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Read More. Products Drones UAS. Enhanced Satellite Imagery. They all grew up in a one room shack. The kids slept in the hayloft. They cleared the ditches and the land by hand. Dad always told stories about seeing the boys out there on the land with two man saws and horse drawn ploughs, clearing fields, when he was a kid. So a lot of the land around here is relatively new to farming. My dad was born in , and he passed in Cheryl upper left , grew up on the farm, and gradually made the transition from the conventional onion farming of her youth to an extraordinarily diverse and completely chemical-free operation today.
The farm has been free of chemical herbicides and pesticides for twenty years. Like I said, when I was young we were no different than anyone else. Everyone was growing onions then, and we grew onions too.
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These fields all around us were filled with onions. You would walk outside or take a drive in the springtime and the whole valley would smell like spring onions. In autumn, the whole place would smell like autumn onions — the sweet perfume of ripe onions. I recently walked into the barn of a friend who still grows onions and I just stood there for a good while breathing it in because it smelled so good. It just took me right back to those days as a kid. It was all about the onions. This region was the onion producing capital of the world. I was even the princess of the onion harvest festival.
Of course, back then we were farming conventionally. Everyone was. We were planting modern hybrid varieties of onion and we were spraying the fields with herbicides and pesticides. Back in the eighties, we started having issues with the land. Dad would plant the onions, and they would come up picture perfect, row upon row upon row. And then they started just vanishing, disappearing, melting away into the soil. It was pretty devastating.
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We found that we had gotten a bad chemical from a chemical corporation. We had a lawsuit over that. We won some money, but nothing that can compensate for that kind of loss. One option someone suggested was fumigating the soil. It would have cost over six figures, and there was no guarantee that it was even going to work.
Another option was to quit farming. The third option we had was to change what we were doing, to start growing more things, different things.
At that time, the bars were the places where all the business around here happened. One day at the bar one of our neighbors started telling my dad about the Greenmarkets down in the city. We started at the City Hall Greenmarket downtown and at the St. Marks Church Greenmarket in the East Village.
That was the turning point. It allowed us to survive financially by diversifying away from just growing onions.
We started growing things like beets and carrots and tomatoes, and just kept going from there — potatoes, sweet corn, cabbage…all kinds of things. I remember it so well.
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Mom and I would jump in the white Chevy pickup before dawn and head down to the city to set up the tents and the produce. The city Greenmarkets have become absolutely vital to us and to farmers like us. What led to the decision transition away from the conventional approach, and toward farming without any chemical pesticides or herbicides?
It was a gradual transition. There were a lot of conversations over time, and a number of things contributed to it. There were pieces to it, and it evolved. When I was a kid, I kept driving my father crazy because I wanted to grow all these different things. I noticed it and I wanted to grow those things too. The guys are growing them in their garden right over there! So I just stopped listening. Local Roots sources all of its vegetables from Cheryl's farm. There was another seed that was planted when I was a kid. At some point, my dad started taking my younger brother, who was six years younger than me, out on all the tractors with him.
That made me really mad. I was the oldest and I thought I should have been the one on all the tractors.
So my mom put me on her lap on one of the old tractors in front of the onion harvester and taught me to drive. After a while, my dad realized I was better on the tractors than the guys. I had the patience to go hour upon hour up and down the rows and to do it right and not take out the vegetables or onions.
So I ended up being the one on the tractors all the time. Then I started doing the granular chemicals. It was an herbicide, and you had to be careful because it burned. So I was out on the tractor with the rig, spreading that stuff around. After a while, my dad was going to put me on the spray rigs with the liquid chemicals. My mom absolutely flipped. I was furious because I wanted to be out on the tractors, doing what the guys were doing.
It had never occurred to me to even think about health concerns or anything like that with spraying. I give my mom credit for that. So that started the conversation. My dad was both open to doing things differently and resistant to it.
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The bulk of his life was spent without it. When the chemicals came along, it offered a new kind of freedom. There was a liberty in knowing you could go out there once with a tractor and spray the field rather than having to spend endless days and hours on your hands and knees weeding. Over time I became more and more interested in trying things without the chemicals. I found it really fascinating to learn about these other ways of doing things.
As my dad got older, he was happy to see someone taking things on and doing the work, even if it was being done in a different way than he had been doing them. It got easier for him with time. For the last few years of his life he was able to see it working. Among many, many other things, Cheryl grows sunchokes.