2015)

How would you describe Year 1 setting up at Little Ghent Farm?
Adventurous. The beginning of this chapter has been full of surprises and wonderment. I’ve had many successes and failures, with both providing much clarity for year two.

“VIDA farm”… what’s the story behind the name?
Vida means ‘life’ in spanish. Human cultures are deeply influenced by the way food is cultivated and consumed. Our lives depend on agriculture.

How would you summarize your approach?
I am currently flying solo in this agricultural pursuit, experimenting with the possibilities of a permanent cover crop, minimal-till, no conventional or organic *icides, no irrigation, and completely direct seeded farm systemThe direct seeding is quite important to me, and particularly for crops that are never directly sown. Farms will generally start certain crops indoors in trays, cells, and pots to get a jump on the growing season and to achieve productivity through tighter timelines of planting successions and precise plant quantities. The process of transitioning plants from tray to cell to pot to field will affect the root mass, stunting and shocking it. On the other hand, plants that are direct sown are unrestrained by cells, and have the opportunity to grow their roots naturally. This method has the potential to allow roots to grow fuller, deeper, more extensive root networks that can access all of the living, mineral, and liquid entities below the soil’s surface.

Why is experimentation so important to you?
It is a need of mine to be continuously evolving, and learning through testing assumptions. You can’t be an innovator if you simply replicate what’s been done. I could die tomorrow, so why not live?

A cool story about something you’ve grown?
I have a bunch of other plants that I’ve become fond of, but it’s really the permanent cover that makes this system possible. I selected an array of legumes for their nitrogen-fixing capacity with the help of relevant rhizobacteria, fourteen different varieties because the diversity assures that at least some of them will establish, and low-growing varieties so they won’t outcompete my other crops for sunlight. Finally we get to the cool story… in addition to the usual reasons for growing cover crops, the expansive surface area of these plants collects tremendous quantities of moisture. If it wasn’t for this particular cover crop setup, I would have been forced to irrigate.

Whats happening over the next six months? Is anything available?
I’m processing seeds from a handful of crops, and will have them available in December for holiday gifts.

Your thoughts on what 2016 holds, what can everyone expect?
My field will finally be fully developed in bed space; a month-long bout with arthritis and broken machinery restricted this season’s productivity. In 2016 I’ll focus more of the field on kale, tomato, and lettuce varieties that excelled as well as trialing new ones. I’ll be cutting out certain crops that were underwhelming and growing melons, beans, corn, and squash. I’m hoping year two will establish proof of concept.

Dream project?
Unlikely dream project: to heli-snowboard around the world…
Likely dream project: to own land where I scale up and refine this farm system with the help of draft horses.

Sourdough Boule, White Tin Loaf or Focaccia?
Wholewheat sourdough if I’m looking to soak up the ridiculously delicious golden yolks from Made In Ghent eggs, but Olive Focaccia holds a very special place in my heart.

How may people get in touch with you?
Please call or email to ask me anything about VIDA farm or to chat about your garden!

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