This year marked the beginning of our "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 across the country. September’s featured farm is Radix Farm in Malaga, WA run by Deb Stansbery. Check back each month for new features. To be considered for our series, please email [email protected].

Owner/Manager Name: Deb Stansbery
Location: Malaga, WA
Number of Employees: 2
Acreage: 5 acres
Specialties of the Farm: Mixed vegetables, melons, honey and eggs

How did you get into farming?
I have been obsessed with food for as long as I can remember. I was always known for bringing bags of veggies to school for lunch. My first idea of rebellion as a teenager was to get an "Eat Your Veggies" tattoo (I didn't do it-but it's still a dream!)

I studied Biology at Whitman College, fell in love with bees and studied pollination behavior and diversified agriculture. After college, I worked in Outdoor Education and began to think more about where my food came from. Shopping at grocery stores started to feel overwhelming, as I tried to decipher labels and make more informed choices. Buying Organic became a priority but was very expensive for a traveling young adult. Then, I discovered Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF) and decided to volunteer for a summer on a small family farm.

My life changed forever after that. I continued working on farms for the next five years as an intern, then as a farm manager. From New Mexico to Colorado, North Carolina to Washington, I continued to devour knowledge and experiences wherever I could, with the ultimate goal of starting my  own farm.

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?
The word Radix encompasses everything we strive for here at the farm. Radix is the root word of radical and itself means "root". Radical is defined as going to the root or origin; fundamental change. My dream farm focuses around the idea of helping people reconnect to food and uses food to connect with community. We do that with our awesome CSA program, on-farm education partnership, and participating with local non-profits.

Our journey began with deciding where we wanted to live and what community we wanted to settle in. After moving around the country for over five years, this was a huge feat. Access to affordable land was limited and I honestly didn't even know if it was possible to own my farm. I was open to all sorts of farming arrangements and locations and even tried a "farm to own" opportunity that ended terribly. We moved to Wenatchee in 2012, where Graham found a teaching job, and began digging in our roots. Through volunteering, working at a non-profit, and helping out on local farms, I became an active member of our community and worked to figure out where we could fit in to our new home. Even before I owned land, I was laying the groundwork for what could become a future business.

Three year later we bought land and started Radix Farm. This was possible only because we have off farm income. The process has been one of steady growth, and while it seems like everything lined out perfectly, it has taken almost 10 years of intentional work to get to this point.  There have not been too many hardships and I take that as a sign that we are on the right path.  But there have been more challenges than I can name and it took a strong sense of purpose and a dream that felt a little too big to get to where we are today. Our biggest challenge right now is balance. Stress has become a huge part of our lives and we have made some sacrifices in order to create and build this business. Now it is about figuring out how to live what we love, all that we love, without burning out and without making sacrifices. I hope that is possible.

What are some important things you’ve learned since you started at your farm?
The most important thing I have learned is to set clear, specific goals and expectations for myself, especially as my own boss. I struggle with identifying the small successes and fall into a pattern of constant evaluation and critiquing as a way to "get better." Most of the time it just set me up to be disappointed and I never celebrate all the good that happens around me. Even though farming is my biggest passion, I have learned to try and nourish myself in other ways in order to take care of myself. Rest is really important.

What is the most challenging aspect given the location of your farm?
One of the hardest things about our location is how hot it gets in the summer.  We are located near a large river and have plenty of irrigation water but temperatures get extreme in the depth of summer-multiple weeks over 100 degrees. I have experimented with new pruning techniques, closer spacing, and different varieties to prevent sunburn, mitigate poor pollination, and manage bolting. The heat does grow good melons though!

What do you love about your community that makes it a special place to farm?
Agriculture is really prominent here as we have a huge apple, pear, and cherry industry. Lots of people have their own gardens and farming seems to touch everyones' lives in some way.  However, there is still an experience of separation between people and their food. We have such a long growing season and it is great to show people how much local food we can eat year round here. I love seeing people's joy and excitement over food that is grown right here in our valley. The exchanges at the farmers markets are not purely transactions, but become opportunities to share favorite recipes and vegetable varieties, exchange tips and tricks for ridding the garden of squash bugs, and laugh about how big all of our squash are getting.

Name something you would love to grow that you haven't tried or been able to grow yet.
I would really like to grow mushrooms and lemons.
Where do you see your farm 10 years from now?
We are currently developing educational opportunities to expand Radix Farm's reach into the young Wenatchee community and help grow awesome leaders for our future. We have a partnership with a local Montessori school to start a junior high farm school and are looking to get into the public high school as well. I hope to expand the CSA to 75-100 members and have the farm be a gathering place for our members, our students, and our community to come and connect over food.

What are a few of your favorite farming pro tips?
Take time to get to know your market so you know who you are growing food for and what they like.  Start small and keep it simple. Don't buy tools until you know you need them. They can be awesome but there is a lot you can do with your hands, a good hoe, and an Earthway seeder.

Who are your greatest farming influencers?
Eliot Coleman books are my go to for guidance. I am also influenced by JM Fortier and I farm in a similar style as he does at Jardins de la grelinette.

How has Tend helped your business?
Tend is amazing and has helped me transfer my brain to a user-friendly format. I love that I can input my planting schedules and they all end up on the same calendar. I am way more organized and much less stressed out once the busy season starts. I am also learning more about the CSA membership platform and I am looking forward to managing all of my customers in one place.

What are some of the greatest challenges, for your farm, that you have overcome? How?
One of the biggest challenges on the farm is weed management. I have a really bad perennial weed problem, especially with bind weed. It makes it very difficult to plant closely spaced crops like radishes, turnips, carrots, beets, and mixed greens. I have a few strategies to try and overcome the challenge and it is a work in progress. I have spent hours on my hands and knees digging it out, I tarp it with large black tarps, and I have introduced landscape cloth into my toolkit. It is extraordinarily hard to deal with and I know many farmers have to abandon fields overtaken by bind weed but I do not have that option. I own a very small piece of land and it's all I have. Sometimes I feel crazy for even trying to "manage" it but I am hopeful that in 10 years this land and soil will be healthier and a little less weedy.


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