Farming on 300 Square Feet

The Rubin's Mini Farm progresses throughout the 2014 season

The Rubin’s Mini Farm progresses throughout the 2014 season

(Article originally published in the Woodinville Weekly, October 27, 2014)

By Ariana de Leña

What do farming and a New York City apartment have in common? Both can be done in a mere 300 square feet! At First Light Farm in Carnation, Washington, this season 22 families took on their own “Mini Farm,” or a 300 square foot patch of land upon which they grew their own organic vegetables. Much like a community garden, the Mini Farm program allows gardeners to participate in a collective growing experience; Mini Farmers share tips for trellising rogue peas and sunflowers or lend one another extra starts over evening run-ins at the farm or at frequent farm potlucks.

The goal? To provide a space for families and individuals to not only earn how to grow their own organic veggies, but also experience the innate connection that comes with getting to know a piece of land. Terroir – or the sense of place that say, a carrot, embodies simply by being grown in a particular geography and climate – inevitably transfers to the families here. Each plot has a human imprint. While some mini farm plots are linear and vegetables are easily demarcated, others mix and blend plants in polycultures meant to simulate nature’s more complex designs. A brief walk through the farms at this time of year shows towering sunflowers, blue ribbon winning giant zucchinis, remnants of cherry tomatoes, and verdant fall crops like kale and spinach.

For Josh and Linda Rubin, first time Mini Farmers, this year at First Light Farm proved fruitful. Josh’s careful list of everything his family grew reads like a true farmer’s journal with careful annotations about what worked, what didn’t, and the culinary treatment that each vegetable received.

  • Acorn squash – 14

  • Brussel sprouts – 6 plants, still growing but looks like a lot

  • Carrots – only several made it, didn’t thin properly

  • Cauliflower, white and yellow (the yellow was better) – 10 heads, Made picalilli

  • Celeriac – 4, made soup

  • Cherry tomatoes (red and orange) – a lot, too many. Ate some, dehydrated lots into crunchy chips

  • Cilantro – flowered early, didn’t get much

  • Corn – 8 ears

  • Cucumbers – 12, made pickles

  • Delicata squash – 24

  • Fava beans – 2 cups cooked

  • Leeks – 8 or 10. Some bolted early, others didn’t

  • Lettuce – 2 varieties, about six heads, starts were gifted by fellow gardeners

  • Love Lies Bleeding and Bells of Ireland flowers –  just because

  • Peas – ~2 lbs

  • Peppers (three varieties) – dozens, still producing. Made pepper jelly, salsa, and chili relleno ad nauseam.

  • Pole beans – ~3 lbs

  • Red cabbage – 4 heads

  • Strawberries – just two plants. Grew some berries but we didn’t harvest them

  • Sugar pumpkins – 14, made pumpkin puree for pies and breads

  • Sunflowers (2 varieties)

  • Tomatillos – enough for 4 batches of green salsa

  • Tomatoes (4 varieties) – many, many pounds. Made tomato sauce, tomato jam, ketchup

Families paid $150 to lease their respective plots for the season which runs from late April until November or as long as they can prolong the harvest. The Rubins spent about another $75 “on starts and seeds and things like twine and wood for the tee pee [trellises],” though they said it could have been cheaper if they were able to plant directly from seeds rather than having to use starts during wet Spring months. The retail value of the Rubin’s tomatoes alone probably comes close to matching the up front costs of leasing a mini farm.

The other benefits to having your own mini farm are perhaps less quantifiable. While the notion of eating a carrot harvested with your own hands seems romantic, the food talk at First Light Farm’s farmstand would have you thinking people always loved their food this much. A season of weeding and tending to their plots inevitably endears even the less vegetable-inclined mini farmers (yes, they exist!) to humble vegetables. Other valuable lessons, such as which vegetables take meticulous care versus which easily deliver an overabundance of food (hint: zucchini), come quickly to mini farmers. The mini farming experience, however, is forgiving. It is a space in which people can tinker and play with their plots, make mistakes, find unexpected gifts from the earth, and even tune out the occasional midday conference call while weeding.

One thought on “Farming on 300 Square Feet

  1. Pingback: Preparing for 2017 | First Light Farm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s