Farm of the Month: Naturally Sunkissed Farm

January marked the beginning of our new "Farm of the Month" series on the Tend Blog, where we highlight the amazing work and delicious produce and food  that small organic farms are producing. March's farm is Naturally Sunkissed Farm in Bishopville, Maryland. Check back each month for new features. To be considered for our series, please email [email protected].

Farm Name: Naturally Sunkissed Farm
Owner/Manager Name: Brett & Megan Hines
Location: Bishopville, MD
Number of Employees: Owners only
Acreage: 17 acres
Specialties of Your Farm: Vegetables, grass-fed lamb, pasture-raised laying hens for eggs, strawberries, and in the process of establishing a fruit orchard

How did you get into farming?
I (Megan) grew up on the property where we now farm, but never wanted to be a farmer until Brett and I joined a CSA while living in Colorado. We learned that we really appreciated knowing where our food came from and how it was grown. We started farming on our apartment balcony in Colorado, and expanded our operation year by year since we moved back to Maryland.

Tell us about the story of your farm – how did you (and your farm partner) get started? What was that like? What challenges did you encounter?
Our farm has been in the family for almost 30 years, but for a long time, we leased it to a farmer that grew corn and soybeans. About a year before we moved back from Colorado, we knew that we wanted to farm it, and so regained control over our veggie plot, which is slightly less than 2 acres, in 2013. We established a vegetable area, as well as a perennial plot for growing hops to use for homebrewing (another hobby we picked up in Colorado). In 2014, we ran pastured broilers through this space but didn't find the market we thought existed for organically fed, high quality chicken. In 2015, we changed the direction of the farm and planted the majority of this field in vegetables, and ran a small CSA. Through these two ventures, we learned valuable skills that helped us establish our homestead, and realized that we needed to grow primarily for ourselves and our family first, but that we also enjoyed supplying fresh produce and high quality meats directly to consumers. Since then, our farm has become more productive and focused on growing a diversity of vegetables that we like to eat, and selling our excess direct to consumers, to a local cooperative, and to a couple restaurants. We also added a 5 acre mixed species pasture in 2015, and now have a small flock of dual-purpose sheep and dairy goats that are intensively rotated.

The main challenge we have experienced is time restriction. Both of us are full-time teachers, and also mostly full-time farmers, especially in the spring through fall. Luckily, we have found that if we plan appropriately during the winter, we are able to manage our plantings and cultivation effectively.

What are some important things you’ve learned since you started at your farm?
Start small! We always have grandiose plans but can get overwhelmed. If we start a smaller project, it is more manageable, and we sink less money into it. Then, if it works, great, but if it doesn't, then not much money is wasted. But, somewhat in the opposite vein, if you are interested in a venture, then go for it! We've learned so many skills through this adventure by just trying things, such as butchering our own pigs and chickens, improving our carpentry and engineering skills, and the biology behind a plant and its ecosystem.

What is the most challenging aspect given the location of your farm?
We live in the middle of Big Ag country, and are surrounded by corn, soybeans, and chicken houses. It is hard to convince the average consumer that our food is worth buying, even when it is at a higher price than the conventional food grown around us. Overall, educating our consumers is very important so that they start to realize the environmental and health impacts of pesticide and herbicide use and why organic practices, including crop rotations, intensive pasture management, and minimal use of chemicals improve food quality and also the environment.

What do you love about your community that makes it a special place to farm?
We live outside of Ocean City, MD, so we are only a few minutes away from the beach! It's a great way to spend a few hours after a long day farming.

Name something you would love to grow that you haven't tried or been able to grow yet?
Ginger and turmeric- we use these spices a lot but since we don't live in a tropical climate, they have been on the back burner so far!

Where do you see your farm 10 years from now?
In 10 years, hopefully at least one (or both) of us will be able to leave our job teaching and live off of a farm salary full time.

What are a few of your favorite farming pro tips?
Plan excessively- it prevents mistakes in the field. Silage tarps are a new found favorite for managing weeds. Goats are neurotic. It's a good thing ours are miniature.

Who are your greatest farming influencers?
Jean-Martin Fortier, Eliot Coleman, Pam Dawling

How has Tend helped your business?
We've only just started using Tend, but it has made a huge difference in how we are planning our early seedings and the plots for the year. In the past, we've used Excel, but then don't always have the information we need at the time of planting. With Tend, it's all on our phone and easily accessible, plus we can make note of any changes that occurred in the field and record that information for next year's planning.


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