GTPulse: A Little Farm With A Lot of Love

While in quarantine I often thought about how nice it’d be to have a garden. It would be nice to have something that I could funnel nervous time and energy into but more importantly, something that would provide food consistently. When you’re worried about making trips to the grocery store, or if your romaine lettuce is going to be recalled, locally grown food becomes a way to self soothe. Shannon Palmer and Andy Edwards take locally grown food seriously. With combined know-how, a farming program and half an acre of land to farm, the couple are the friendly faces behind Maple City organic farm One Love Garden.

Moving to Michigan from New York just four months ago, Shannon and Andy have covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time.

One Love Garden is a program offered by Forest Garden Organic Farm, one of the oldest certified organic farms in Michigan. The position is considered an internship and does not offer a stipend. Instead, farmers are given a rustic cabin to live in, and a half-acre of land to plan their farm. They’re promised a spot at the Sara Hardy Farmers Market in downtown Traverse City, and the profit they make from selling their produce.

It’s usually Shannon who finds their next farm opportunity, but it was Andy who found this internship program online.

The garden is green, but the couple is not. A requirement for the internship program was for farm planning and tending experience. Shannon and Andy have been farming for four years, but this is the first time that they’ve had full control of what they’ll plant and harvest. One Love Garden is their first baby.

“Yeah, that’s what it feels like. It was such a unique opportunity,” Shannon said.

They met while working together at a health food store. Shannon studied nutrition in college and feels passionate about how food fuels the body. That passion has spilled over into where food comes from and how to grow it at its healthiest, organic state.

“We had a pretty strict set of criteria for what we were and were not willing to work with. One of them was low equipment and machinery usage. We’re very pro soil health,” Andy said.

A big part of keeping the soil nutrient-dense is to mitigate tilling. The controversial farming practice is used to turn over six to 10 inches below the soil to plant crops with less effort, but in organic farming, the soil composition is highly regarded. Tilling degrades the soil by impacting its ability to absorb and retain nutrients. Untilled soil has natural microbes and nutrients that feed plants. The more a farm is tilled, the more dependent it becomes on getting nutrients through chemicals. The plant beds they have created for the garden have been tilled, but won’t need to be again.

“We won’t ever till them again. The plants get cut back, we don’t even take the roots off. We just cut the tops off and let it compost back in the soil where it was living to further enrich that soil.”

They instill practices like planting lavender and wormwood around their produce to keep bugs from eating away at it. They also interplant certain produce to promote growth and save space.

A typical workday is eight to nine hours long tending to the garden. In the beginning of the week, Andy and Shannon make a list of everything that has to be worked on.

“The first field that I hit I walk through every morning to see if the deer ate half our stuff or are there squash bugs? I hit the greenhouse to see if the tomato plants are about to fall over, and then just take it from there. Once we’ve gone over all the little sections, you know, plants are watered, nothing’s dying, there are no wild animals loose in the garden, then we can sit down and say, ‘what order should we do our list in today?’ Based on the weather and on our schedule.”

They harvest three days a week for the Sara Hardy Farmers Market, both online and in-person markets. They’ve also recently started at the Glen Arbor Farmers Market too.

One of their favorite parts about markets is talking to customers. They welcome questions about their produce and farming practices as they’re both passionate about organic food education. 

They’re also excited about the different veggies they’ve planted that will be showing up at markets soon like okra, sweet potatoes, and tigger melons. 

Shannon and Andy have accomplished a lot at One Love Garden in a small amount of time. It will be exciting to see them and the farm continue to grow. Catch them at the next farmers market in Traverse City or Glen Arbor and give them a warm welcome to northern Michigan.

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Categories: GTPulse