Peter Seeley and his wife, Bernadette, began farming at Springdale Farm in 1988, at the dawn of the CSA movement in the Upper Midwest. Over 25 years, the farm has expanded to twenty acres and 800 CSA shares, plus thirteen greenhouses and five children, not far from Lake Michigan in Plymouth, Wisconsin.
Peter tells the story of Springdale Farm’s founding and growth, and how he and Bernadette navigated the challenges of the new CSA market, including the reasoning behind their decisions about core groups and distribution models that were different from most CSAs operating in 1988. We learn how Peter has met the challenges of farming in extremely rocky soils head on, including the strategies he’s developed for machinery and fertility to succeed in a challenging environment. And, Peter shares the farm’s strategies for managing four season production and storage, including the very low-tech way they got started.
Springdale Farm has worked hard from the start to provide an alternative to fossil fuels for powering the farm, and Peter shares what they’ve learned about outdoor wood boilers and electric tractors and carts.
Along the way, Peter consistently shares the passion he brings to his farm and his life. And he even brings Marx, Hegel, and Plato into the conversation.
The Farmer to Farmer Podcast is generously supported by Vermont Compost Company.
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Quotes from the Show
If we used all of the boilers that we have [to heat the greenhouses], Sheboygan County would start looking like Kansas pretty soon.
Most of the time when you buy older, smaller equipment, you’re not going to be putting out too much capital to get it to your farm. And then there’s usually a market for it again if it turns out that it’s something you’re not going to use.
The markets are kind of there for the taking it seems. We’re not looking around too much, we just get calls from institutions, co-ops, restaurants asking to get our stuff.
[On expanding:]We had the labor there… and we had the markets and we had the equipment and financially the numbers should work out. So everything was in place. If anything was missing of all those things we probably wouldn’t have made the jump.
Just to be able to plant on time and weed on time and irrigate on time and harvest on time and deliver things, just to do that well, took all of our efforts. So we weren’t sure is spending the extra time with the stirring and the applications[for biodynamics] would be that beneficial.
I am open to, and I think people should be open to, other influences that are out there that are hard to put down into numbers.
If you make it a dollars and cents thing, it loses something. The inspiration, the passion for it, dissipates if you end up thinking, is this person harvesting twenty pounds of beans per hour or fifteen, are the worth it, are you making money on it. I’ve felt less of a need to spend a lot of money or of my time on that kind of record-keeping.
It’s really beautiful and fun to produce good-tasting nutritious food for people.
Peter uses Carryall electric carts to move people and harvests around the farm.
Peter uses an Ortiflor stone burier to prepare the extremely rocky soil on his farm for planting.
Springdale Farm uses Member Assembler CSA Member Management Software for customer signup and management.
Peter referenced the Farmer to Farmer Podcast episode with Patrice Gros on no-till farming.
Peter told a story about one of my favorite tools, the Fisher Space Pen.
One of Peter’s favorite tools is the Paper Pot Transplanter from Small Farm Works.