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, this year 22 families took on their own “Mini Farm,” 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 learn how to grow their own organic veggies, but also experience the innate connection that comes with getting to know a piece of land.
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 - about 2 lbs
Peppers (three varieties) – dozens, still producing. Made pepper jelly, salsa, and chili relleno ad nauseam.
Pole beans - about 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 teepee [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 Rubins’ 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.