Producer Spotlight - Rachel Cobb at Brambling Rows Farm
Farmers are ubiquitous to the Brainerd Lakes area and are doing great work that deserves to be recognized. It's simple, really. If we support local producers, our community becomes better (and we get some tasty food in the bargain).
We wanted to set aside some space where we focused on local producers.
We reached out to Rachel Cobb over at Brambling Rows Farm just south of Brainerd and we were able to pull her aside for a few quick questions covering their day to day operations, best practices, and making that giant leap into farming.
Happy Dancing Turtle (HDT): Hello Rachel. Thanks for taking the time for us. First off, what do you grow? Have you shaken anything up from the previous owners?
Rachel Cobb (RC): I enjoy unique vegetables and varieties, so I try to grow a little bit of everything. I have expanded a little from the former owners and added a few things this year like spinach, sugar snap peas, dry black beans, and herbs. We've also go the standards like tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, radishes, garlic, cabbage, broccoli, etc.
HDT: Where can we find your produce locally?
RC: We sell our produce at the Nisswa, Brainerd, and Baxter farmer's market and from the farm, [directly].
HDT: Farming is an old man's game, isn't it? The average farmer's age is 58, but the average new farmer (experienced under 5 years) is only 47. I'm not going to ask your age, but when did you decide to take the plunge and enter the production trade?
RC: At 31, I think I'm the youngest farmer at the market! There are so many barriers that keep young farmers out of the industry. I have wanted to farm for about 8 years, but without having grown up in a farming family, I was intimidated by how much I didn't know. I was fortunate enough to be a customer of an incredible produce stand when I lived in Colorado and found out that the farmer was looking for employees. I worked there for 2 years and received an amazing hands-on education in market farming.
HDT: What drew you to make the jump?
RC: I wanted to be a little more prepared before I jumped into farming, but we found the listing for Brambling Rows Farm and it was just too good to pass up. I had always thought I would have to start from scratch to build a farm, so it was an incredible blessing to find a farm that already had water, power, and greenhouses, just ready to go!
HDT: We visited Brambling Rows a few years back when it was owned by the Jansen's. Could you tell us a little about any changes you've done? Can you talk to us about your season extension and other growing methods you utilize?
RC: I'm still getting to know the land, seasons, and buildings. Each greenhouse has its own "personality," so I'm working to refine what grows best in each one. I'm practicing winter growing in unheated greenhouses to see just how far I can stretch my season. Each year, I plan to try a few more "experiments" to see what works well and what I can add to the farm. The more diverse I can make my products and methods, the better prepared I can be for inevitable crop failures.
HDT: Have you added or changed anything since taking over?
RC: My focus right now is streamlining efficiency and workflow, so I've added a wash stand for the produce and replaced the gutters in the hydroponic system with commercial seamless gutters, which has cut my fertilizer use and labor time to a fraction of what it was before.
HDT: What does a typical day look like for you? Is there a routine you follow or does every day bring something different?
RC: The farmer I learned from gave me some sage advice: No matter what's going on, take time, first thing the morning, to walk through the fields and scout for issues. Doing this helps frame the whole day. I usually show up with a plan, but depending on what I find, everything changes by 10am. In summer, harvest always comes first thing in the morning so we can pick the vegetables at their best quality before the heat of the day. But really, every day looks a little different and I love that about farming.
HDT: I'd be remiss if I didn't take the chance to ask you about your soil health. Are there any actions you are undertaking to help build the health of your soil?
RC: Building soil health is my number one priority. Healthy soil means tastier and more nutritious produce, with fewer interventions needed for unhealthy plants or pest issues. I tested my soil last year and most of my fields are only around 1% organic material with the rest being sand. I'm trying to get as creative as I can with soil amendments, like manure or leaves, wherever I can.
I'm getting the hang of hot composting and it has been really gratifying to turn crop residue into nutritious compost in about 2 weeks. I had shockingly good results in Colorado with treating soil with raw milk to feed the microbes and I'd love to find a resource in order to be able to try that again. This year I'm also beginning cover crop rotations so that I can always have something growing in the soil, fixing nitrogen, and feeding microbes.
You can learn more about Rachel and Brambling Rows at their website or you can meet them at any of the farmer's markets as they continue through the season.