"Farming takes time to do well. Only a weed grows overnight. Everything else takes a lot of time and nurture."
Name: David Gilson
Farm: Herb Lyceum at Gilson's in Groton, Massachusetts.
How many acres? Four acres, but that includes fifteen greenhouses, a restaurant in a refurbished carriage house, and probably about an acre of European- Tuscan or Provencal gardens where people wander about before entering our farm restaurant.
Your crew: Our seasonal crew includes a wonderful combination of local working moms and Cambodian and Jamaican workers. This diverse group brings extensive farm experience, as well as unique humor and perspective. We also have a long-standing tradition to include high schoolers, who provide energy and learn the value of work and the experience of working with our eclectic crew.
Hours: We usually start between 5 and 6 in the morning and end between 7 and 8 at night and that's seven days a week.
What you grow: Our specialty is herbs. We do probably two hundred varieties of herbs. In the fall we also grow mums, asters, inside herbs, and windowsill gardens.
Your customers: Our business is broken down into growing herbs for a very large nationally known company. That's about a quarter of a million plants we grow in the springtime. We also have several varieties we grow for our farmers' markets from mid-May to the end of October. We have a truck out in the Boston-area seven days a week. I think the fun thing about farmers' markets is that so many young people working there end up in the food industry. My son William, who is the executive chef at both the Herb Lyceum and Garden at the Cellar, got his interest from talking with chefs who came to visit our farmers' market tables.
How you got into farming: Going through high school and college, I could never make up my mind: did I want to be a therapist or go into forestry or conservation? So the first twenty years I worked in therapy and became an administrator for counseling and special ed programs. But, there was always that calling I never answered from when I was younger. When I had an opportunity to buy an herb farm, that's what I did. I bought an herb farm! From there my wife Cathy and I have grown the Herb Lyceum to become a great, well-known brand.
Where did you learn to farm? Having been in education for twenty years, even if you don't know something you know how to learn about it. A lot of it was self-taught. A lot of it was the ability to talk with other people and realize that other people's experiences and mistakes can be your education. I've had a lot of supportive, bright people who have reached out and been willing to help.
Your farming philosophy: The word "farm" to me is a good feeling. I'm glad I'm on a farm. We build on the joy of what we're doing around the farm. Happy people make happy plants.
Why do you farm? It brings me great joy.
The best thing about farming? Having the satisfaction on a daily basis that you've accomplished something. When you grow something, when you work hard to help develop something, whether it be from an idea to the implementation of a program, or from planting a seed and seeing it all the way through harvest and seeing what joy it brings people, it makes me feel good.
The worst thing? Nature's in charge. The best we can do is swim along its current of changing directions. There's science to it, but you really have to understand Mother Nature, know she's in control and run with it.
Most important lesson you've ever learned? Farming takes time to do well. Only a weed grows overnight. Everything else takes a lot of time and nurture.
What's the most important piece of advice you'd bestow on a young would-be farmer? Apprentice. Work with somebody. Apprentice among different people with different philosophies. Garner from each mentor what's worked for them and what hasn't, then figure out how that averages out to what you want to do.
The future for good food: I think the future of food is one that's around education, but also accommodating society's reduced amount of time to do things. We're looking at how we can work with that. We've just hired a full-time chef, in part to bring foods to the public via the farmers' markets.
I look at great produce. Some people know how to work with it, others don't. Chefs know how to do that. We're looking at, for lack of a better word, "food kits." We'll do the preliminary part of preparation of fresh fruits and vegetables, and then put together three or four components you can add and then cook it. Once people see the taste, they'll say, "I can do that." I think that linkage between fresh food and knowing how to cook it, will translate into buying more fresh produce.
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