OUR DEEPEST CONGRATULATIONS TO ELISE AND TUCKER FROM CEDAR ROCK GARDENS – CELEBRATING 10 YEARS!!!
Elise writes the seasonal update for Cedar Rock, opening April 12th, and if you read further, she shares the history of the past ten years, beginning with the farm’s earliest days.
We Love You Cedar Rock Gardens! Thank you for ten years of beautiful flowers, veggies, native plants, and herbs (and a joyous farm at which to visit and to shop).
IT’S THAT TIME:
Welcome to the 2023 Season!
~We will be open April 12th for the season. We have some really wonderful perennials starting up this year including a big native plant selection and many that are enticing to pollinators of all kinds.
~ We have a new nursery manger this year, Maarit, who is coming to us from Rockport. She is quickly becoming well versed in all things Cedar Rock and will be a great addition to our team this year. She has a background in cheesemaking and is looking forward to learning about soil health and growing bangin’ brassicas and cut flowers.
~As always we will have many cold tolerant veggies, herbs and flowers to plant early in the season, so make sure to plan some space in the garden to get some early successions going.
~We will also have a larger medicinal herb selection this year, we have had success trialing some new varieties from seed that will be available and we are partnering with our friend Emma at MilkyWay Apothecary to provide varieties she has grown and divided.
~Tomato and pepper release day – along with all the other delicious warm weather veggies and plants – will be May 17th. That is when you will be able to shop all the plants that can be planted outside without a danger of frost hurting them.
~Check out our website for a list of plants we will be carrying this year – if you do not see something you want just send an email.
~We are finally at a point where we can satisfactorily host classes at our farm. Look forward to an announcement in March about what you can expect to learn about in some of our class offerings. Along with that we will be utilizing our social media platforms much more with tidbits and tips on planting, soil health, garden planning, variety differences and general dirt nerd kinds of stuff – so follow us on Instagram or Facebook for those goodies if you don’t already.
~ We have a fantastic program starting at Cedar Rock this spring called farm friends. An amazing mama and teacher, Alyssa Pitman, will be hosting parent/child time at the farm on Fridays with a nature school type curriculum. Stay tuned to our Instagram this week for a way to sign up as space is limited.
~ We are still in the planning process of some pretty cool events and opportunities to celebrate being in business for a decade now.
~If you are growing any of your own seeds, now is the time to start your perennial herbs, flowering sweet peas and parsley!
Okay now that all that good stuff is out of the way I can dwell for a minute on the fact that we are celebrating 10 years in business this year with a trip down memory lane for anyone that wonders how it all began.
I was just recently speaking to a dear friend of mine who has started a farm in New Mexico. They had an intense year of natural catastrophes between fire and floods on their farm. We were lamenting on the past season and I relayed some advice I didn’t even know I had stored.
‘You have to figure out a way to put the prior season’s emotions and climate induced trauma behind you in order to continue successfully into a new season of growing.”
After the words came out of my mouth I thought more about the statement and realized how often I have done this without realizing it. We definitely keep notes and knowledge on what worked well and didn’t, and why we will continue planting certain varieties over others and what we need to do to successfully grow arugula among a large population of flea beetles. All these things are in our control, and mistakes we make simply because we are human and can forgive ourselves for it and move on. But each year there are things completely out of our control that happen that reduce our ability to grow which in turn has steep effects on our business and naturally effects us emotionally. We need to figure out a way to mitigate the effects of climate and economic changes and then let the emotions and trauma of those things fall off us so we can clearly see forward into doing it all again. Farmers are a crazy sort, but growing food and plants is our life and we have to push forward somehow.
I don’t know if this resonates with any of you, but the hardships of growing a garden and investing time and love into soil and plants just to see it burn up in drought is fairly devastating. To be able to pick up a rake and trowel and a pen and paper to begin planning and prepping for next season takes a lot of grit and motivation so here’s to you all doing it each year! With our combined years of growing, making mistakes and having successes we have built a good amount of experience – we are here to answer any questions and provide any advice on improving resiliency against a changing climate and pest populations.
When Tucker and I started Cedar Rock Gardens we were just shy of our mid twenties. We had an opportunity to lease some of the land Tucker had grown up on, land that was located in our home but also land that needed an incredible amount of work to mold into a viable farm business. I had just quit my finance job and Tucker had just moved onto this new project from starting up Alprilla Farm with Noah in Essex. Tuck had accumulated a wealth of knowledge from a few years of growing in the area and I was beyond ready to get outside and tackle my dreams of starting a farm.
Looking back at those times make my joints hurt – we worked tirelessly from dawn to dusk every day building, planning, prepping soil, seeding, and clearing land. When we weren’t farming we were each working other jobs to fund the seemingly unattainable goals and hurdles we had to jump over. We lived in a few rugged places, had some questionable “meals” for a time and worked up some interesting solutions to get our business off the ground. I would be remiss to leave out that we were incredibly lucky to have the help and support of some amazing friends along the way.
In those early years of growing I definitely struggled with the seasonality of my new work. It was mostly great to have something new every day but its also exhausting having something new every day. The season is a very steep curve, there is a lot of slow planning and prepping during the shoulder seasons, the high season is extremely demanding, the harvest season will put any crossfit gym to shame and then you turn it all off (at least try to) and rest deeply for a bit. I was so used to showing up to work and then clocking out at the end of the day to move on with life. In farming, your work really does become (your) life. You are suddenly responsible for the needs of thousands of tiny alive plants. You cannot just go to sleep at night; you have to check off the mental list of requirements for the next day to be a success. How cold will it be tonight? Should we irrigate tonight so all the water doesn’t just evaporate during tomorrow’s 90 degree day? Do we need to cover any germinated lettuce so deer and groundhogs don’t come decimate them? Did I shut down the greenhouses properly? Do we need to harvest all the radishes now before it rains tonight and they all explode? I can no longer count the times Tucker and I have blearily headed out to the field for some late night scurry that saved countless crops and therefore countless income of which each dollar was needed to begin the next season.
We have had many variations of our farm over the past 9 years and I can honestly say going into year 10 that we have settled on something that is working quite well. That’s not to say we won’t change a little more here and there but what we have come up with is sustainable for our bodies and efficient.
Our business started as a cut flower farm with a small vegetable operation on the side. We did wedding and event arrangements and we sold at farmers markets. I believe we had 1 or 2 restaurant accounts where we sold vegetables. We were farming a few small plots at our home base. We had built a small heated propagation greenhouse and found a used shed that we put up nearby for storage. We ran our business with a pretty beat up $300 minivan that we filled with flower buckets every week to drive around to all the local florists and sell flowers. We had a gardening business on the side where we installed and maintained vegetable gardens for clients around Cape Ann.
We had enough success to dive into year 2. We did a Kickstarter campaign to raise some money so we could put up a barn. We built a barn that would house our vegetable operation with wash/pack stations and cold food storage. We used the cedar trees we had cut down for field space as our posts and wrapped it in metal for a cheap big covered space. We knocked on doors until we found another acre plot of land to lease from a neighbor that was nice and flat with few rocks but it had (remove) no water access. We leased it and ran some wacky water lines above ground from other neighbor’s houses to keep crops alive. We moved our vegetable growing operation to our newly leased field and continued growing flowers at our home base. We added a few more restaurant/wholesale accounts to the business too. It was a grind, especially due to the very dry year and the water situation. We ended up sleeping in a tent in the field many nights to move water around every few hours because we could only water a few beds at a time. The flower side of the business was loosing steam, we were good at growing flowers but it became harder and harder to spend so much time off the farm selling flowers and doing arrangements for events. We decided then (remove) to focus more on growing vegetables and let the flowers become more of a side project.
Year 3 came around and really stirred the pot for us. We were able to get a lease on a nice flat field with great access to water a little further down the road so we started to open that field up and build deer fencing around it. We added a 65 share vegetable CSA and a few more wholesale accounts. A local grower was retiring from her seedling business and was interested in passing her greenhouses on to other growers. We took down 2 of her 100’ heated greenhouses and re-built them at Cedar Rock Gardens and intended to use them for early and late season vegetable crop production to get a year round harvest. Instead we got an amazing mentor and added a seedling operation to our business. That year was one to be remembered. Between clearing land and building two greenhouses, building out a seedling distribution/retail area, running the vegetable CSA and wholesale accounts and trying to keep a social life, we struggled everyday to complete all the work that needed to be done. We had grown many organic seedlings that would be transplanted into our fields for harvest but the learning curve for growing organic seedlings for home gardeners was surprisingly steep. We had a very small vegetable and herb seedling sale and continued running our vegetable CSA and wholesale accounts. This year almost did me in. Luckily I have a very motivated business partner and we endured and mustered up the strength to head into year 4. We had a fantastic farm employee that year that was interested in starting his own farm business.
Year 4 It worked out for our employee to step out and run his own farm business at Cedar Rock Gardens. While Alex was running the farm and CSA we were able to fully prioritize the seedling operation. We built a third 100’ heated greenhouse for use in the seedling operation as well as growing crops for wholesale accounts. We adapted the crop plan from the previous seedling operation to fit our abilities and dialed in different vendors that would allow us to grow organically. We sourced seeds from many different places and we made as many changes as we could think of to make the project as efficient as possible so we could bring the vegetable CSA back on board. We figured out how to map and schedule the greenhouses so that we could scoot the seedlings and tables out in time for a summer crop of cucumbers, eggplants and tomatoes in the ground and a winter crop of greens to be out in time for the first spring seedlings to be set on tables again.
Year 5, in 2018 Alex moved to his own farm and we took back management of the vegetable CSA. The seedling nursery operation was running smoothly with our piecemeal greenhouse layout and we decided to get married at the farm. After running the nursery for a season we realized we needed a different water source so we got a loan and drilled a well – we were very lucky to hit a great vein of water that we now water all our crops with. We put up 2 un-heated caterpillar tunnels in our new field for shoulder season growth and a shade house for summer lettuce. We also built another un-heated Caterpillar tunnel at our home base for a hardening off area for the seedlings. The weekend after we got married in September we found a neighbor interested in getting rid of a barn from his yard so we disassembled it and rebuilt it at Cedar Rock to be used for the seedling operation.
Heading into year 6 we knew we needed to go back to the drawing board on a few things. We had grown quickly and really didn’t do a great job building for endurance it was just “we need this now to continue” and finding some item that could stand and fill the need. We needed to build longevity and efficiency back into our business. We reworked our retail check out booth to be something we were proud of. We moved the 2 caterpillar tunnels from the field back to home base so we could keep a better eye on them. We went up to 120 CSA shares and 25 wholesale/restaurant accounts so we had to outfit our vegetable barn to better contain CSA pick up and wholesale wash/pack. It felt good to go back over our accomplishments with a fine-toothed comb and make sure they were built to their correct use. We had a big social year that year too with each of us being in about 5 weddings (which is amazing and fun but very time consuming!) We finished out that year getting our very wonderful farm dog Roux and buying a house near the farm that needed endless amounts of work to move in.
Year 7 – 2020. We finished up work on our house and moved in very early spring. Early March, when everything we had seeded beginning in January was happy and ready to be transplanted into the field and into bigger trays for sale in the nursery the pandemic shut down the world, as we knew it. We came out of this intense season thanks to your support; we will never be able to show how much gratitude we have for this community from that year. You all allowed us to make it through and we were thrilled to be growing food for you for sure. We poured many hours into creating an online ordering system for our seedlings – packed at the farm and picked up in a drive through manner. There were a few times we almost just folded up and backed out but we had a friend come through in a moment of epic panic – she sent her entire gardening crew of 5 people over to help us fill orders. It took us a full week of 7 to 10 people running around 10,000 square feet of greenhouse space to figure a good way to pack orders. We came out of that year with a solid new website and a good grasp on full year crop production bringing our vegetable growing to a year round operation.
Year 8 began in anxious planning. We were unsure how our business would look during the pandemic and we were understaffed. We knew we needed to figure out how to produce more food so we built a fourth 100’ greenhouse and put it into vegetable production right away. We continued with the 120 Share CSA and wholesale accounts and the seedling operation was getting better each year. We ended up with an amazing farm crew so we decided to bring back a small cut flower patch and put it in production for the CSA members to have a little added fun coming to cut their own flowers. It was a big hit and such fun to see families in the flowers at the farm. The year went by quickly and our fall was filled up with the birth of our daughter.
Once we became parents we knew quickly that we needed to change our business model. Up to this point the farm and nursery business was very much made up of Tucker and I and a few fantastic seasonal crew members each year. We worked long days, many weeks saw us working though weekends because it needed to be done and we loved our work but that was a hard schedule to fathom when a sudden need to create a better work life balance presented itself.
Year 9, last year, to make room for our new life as a family of 3 we decided to take a break from the CSA portion of the business. It was one of the toughest decisions we had to make. The families in our CSA had become way more than just customers to us. We saw them every week for 20 weeks and sometimes more frequently than that. We saw families grow, kids learning to love veggies and farm visits. The CSA model is so special because the members are aware of the ups and downs of each growing season and the hardships and wins it takes to get fresh veggies to them each week. They are a support system that we relied on for socializing each week as well as putting purpose to our job. We just were not sure if we could both be present enough in our work and have a newborn baby to carry out a 20-week promise of veggies. It ended up being a good break for us, we cut our farm crops down a bit and kept most of the business just to the home base instead of utilizing our rented field so we didn’t have to manage so many moving parts. We ended up having a great season mostly due to our crew– which included a handful of people that had been with us for 5 or 6 years – that could run most day-to-day operations. It allowed us to figure out how to work a baby into our life as farm business owners, and to take personal time as a family to figure out how to parent (that one is still up in the air). We made some major improvements to all of our greenhouses including a much-needed revamp to our heaters and energy usage. We installed trolley systems in the greenhouses to move seedlings more efficiently and we spent some quality time improving the soils that have given us so much over the years. We were able to still see a good amount of our CSA members over the season at the farm stand and through winter produce sales which was wonderful to catch up each time.
That brings us to this year, this 10th year of our business – our first baby grown up. It is pretty wild thinking back on the time and energy it took to get to this point. I am so proud that we kept up our determination to get here. We have had to say good bye to a few essential crew members that have been with us for 4, 6, and 7 years respectively as they venture off to new and exciting opportunities but we have a very good crew shaping up this year and we are excited to train new minds and share our way of growing with them. This year we will continue to finish the projects started over the last 9 years and we will bring back our giant “cut your own” flower field that is open to the public. We will be growing many vegetable crops in the field and greenhouses for sale at our farm stand along with the seedlings you have come to know and love. We are excited to watch our daughter grow up on the farm this year and although we will be taking another year off from the CSA model, we very much look forward to bringing back an iteration of it in the near future.
We are very lucky to have had the opportunity to get things going on the land we had access to, that was the first very real leg up in the farm world. Access to land around this area especially is tough. I am always so thrilled to see people’s personal gardens and community garden plots bringing in real edible and delicious food. It has been really inspiring seeing the creativity some gardeners have to grow as much food as possible on a big rock ledge, from fish totes to buckets and hydroponic towers. Growing your own food is such a rewarding experience. At this point there is still nothing I would rather be doing in life. The rewards still far outweigh the hardships. As growers, we all know how exciting it is to pick a fruit from a plant you tended and eat it. That feeling will fill my cup a million times over.
This is a longwinded story to say: growing food is a continual and rewarding process. Nothing is really set in stone and being able to go back to the drawing board over and over is a pleasure not a chore. We hope you are getting excited for the spring to come and look forward to digging in the dirt as much as we are.
All the very best,
Elise, Tucker, Fae and the farm crew