Name: John Lee
Farm: Allandale Farm, "Boston's last working farm" in Brookline, Massachusetts
How many acres? 30
Your crew: I manage two crews, one for production and one for market. Both crews are local. However, my field crew (many of whom have worked for me for many years) are almost all of Latino descent and have done farm work most of their lives. It is what they love to do, and we try to make it as easy and as much fun as possible.
Hours: Seasonally, the hours can be quite protracted. During the harvest, depending upon the heat of the day, we will try to keep it down to forty hours per week for everyone. However, overtime can be extensive and exhausting. The field crew often starts very early, in the cool of the morning, and plans to knock off by mid-afternoon.
What you grow: Artichokes to zucchini. Everything except fruit. Our specialties at the moment are lettuce, tomatoes, beans, squash, and plants (annuals, perennials, herbs).
Your customers: 90% retail, a small CSA and a little local wholesale trade. We are, for all intents and purposes, a retail business catering to local folks who want the freshest produce at a fair price.
How you got into farming: It just happened. I grew up on a farm and ended up on a farm but had not intended to become a farmer. Opportunity knocked, I opened the door and have never looked back. I've always been interested in the use of land and the inter-relationships of land and community as well as how people eat. Sharing food from a production point of view is possibly more satisfying than sharing food from a consumption point of view.
Where did you learn to farm? I mostly learned by doing and making a few mistakes along the way. I had a sense of how things ought to work from the farm I grew up on and a confidence ill-born therefore. I have also been blessed by a few mentoring individuals—some who shared with me how to do something and some who, by dint of demonstration, showed me how not to.
Your farming philosophy: The best and cleanest food at a fair price delivered to a clientele who I have come to know and with whom I share a mutual sense of trust, respect and responsibility.
Why do you farm? For different reasons at different times of my life. The relationship of food and family is very important to me, as is the relationship of small children and the land. I operate a program for small children (ages 4-10) for six weeks in the summer so that local kids can have an opportunity to feel what growing up on a farm might be like. The opportunity to connect children and the land with food and family is more than reason enough to make farming in the city a very satisfying experience.
The best thing about farming? Farming is a new adventure every day. No two days are ever alike. On the other hand, being expressly appreciated for providing a wholesome meal to someone’s table is very rewarding. Food is very personal and knowing that you have touched someone’s culinary core is about as good as it gets.
The worst thing? The growing season is a bit too short!
Most important lesson you've ever learned? Never over-commit and cultivate your customers as you would your crops (i.e. share the love). A relationship with the land does not ipso facto make a good relationship with your banker.
What's the most important piece of advice you'd bestow on a young would-be farmer? A little charisma is a big help. But start on someone else’s farm and learn the trade, then write a budget and stick to it. Know what your real costs are (fiscal and personal) and don’t forget to take time off. Short of that: don’t become a farmer unless it is truly what you love.
The future for good food: I believe that people will always support a good producer. It's important to understand the market you are in and grow what will sell well to that market. Taking care of the agricultural resource will earn you respect and customers.
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